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Al Jazeera Business Program Examines Fight Against Malaria

Al Jazeera’s “Counting the Cost” program on Saturday focused on the fight against malaria and the “business behind its treatment and prevention.” According to the program, progress against malaria “is being threatened in these tough economic times. There is a $3 billion shortfall in funding for malaria treatment and prevention.” The program reports on drug-resistant malaria strains in South-East Asia; examines a vaccine candidate under development by GlaxoSmithKline; speaks with Jo Lines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Christoph Benn of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria about the impact of the international financial crisis on the fight against the disease; and discusses a mobile phone app developed by a group of medical students that would help people receive a quicker diagnosis and treatment (Santamaria, 5/26).

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).

Health Experts Gather In Sydney For 3-Day Malaria Conference

“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 Concern In Asia Over Resistance To Artemisinin-Based Antimalarial Medicines

“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).

UNICEF Stresses Need For Higher Breastfeeding Rates In East Asia

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.

More Research Needed Into How Transgender Persons In Asia, Pacific Affected By HIV, Stigma, Report Says

A report released Thursday in Bangkok by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) says more research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which transgender persons in Asia and the Pacific are affected by HIV, are socially ostracized, and lack fundamental rights, including access to basic health care, a UNDP press release reports. The report, released to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, is “a comprehensive review of material gathered from across the region over the past 12 years” and “emphasizes that inclusive research, designed and implemented in partnership with the transgender community, is critical to enable governments, community-based organizations and supporting organizations to enhance HIV and sexual health care services specific to the needs of transgender people, and foster action by governments to adopt more socially equitable policies and practices to protect their rights,” according to the press release (5/17).

Maternal Deaths Drop By Nearly Half Worldwide Over 20 Years; Greater Progress Still Needed, U.N. Reports

“The number of women dying of pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in 20 years, according to new estimates released [on Wednesday] by the United Nations, which stressed that greater progress is still needed in significantly reducing maternal deaths,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/16). “The report, ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010,’ shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 — a decline of 47 percent,” a UNFPA press release states (5/16). However, “[w]hile substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal death by 75 percent through 2015,” Inter Press Service writes (Deen, 5/16). “Countries in Eastern Asia have made [the] most progress on improving the health of expectant and new mothers, said the report,” Agence France-Presse adds (5/16).

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.

Health Status Of Indigenous Populations Across Asia Unknown, Putting Them At Risk, Experts Say

“The health of millions of indigenous people across Asia is at risk, experts say, as lack of recognition of their legal status hinders data collection, making their medical problems invisible in most national health surveys,” IRIN reports. “Indigenous peoples — defined by the U.N. as people with ancestral ties to a geographical region who retain ‘distinct characteristics’ from other parts of the population — rank disproportionately high in most indicators of poor health, according to the U.N. Secretariat Department of Economic and Social Affairs,” the news service adds.

IPS Examines Undernourishment, Efforts To Reverse Vitamin Deficiencies

“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).

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