“Millions of the world’s poorest people could have easier access to life-saving drugs if India introduces an air ticket tax to help fund purchases of cheap medicines for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, a senior U.N. official said,” AlertNet/Reuters reports. “UNITAID, a U.N. agency which negotiates for cheap medicines from pharmaceutical manufacturers to treat deadly diseases, is lobbying countries such as India to join its air ticket levy initiative which began in 2006,” the news service writes.
Access to Health Services
The Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday theme for this week is mHealth, an e-mail alert from USAID reports. “While health effects typically take hold first in the richest parts of society then trickle down, mobile technology gives everyone access to the same information at the same time, so they can use…
New UNICEF Publications Show Universal Health Coverage Achievable Through Social Protection Measures
“Two newly released UNICEF publications demonstrate that while reaching universal health coverage (UHC) is possible in most countries, this requires a comprehensive social protection system of which health insurance is a crucial component,” according to this post on the UHC Forward blog. A recent UNICEF study “finds that even in middle and low-income countries that have adopted a formal policy of universal health coverage … many socio-economic barriers to access persist,” the blog reports, adding, “It is for this reason that the study has been framed in the broader approach recommended by UNICEF’s first global Social Protection Strategic Framework, which stresses the importance of developing and strengthening integrated social protection systems” (O’Connell, 6/4).
Al Jazeera examines Afghanistan’s health care system since the fall of the Taliban, writing, “Standards of health care in Afghanistan have improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban, but security continues to play a large role in determining access to and quality of care provided.” According to the video report, Afghanistan’s constitution mandates that health services be provided free of charge, which “leaves many small clinics reliant on foreign aid.” The news service notes, “There’s a big difference in the type of care you can get [in] rural areas and in urban areas,” adding, “Many procedures still require patients to travel to city hospitals, putting them at risk from violence and grueling journeys on poorly maintained roads” (Smith, 6/3).
“A new UNAIDS/UNDP joint issues brief [.pdf] highlights the potential impacts of free trade agreements on public health,” UNAIDS reports in a feature story on its website. “The brief concludes that ‘to retain the benefits of [flexibilities in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)], countries at a minimum should avoid entering into free trade agreements that contain obligations that can impact on pharmaceutical price or availability,'” the article states. It adds that “the potential impact of a number of current or planned free trade agreement negotiations taking place across the world — particularly affecting countries in the Asia and the Pacific region — can hinder countries’ rights to implement such flexibilities” (6/1).
HIV drugs have not only “transformed a fatal disease into a chronic one,” but “[t]hey have also made HIV a big business,” this Economist editorial states. The editorial examines the market for HIV drugs, writing, “The market is as unusual as it is large, both buoyed by government support and worryingly dependent on it. The past decade has brought fancier medicine in rich countries and copious aid for poor ones. But the war is far from won.” The editorial writes, “In total, public and private investment has yielded more than two dozen HIV drugs,” adding, “Sales of antiretroviral drugs in America and the five biggest European markets reached $13.3 billion in 2011, according to Datamonitor, a research outfit.”
Seriously Ill Children Administered Zinc In Addition To Antibiotics Respond Better, More Quickly To Treatment, Study Shows
“In a newly released clinical study, conducted in India” and published in the Lancet on Thursday, “hundreds of seriously ill infants who received zinc — an essential micronutrient for the immune system and human growth — as well as antibiotics, responded better and more quickly to treatment than those who did not,” IRIN reports, adding, “This finding is the first proof that zinc supplements may boost infant survival from infections.” According to the news service, “More than 300 infants no older than 120 days (four months), hospitalized in New Delhi, the capital, for suspected meningitis (an infection of the brain or spinal cord lining), pneumonia (a lung infection) or sepsis (blood poisoning), were given zinc in addition to antibiotics” and “were found to be 40 percent less likely to experience ‘treatment failure’ — needing a second antibiotic within one week of the first treatment, or intensive care or death within 21 days — than those given a placebo.”
Trade officials met last week at the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization “to make progress on a proposal that would allow poor countries to provide inexpensive generic versions of lifesaving medications, rather than rely a single version of the same drugs under expensive patent monopolies,” but the U.S. “remained steadfast in rejecting proposals aimed at lowering the prices of existing medicines in poor countries,” the Huffington Post reports (Carter, 5/29). At the 18th session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), delegates considered two proposals, according to Intellectual Property Watch. The news service notes that a South African proposal (.pdf), submitted on behalf of the African Group and the Development Agenda Group (DAG), would have assisted developing nations adapt their patent schemes “to make full use of the flexibilities available in the international patent system in the interest of public health,” and a U.S. proposal (.pdf) “warned against any weakening of patent protection as a solution to the lack of availability of medicine in developing countries” because, “the delegate said, less patent rights would be detrimental to innovation” (Saez, 5/25).
Citing a U.N. report released in May, titled “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010,” which shows “the number of women worldwide dying of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in the last 20 years,” Agnes Odhiambo, a researcher for women in Africa at Human Rights Watch, writes in this Inter Press Service opinion piece, “Although there was a 41 percent reduction in sub-Saharan Africa, the progress is slow and uneven. â€¦ Greater effort is urgently needed to save pregnant women.” She continues, “African governments need to invest in strong health care systems and to ensure that there are enough health care facilities that can provide emergency obstetric care, equitably dispense suitable drugs and supplies, and employ a sufficient number of adequately trained health professionals, including those with midwifery skills.”
In a guest blog post on the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks,” Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, and Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, summarize a Capitol Hill briefing “on the research agenda for beginning to end the AIDS epidemic” that took place Wednesday. “[R]esearchers, policymakers, and advocates joined our organizations and the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus” at the briefing to discuss “the research agenda needed to bring the epidemic to a close, with special focus on” combination interventions for treatment and prevention; “progress on vaccine and cure research”; and the importance of HIV testing, they write. Collins and Warren conclude, “We need to finance the response, make strategic choices about what to bring to scale (and what not to) and stop discriminating against high-risk populations. Whether you’re a researcher, policymaker or advocate, new scientific developments are how we end the epidemic” (5/24).