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Sierra Leone Has Made Progress In Improving Maternal, Child Health Care, But ‘Much More To Do’

“Just two years ago, our country had one of the worst maternal and infant death rates in the world,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma writes in a Huffington Post U.K. “Impact” blog post, adding, “We knew something had to be done.” So in September 2009, the government announced “that all health user fees would be removed for pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of five” and “introduced the Free Health Care Initiative [FHCI] in April 2010, which would give around 460,000 women and a million children a much better chance of having a longer and happier life,” Koroma writes. In one year, the FHCI facilitated a “214 percent increase in the number of children attending outpatient units” and a 61 percent reduction in “the number of women dying from pregnancy complications at facilities,” and “increased the number of health workers and ensured they were given big salary rises to reflect the importance of their positions,” he notes.

Kenyan Government Must Review Law On Counterfeit Drugs, High Court Rules

“Kenya’s High Court ruled on Friday that lawmakers must review legislation that could threaten the import of generic drugs, allowing Kenyans to continue accessing affordable medicine,” Reuters reports. In 2009, three people living with HIV filed a lawsuit arguing that the definition of counterfeit drugs in Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Bill of 2008 was too broad and “unconstitutional because it threatened access to life-saving generic medicine by confusing generic and fake medicine,” the news agency notes (4/20).

Inadequate Government TB Program, Lax Drug Sale Regulations Contributing To MDR-TB Cases In India, Health Groups Say

“India’s inadequate government-run tuberculosis [TB] treatment programs and a lack of regulation of the sale of drugs that fight the disease are responsible for the [increasing] number of drug-resistant cases that are difficult to treat,” health advocacy organizations said in India last week, the Associated Press/Huffington Post reports. “India adds an estimated 99,000 cases of drug-resistant TB every year, but only a tiny fraction of those infected receive the proper” six- to nine-month antibiotic regimen, according to the AP. In India, government-run TB treatment programs only provide drugs to patients on alternate days, increasing the likelihood of missed doses, and patients increasingly are turning to private physicians who are unaware of how to treat the disease, Medecins Sans Frontieres in India and other health groups said, the news agency reports. “The Indian government had no response Friday to requests for comment on the activists’ allegations,” the AP writes (Naqvi, 3/23).

Al Jazeera Examines Global Maternal Mortality

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).

Poor Hospital Care In Developing Countries Puts Patients’ Lives At Risk, Study Suggests

“Poor hospital care poses a risk to the lives of many patients in the developing world,” according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Tuesday, BBC News reports (McGrath, 3/13). For the study, which was supported by the WHO, researchers from the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation “looked at patients from 26 hospitals altogether across eight countries” — Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, South Africa and Yemen — and “found that harm to patients caused by their health care rather than their disease is a major public health problem and consistent with previous reports from the developed world,” according to a BMJ press release.

Russia Should Abandon ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Approach To Drug Use And Implement Proven Prevention Strategies

Why have effective, “simple tools such as Medication Assisted Therapy (methadone, buprenorphine) and clean needle-exchange services” — methods that are “very effective in decreasing drug abuse and reducing risk of infection with HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases” – “had so little impact on the policies and programs of the Russian Federation?” Bertrand Audoin, executive director of the International AIDS Society, and Chris Beyrer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, write in this New York Times opinion piece. With an “estimated number of injecting drug users [at] 1.8 million, and the estimated number of opiate users exceed[ing] 1.6 million,” and more than one million people living with HIV, “Russia now accounts for two thirds of the Eastern Europe and Central Asian HIV epidemic, the fastest growing in the world,” they write.

Funding Gaps Could Hinder Future Of Health Care In Africa, Report Says

The “improvement and extension of health care in Africa is … being constrained by gaps in financing,” according to a new report (.pdf) by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) based on research commissioned by Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Belgian subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, the Financial Times’ “beyondbrics” blog reports (Wheatley, 3/1). The report, titled “The Future of Healthcare in Africa,” “discusses the continent’s traditional health care issues, such as communicable diseases or financing health care in economically difficult circumstances” and “also addresses less well-known topics, such as the threat of obesity and heart disease, the use of mobile technology, development of more preventive care, and more,” according to the Janssen website (3/1). The report “identif[ies] the key trends shaping African health care systems” and uses them “to develop [five] scenarios that depict the possible health landscape on the continent in 2022,” a Janssen press release (.pdf) states (3/1).

Experts Discuss Universal Health Coverage At CFR Roundtable

This post in the UHC Forward blog describes the second meeting of the Universal Health Coverage Roundtable Series, “Toward Sustainable Universal Health Coverage,” which was hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on February 9. The panelists “examined the possibilities, challenges, and paths toward achieving Universal Health Coverage in different resource settings by exploring the methods for expanding and supporting coverage worldwide” and discussed issues such as how to define UHC, the importance of quality in health care, improving cost-effectiveness, and how to increase utilization of existing services, according to the blog (Wellington, 2/20).

Facilitating Low-Cost Innovations In, Increased Usage Of Health Care

The argument that “a country’s quickest way to better health for its people is economic development … is only one factor, and not the most important one, in explaining global health outcomes,” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in a SciDev.Net opinion piece. “The challenge is to ensure that a cheap basic package of health interventions is available to — and is used by — all,” he continues.

U.S. Army Working To Bring Virtual Health Care To Albanian Hospitals

The U.S. Army in a news article on its website reports on how it is working to “bring virtual health care to Albanian hospitals” through a telemedicine program that “aims to link different levels of health care to ensure a better functioning and sustainable system.” According to the article, “Currently, five of the 12 major regional hospitals in Albania are connected via a hub-and-spoke information technology system to the central e-heath center in Tirana,” and, “[b]y March of this year, three additional hospitals will have the infrastructure in place to connect to the network.”

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.