“Syrians are in urgent need of life-saving medicines following an escalation in fighting, which also threatens further food shortages, U.N. agencies warned on Tuesday,” Agence France-Presse reports (8/7). “Drugs for tuberculosis, hepatitis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer are urgently needed, as well as hemodialysis for kidney diseases, according to the WHO,” Reuters notes (8/7). “‘The recent escalation of clashes had resulted in substantial damages to the pharmaceutical plants located in rural Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus, where 90 percent of the country’s plants were located,’ a WHO spokesperson, Tarik Jasarevic, told reporters in Geneva today,” the U.N. News Centre writes. “Prior to the violence which has wracked the Middle Eastern country, Syria produced 90 percent of its medicines and drugs locally,” the news service notes (8/7).
Health Workforce & Capacity
Health workers with Medical Teams International, a medical non-governmental organization, “say they are overwhelmed” by high demand at five health clinics in two southwestern Ugandan refugee centers, PlusNews reports. The refugees, “many of whom came from conflict-prone areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” and local residents are in need of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) prevention information, and care and treatment services, according to the news service. “Uganda suffers from a chronic shortage of health workers — less than half of the vacant health positions are filled — but the recent influx of refugees fleeing violence in neighboring DRC has put even more pressure on [the region's] health services,” PlusNews writes. Physicians, who see 30 to 50 patients daily and often work double shifts, say gaps in the supplies of antiretroviral (ARV) and TB drugs poses concern, as does trying to follow-up with patients who may not return for visits, the news service notes (3/29).
About 2,000 Kenyan health workers attended a demonstration outside the Ministry of Health on Friday, the Associated Press/Seattle Times reports, noting, “Some 40,000 health workers nationwide went on strike on March 1 to protest low pay and poor working conditions.” According to the news service, “[t]he government announced Thursday that it fired 25,000 workers who defied an order to return to work” (3/9). “Anyang Nyong’o, minister for medical services, said on Thursday that the sacked workers would be required to re-apply if they are to be considered for reappointment,” MWC News notes (3/9).
Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), addresses a recent New York Times article on “medical brain drain” in this CGD “Global Development: Views From The Center” blog post, saying the article’s approval of “a horrific proposal to put recruiters of health workers on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity … is breathtakingly misguided.” He continues, “Recruiters do not ‘steal’ people. They give information to people about jobs those people are qualified for. The professional ambitions of those people have equal value to yours and mine, and those ambitions cannot be realized without information.” Clemens says “coercively blocking the unconditional right of a health worker to emigrate — such as by declaring her to be owned by a government and prosecuting her recruiter at The Hague — is a crime against humanity,” and cites several other articles he has written on the subject (3/12).
Peace Corps, PEPFAR, Global Health Service Corps Launch Public-Private Partnership To Place Medical Professionals Overseas
The Peace Corps, PEPFAR and the Global Health Service Corps on Tuesday will announce a public-private partnership program to place U.S. health workers overseas to help address medical professional shortages, CQ HealthBeat reports (Bristol, 3/12). “The Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) will address health professional shortages by investing in capacity and building support for existing medical and nursing education programs in less-developed countries,” a joint press release (.pdf) states, adding, “The new program is expected to begin in Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda in July 2013.”
Al Jazeera examines maternal mortality worldwide, saying, “If the situation continues at its current rate, the world will not meet” the U.N. Millennium Development Goal “to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015.” Though the estimated number of women who die of maternal mortality has dropped from 546,000 in 1990 to 340,000 today, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy in developing countries “is still high at one in 31,” compared with one in 4,300 in developed countries, the news agency reports. “Attaining zero maternal death would require greater community involvement and commitment” and increased access to contraceptives and skilled birth attendants, according to experts, Al Jazeera notes (Arjunpuri, 3/19).
“With its health-care system increasingly eclipsed by rivals, India has a plan to nearly double public spending on health over the next five years,” a goal that would “lift annual spending on health to 2.5 percent of the country’s economic output, from 1.4 percent,” the Washington Post reports. The scheme is “aimed at giving free medicine to all Indians at government facilities, setting up free ambulances in rural areas, doubling the number of trained health workers, and lifting millions of young children and women out of chronic malnutrition and preventable deaths,” the newspaper writes.
“[T]he United States, with its high salaries and technological innovation, is … the world’s most powerful magnet for doctors, attracting more every year than Britain, Canada and Australia — the next most popular destinations for migrating doctors — combined,” the New York Times Magazine reports in a story on how the promise of a better salary and working conditions is drawing newly trained doctors away from their countries to the U.S.
“The Syrian government will allow the United Nations to assess the basic medical needs of Syrians in four areas where opposition forces have clashed with government troops and to also carry out a preliminary humanitarian needs assessment, officials said Friday,” the Associated Press/Huffington Post reports. WHO spokesperson “Tarik Jasarevic says a ‘very preliminary and basic survey’ overseen by his agency and the U.N. Population Fund will be carried out next week with the cooperation of Syria’s health ministry,” the news service writes.
Instability and insecurity in some West and Central African nations are threatening the success of a 20-country polio vaccination campaign, which aims to immunize 111.1 million children against the disease, IRIN reports. Ongoing insurgent attacks threaten the campaign in Nigeria, the region’s only polio-endemic country and home to 57.7 million of the children targeted, the news service notes. Parts of Mali, Niger, and Chad also pose security problems for health care workers trying to access children in remote or disputed areas, according to IRIN. “Human error and weak health systems also play an important role in sub-optimal immunization reach,” the news service writes, noting so far, “only Ghana, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Togo have achieved the required 90 percent coverage, according to UNICEF” (3/23).