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Voters Need More Information On Free Trade Agreement That Could Impact Drug Prices

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 Global Maternal Mortality

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).

First International Podoconiosis Initiative Launched

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).

WHO Convenes Lawmakers From Southeast Asia To Discuss Bolstering Of Health Systems In Region

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.

Reuters Examines Global Rise In Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Cases

“[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.”

Study Demonstrates Cancer Control Essential For Development Progress, Researcher Says

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).

'Bold Goals' Needed To Spur Political Action In Fight Against Hunger

“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.”

Indonesia Plans To Include HIV Treatment In Universal Health Care Coverage

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).

Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreading In Asia, Experts Warn

“Drug-resistant malaria is spreading in Asia, experts warned as a high-level conference opened Wednesday with the aim of hammering out an action plan to strengthen the region’s response,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Resistance to the drug used everywhere to cure the life-threatening disease has emerged in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar,” Richard Feachem, director of global health at the University of California, San Francisco and former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, according to the news service. “The danger is that at some time this resistance may break out of Southeast Asia and crop up in Africa,” he added, AFP writes. Feachem spoke ahead of the “Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Asia-Pacific” conference in Sydney, which “will seek consensus on the actions needed to strengthen the region’s response to malaria,” according to AFP (Coorey, 10/31).