“Just two years ago, our country had one of the worst maternal and infant death rates in the world,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma writes in a Huffington Post U.K. “Impact” blog post, adding, “We knew something had to be done.” So in September 2009, the government announced “that all health user fees would be removed for pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of five” and “introduced the Free Health Care Initiative [FHCI] in April 2010, which would give around 460,000 women and a million children a much better chance of having a longer and happier life,” Koroma writes. In one year, the FHCI facilitated a “214 percent increase in the number of children attending outpatient units” and a 61 percent reduction in “the number of women dying from pregnancy complications at facilities,” and “increased the number of health workers and ensured they were given big salary rises to reflect the importance of their positions,” he notes.
Access to Health Services
India “has to actively and aggressively address the issue of family planning” in order to improve human development indicators, including health, education and living standards, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said Wednesday, Reuters reports. “India, Asia’s third-largest economy, is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030,” but, “despite its impressive economic growth over the last two decades, it has failed to substantially reduce hunger as well as child and maternal mortality rates,” the news service writes, noting that “[a]bout 60 percent of Indian women have no access to family planning services.”
Fifteen million infants, or nearly one in 10 worldwide, “are born premature every year, and 1.1 million of those infants die, according to a U.N.-sponsored report released Wednesday,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborn infants and is on the rise globally, said the report led by the March of Dimes, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, Save the Children and the World Health Organization,” the news service writes (5/2). “For the report, preterm was defined as 37 weeks of completed gestation or less, the standard World Health Organization definition,” USA Today notes (Healy, 5/3). According to the report, “[p]reterm births account for 11.1 percent of the world’s live births, 60 percent of them in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” and, “[i]n the poorest countries, on average, 12 percent of babies are born too soon, compared to nine percent in higher-income countries,” the U.N. News Centre writes (5/2).
The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog rounds up results presented at a late breaker session at last week’s 2nd International Treatment as Prevention Workshop in Vancouver. The blog notes the session “offered some interesting insights relevant to HIV treatment scale up” (Lubinski, 4/30).
“The world is falling behind in its pledge to reduce HIV/AIDS infections and improve treatment, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a U.N. report [.pdf] released Monday” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Associated Press reports. The report to the U.N. General Assembly “said that ‘critical challenges remain’ if the world is to make good on promises made at a U.N.-sponsored meeting on HIV/AIDS in June 2011,” the AP writes (Alt Powell, 4/30). “Among the targets set by the international community at the June 2011 high-level meeting are the elimination of new HIV/AIDS infections in children, cutting sexually transmitted infections by 50 percent, and delivering antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people,” Xinhua/China Daily notes (5/1).
In a Foreign Policy opinion piece, former U.S. Ambassador Jack Chow, who served as a special representative for HIV/AIDS under former Secretary of State Colin Powell and currently is a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College of Public Policy, examines the challenges of delivering humanitarian aid and how “[t]he technological versatility of airborne drones, the flying robots that are already transforming warfare, … has the potential to revolutionize how humanitarian aid is delivered worldwide.” He describes the work of several start-up companies looking to employ drones for such a purpose, saying “waves of aid drones might quickly deliver a peaceful ‘first strike’ capacity of food and medicines to disaster areas.”
The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog continued its coverage of the 2nd International Treatment as Prevention Workshop in Vancouver. One post describes a presentation by Zunyou Wu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who “offered … new information about China’s response to new evidence on treatment as prevention” (Lubinski, 4/25). A second post discusses a presentation by Vladimir Novitsky of the Harvard School of Public Health, who “offered … a snapshot of a four-year treatment as prevention study planned for Botswana (Lubinski, 4/25). “Chewe Luo, a senior adviser for UNICEF, discussed efforts to eliminate vertical HIV transmission from the perspective of treatment as prevention,” according to a third post (Lubinski, 4/26). Finally, Stephen Lawn of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine “reminded the audience … that antiretroviral therapy (ART) goes a long way to protect HIV-infected individuals from tuberculosis (TB),” a fourth post notes (Lubinski, 4/26).
In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation, discusses including contraception on the global health agenda. “I have learned a lot from following the reaction to the talk I gave at TEDxChange two weeks ago,” she writes, adding, “Because I’m so passionate about the issue, I’m excited to see so many people talking about it online. The more people talk, I think, the more they’ll realize how much agreement there is around the basic argument that birth control saves lives and helps families build a better future.” She concludes, “I believe in giving women the methods they want to use so they can do what’s best for themselves and their families. … I hope we can agree that there really is no controversy around this idea” (4/26).
Lack Of Awareness, Cultural Beliefs, Transport Challenges Leading To High Number Of Maternal Deaths In Ethiopia, Officials Say
“A lack of awareness of the importance of skilled hospital deliveries in Ethiopia, cultural beliefs, and transport challenges in rural areas are causing a high number of deaths during childbirth,” officials say, according to IRIN. “Only 10 percent of deliveries take place within health facilities, according to Ethiopia’s latest (April) Demographic Health Survey results,” the news service writes, adding, “Nevertheless, the figure is a significant improvement on six percent in the previous 2005 survey.”
Nature Outlook examines the fight against malaria in Uganda. “Uganda’s tragic failure to abate malaria has numerous political, geographic, economic and social factors — and illustrates the reality that it takes more than scientific breakthroughs and cheap drugs to solve this persistent menace,” according to the article. Nature describes how a primarily rural population, “[f]unding bottlenecks, inefficient procurement processes, transportation problems,” drug stock-outs, and a lack of health care workers affects access to care and treatment for malaria, as well as how aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and other donors is supporting programs to build sustainable solutions to fighting the disease (Newmen, 4/25).