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Capitol Hill Briefing Addresses Research Agenda To End AIDS Epidemic

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).

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.”

Ministers Meet To Discuss Global Plan To Eliminate New HIV Infections Among Children

UNAIDS and PEPFAR recently brought together the ministers of health and representatives of the 22 countries with the most new HIV cases among children to discuss progress on the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive agreed to at the 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on AIDS, according to a UNAIDS press release. Though “great strides have been made in reducing HIV infections among women of reproductive age and expanding access to antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women living with HIV, … progress is not being scaled up as quickly on meeting the family planning needs of women living with HIV, preventing maternal mortality and ensuring that all children living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy,” according to UNAIDS. “The meeting was the first annual face-to-face gathering of representatives from the 22 focus countries since the launch of the Global Plan,” the press release notes (5/23).

MSF Says Additional Resources Needed To Improve ART Access In Burma

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the largest provider of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are calling for the gap between the need for and access to ART in the country to be closed, the Guardian reports. Approximately 240,000 people live with HIV in Burma, and doctors say half are in need of “urgent” ART, but national data estimates less than 30,000 were receiving ART in 2010, the newspaper writes, adding, “In a country where nearly 33 percent of people live below the poverty line, thousands of Burmese are unlikely ever to be able to afford ART, which, according to [MSF], cost $30 a month.”

This Mother’s Day, Ensure Babies Everywhere Are Born Free Of HIV

Ahead of Mother’s Day on May 13, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes in this post in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, “Together we can go from 390,000 children becoming infected with HIV each year to zero,” and he highlights “three simple things we can all do to ensure babies everywhere can be born free from HIV.”

Estimated 740,000 Deaths In Africa Averted Between 2004-2008 In Association With PEPFAR, Study Shows

“The lives of more than 740,000 people in nine African countries were saved between 2004 and 2008 by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR],” according to a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on Wednesday, HealthDay News reports (3/15). “The study is the first to show a decline in all-cause mortality related to the program,” a Stanford press release notes, adding, “To measure the impact of the program, [Eran Bendavid, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford,] and his colleagues analyzed health and survival information for more than 1.5 million adults in 27 African countries, including nine countries where PEPFAR has focused its efforts” (Richter, 5/10). According to the study, “an estimated total of 740,914 all-cause adult deaths were averted between 2004 and 2008 in association with PEPFAR,” and “[i]n comparison, PEPFAR was associated with an estimated 631,338 HIV-specific deaths averted during the same period,” a JAMA press release states, noting that “all-cause adult mortality declined more in African countries in which … PEPFAR operated more intensively” (5/15).

Treating Prenatal Maternal Infections Could Improve Birth Outcomes, Study Suggests

Clinical trials are underway to test an azithromycin-based combination treatment for pregnant women, “which could tackle some of the leading preventable causes of death for babies in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who published a report on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing that “[a] large number of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with both malaria and sexually transmitted/reproductive tract infections (STIs/RTIs),” AlertNet reports (Mollins, 5/15). “The researchers looked at 171 studies from sub-Saharan Africa over a 20-year period, which showed whether women attending antenatal clinics were infected with malaria, or with a range of sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections — syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and bacterial and parasitic infections of the vagina,” IRIN writes, adding, “If left untreated, these can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and low birthweight babies” (5/16).

Examining Key Findings Of Policy Innovation Memorandum On Safety Of World Drug, Vaccine Supply

In her blog, “The Garrett Update,” Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), provides a detailed overview of the key findings from the council’s Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 21, a six-point policy recommendation for the G8/20 that she authored, titled “Ensuring the Safety and Integrity of the World’s Drug, Vaccine, and Medicines Supply.” She writes, “Overall we find that very little data regarding the scale and impact of the unsafe drugs, medicines, and vaccines problem is reliable,” adding, “Caution is advised when using any commonly cited data regarding medicines safety or crime” (May 2012).

PLoS Blog Responds To U.N.'s Newly Released Maternal Mortality Estimates

Newly released “estimates of maternal mortality from the United Nations’ Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG) are good news — but not good enough,” Peter Byass, professor of global health at Umea University in Sweden and director of the Umea Centre for Global Health Research, writes in this post in the PLoS “Speaking of Medicine” blog. He briefly discusses the pros and cons of using “estimates” for maternal mortality data, and he concludes, “There is a risk involved for every woman who gets pregnant. But the global community has the knowledge and resources to manage those risks and minimize adverse consequences. Why can’t we stop mothers dying?” (5/16).

Ugandan AIDS Activists Concerned Over Proposed Cuts In Nation's Health Budget

AIDS activists in Uganda are worried about a proposed reduction in the country’s health budget, as Parliament begins “a months-long budgeting process for the … next fiscal year,” VOA News reports. “AIDS activists have expressed concern that Uganda’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes a six percent cut in health funding to $307.5 million,” which “is less than 10 percent of the country’s overall budget,” the news service writes. Joshua Wamboga of The AIDS Support Organization said a lack of financial commitment from the government could undermine efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in the country, VOA notes, adding, “Government officials said the cut to the health budget reflects construction projects in that sector that have been completed and no longer require funding.” According to VOA, “The budget is months away from being finalized and activists hope there is still time to increase funds” (Green, 5/15).