“Wednesday (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day,” VOA News reports, noting, “The World Health Organization is using the occasion to call for an end to stigma against those who suffer from depression and other mental disorders” (DeCapua, 10/9). Depression affects 350 million people worldwide, with nearly five percent of the world’s population suffering from depression annually, according to Medical Daily (Tucker, 10/9). More than three-quarters of people living with mental health disorders reside in developing countries, BBC News notes, adding, “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), eight in every 10 of those living in developing nations receive no treatment at all” (Roberts, 10/10). The WHO “warns stigma is a huge problem that prevents many people from seeking help,” VOA writes (10/9).
Non Communicable Disease/Chronic Disease
NPR’s “Shots” blog examines efforts to reduce cervical cancer deaths in Botswana, noting that “in Africa and other impoverished regions, few women get pap smears because the countries lack the laboratories and other resources necessary to offer them.” Ricky Lu, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Jhpiego, which is associated with Johns Hopkins University, “is promoting a cervical cancer screening technique in which a nurse or a midwife simply swabs a woman’s cervix with vinegar (or diluted acetic acid) and then looks with the naked eye, or a magnifying glass, for pre-cancerous lesions,” according to the blog. “The screening technique requires only vaginal spoons, vinegar and a bit of training” and “can be performed in the simplest health clinics without a need for laboratory tests or even electricity,” the blog writes, noting, “At least six countries in Africa have now adopted the technique as part of their public health care systems, and it’s also caught on in Thailand and parts of Asia” (Beaubien, 9/18).
“As world leaders make their way to New York this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly, we call on them to renew their commitments to combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, and Nalini Saligram, founder of Arogya World, write in the Huffington Post “Global Motherhood” blog, adding, “Tackling NCDs with a woman-centered focus is a critical step towards reaching all development goals.” They continue, “The solution to curbing NCDs and maternal mortality ultimately rests in improving women’s access to strong and capable health systems.” In addition, “[t]eaching women about NCD prevention by promoting healthy lifestyles will result in women not only changing their own lives, but also steer their families and entire communities towards healthy living,” they state, adding, “Educated and empowered women can work to build a healthier, more sustainable world and lift families out of poverty.” Finally, “[i]t’s also important to look at new solutions and technologies,” including clean cookstoves, Sheffield and Saligram write.
“Mental illness and drug abuse can wreak havoc in global societies and economies, and the U.N. General Assembly should devote a special session to the matter, global health experts said” in a PLoS Medicine article published on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports (1/17). “Mental, neurological, and substance use disorders (MNS) … are leading contributors to the global burden of disease and profoundly impact the social and economic well-being of individuals and communities,” a PLoS press release states, adding, “Yet the majority of people affected by MNS disorders globally do not have access to evidence-based interventions and many experience discrimination and abuses of their human rights” (1/17).
“While the U.S. military has formally withdrawn from Iraq, doctors and residents of Fallujah are blaming weapons like depleted uranium and white phosphorous used during two devastating U.S. attacks on Fallujah in 2004 for what are being described as ‘catastrophic’ levels of birth defects and abnormalities,” Al Jazeera reports. Samira Alani, a pediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, “told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009,” the news service notes, adding, “Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.”
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.”
“A new way to screen poor women for cervical cancer was introduced this month in El Salvador, using a test that was originally developed in China,” the New York Times reports. “The new test, called careHPV and made by Qiagen, a Dutch company, is a swab test for the DNA of the papillomaviruses that cause cancer,” the newspaper writes, noting a study published in the Lancet Oncology in 2008 found the test “was more than twice as sensitive” than the alternate method of “shining a light on the cervix and painting it with vinegar, which reveals precancerous lesions that can then be burned off with liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide.” According to the New York Times, “The test worked even when women inserted the swabs themselves, which can be done at home and so is easier and faster than having them go to a clinic for visual inspections” (McNeil, 9/24).
“Some academics and non-profit organizations are skeptical of the motives of the increasing number of multinational companies who seek partnerships to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Derek Yach, senior vice president of global health and agriculture policy at PepsiCo and former head of NCDs at WHO, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog. He asks, “So how well is the private sector doing in tackling the rising pandemic of NCDs, which cause nearly two out of every three deaths in the world (80 percent of those in developing countries), the four main ones being cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes?” He continues, “The private sector is a major stakeholder in many ways — as employers; makers of food and medicines, sports gear and technology; as corporate citizens and consumers — and wants to be engaged in the global NCD dialogue. We deserve a seat at the table.”
“About 200 million people around the world use illegal drugs every year, and that may be taking a toll on health and death rates in various countries, says a report released Thursday in the Lancet,” the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog reports. According to the blog, “[t]he study, part of a series the journal is doing on addiction, offers a plethora of information about [the] use of opioids, amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana worldwide” (Stein, 1/5).
“More people in developed countries are overweight or obese than ever before, dooming them to years of ill health, pushing up health care costs and piling more pressure on health systems, a report [.pdf] by the OECD found on Tuesday,” Reuters reports. Though the report found that obesity rates are diverse — “from a low of four percent in Japan and Korea to 30 percent or more in the United States and Mexico” – “in more than half of the 34 OECD countries, at least one in two people is now overweight or obese, and rates are projected to rise further,” according to the news agency.