“It’s easy to get the impression that [recent controversy over research into mutated versions of the H5N1 flu virus] has created a clear split between a scientific community that wants the research to proceed and the results to be published and a biosecurity community that doesn’t,” biological-weapons expert Tim Trevan writes in this Nature opinion piece. But “[a]s a member of this biosecurity community for more than 30 years — I was special adviser to the chairman of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq and covered chemical and biological disarmament with the U.K. Foreign Office in both London and Geneva, Switzerland — I believe this to be a false dichotomy,” he states.
With the disease burden of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria expected to make up less than 15 percent of the total disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030, and non-communicable diseases to account for nearly 40 percent of the total in the region, “[a] revision of the approach to research and health care in SSA is therefore urgently needed, but international donors and health communities have generally been slow to respond to the changing environment,” Ole Olesen and M. Iqbal Parker of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in South Africa write in a commentary in Tropical Medicine & International Health. “Private and public funding for health research in Africa remains therefore disproportionately focused on the three major infectious diseases, whereas only smaller amounts have been allocated to confront other diseases,” they write and provide examples.
NPR’s “Shots” blog reports on efforts to determine the source of Haiti’s cholera epidemic, writing, “Most researchers currently believe that United Nations peacekeeping soldiers introduced cholera to Haiti in October of 2010,” but researchers from the University of Maryland report they “have found two very different cholera strains in some of the first Haitians to be struck by the disease.” According to the blog, “One is a so-called 01 serotype with close resemblance to the Nepalese strain, found in about half the patients sampled,” while “[t]he other is a type called non-01/O139 that has never been known to cause an epidemic; it was found in 21 percent of patients.”
“The Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters [on Tuesday] announced the publication of a new study tracking the current status of research on neglected tropical diseases [NTDs],” a Thomson Reuters Corporation press release reports. “The Global Research Report Neglected Tropical Diseases analyzes research output across countries and fields from 1992-2011 and finds a two-fold increase in published literature focused on a group of diseases identified by the World Health Organization as underserved by public health services,” the press release states, adding, “Despite these recent gains, the total research output is still significantly less than that of ‘first world’ diseases” (6/19).
Less Expensive ARV Combination Just As Effective For Women In Developing Countries As Costlier ARVs, Study Shows
A new study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston shows that the less-expensive antiretroviral nevirapine, when used in combination with other antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), is as effective as a more expensive combination among women in developing countries, VOA News reports. While the nevirapine-containing combination was not as effective as some ARV combinations available in the U.S., “about 83 percent of women were able to suppress their virus and stay alive and well after starting the nevirapine-based regimen,” according to lead author Shahin Lockman, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, who looked at the combinations among 500 African women with late-stage HIV infection, according to the news service.
“This week, at the Pacific Health Summit in London, the final large-scale trial was officially launched of a vaginal ring which women can wear and forget about — at least for a month at a time — while it releases an HIV virus-killing drug called dapivirine,” the Guardian reports. “If successful, it could also be combined with hormonal contraception,” the newspaper notes. The phase III clinical trial, “launched by the International Partnership for Microbicides, is already recruiting women in South Africa, Rwanda and Malawi” and “will involve 1,650 women — enough to prove definitively whether it works,” according to the newspaper (Boseley, 6/13).
South African TB Conference Hears Demands From Advocacy Organizations To Improve, Decentralize Treatment
The 2012 South African TB Conference opened Tuesday night in Durban, with the Treatment Action Campaign, Section27, and Oxfam delivering “a memorandum containing five demands to conference organizers shortly before the opening,” health-e News Service reports. The organizations “called for patients with drug-resistant TB who were failing to respond to treatment to be given ‘access to the best available medicines,'” even if they are not yet approved by the Medicines Control Council; “the diagnosis of all people living with TB”; and “the decentralization of care for people with drug-resistant TB, enabling them to be treated at home instead of hospitalized for long periods,” the news service writes (Cullinan, 6/13).
“Brazilian researchers say they have successfully tested a vaccine against schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms that afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide,” Agence France-Presse reports. Researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro “said it had successfully tested the vaccine in humans, but that more testing would be required in areas where the parasite is most common, mainly in Africa and South America,” the news agency writes. Institute researcher Tania Araujo-Jorge said she hopes the vaccine will be available for distribution within three years, according to AFP (6/13).
While conducting more clinical trials in developing countries can help under-represented populations benefit from new medical developments, trials in low-income settings face challenges such as complicated regulations, Trudie Lang of the Centre for Tropical Medicine at the University of Oxford and Sisira Siribaddana of the University of Rajarata and the Institute of Research & Development in Sri Lanka write in an essay published Tuesday in PLoS Medicine (6/12). According to a PLoS press release, “The authors conclude: ‘the globalization of clinical trials should not be about running inexpensive trial sites to benefit distant people, but should focus on bringing research to populations who have previously been under-represented in clinical trials, and enabling these same communities the benefits resulting from new drugs, vaccines, and improvements in managing health'” (6/12).
In this post in the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters” blog, Carel IJsselmuiden, executive director of the Council on Health for Development Group, writes that “Africa must turn its health research into treatments for African people,” noting, “Despite large investments being made by donors in health products and delivery of health services, a large percentage of Africans still have limited access to sufficient and quality healthcare — especially in rural areas.” He notes that a “recent report, Investing in health for Africa — released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank and USAID to name a few of the partners — says average additional spending in sub-Saharan Africa of $21 to $36 could in 2015 alone save more than three million lives, 90 percent of which would be women and children.”