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WHO Should Regulate Alcohol Consumption With Legally Binding Convention, Global Health Expert Says

The “WHO should regulate alcohol at the global level, enforcing such regulations as a minimum drinking age, zero-tolerance drunken driving, and bans on unlimited drink specials,” Devi Sridhar, a lecturer in global health politics at the University of Oxford, argues in a commentary published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, Scientific American reports. “[A]lcohol kills more than 2.5 million people annually, more than AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis,” and it is a leading health concern for middle-income populations, “greater than obesity, inactivity and even tobacco,” according to the news service (Wanjek, 2/15).

Small Cash Transfers To Young Women May Help Them Avoid HIV Infection, Study Suggests

Cash transfer programs involving small amounts of money paid to schoolgirls and their families who live in low-income settings can help the young women “resist the attentions of older men and avoid HIV infection, according to a new study” published online Wednesday in the Lancet, the Guardian reports (Boseley, 2/14). The study, conducted by researchers from the World Bank, the University of California at San Diego, and George Washington University, found that the weighted prevalence of HIV among girls who had received money was 1.2 percent (seven out of 490) compared with three percent in the control group (17 out of 799) after 18 months (Baird et al., 2/15).

Reuters Examines Upcoming WHO Meeting To Discuss Debate Over Bird Flu Research

Bird flu experts are scheduled to begin a two-day meeting at the WHO in Geneva on Thursday “to try to settle an unprecedented row over a call to [censor] publication of two scientific studies which detail how to mutate H5N1 bird flu viruses into a form that could cause a deadly human pandemic,” Reuters reports in an article describing the debate in detail. “But experts say whatever the outcome, no amount of censorship, global regulation or shutting down of research projects could stop rogue scientists getting the tools to create and release a pandemic H5N1 virus if they were intent on evil,” the news service adds.

Seven Sahel Region Nations Declare Emergencies With At Least 12M People Threatened By Hunger

“Seven out of the eight governments in [Africa's] Sahel … have taken the unprecedented step of declaring emergencies as 12 million people in the region are threatened by hunger,” Inter Press Service reports. “Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria have all called for international assistance to prevent yet another hunger crisis on the continent,” the news service writes, noting that Senegal “has refrained from announcing an emergency, largely for political reasons,” as it is holding presidential elections later this year (Palitza, 4/15).

U.N. Food Agencies To Hold Meeting On Assistance To Africa’s Sahel Region

“The leaders of United Nations aid agencies, humanitarian organizations and donor governments will meet on Wednesday in Rome to discuss how to urgently scale up assistance in Africa’s Sahel region, where drought and food shortages are threatening millions of lives,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “This gathering comes at a critical moment as humanitarian agencies are gearing up their response in an effort to prevent a crisis becoming a disaster,” U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran said, according to the news service. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization last year warned that irregular rains during 2011 “would lead to a significant drop in production and increased food insecurity,” the news service writes (2/13).

WHO Warns Battle Against Leprosy Not Over In Western Pacific Region

“The World Health Organization warned Monday that the battle against the age-old scourge of leprosy is not yet over, with more than 5,000 new cases reported yearly in the Western Pacific, where the disease was declared eliminated in 1991,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports (2/13). “‘Leprosy is still much alive in the Western Pacific,’ said Shin Young-Soo, WHO regional director,” at a meeting of national leprosy control program managers from the Western Pacific, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C writes, adding, “Policymakers, health workers and the public should not be misled that the disease is totally gone and must continue to fight it, he said.”

Pakistan, Afghanistan Form Joint Action Plan Against Polio

Pakistan and Afghanistan, “the world’s two worst polio-affected countries,” have “decided to form a joint block under the World Health Organization to eradicate the infectious disease — which causes motor paralysis and the atrophy of skeletal muscles, often resulting in permanent physical disability or deformity — by December 2012,” Inter Press Service reports. “The decision was made last year by the Technical Advisory Board (TAG), which is responsible for developing new strategies to wipe out the disease globally,” the news service notes.

Benin’s Government Fighting Malaria With Free Treatment, Cadre Of Community Health Workers

The Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” examines how the government of Benin “is making headway in attempts to reduce deaths from malaria” by cracking down on counterfeit treatments, offering malaria treatment free-of-charge in public clinics and hospitals, and creating “an army of ordinary citizens in the battle against preventable diseases like malaria.” The article describes a UNICEF-supported program that trains and employs local residents as community health extension workers, who often serve as the front line in providing treatment for malaria or maternal and child health care (Smith, 2/10).

WHO Convening Meeting In One Week To Explore Opinions Surrounding H5N1 Bird Flu Research

NPR’s health blog “Shots” previews an upcoming WHO-convened meeting to discuss the recent news that two research teams have created H5N1 bird flu strains that are easily transmissible among ferrets, which are used as lab models for humans. Fears that terrorists possibly could use the information prompted the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December to request the scientists redact some information prior to publishing their study results and investigators in January to institute a 60-day moratorium on bird flu research, the blog notes.

WFP, FAO Warn Food Security Worsening For Millions In South Sudan, Call For Action

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “warned [Wednesday] that millions of people in South Sudan are facing worsening hunger and called for urgent action to improve food security through adequate food aid and projects to boost agricultural production,” the U.N. News Centre reports (2/8). “[C]onflict, population displacement and high food prices” are threatening food security for 4.7 million in the new nation this year, up from 3.3 million in 2011, according to a report (.pdf) from the agencies, Reuters notes. “Of those, about one million people are severely food insecure, and that number could double if fighting continues and prices keep rising, the report said,” the news agency writes (2/8).