In the National Geographic News blog “Mobile Message,” “a series of posts from FrontlineSMS about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives,” Laura Stachel, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the co-founder and executive director of WE CARE Solar, writes about the “‘Solar Suitcase,’ a portable, rugged, complete solar electric kit packed with solar panels, a charge controller, batteries, medical LED lights, phone chargers, headlamps, and a fetal monitor.” She says the suitcases improve lighting so surgeries can be performed 24 hours a day; allow nurses to contact on-call physicians in the case of emergency through a mobile phone; and, with alterations, power blood bank refrigerators (Banks, 1/12).
Health Workforce & Capacity
“Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has shut down two major medical centers in the Somali capital Mogadishu after two of its aid workers were shot dead by a former colleague last month, the international medical aid agency said on Thursday,” AlertNet reports. The closure of the two 120-bed centers, the largest of MSF’s 13 projects in Somalia, cuts in half the organization’s presence in the capital, the news service notes, adding that the centers have treated thousands of malnourished children and provided vaccinations or treatments to tens of thousands more patients since August 2011 (Migiro, 1/19).
Reuters examines cancer in Africa, writing, “Most of Africa’s around 2,000 languages have no word for cancer. The common perception in both developing and developed countries is that it’s a disease of the wealthy world, where high-fat, processed-food diets, alcohol, smoking and sedentary lifestyles fuel tumor growth.” However, according to the news service, sub-Saharan Africa will see an estimated one million new cancer cases this year — “a number predicted to double to two million a year in the next decade,” and, “[b]y 2030, according to predictions from the [WHO], 70 percent of the world’s cancer burden will be in poor countries.”
In a post on USAID’s “IMPACTblog,” Jonathan Quick, president and CEO of Management Sciences for Health (MSH), discusses USAID’s “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday” campaign and several MSH programs working to improve child survival. He writes, “Expanding access to quality health care closer to the home will improve child survival in low-income countries. Training and certifying rural medicine dispensers at a national scale, and providing community-based care by community health workers, will help empower rural communities and improve the health of children in these resource-poor areas. Through these cost-effective, high-impact interventions closer to the home, we can accelerate the reduction in child mortality and save millions of lives” (5/10).
PRI’s “The World” profiles Gabon’s Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which “is struggling to achieve the goals of its founder while adapting to a new century and a different Africa.” The story recaps the hospital’s history and its board’s recent efforts to address what one board member described as locals’ “dependency” on historically European directors. However, Lachlan Forrow, a doctor at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the only American on the hospital’s board, recently became president of the board, and he has worked to establish “a new relationship between locals and outsiders — blacks and whites,” PRI reports. Forrow “found an experienced Gabonese hospital administrator — Antoine Nziengui –” who is now the Schweitzer Hospital director, an African “for the first time since the hospital was founded 99 years ago,” the news service writes, adding that the hospital “still faces huge obstacles: a million-dollar budget deficit, antiquated facilities, a rising burden of HIV and tuberculosis” (Baron, 5/17).
“It is in poor countries and communities, where health needs are greatest and physicians are scarce, that nurses take an even greater role in health care delivery, often serving as the sole providers in rural villages or urban slums,” Sheila Davis, director of global nursing at Partners In Health, writes in a Huffington Post “Impact Blog” opinion piece, noting this is International Nurses Week. “But although nurses deliver 90 percent of all health care services worldwide, they remain largely invisible at decision-making tables in national capitals and international agencies. Their absence constitutes a global health crisis,” Davis continues.
“The CIA’s vaccination gambit put at risk something very precious — the integrity of public health programs in Pakistan and around the globe” and has “also added to the dangers facing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in a world that’s increasingly hostile to U.S. aid organizations,” opinion writer David Ignatius writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Noting that attention in the U.S. has focused on a 33-year prison sentence given to Shakil Afridi, a doctor convicted of treason for helping the CIA track down Osama bin Laden through a vaccination program, Ignatius says, “Afridi and his handlers should reckon with the moral consequences of what they did. Here’s the painful truth: Some people may die because they don’t get vaccinations, suspecting that immunization is part of a CIA plot.”
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).
In a report (.pdf) released on Tuesday, the non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, said a new $10 billion global vaccination plan “fails to address the 20 percent of babies — some 19 million infants — who never receive basic, life-saving shots,” and that, “[r]ather than pushing for novel vaccines, the plan should focus more concretely on strategies to get existing vaccines to children,” Nature’s “News Blog” reports (Maxmen, 5/15). The “‘Global Vaccine Action Plan’ has been designed to implement the ‘Decade of Vaccines’ project and will be considered by health ministers gathering next week in Geneva for the 65th World Health Assembly,” according to an MSF press release, which adds, “MSF welcomed the increased emphasis on vaccines stimulated by the ‘Decade of Vaccines’ but expressed concern that some key challenges are being glossed over” (5/15).