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Officials Identify Causes Of 'Mystery Illness' Responsible For More Than 60 Child Deaths In Cambodia, CNN Reports

According to physicians familiar with the investigation, the causes of the “mystery illness” that has killed more than 60 children in Cambodia have been identified, CNN reports. “A combination of pathogens … is to blame for the illness, the World Health Organization, in conjunction with the Cambodian Ministry of Health, has concluded, the doctors said,” according to the news service. “The pathogens include enterovirus 71, which is known to cause neurological disease; streptococcus suis, which can cause infections like bacterial meningitis in people who have close contact with pigs or with pork products; and dengue, which is transmitted by mosquitoes,” CNN notes. In addition, the administration of steroids, which can suppress the immune system, worsened the condition of some patients, and the WHO is recommending physicians avoid using steroids in patients presenting with fever, encephalitis, and respiratory issues, the news service writes (Gupta/Dellorto, 7/11).

Opinion Pieces Address Family Planning Issues On World Population Day

The London Summit on Family Planning took place Wednesday, also recognized as World Population Day. The goal of the summit was to raise money to improve access to family planning services to prevent maternal and child mortality. The following summaries describe opinion pieces that address these issues.

Sahel Region Experiencing Increase In Cholera Cases, UNICEF, WHO Warn

UNICEF and the WHO “are warning of an alarming upsurge in cholera across West Africa’s Sahel region, the area at the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert running from Mauritania to Chad,” VOA News reports (Schlein, 7/10). “So far in 2012, cholera has killed nearly 700 people in West and Central Africa and more than 29,000 cases were reported,” according to a UNICEF press release (7/10). “Both UNICEF and WHO say they are critically short of funds to do what is needed to contain the outbreak,” but “[t]hey say action must be taken now before the number of cholera cases explodes,” VOA writes (7/10). IRIN examines efforts to curb the spread of cholera in Guinea, with the administration of a vaccine, and Sierra Leone (7/10).

WHO Working On Consolidated HIV Treatment Guidelines

The WHO “says comprehensive HIV treatment strategies are needed in developing countries to overcome stigma and discrimination,” because “often those in need of HIV treatment and prevention are unable to receive [the services] because of their social status,” VOA News reports. Certain populations, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), and people who inject drugs, sometimes face “barriers … to access services,” Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, said, adding, “And we obviously see that as a consequence in many places these groups have higher infection rates. They have higher mortality, etcetera,” according to the news service.

Former UNAIDS Executive Director Discusses Progress In AIDS Fight Ahead Of AIDS 2012 Conference

The 2012 International AIDS Conference, which will take place in Washington, D.C., from July 22-27, “will highlight a sense of optimism among top HIV researchers about stemming the spread of the virus around the globe,” according to PRI’s “The World.” In an audio report, anchor Lisa Mullins “talks to Peter Piot, former executive director of UNAIDS, about the new optimism and his career as a virus hunter.”

Enterovirus Blamed For Some Deaths Of Cambodian Children; Officials Continue To Investigate Mysterious Respiratory Illness

“Lab tests have confirmed that a virulent strain of hand, foot and mouth disease known as [enterovirus-71 (EV-71)] is to blame for some of the 59 cases [of mysterious illness among children in Cambodia] reviewed since April, including 52 deaths, according to a joint statement from the World Health Organization and Cambodian Health Ministry,” the Associated Press reports, noting that “[t]he numbers were lowered from the initial report of 62 cases” (Mason/Cheang, 7/9). “EV-71 is common in Asia, but Nima Asgari, a public health specialist for the WHO in Cambodia, told AFP he believed it had not been seen in this country before,” according to Agence France-Presse. “Asgari said identification of the strain was an important first step but stressed more tests were needed to learn if the deceased children also suffered from other viruses,” and Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng “said an investigation into the illness was ongoing,” the news service notes (7/9).

HIV Drug Coverage In Sub-Saharan Africa Continues To Improve But Not Sustainable, UNAIDS' Sidibe Says

At the end of 2011, 6.2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were taking antiretroviral drugs, about 56 percent of the people in need in the region, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe noted in an interview last week, saying, “Ten years ago, nobody would have imagined that such a result would be possible,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Sidibe — visiting Paris ahead of the July 22-27 International AIDS Conference in Washington — said he was worried that African countries remained so dependent on foreign help,” the news service states. “With the exception of South Africa, 80 percent of Africans with HIV have access to drugs via funding from outside Africa. This is not sustainable. It’s even dangerous,” he said, according to the news service.

U.N. Report Calls For Innovative Ways To Fund Development Initiatives

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).

Health Officials Working To Identify Respiratory Illness Responsible For Deaths Of More Than 60 Cambodian Children

WHO and Cambodian health officials are investigating “the source of an unidentified illness” — characterized by high fevers, severe respiratory problems, “and in some cases neurological symptoms” — that has killed more than 60 children in the country since April, NPR’s health blog “Shots” reports (Hensley, 7/5). “The undiagnosed syndrome has been reported in 67 hospital patients since April, 66 of whom have died, said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a WHO spokeswoman, in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh today,” Bloomberg writes, adding, “It’s unlikely influenza is the cause, she said” (Gale, 7/6). To date, only one of the children admitted to hospital has survived the unknown disease, the Wall Street Journal notes.

Health Ministers From Southeast Asia Asked To Support U.N. In Stemming Spread Of Drug-Resistant Malaria In Region

“Health ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are being asked to support United Nations efforts to stem the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria, especially along the borders of Cambodia and Burma,” VOA News reports. “Scientists fear resistant strains of malaria may spread beyond Southeast Asia, reaching continents such as Africa, a region with many victims of the mosquito-borne parasite,” according to the news service. “Thomas Teuscher, executive director of the United Nations-backed Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM), says more effort is needed to ensure that drug-resistant malaria at least remains localized in Southeast Asia,” VOA notes.