“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.'”
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.
Most Asian Countries Fail To Include Rotavirus Vaccine In National Immunization Programs Citing Cost As Barrier
“Most countries in Asia have yet to make the rotavirus vaccine part of their national immunization program (NIP), despite a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to do so,” IRIN reports. “Worldwide, rotavirus accounts for 37 percent of all diarrhea deaths in children under five with 95 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries,” the news service states, noting, “There are no antibiotics or any other drug to fight the infection and since 2009 WHO has recommended the global use of the rotavirus vaccine.” Forty-one countries worldwide include rotavirus vaccine in their NIPs, but “only two countries in Asia — Philippines and Thailand — are vaccinating (or are about to) children against rotavirus,” according to IRIN. An email to IRIN from WHO’s Manila office stated, “Price continues to be an important barrier to introducing rotavirus vaccine,” the news service notes (9/7).
During the second day of a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sunday, leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific nations discussed food security, VOA’s “Breaking News” blog reports. “Russian President Vladimir Putin called food security one of the most acute problems today as he opened the final day of talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit,” the blog writes (9/9). The leaders also discussed trade and innovative growth in the region, Xinhua notes (9/9). “During their meetings, the APEC leaders are expected to approve various initiatives, including one that will cut tariffs on environmental-related goods — such as waste-water treatment technologies — to five percent by 2015,” the Associated Press/Washington Post writes, adding, “They also are expected to endorse measures for ensuring food security, protecting supply chains and beefing up emergency preparedness” (Berry, 9/8).
Pacific Island Nations Show Progress On Child Mortality MDG But Challenged On Reducing Poverty, Report Says
“The Pacific Islands are making steady progress on reducing child mortality, but most are struggling to eradicate poverty and generate employment for young and rapidly growing populations,” Inter Press Service reports in an article examining how 10 of 14 nations in the region are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on child mortality. The 2012 Regional MDG Tracking Report (.pdf), recently released by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), “comes three years after PIF countries signed a compact to strengthen the co-ordination of resources to boost development progress,” IPS notes. Though many of the countries might reach MDG 4 to halve child mortality by 2015, “[h]alving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, as mandated by MDG 1, is a considerable challenge across the Pacific,” the news agency states. IPS discusses progress on the MDG goals for specific nations in the region. “The PIF believes that accelerated regional progress on the goals before 2015 is dependent on political will,” the news agency writes (Wilson, 11/7).
“More than 200 health experts have gathered in Sydney for a three-day conference to bolster political commitment to tackle the spread of malaria,” IRIN reports (10/31). “‘Malaria 2012: Saving Lives in the Pacific’ is being co-hosted by [Australian] Foreign Minister Bob Carr and United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers,” according to an AusAID press release, which adds, “The conference, which is being convened by AusAID, begins on Wednesday with two days of technical and policy discussion, culminating on Friday 2 November with a ministerial action meeting” (10/30). “‘There were 30 million [malaria] cases and 42,000 deaths reported in Asia [in 2010] so we aim to achieve greater regional collaboration and coordinated efforts from this conference,’ Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, executive director of Roll Back Malaria Partnership, told IRIN,” the news service notes (10/31).
“Growing resistance to a key anti-malarial drug derived from a shrub used in traditional Chinese medicine is threatening to roll back gains made in combating the disease,” according to experts attending a U.N.-sponsored malaria conference that concluded on Friday in Sydney, Australia, the U.N. News Centre reports. Malaria “therapies based on artemisinin — an extract from the sweet wormwood bush used for centuries in Chinese medicine as a fever cure — were” formulated in combination with other antimalarials to form artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) that the WHO thought would be effective for years, but resistance to the ACTs has begun to appear in some areas, the news service notes. “Specifically, [the Roll Back Malaria Partnership] noted, artemisinin resistance has been detected in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam,” the news service writes (11/2). Agence France-Presse examines efforts to fight drug-resistant malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (Rook, 11/4).
“Poverty is the leading cause of many vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin A,” and the problem is acute in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food staples such as cassava and rice are high in calories but low in nutrients, Inter Press Service reports. Some experts say parents’ lack of knowledge about the nutritional requirements for children can lead to undernourishment, particularly in children under age five, the news service notes. “Still, there are signs that the trend is changing, largely due to a renewed push by development practitioners around the world to tackle the problem,” IPS writes and describes several efforts to improve access to vitamins. The news service concludes, “Nutrition plays a role in achieving almost every [Millennium Development Goal] — its impact on child health, for instance, could also boost the number of children attending school, promote gender equality by empowering women to take a more active role in their children’s health, and also improve maternal health, thereby reducing the maternal mortality ratio” (11/26).
U.N. Says Asia Pacific Region Making Strides Against HIV/AIDS, Must Address Social And Legal Barriers To Treatment, Prevention
The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) on Monday in Bangkok “opened a three-day meeting lauding impressive gains in recent years in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” but the body cautioned “there are still legal and social barriers that significantly set back eradication efforts,” VOA News reports. U.N. ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer “note[d] the gains are uneven and there are still gaps in the goal of universal access to HIV treatment,” the news service writes.