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).
“Researchers have identified a mysterious new disease that has left scores of people in Asia and some in the United States with AIDS-like symptoms even though they are not infected with HIV,” the Associated Press reports. “This is another kind of acquired immune deficiency that is not inherited and occurs in adults, but doesn’t spread the way AIDS does through a virus, said Dr. Sarah Browne, a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,” who “helped lead the study with researchers in Thailand and Taiwan where most of the cases have been found since 2004,” according to the news service. “Researchers are calling this new disease an ‘adult-onset’ immunodeficiency syndrome because it develops later in life and they don’t know why or how,” AP writes, adding, “The fact that nearly all the patients so far have been Asian or Asian-born people living elsewhere suggests that genetic factors and something in the environment such as an infection may trigger the disease, researchers conclude” (Marchione, 8/22).
“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.”
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).
UNICEF “has voiced alarm at the decline of breastfeeding across East Asia, stressing the need for mothers to understand its long-term benefits for the survival and development of their children,” Bernama reports (5/2). In Thailand, as few as five percent of all mothers breastfeed, about 10 percent of mothers breastfeed in Vietnam, and approximately 28 percent of mothers do so in China, according to the U.N. News Centre. “The low breastfeeding rates across East Asia result from economic developments that enable more women to enter the workforce, as well as ‘aggressive’ marketing of infant formula in the region, [UNICEF] added in a news release,” the news service reports.
“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).
“Malnutrition is likely to be the most serious health threat linked to climate shifts in the coming decades, as farmers struggle to cope with more unpredictable weather, … epidemiologist Kris Ebi warned during a recent World Health Organization (WHO) briefing on adapting health systems to climate shifts,” AlertNet reports. “Linkages between climate change, extreme weather and health have so far focused mainly on an expected increase in deaths from disasters and heat waves, as well as rising cases of malaria, dengue fever and diarrhea,” the news service writes.
Speaking at a media briefing in Geneva on Thursday, Sheila Tlou, UNAIDS director of the regional support team for Eastern and Southern Africa, said the region is making progress in scaling up access to prevention and treatment services, including behavior change and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs, the U.N. News Centre reports. “We have to now focus on making sure that we scale up voluntary medical male circumcision, behavior change, and all those [interventions] to make sure that we reduce infections,” she said, adding that improving access to treatment also is critical, according to the news service (1/19). “‘There has been quite a lot of progress since 1997 with a 25 percent reduction in new infections in our region,’ said Tlou,” Agence France-Presse notes (1/19).
“Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warned it may downgrade ‘a number of highly rated’ Group of 20 [G20] countries from 2015 if their governments fail to enact reforms to curb rising health care spending and other costs related to aging populations,” Reuters reports. “Developed nations in Europe, as well as Japan and the United States, are likely to suffer the largest deterioration in their public finances in the next four decades as more elderly strain social safety nets, S&P said in a report,” the news agency writes (Hopfner et al., 1/31).