In a health care exclusive feature, Devex examines the emerging field of mHealth, “the practice of using mobile devices for medicine and public health practices.” According to the article, “[t]echnology is getting cheaper” and “the development of low-cost or free open-source software is spreading,” which is why mHealth proponents say “mobile devices are ideal for improving health care consultations, data delivery and outcomes.” Devex highlights several mHealth programs and discusses USAID’s investments in the field. The article also examines “two major challenges” facing organizations working in mHealth: it is an interdisciplinary field, with little overlap in how computer scientists and public health officials communicate, and it is an emerging practice that is changing rapidly and “does not have a particularly rich history for researchers to mine for best practices” (Schiff, 7/16).
Private Sector Involvement
“High levels of unmet need for contraception around the world have a very negative impact on women’s and children’s health and survival as well as on the prosperity of communities and nations,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “If these women had access to dependable voluntary contraception, unintended pregnancies would fall by more than 70 percent, 100,000 fewer women would die in childbirth, and nearly 600,000 fewer newborns would die each year,” she continues, adding, “If every woman had the option to leave a two-year gap between a birth and a subsequent pregnancy, deaths of children under five would fall by 13 percent.”
Trade Agreements Could Harm Access To Antiretroviral Drugs In Asia, Pacific, Experts And Activists Warn
“Pressure on developing countries to adopt clauses affecting intellectual property rights could limit access to generic antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in Asia and the Pacific, experts and activists warn,” PlusNews reports. According to Steven Kraus, director of the UNAIDS program in Asia and the Pacific region, only about one-third of the people in need of treatment in the region receive it, and the long-term sustainability of even that proportion will be challenging in the current economic climate, the news service notes. Kraus said World Trade Organization (WTO) member states should take advantage of flexibilities under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to manufacture and procure generic versions of medications “to ensure sustainability and the significant scale-up of HIV services to reach people most in need,” PlusNews continues.
“The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria [on Wednesday] opened its first business forum in Bangkok to encourage more private-sector support in combating the three epidemics,” Thailand’s The Nation reports. “Under the theme ‘Investing in Asia-Pacific: Public Private Partnerships in Health,’ the Global Fund Business Forum, which ends [Thursday], is discussing various topics including the role of business in global health and business engagement in sustainable value creation,” the newspaper writes, adding, “Panel sessions on public-private partnerships are also being held in various areas.” “‘The continued and expanded engagement of private contributors is playing a critical role in ensuring the long-term success of the Global Fund and the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,’ said Dr. Christoph Benn, director for resource mobilization and donor relations,” according to The Nation (7/12).
“Voluntary family planning services will reach an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries by 2020 thanks to a new set of commitments announced [at the London Summit on Family Planning on Wednesday] by more than 150 leaders from donor and developing countries, international agencies, civil society, foundations and the private sector,” a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation press release reports (7/11). Donors “pledged $2.6 billion over the next eight years at [the summit], in what was described as a breakthrough for the world’s poorest women and girls,” the Guardian writes, adding, “More than 20 developing countries made commitments to boost spending on family planning and to strengthen women’s rights to ease their access to contraception” (Tran, 7/11). Speaking at the summit, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, announced the foundation “will spend more than $1 billion over the next eight years to increase access to contraceptives in the developing world and research new methods of birth control” and “outlined several of the initiatives [the foundation] will focus on in the coming years, including efforts to bring down the cost of birth control so that it will be within reach of the world’s poorest women,” the Seattle Times notes (Doughton, 7/11).
The widespread incidence of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) “calls for a new approach to TB in the developing world,” a Bloomberg editorial states. A “breakthrough test,” called Xpert MTB/RIF, “makes mass screening [for drug-resistant TB] feasible,” according to the editorial, which notes the test, developed by “California-based Cephied Inc. in collaboration with the non-profit Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” detects resistance to the TB drug rifampicin, provides results in two hours, and can be used without advanced laboratory facilities.
The U.N.’s annual World Economic and Social Survey, released last week, “says it is critical to find new ways to help the world’s poor as pledged cash fails to flow” and “call[s] for a tax on billionaires to help raise more than $400 billion a year for poor countries,” Agence France-Presse reports. “But the U.N. acknowledged that the idea is unlikely to get widespread support from the target group, saying that for now its tax on the unimaginably wealthy remains ‘an intriguing possibility,'” according to the news service. The report provided several other ideas for international taxes to raise money for development efforts and “suggests expanding a levy on air tickets that a number of nations already impose to raise money for drugs for poor states through UNITAID,” which has collected more than $1 billion since 2006, AFP notes (Witcher, 7/6).
Gates Foundation Plans To Invest In Biotech Companies To Improve Global Access To Treatments, Vaccines For Infectious Diseases
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “plans to take equity stakes in up to a dozen biotech companies this year, signaling a shift towards a ‘venture capital’ approach at the world’s biggest philanthropic organization” and “mark[ing] a further move away from its traditional approach of grant-giving and towards a more business-oriented way to support the development of treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases affecting the world’s poor,” the Financial Times reports. Trevor Mundel, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, said the foundation will make a series of investments worth several million dollars each “and not ask for a return but for global access. … We will specify the countries and the diseases,” according to the newspaper. The Financial Times notes that “[t]he move points to growing interest in working directly with companies rather than primarily through co-operating via non-profit ‘product development partnerships’ or intermediaries such as the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Tuberculosis Alliance” (Jack, 6/26).
“The European Commission needs to develop a proper and integrated strategy on nutrition backed by a significant increase in funding, according to a report” on the E.U. and nutrition development policy that is supported by international organizations, companies and non-governmental organizations, the Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates up to one billion people are undernourished worldwide, and the World Food Programme says it will take $11.8 billion annually to address 90 percent of child malnutrition cases.
“Following the launch of the PLoS Medicine series on Big Food and the publication of the first three articles in the series last week,” Clare Weaver of the journal’s “Speaking of Medicine” blog interviews David Stuckler, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Cambridge and one of the guest editors of the series, about his research background and some of the issues related to the series. Some of the topics discussed include why it is “important that a major medical journal examine the food industry and its influence in global health,” why this is an international issue rather than one limited to developed countries, and what further research is needed in the area (6/25).