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).
“Despite pledges from governments across Eastern Europe and Central Asia to fight HIV/AIDS — one of the eight Millennium Development Goals — the region has the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic,” Inter Press Service reports in an article examining challenges to stemming the spread of the disease, particularly among injection drug users. “Punitive drug policies, discrimination and problems with access to medicines and important therapy are all driving an epidemic which is unlikely to be contained, world experts say, until governments in countries with the worst problems change key policies and approaches to the disease,” the news service writes. According to experts and activists, a lack of opiate-substitution therapy (OST) and needle-exchange programs, as well as discrimination against and “active persecution” of drug users who try to access therapy programs, contributes to the spread of HIV, IPS notes (Stracansky, 9/3).
“Stunting is a key factor holding back progress on children’s well-being, and Asia faces a significant challenge with millions of children under five stunted,” according to Save the Children’s 2012 Child Development Index (CDI), IRIN reports. The news service examines data from the 2012 State of the World’s Children report (.pdf), noting that nearly 60 percent of children under five in Afghanistan and Timor Leste have moderate to severe stunting, which puts children “at greater risk of illness and death, impaired cognitive development and poor school performance, say health experts.”
The annual number of child deaths worldwide has fallen more than 40 percent since 1990, “the result of myriad improvements in nutrition, access to vaccines and antibiotics, cleaner deliveries, better care of infants immediately after birth, and the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets,” according to “the findings of a report released Wednesday by three United Nations agencies and the World Bank,” the Washington Post reports (Brown, 9/12). “In 1990, there were 12 million deaths of young children, but the latest figures … show that deaths had fallen by nearly half, to 6.9 million, by 2011,” the Guardian writes (Boseley, 9/12). “[T]he number of deaths is down by at least 50 percent in eastern, western and southeastern Asia, as well as in northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean,” the report says, VOA News notes (Schlein, 9/12). However, “[i]n some, mainly sub-Saharan countries, the total number of deaths of children younger than five increased,” BBC News writes, adding, “The Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Somalia, Mali, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso saw annual deaths of children under five rise by 10,000 or more in 2011 as compared with 1990” (Doyle, 9/13).
The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) “is planning to boost support for medical research, technology and innovations,” as well as “encourage collaboration and capacity building aimed at poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases,” SciDev.Net reports. The agency’s draft Medical Research Strategy for the Pacific “outlines how AusAID will support research both at the ‘preventative end and at the curative end’ to create new medical products such as diagnostics, drugs or vaccines, and to improve the clinical treatment of people in poor communities” and “says there are hardly any financial incentives for commercial investment in diseases affecting the poor, who bear the biggest burden of disease,” according to the news service. “The strategy fits within the Australian government’s overall policy of making aid more effective,” SciDev.Net states, noting an AusAID spokesperson based in Canberra said, “Practical research will help inform where and how the resources of Australia and its partners can be most effectively and efficiently deployed” (Jackson, 9/10).
“Right now, in Leesburg, Va., the office of the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a so-called ‘trade agreement’ — the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’ — that could put the lives of millions of innocent civilians at risk” by potentially limiting access to life-saving medications, including antiretroviral drugs, Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy, writes in the Huffington Post Blog. “The process is secret: USTR refuses to publish a draft negotiating text, so any American who isn’t cleared by USTR to see the text can’t say for sure exactly what USTR is doing right now,” he writes, adding, “But because there was a previous leak of the chapter of the draft negotiating text that dealt with intellectual property claims, people who have followed these issues closely have some idea of what USTR has been doing on our dime.”
During a meeting with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe on Tuesday, Indonesia Minister of Health Nafsiah Mboi “pledged to scale up HIV testing and treatment programs” with a “focus on 141 districts where key affected populations are the highest,” a UNAIDS feature story reports. “Indonesia also plans to become one of several countries in the region to offer universal health care by 2014,” with HIV treatment to be covered, according to the health ministry, UNAIDS notes. Sidibe said, “Indonesia is a key partner in the drive to end the AIDS epidemic. … Universal health coverage is a game changer for Indonesia. I am delighted to know that HIV treatment will be included in this national program. This sets the stage for sustainable funding of HIV programs,” the article states. “The Ministry of Health estimates that more than 600,000 people are living with HIV and that there are more than 76,000 new HIV infections each year,” according to UNAIDS, which adds, “Currently HIV treatment coverage is at less than 20 percent” (10/23).
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).
“Achieving the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the prevalence of hunger in the world by 2015 is still within reach, but a strong, sustained acceleration of efforts is needed,” U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva writes in a Reuters opinion piece. He notes a new report from the Rome food agencies shows the “global number of chronically hungry people has declined by 130 million since 1990, falling from a little over one billion people to 868 million — 852 million of them in developing countries.”
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.