As part of its monthly series Stories Behind the Statistics, “guest edited by FHI 360 on behalf of USAID’S IYWG, which provides technical leadership to improve the reproductive and sexual health of young people,” the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog features a story by Gaj Bahadur Gurung, program coordinator for the National Federation of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Nepal, who discusses the impact of adolescent pregnancy on girls and young women in South Asia. He writes, “Policies and programs must both help prevent early and unintended pregnancy (for married and unmarried women) and mitigate the negative consequences for girls who do become pregnant. Programs should provide young women access to, control over, and informed choice of their sexual and maternal health services” (8/3).
Noting the United Nations last week “announced the appointment of Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, the former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as the U.N. Secretary-General’s new special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Foundations’ global drug policy program, writes in this Huffington Post opinion piece, “[W]hile Dr. Kazatchkine’s skills will be principally devoted to a handful of E.U. Member States and some neighbors, all of Europe would be wise to heed his guidance on the importance of sensible drug policies in the HIV response.” She continues, “As a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy — a body of experts from politics, health, academia and business — Dr. Kazatchkine reminded leaders that ‘the war on drugs has fueled the HIV epidemic.'”
“Over diagnosis and mistreatment of malaria in central and south Asia may be widespread, leading to the neglect of other serious illnesses, according to a new study from Afghanistan,” published in the British Medical Journal last month, SciDev.Net reports. “Because malaria in this region is rare and mainly caused by a less dangerous form of the disease … overtreatment may actually be worse for public health than it is in Africa or South-East Asia,” the study says, according to the news service. “Researchers assessed the accuracy of malaria diagnoses and treatment for over 2,300 patients with suspected malaria at 22 clinics in northern and eastern Afghanistan” and “found that a large proportion of patients with negative microscopy slides were still being prescribed antimalarial treatment.” “This meant that the real causes of these diseases went untreated,” the news service writes, adding, “The findings contradict a common assumption that there is a greater risk of malaria being missed than over diagnosed in this region of low malaria prevalence, compared with Africa or South-East Asia” (Yusufzai, 8/13).
In an opinion piece in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” blog, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, discusses potential policies contained within the “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a pact that the United States is negotiating with Australia, Canada, Japan and eight other countries in the Pacific region.” However, “[a]t this point, it’s not really possible to discuss the merits of the TPP since the governments are keeping the proposed text a secret from the public,” he says. Noting “[a] few items that have been leaked give us some insight as to the direction of this pact,” he discusses how the “pharmaceutical industry is … likely to be a big gainer” from the TPP if the pact includes “stronger and longer patent protection and also increased use of ‘data exclusivity.'”
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).
FAO Officials, Country Representatives Meet In Vietnam To Discuss Food Security, Nutrition In Asia-Pacific Region
Representatives of 40 member countries of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as senior officials from the agency, on Monday opened the 31st FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Hanoi, Vietnam, to “discuss in depth the issues of food security and rural poverty reduction,” Xinhua/China Daily reports (3/12). Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO assistant director general, “sa[id] rising food prices and frequent natural disasters are making it harder to ease hunger and malnutrition in the Asia-Pacific region,” VOA’s “Breaking News” blog writes, adding he “said the challenge of eradicating hunger has also been complicated by the effects of climate change, trade policies, soaring crude oil prices and the growing use of food crops for biofuels.” According to the blog, “ministers [at the meeting] will review a report on measures to speed up progress toward the goal of cutting hunger levels in half in Asia-Pacific by 2015,” a “target was set at a World Food Summit in 1996” (3/12).
This week the WHO brought together lawmakers from across Southeast Asia in Bangkok “to discuss how to bolster their health systems back home,” IRIN reports. Meeting participants were “called on to advocate the boosting of health spending, workforces and access to health care in their home countries in addition to drafting ‘healthy public policies,’ such as conducting health assessments before large infrastructural projects are undertaken,” the news service writes.
“[O]ften seen in the wealthy West as a disease of bygone eras,” Reuters examines rising rates of tuberculosis (TB) — drug-resistant TB in particular — among the world’s rich and poor. “[R]apidly rising rates of drug-resistant TB in some of the wealthiest cities in the world, as well as across Africa and Asia, are again making history,” Reuters writes. According to the news service, “London has been dubbed the ‘tuberculosis capital of Europe,’ and a startling recent study documenting new cases of so-called ‘totally drug-resistant’ TB in India suggests the modern-day tale of this disease could get a lot worse.”
Using data from cancer registries worldwide, researchers from the International Agency for Cancer Research (IACR) found that 169.3 million years of healthy life were lost to cancer in 2008, according to a study published on Tuesday in the Lancet, HealthDay News reports. Using “a measure called disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) to assess not only the impact of fatal cancer, but also the effects of disabilities among cancer survivors,” the researchers also found men in Eastern Europe and women in sub-Saharan Africa had the largest cancer burden worldwide; increased access to treatment has not improved survival outcomes for several common cancers; and lower-income countries have higher average levels of premature death due to cancer, while higher-income countries have higher average levels of cancer-related disability and impairment, according to the news service. Study co-author Freddie Bray, deputy head of the IARC Cancer Information Section, said in a Lancet press release, “Our findings illustrate quite starkly how cancer is already a barrier to sustainable development in many of the poorest countries across the world and this will only be exacerbated in the coming years if cancer control is neglected,” the news service notes (10/15).