“Millions of people in Africa’s turbulent Sahel region are on the brink of starvation due to drought and conflict, the United Nations said on Wednesday, and aid response plans are less than 40 percent funded ahead of an expected crisis peak,” Reuters reports (3/29). Following a week-long trip to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, “This is already an appalling crisis in terms of the scale and degree of human suffering and it will get worse unless the response plans are properly funded. … It’s a matter of life or death for millions who are on the brink,” according to the U.N. News Centre. “More than 15 million people in the Sahel are directly affected by worsening food shortages and malnutrition brought on by the ongoing drought, which has been compounded by conflict and insecurity,” the news service writes, noting that Ging added, “More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and over one million are threatened with severe acute malnutrition right now” (3/28).
Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), addresses a recent New York Times article on “medical brain drain” in this CGD “Global Development: Views From The Center” blog post, saying the article’s approval of “a horrific proposal to put recruiters of health workers on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity … is breathtakingly misguided.” He continues, “Recruiters do not ‘steal’ people. They give information to people about jobs those people are qualified for. The professional ambitions of those people have equal value to yours and mine, and those ambitions cannot be realized without information.” Clemens says “coercively blocking the unconditional right of a health worker to emigrate — such as by declaring her to be owned by a government and prosecuting her recruiter at The Hague — is a crime against humanity,” and cites several other articles he has written on the subject (3/12).
“The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is warning that more than a million children below the age of five in the Sahel are facing a disaster amid the ongoing food crisis in the drought-prone region of Africa,” the U.N. News Centre reports (3/16). “‘More extreme conditions could see this number rise to about 1.5 million and the problem is that funding is not coming in at the rate that we need in order to prepare properly,’ [UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado] said. ‘So far we have received just one-fifth of the $119 million we have asked for in 2012,'” VOA News writes (3/16).
Al Jazeera examines maternal mortality worldwide, saying, “If the situation continues at its current rate, the world will not meet” the U.N. Millennium Development Goal “to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015.” Though the estimated number of women who die of maternal mortality has dropped from 546,000 in 1990 to 340,000 today, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy in developing countries “is still high at one in 31,” compared with one in 4,300 in developed countries, the news agency reports. “Attaining zero maternal death would require greater community involvement and commitment” and increased access to contraceptives and skilled birth attendants, according to experts, Al Jazeera notes (Arjunpuri, 3/19).
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ “End the Neglect” blog highlights “the first-ever international podoconiosis initiative, Footwork,” launched on March 15. “Footwork is aimed at raising public awareness about the causes and impact of podoconiosis” — a form of elephantiasis — “in affected communities, and advocates for it to be included in global health and [neglected tropical disease] agendas,” the blog writes, adding, “An estimated four million people in highland tropical Africa are affected with podoconiosis, and it has been confirmed in at least 15 countries in Africa, Central America and Asia” (Patel, 3/16).
In a report published last week, the World Bank “called on African governments and international donors to increase efforts to prevent new HIV infections in order to control treatment costs,” VOA News reports. “One of the report’s co-authors, Markus Haacker, said countries facing the highest burden are often not those with the highest infection rate, but rather low-income countries that lack the resources to keep pace with each new infection,” VOA notes.
According to a report (.pdf) drafted by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union (A.U.) Commission that reviews the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for Africa, the continent recorded a slight drop in infant, child, and maternal mortality in 2011, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. Released at a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday, the report showed that while North African nations are making good progress on maternal, infant, and child mortality indicators, countries in sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind U.N. goals for reducing mortality, the news service reports. In sub-Saharan Africa, the under-five mortality rate fell from 174 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 121 per 1,000 live births in 2009, and at least 24 nations in the region had a maternal mortality rate above 500 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008, according to PANA (3/23).
“To break free of its dependence on donor money and supplies from India, Africa must develop its own pharmaceutical pipeline by creating policy frameworks that encourage a fledgling drug industry,” journalist Priya Shetty argues in this SciDev.Net opinion piece. “Although India’s drug industry continues to churn out generics against killer diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, there is no end to resistance from global pharmaceutical companies wanting to extend the duration of market exclusivity on their brand-name drugs to prevent competition from generics,” she writes, and notes, “The Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) forum, to be held in South Africa in April 2012, will discuss how resource-poor nations can become more self-sufficient.”
“The rising enthusiasm for providing more medicines threatens to come at the expense of promising initiatives for preventing HIV infections in the first place — initiatives that could save many lives, with less money,” Craig Timberg, the newspaper’s deputy national security editor, and Daniel Halperin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, write in this Washington Post opinion piece. “Ambitious treatment efforts and smart prevention programs are, of course, not inherently at odds. But especially in an era of fiscal constraint, these two goals could come into conflict,” they write, continuing, “The result, wasteful in dollars spent and lives diminished, would represent only the latest misjudgment by powerful donor nations such as the United States, which still struggle to understand the root causes of an epidemic that has spread most widely in weaker, poorer nations.”
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “on Friday appealed for an extra $69.8 million to aid 790,000 vulnerable households in the drought-hit Sahel region in West Africa,” Agence France-Presse/Vanguard reports (3/10). “In a news release, the [FAO] said that at least 15 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity in countries in the Sahel, including 5.4 million people in Niger, three million in Mali, 1.7 million in Burkina Faso and 3.6 million in Chad, as well as hundreds of thousands in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania,” the U.N. News Centre writes (3/9). FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said, “We need to act to prevent further deterioration of the food security situation and to avoid a full-scale food and nutrition crisis,” according to AFP (3/10).