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Cholera Epidemic Spreads In DRC; Efforts To Combat Disease Remain Underfunded, U.N. Reports

“A cholera epidemic has spread to nine out of 11 provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations said on Tuesday,” SAPA/News24 reports (Gold, 2/21). “Health authorities in the Republic of Congo have recorded 340 cases of cholera, nine of them fatal, since June 2011, in the northern district of Likouala, and have warned that the disease continues to spread and that some health centers lack sufficient treatment,” IRIN reports (2/21).

South Asia Makes Little Progress In Meeting Maternal, Child Mortality MDGs, U.N. Report Says

“South Asian nations are making the least progress in the Asia-Pacific region on meeting key development goals, which they pledged to achieve by 2015,” Bindu Lohani, vice president for sustainable development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said on Friday at the launch of a U.N. progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Reuters reports (Bhalla, 2/19). The Asia-Pacific region already has reached the MDG of halving the incidence of poverty, “but still has high levels of hunger as well as child and maternal mortality,” the report said, according to Asian Scientist (2/21).

WHO Meeting Decides To Extend Moratorium On Bird Flu Research, Delay Full Publication Of Two Studies Detailing Lab-Modified Strains

A group of 22 public health and influenza experts reached a consensus on Friday at a WHO-convened meeting regarding the work of two research teams that created genetically altered strains of the H5N1 bird flu virus that are easily transmissible among ferrets, a laboratory model for humans, a WHO press release reports (2/17). “In December, the [U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity] asked two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists,” Reuters writes, adding that on January 20, flu researchers also imposed a 60-day moratorium on continuing research using highly pathogenic strains (Nebehay/Kelland, 2/17). At the meeting, the group agreed to “extending the temporary moratorium on research with new laboratory-modified H5N1 viruses and recogni[zed] that research on naturally occurring H5N1 influenza virus must continue in order to protect public health,” the press release states, adding that they “also came to a consensus that delayed publication of the entire manuscripts would have more public health benefit than urgently partially publishing” (2/17).

India Still Faces Challenges In Efforts To Eradicate Polio

The PBS NewsHour examines polio eradication efforts in India, which has gone an entire year without reporting a polio case. “For India, the challenge is to remain vigilant and polio free for two more years to officially fall off the list of endemic countries,” according to the news service (De Sam Lazaro, 2/20). “The success in India has been achieved through a partnership between the Indian government, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary, UNICEF and with major contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” BBC News reports in an analysis of India’s success. “The global effort to eradicate polio is the biggest public health initiative in history. It has cost billions and has already stopped a huge amount of disability and many deaths,” but the disease remains endemic in three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, the news service notes (Walsh, 2/19).

New York Times Profiles UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe

The New York Times profiles UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, recounting some of his successes since becoming the head of the agency; quoting several colleagues about their experiences working with him; and providing a brief history of his family life, which he says helped him develop his diplomatic skills. “With a combination of bonhomie and persistence, he has delivered difficult messages to African presidents very persuasively in his three years in office,” the newspaper writes, adding, “Thanks, in part, to Mr. Sidibé’s intensive lobbying, South Africa and China are rapidly revising their approaches to the [AIDS] epidemic, and he hopes Russia and India soon will too.” The newspaper notes, “Globally, Mr. Sidibé says, he is trying to ‘be a voice for those without one’” (McNeil, 2/20).

MSF Warns Health, Living Conditions Of Refugees In Dadaab Camp Deteriorating

The medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Thursday said the conditions for hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp are worsening and people there “are experiencing a ‘humanitarian emergency’ because of the scaling back of aid work,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (2/16). MSF “said the health of refugees at the complex is deteriorating, with recent outbreaks of measles, cholera and acute diarrhea,” and said an estimated one in 12 children is malnourished, VOA News writes. “Most of the refugees at Dadaab are Somalis who fled last year’s severe drought or Somalia’s chronic conflict,” the news agency notes. MSF “called on the Kenyan government, international aid groups, and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide ‘continuous support’ to the Dadaab camp, saying thousands of refugees are relying on their support,” according to the news agency (2/16).

Millions Of North Koreans Face Malnutrition Despite Recent Food Aid, Relief Agencies Warn

“Relief agencies have warned that millions of North Koreans are malnourished, with the most vulnerable facing starvation in the coming months, despite reports that the impoverished state has received food aid from China and South Korea,” the Lancet reports. “The warning comes after the sudden death of the North Korea’s former leader, Kim Jong-Il, put on hold a possible deal in which it was preparing to accept 240,000 tons of food aid from the U.S. in return for suspending its uranium enrichment program, which would give it a further means of developing nuclear weapons,” the journal writes. “The recent donations aside, U.N. agencies say that three million of North Korea’s 24 million people will require food aid this year, adding that children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition,” the Lancet notes, adding, “According to a report by [World Food Programme] and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, North Korea faces a food deficit of 414,000 tons this year” (McCurry, 2/18).

WHO Confirms Recommendations Regarding HIV, Female Hormonal Contraceptives After Review Of Studies

“A stakeholder consultation convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva has reviewed recent epidemiological studies related to HIV transmission and acquisition by women using hormonal contraceptives,” a UNAIDS press statement reports (2/16). In a technical statement (.pdf), “[t]he Geneva-based United Nations health agency confirmed its existing recommendations [Thursday] after a study published last year found using contraceptive injections doubles the chance women will catch HIV and transmit it to a male partner,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports (Hallam, 2/16). The WHO “concluded that hormonal contraception — whether the pill or injection — was safe for women at risk of HIV to use if they wanted to prevent pregnancy,” the Guardian notes (Boseley, 2/16).

Cyclone Kills At Least 16 In Madagascar; UNICEF Responds With Medicines, Mosquito Nets

“At least 16 people have been killed this week when a category four cyclone lashed Madagascar’s eastern shores, rescue authorities said on Wednesday,” Reuters reports, adding, “Some 65 people were injured and about 11,000 people left homeless after Cyclone Giovanna pummeled the country’s eastern seaboard causing power shutdowns in parts of the island’s port city of Tamatave, rescue officials said” (Iloniaina, 2/16). UNICEF “will start distributing medicines and mosquito nets [Thursday] to the parts of eastern Madagascar hardest hit” by the cyclone, the U.N. News Centre writes.

U.N. Meeting Delegates Urge International Community To Respond Thoroughly, Rapidly To Drought-Stricken Sahel

“Delegates at a meeting convened by the United Nations to draw up strategies to respond to the humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region [on Wednesday] called for comprehensive and rapid assistance to the millions of people affected, especially children and women,” the U.N. News Centre reports (2/15). “Heads of U.N. agencies and representatives from governments, the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States met in Rome to discuss a joint response to the situation in the region,” the Guardian notes (Ford, 2/15). “U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization director Jose Graziano da Silva warned there is ‘little time to act,’” according to VOA’s “Breaking News” blog (2/15).