“An outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever has claimed possibly as many as 31 lives in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo since May, Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi said Thursday,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Numbi said an international committee for technical and scientific coordination in the fight against Ebola had carried out retrospective research to find previous cases, which raised the death toll,” according to the news agency (9/13). “We can expect an increase in the number of cases as more people are tracked. These are not necessarily new cases,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said, adding, “I want to stress that this is a serious outbreak, and there is a risk of the Ebola virus spreading, but we would not say that it’s out of control,” NPR’s health blog “Shots” reports (Doucleff, 9/13). “The latest WHO figures show there are now 65 probable or suspected cases of Ebola in Congo, with 108 people under surveillance,” Reuters notes (9/13). “Last month an outbreak of a more deadly Ebola strain in neighboring Uganda killed 16 people, but health workers say the two outbreaks do not appear to be related,” according to BBC News (9/13).
Health Workforce & Capacity
“The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said Nigeria was not on track in the effort to eradicate wild polio virus before the end of December this year,” Leadership/AllAfrica.com reports. Speaking at the 24th Expert Review Committee (ERC) Meeting on Polio Eradication in Abuja, Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration, said Nigeria had the tools and capacity to turn back the increasing number of polio cases that pose a “real and growing danger to international public health,” the news service notes. Aylward “recommended eight major steps for polio eradication for the country, including the implementation of the new house-based micro planning and monitoring method,” refresher training for all personnel to emphasize the emergency status declared by the WHO, and the identification and immunization of missed children and those in insecure areas, among others, according to the news service. ERC Chair Tomori Oyewale “called on Nigerians to change their attitude to polio eradication to ensure the success of the fight against the virus,” the news service writes (9/11).
“As many as 200 million children across the world fail to reach their full potential because their early brain development is held back by poverty, disease and malnutrition, global health experts said on Thursday,” Reuters reports (Kelland, 9/13). The Canadian government-funded Grand Challenges Canada on Thursday “announced $11.8 million CAD [$12 million] in funding over two years for 11 bold ideas from innovators in the developing world, to address health conditions causing diminished cognitive potential and stunting,” according to a Grand Challenges Canada press release (9/13). The projects, which will be implemented in developing countries such as Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Colombia, “include plans to encourage so-called ‘kangaroo mother care,’ where low-weight newborns are held skin to skin rather than put into incubators, and ways of combating maternal depression to boost interaction between mothers and babies,” Reuters notes (9/13).
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.”
VOA News features a five-part series on South Africa’s rural public health sector, which the news service writes is “plagued by a high burden of infectious diseases, severe doctor and nurse shortages, lack of medicines and essential medical equipment and incompetent management,” resulting in high patient death rates. “Eighty percent of South Africa’s population of about 50 million people depends on public health care,” the news service notes. In the first part of the series, VOA writes that “international health care monitoring groups … consistently rate South Africa’s public health sector among the worst in the world,” “despite the fact that the government gives more than 100 billion rand ($13.3 billion) every year to state health — one of the biggest expenditures on such services in the developing world.”
In a two-part series in his Slate blog “The Reckoning,” author Michael Moran examines the “silo” effect of Western aid to improve health in Africa, writing in the first part, “Charities know that raising money for exotic disease eradication in the West is a good deal easier than, say, funding upgrades to substandard cardiac facilities. Yet the later is the real win in the long run.” He references an article published recently in Foreign Affairs by Thomas Bollyky, which Moran summarizes by saying, “Bollyky argues coordinated action to confront communicable crises like HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis must be part of the world’s approach to global health. But by ignoring far greater, non-communicable problems, he says, we doom Africans to low life expectancies and fail to create the impetus for reform and behavioral changes that could be transformational” (5/28).
PlusNews examines the challenges and concerns surrounding Zimbabwe’s plan to conduct a door-to-door HIV testing campaign, which has not yet begun but “is already being met with skepticism by activists who feel this is not a priority for the country, especially with global HIV/AIDS funding on the decline.” National AIDS officials say the country’s “AIDS levy — a three percent tax on income — has become a promising source of funding”; in 2010, $20.5 million was collected, with most of that going to purchase antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), PlusNews notes. Of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in Zimbabwe, 347,000 access ARVs through a national program, and another 600,000 people “urgently” need them, according to the news service.
U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby is “expected to announce a new initiative between the U.S. government, the Rwandan Ministry of Health and 14 American medical schools at a press conference Monday in Kigali, Rwanda,” the New York Times reports. “The Human Resources for Health program will send 100 faculty members from eight medical colleges, five nursing and midwifery schools, and one health management school to Kigali where they will train health professionals and medical students, according to a statement from the Clinton Global Initiative,” the newspaper writes. “The two governments, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the universities have committed $152 million to the seven-year program,” the newspaper notes (Lau, 10/14).
To mark World Polio Day, the New York Times’ “India Ink” blog features an interview with Naveen Thacker, a member of the team that led India’s polio eradication efforts. The country has not recorded a new case of polio since January 2011 and is in line to be declared polio-free in January 2014 if no new cases occur, according to the blog. Thacker said “strong leadership and political support at every level of government,” including public-private partnerships, were critical to eradication efforts, the blog notes. “To remain polio-free we must ensure the maintenance of our highly sensitive surveillance system, so that we can detect outbreaks early, and we must also sustain high levels of polio immunization through routine immunization,” Thacker said, adding, “Globally, we’ve made amazing progress, but 99 percent reduction in polio cases isn’t good enough. We need to finish the job,” according to the blog (Raina, 10/24).
“Construction has begun on Ethiopia’s National Public Health Training Center, the first of its kind to be established in the country at a cost of $4 million,” Malaysian News Agency Bernama reports, noting, “The U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) committed to the cost of the project, while the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will manage the construction of the ground and three facilities which are expected to be completed by April 2014” (10/23). “It will be the first national training center for health, according to the press statement from the United States Embassy in Ethiopia,” according to New Business Ethiopia, which adds, “The new national public health training center will be a state-of-the-art facility that will act as a training and support hub for Ethiopia’s national public health monitoring, research, and laboratory network” (10/23).