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UNAIDS Officials Say Progress Being Made Against HIV/AIDS In Africa, Asia

Speaking at a media briefing in Geneva on Thursday, Sheila Tlou, UNAIDS director of the regional support team for Eastern and Southern Africa, said the region is making progress in scaling up access to prevention and treatment services, including behavior change and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs, the U.N. News Centre reports. “We have to now focus on making sure that we scale up voluntary medical male circumcision, behavior change, and all those [interventions] to make sure that we reduce infections,” she said, adding that improving access to treatment also is critical, according to the news service (1/19). “‘There has been quite a lot of progress since 1997 with a 25 percent reduction in new infections in our region,’ said Tlou,” Agence France-Presse notes (1/19).

Cote d’Ivoire Continues To Need Humanitarian Assistance, U.N. Official Says

“Cote d’Ivoire remains in great need of humanitarian assistance nine months after the end of the bloody post-election violence that displaced tens of thousands of people, a senior United Nations relief official said today, urging donors to continue their generosity to the West African country throughout this year,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “Considerable needs remain in several areas such as protection of civilians, restoration of means of livelihood, shelter, access to basic services and voluntary return and reintegration of displaced persons and refugees,” Catherine Bragg, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said following a three-day visit to the nation, according to the news service (1/18).

Study Finds Global Abortion Rate ‘Virtually Unchanged’ From 2003 To 2008

“After a period of substantial decline, the global abortion rate has stalled, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO)” published in the Lancet on Wednesday, a Guttmacher press release reports. “Between 1995 and 2003, the overall number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15-44 years) dropped from 35 to 29” but, “according to the new study, the global abortion rate in 2008 was virtually unchanged, at 28 per 1,000,” the press release states. “This plateau coincides with a slowdown, documented by the United Nations, in contraceptive uptake, which has been especially marked in developing countries,” according to the press release. “The researchers also found that nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, … almost all unsafe abortions occur in the developing world,” and “restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion,” the press release adds (1/18).

U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Warns Of Potential For Famine In Sudan

“The United States and Sudan traded accusations [on Tuesday] over the humanitarian situation in the [border] states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, embattled since the north and south of Sudan split into two nations last summer,” the New York Times reports (MacFarquhar, 1/17). U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Monday sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council warning that food security could decline to an emergency level and could result in famine if action is not taken by the government in Khartoum, according to VOA News (Besheer, 1/17). Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rice said, “The proximate cause of the problem … is that the government of Sudan has deliberately denied access to international NGOs, the United Nations, and international humanitarian workers to the most affected populations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile” and called the situation “unconscionable and unacceptable,” according to a transcript (1/17).

Threefold Increase In Polio Cases In Afghanistan Concerns Experts

The New York Times examines how after years of decline, the number of recorded polio cases in Afghanistan tripled in 2011 to 76, following only 25 cases in 2010, raising concerns among international health experts that polio is seeing a resurgence, “particularly since some of the cases erupted far outside the disease’s traditional areas in Afghanistan.”

U.S. Ambassador To U.N. Food Agencies, Ertharin Cousin, Appointed To Head WFP

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva on Tuesday announced the appointment of Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s Rome-based food agencies, to head the U.N. World Food Programme, the Associated Press/CBS News reports (1/17). “Cousin … will succeed Josette Sheeran, also of the United States, who has held the post since 2007,” Reuters notes.

Health Experts Call For U.N. Special Session On Mental Illness, Illicit Drug Use

“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).

Indian, WHO Officials To Meet To Discuss Managing Cases Of Highly Drug-Resistant TB

Health officials from India and the WHO are scheduled to meet in Mumbai on Tuesday to discuss how to manage the cases of at least 12 patients infected with a highly drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) strain, Bloomberg reports (Narayan, 1/17). “The ‘totally drug-resistant’ tuberculosis (TDR-TB) reportedly emerging in India is actually an advanced stage of drug-resistant TB, which researchers called totally drug-resistant for lack of a better term,” IRIN notes (1/17).

U.N.’s Somalia Official Says ‘Tens Of Thousands’ Of Somalis Died From Malnutrition Over Last Year

Mark Bowden, the U.N.’s official in Somalia, on Sunday said “tens of thousands of people will have died over the last year” in the country’s famine, adding that the rates of malnutrition are “amazingly high,” BBC News reports. “He said a quarter of a million Somalis were still suffering from the famine,” and he “said malnutrition rates have begun to drop but the crisis was likely to continue for the next six or seven months,” the news service notes (1/15).

WHO To Take Lead Role In Addressing Controversial Bird Flu Research, Official Says

“The World Health Organization says it will take a role in helping sort through an international scientific controversy over two bird flu studies that the U.S. government deemed too dangerous to publish in full,” the Canadian Press/Winnipeg Free Press reports. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security and environment, on Sunday in an interview with the Canadian Press “said the agency will pull together international talks aimed at fleshing out the issues that need to be addressed and then work to resolve them.” On the advice of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB), the journals Science and Nature “have grudgingly agreed to abbreviate the papers, leaving out the details of how the work was done,” according to the news service.