“A new strain of a potentially deadly virus related to SARS, which has killed one man in Saudi Arabia and left a Qatari man critically ill in London, does not appear to spread easily from person to person, the World Health Organization says,” according to the New York Times (Santora, 9/29). “To ensure an appropriate and effective identification and investigation of patients who may be infected with the virus, without overburdening health care systems with unnecessary testing, WHO issued a revised interim case definition Saturday on its website,” Xinhua reports (9/30). “On Saturday, the health organization, which was rushing to develop a diagnostic test, said that doctors should test for the virus only if the patient is severely ill,” the New York Times states (9/29). “But [the agency] added anyone who has been in direct contact with a confirmed case and who has any fever or respiratory symptoms should also be tested,” Reuters notes (Kelland, 9/29).
“Scientists have come up with a test for the virus that causes AIDS that is 10 times more sensitive and a fraction of the cost of existing methods, offering the promise of better diagnosis and treatment in the developing world,” Reuters reports. “The test uses nanotechnology to give a result that can be seen with the naked eye by turning a sample red or blue, according to research from scientists at Imperial College in London published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology,” the news agency writes (Wickham, 10/28). “The test can be configured to a unique signature of a disease or virus — such as a protein found on the surface of HIV,” and if the marker is present, a chemical reaction causes a blue result and a red result if the marker is not present, according to BBC News. “Early testing showed the presence of markers of HIV and prostate cancer could be detected,” BBC News notes, adding, “However, trials on a much larger scale will be needed before it could be used clinically” (Gallagher, 10/28).
A new pilot project in Cambodia is allowing more than 3,000 volunteer health workers to use a special mobile phone text messaging service to report new cases of malaria, in addition to providing no-cost testing and treatment “in remote parts of the impoverished nation, where access to health services can be difficult,” Agence France-Presse reports. When a person tests positive for malaria, health workers begin them on treatment immediately and send a text message with the patient’s age, gender, type of malaria, and location “to the district health center, provincial health officials and a national malaria database in the capital Phnom Penh — a process that used to take a month,” AFP notes. “The information is also fed into Google Earth to create a map of reported cases and of potential hotspots of [malaria drug] resistance,” a problem in western Cambodia, according to the news service. “Together, the data helps officials track each case and make sure the right treatment is available or that more medication is supplied when stocks are running low,” AFP writes, adding, “Some 230 volunteers have used the mobile phone service so far and there are plans to eventually include all volunteers in the project,” which is being implemented by the Malaria Consortium (Se, 9/17).
Global Health Funding Cuts Threatening Fight Against HIV, TB In Eastern Europe, Central Asia, NGO Report Says
The fight against HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is being threatened by cuts in global health funding, according to “a report [.pdf] by leading European non-governmental health organizations,” Reuters reports. In the report, “experts called on the European Union to step in to fill the gaps left by global donors to countries within and neighboring its borders,” the news service notes. According to Reuters, “[c]ountries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have some of the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemics,” and “Europe is also home to the world’s highest documented rates of drug-resistant TB” (Kelland, 9/18).
“A total of 8,480 people have been affected by dengue fever in Costa Rica” so far this year, representing an increase of 36 percent, or 2,230 more cases than during the same period last year, according to a Ministry of Health report, Xinhua News reports. “Among all the cases so far, only nine people were affected by hemorrhagic dengue fever, which is a more serious and sometimes mortal type of dengue, the report added,” the news service writes (9/17). Health authorities are urging people to eliminate possible sources of reproduction for mosquitoes, including disposing of old tires, according to a health ministry press release (9/11).
Researchers from South Africa and South Korea are developing a smartphone-based device and application able to “photograph and analyze blood samples in areas far from laboratories to diagnose HIV and even measure the health of [patients'] immune systems,” Agence France-Presse reports. The device, called Smartscope, is a small microscope that clips over a phone’s camera and holds a standard chip with a blood sample, the news service notes, adding the camera then photographs the sample and the application analyzes the photo to produce a CD4 cell count. “The team hopes that trials in clinics may start next year,” according to AFP (8/31).
In a 200th anniversary article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Salmaan Keshavjee of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Paul Farmer of Partners in Health “seek to elucidate the reasons for the anemic response to drug-resistant tuberculosis [TB] by examining the recent history of tuberculosis policy,” they write. The authors outline the history of TB drug development and how the disease became resistant to myriad drugs, and write that by the 1970s, “[t]uberculosis, whether caused by drug-susceptible or drug-resistant strains, rarely made even medical headlines, in part because its importance as a cause of death continued to decline in areas in which headlines are written. They continue, “In the United States, federal funding for tuberculosis research was cut; consequently, drug discovery, development of diagnostics, and vaccine research ground almost to a halt.”
Approximately one-third of children under the age of five in southern Afghanistan, about one million, have acute malnutrition, “with a level of deprivation similar to that found in famine zones, a government survey has found, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that has been poured into the region,” the Guardian reports. The U.N.-supported “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) found 29.5 percent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition there,” the newspaper states, noting that a level of more than 30 percent is one indicator of famine, as are death rates and families’ access to food.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Thursday hosted a panel discussion focusing on the policy implications of findings published by the Lancet in a special series on HIV/AIDS and men who have sex with men (MSM), the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports (Barton, 9/7). Chris Beyrer, a professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a contributor to the Lancet series, explained two factors are affecting the expansion of the HIV epidemic among MSM worldwide, according to Inter Press Service. First, HIV “is far more efficiently transmitted through the gut, hence leading to a far higher transmission probability in anal sex, for either a man or a woman — around 18 times more likely than through vaginal transmission,” the news service writes. Second, “because gay men can switch sexual roles in a way that is impossible among heterosexual couples — acting as both the acquisition and transmission partner — the efficiency of transmission among MSM networks appears to be far higher than previously understood,” IPS adds, noting, “These two factors, the new research suggests, account for a full 98 percent of the difference between HIV epidemics among MSM and heterosexual populations.”
In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Christine Rousseau, a program officer at the foundation, describes the importance of diagnostics in HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) care and treatment and writes, “This brings me to the tremendous role that China’s entrepreneurs can play as partners in global health. China is a country with a huge capacity for innovation as well as the resources required to create new products. We believe that China is uniquely positioned to develop new health technologies that can benefit people in the developing world faster and more effectively than product developers elsewhere.” She notes “the HIV and TB teams of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be presenting the business case for a new generation of diagnostics to Chinese researchers, product developers, and investors at the China Diagnostics Conference in Shanghai on September 25 and 26” (9/24).