“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).
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.’”
“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).
“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).
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).
In a post on the USDA Blog, economists Stacey Rosen and Shahla Shapouri of the Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Security and Development Branch describe the latest ERS International Food Security Assessment, which covers 76 countries in Asia, Latin America, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. “For 2012, we estimate the situation overall to improve slightly, with the number of food-insecure people declining to 802 million people, from 814 million in 2011. The decade ahead presents a different picture, with food-insecure numbers rising by 37 million, although this 4.6 percent increase is below the 16.7 percent rise in population,” they write, noting, “The key factors we measure in determining the level of food security are countries’ domestic food production and their import capacity” (8/2).
Noting the United Nations last week “announced the appointment of Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, the former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as the U.N. Secretary-General’s new special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Foundations’ global drug policy program, writes in this Huffington Post opinion piece, “[W]hile Dr. Kazatchkine’s skills will be principally devoted to a handful of E.U. Member States and some neighbors, all of Europe would be wise to heed his guidance on the importance of sensible drug policies in the HIV response.” She continues, “As a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy — a body of experts from politics, health, academia and business — Dr. Kazatchkine reminded leaders that ‘the war on drugs has fueled the HIV epidemic.’”
Inter Press Service examines efforts Laos is taking to improve its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 470 deaths per 100,000 live births, especially among rural populations that do not have access to health care services. “A majority of the country’s 6.5 million people live in rural communities scattered across this mountainous Southeast Asian nation, and over 80 percent of the women give birth at home, according to studies by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),” the news service writes. “June saw 80 midwives graduate from a special program shaped by the ministry of health, international donors and the UNFPA, … add[ing] to the initial group of 140 midwives who qualified last year,” IPS notes. The news service continues, “And as the community midwives program forges ahead, focus is shifting to more professional care in isolated communities in the mountainous areas and rural lowlands,” with the goal of reaching the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of reducing MMR by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015 (Macan-Markar, 7/31).
“A summit designed to kickstart a joint effort by world leaders to address hunger and malnutrition will be held in London on 12 August to coincide with the closing day of the Olympics, the British government has announced,” the Guardian reports. “It’s really important that, while the eyes of the world are on Britain and we are going to put on this fantastic show for the Olympics, we remember people in other parts of the world who, far from being excited about the Olympics, are actually worried about their next meal and whether they are getting enough to eat,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said, adding, “We are going to have other world leaders [involved] â€¦ to challenge the world to tackle the problem of malnutrition, hunger and stunted growth,” according to the newspaper. Cameron first announced the summit following the G8 meeting in May, the newspaper notes (Marchal, 7/27).
RECENT RELEASE: U.N. Secretary-General Appoints Special Envoy For HIV/AIDS In Eastern Europe, Central Asia
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday “appointed Michel Kazatchkine as his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, one of only two regions in the world where HIV is continuing to grow,” a U.N. press release states. “Michel Kazatchkine is an internationally recognized physician who has devoted 30 years of his professional life to the AIDS response,” the press release notes, adding that he has served as executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and director of the French National Agency for AIDS Research (7/20).