“Thanks to a herculean effort by health advocates, 78 percent of children in low-income countries receive the basic set of childhood vaccines, covering diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza,” a Bloomberg View editorial states. However, “[t]his campaign will be disrupted, and lives lost, if immunization critics win their latest battle for an international ban on a vaccine component” — thimerosal, a mercury-containing organic compound — “that has proved to be safe time and time again,” the editorial writes, noting, “Groups such as the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs and the Coalition for SafeMinds are pressing their case before the United Nations Environmental Program [UNEP] meets on Jan. 13 to prepare a global treaty reducing mercury use.”
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health
“Stung by the realization that it faced a child malnutrition crisis worse than in most African countries, India is finally waking to the scale of the problem,” the Washington Post reports in an article examining the country’s efforts to combat child malnutrition. “Progress is slow and political will patchy, but there are signs that a new approach to fighting malnutrition is beginning to reap dividends,” the newspaper continues and details several nationwide and state-level efforts. “Despite the progress, India has a long way to go,” the Washington Post adds, noting, “India’s progress in fighting malnutrition fails to impress many experts.” According to the newspaper, many programs established to fight malnutrition lack methods to measure progress or track accountability. The Washington Post also features a photo slide show and a graphic on child malnutrition in India (Denyer, 12/26).
Several newspapers published opinion pieces regarding the recent murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan. The following summarizes two opinion pieces and one editorial on the issue.
“Despite good rains across much of the Sahel this year, 1.4 million children are expected to be malnourished — up from one million in 2012, according to the 2013 Sahel regional strategy,” IRIN reports. “The strategy, which calls on donors to provide $1.6 billion of aid for 2013, says fewer people are expected to go hungry in 2013 — 10.3 million instead of 18.7 million in 2012,” the news service writes.
“Twenty years ago this month, the first text message was sent through the airwaves,” Sharon D’Agostino, vice president for worldwide corporate contributions and community relations at Johnson & Johnson, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, adding, “Since then, text messages have been used to communicate all sorts of information. Most inspiring to me is how the technology once used to send a holiday wish is transforming the way women and families receive the information they need to be healthier — no matter where in the world they are.” She discusses several initiatives working with mobile technologies to improve health education and access, and states, “The ubiquity of the mobile phone provides the perfect method to deliver critical health information, as more than a billion women in low- and middle-income countries have access to a mobile phone” (12/20).
“[T]here [is] reason for optimism about the health of the world’s youngest,” columnist Tina Rosenberg writes in the New York Times “Opinionator” blog, noting, “A massive study published last week called the Global Burden of Disease report found that in the past 20 years, the death rate of children under five has dropped in every country in the world save three — Kuwait, Tonga and Zimbabwe.” She details some of the report findings and highlights a number of “cheap global programs” that have contributed to progress over the years, including vaccines, nutritional supplements, family planning, oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhea, and bed nets, among others.
“Health programs integrating services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV into regular maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) clinics, rather than operating PMTCT services as stand-along programs, are showing positive results in Kenya, experts say,” PlusNews reports. “Some 13,000 Kenyan children contract HIV annually; the country is among some 22 nations accounting for 90 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV,” according to the news service. PlusNews examines how “[t]he government is now moving towards the integration of HIV and other public health services, part of efforts to strengthen the overall health system,” in order to reach its goal of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission by 2015 (12/19).
“Nigeria is one of only three countries — along with Afghanistan and Pakistan — that remains blighted by polio,” Aliko Dangote, founder and CEO of the Dangote Group and chair of the Dangote Foundation, writes in a Project Syndicate opinion piece. He notes Nigeria is “one of Africa’s most developed countries,” “the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Africa,” home to “thriving Nigerian businesses,” and “will soon surpass South Africa to become Africaâ€™s largest economy.” However, “Nigerians cannot hope to lead Africa, economically or otherwise, while neglecting to eliminate preventable diseases like polio,” he writes.
On Wednesday, USAID, “along with representatives from seven government agencies and departments, [launched] the first-ever, whole-of-government strategic guidance on international assistance for children in adversity,” a USAID press release reports. The goal of the guidance — titled “United States Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity: A Framework for International Assistance: 2012-2017” and drafted by the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor, and State, USAID and the Peace Corps — “is to achieve a world where all children live and grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation, and danger,” the press release states (12/17).
“Small ceramic indoor stoves, such as those sold by women in AIDS self-help groups in Africa, do save fuel and cut down on eye-irritating smoke, a new study has found — but they do not save children from pneumonia,” the New York Times reports. “The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, compared 168 households in rural Kenya that used either ‘upesi jiko’ [ceramic] stoves or traditional three-stone indoor fires,” the newspaper writes, noting, “Biweekly visits by researchers found that children in both the stove and open-fire homes got pneumonia equally often” (McNeil, 12/17). Though the ceramic stoves have some benefits, such as reduced smoke in the home and lower risk of burns, Rob Quick, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the research team, said, “[O]ur group is studying six novel cookstove technologies designed to cleaner burning, and we should have results in the next few months to see if one or more of these cookstove designs offer potential for reducing the risk of pneumonia,” according to VOA News (Lewis, 12/17).