The U.N. General Assembly Human Rights Council on Monday adopted by consensus a resolution calling on U.N. member states to condemn female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM) and “launch education campaigns for girls and boys, women and men, to eliminate it,” the Associated Press reports. According to the news agency, “It also urges all countries to enact and enforce legislation to prohibit FGM, to protect women and girls ‘from this form of violence,’ and to end impunity for violators.” The resolution has 110 sponsors and “is virtually certain to be approved by the full General Assembly, which is expected to take it up in the second half of December,” the AP writes, adding, “Although not legally binding, assembly resolutions reflect international concerns and carry moral and political weight” (Lederer, 11/26).
“Eliminating the worldwide shortage of eyeglasses could cost up to $28 billion, but would add more than $200 billion to the global economy, according to a study” conducted by researchers from Australia and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published last month in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, the New York Times reports. “The authors assumed that 703 million people worldwide have uncorrected nearsightedness or farsightedness severe enough to impair their work, and that 80 percent of them could be helped with off-the-rack glasses, which would need to be replaced every five years,” the newspaper writes, noting, “The $28 billion would cover the cost of training 65,000 optometrists and equipping clinics where they could prescribe eyeglasses, which can now be mass-produced for as little as $2 a pair” (McNeil, 11/26).
The following pieces were published in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, observed annually on November 25.
“A new virus from the same family as SARS which sparked a global alert in September has now killed two people in Saudi Arabia, and total cases there and in Qatar have reached six, the World Health Organization said” on Friday, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/23). “Of the six known cases … two have been fatal” and “[o]nly two were clearly connected,” as they were members of the same family, according to the New York Times (McNeil, 11/23). In 2003, nearly 8,500 people worldwide were infected by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and about 900 of those people died, the Associated Press/CBS News reports. “The WHO said it was continuing to work with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other international health partners to gain a better understanding of the [current] virus,” the news service notes (11/23).
“More than one-quarter of people diagnosed with tuberculosis [TB] at a clinic in India’s largest city of 18 million have a strain that doesn’t respond to the main treatment against the disease, according to preliminary data from a new diagnostic being tested,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper obtained “preliminary and not peer reviewed” data from TB clinics in Mumbai, and Puneet Dewan with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation TB program in India “said the WHO and Indian authorities are taking the data seriously because it appears to confirm other studies in recent years of similarly high rates of multi-drug-resistance, in which patients don’t respond to the two most powerful TB medicines.” According to the newspaper, “The WHO and India currently estimate India has about 100,000 of the 650,000 people in the world with multi-drug-resistance” (Anand/McKay, 11/23).
UNAIDS’ World AIDS Day report: Results, released on Tuesday, said the goal of eventually ending the global AIDS epidemic “is more than merely visionary” and “is entirely feasible,” primarily because of “historic success” in scaling up HIV programs and improving access to antiretroviral drugs to treat and prevent HIV, Reuters reports (Kelland, 11/20). According to the report, “[t]wenty-five countries, many in hard-hit Africa, have at least halved new HIV infections in the past decade, with particular progress made toward protecting children from the deadly virus,” Agence France-Presse writes (11/20). “UNAIDS says that half the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children,” PlusNews writes. “But the epidemic is not over in any part of the world, and is gaining pace in some,” the news service continues, noting the number of new infections has increased in the Middle East and North Africa (11/20). The report “stresses that countries must dramatically ramp up both [prevention and treatment efforts] if the world hopes to meet the ambitious goals agreed upon last year at a special session of the United Nations,” ScienceInsider writes (Cohen, 11/20).
On Universal Children’s Day, November 20, “UNICEF issued a new research paper [.pdf] highlighting global demographic shifts forecast for the coming generation of children that present major challenges to policy makers and planners,” according to a UNICEF press release. For example, the paper says that “by 2050 one in every three births will be African,” and “in turn, under-five deaths will continue increasingly to be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, in pockets of poverty and marginalization in populous lower-income countries and in least-developed nations,” the press release states, adding, “The paper’s recommendations include: targeting investments to the areas where children will be born; an emphasis on neglected groups, especially in high population, middle income countries; reaching the poorest and most isolated households, and urgently tackling the issue of old age dependency” (11/20).
“This week delegates from about 100 member countries of the World Health Organization are meeting in Buenos Aires with the aim of strengthening defenses against substandard and fraudulent medicines,” Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa and Roger Bate, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, write in a New York Times opinion piece. “The meeting is extremely important, but to make progress a number of hurdles will have to be overcome,” they say, noting a paper recently published in the BMJ outlines such challenges. “In Buenos Aires, the delegates first need to agree which medicines are good and which are bad,” the authors say, adding, “[C]ountries need to agree that protecting intellectual property and public health are two different things.” Unless countries define the “difference between honest drug companies that sell accidentally substandard medicines, and organized criminals who sell a deliberately falsified … drug,” then “criminals will continue to slip through loopholes and honest companies, pharmacists and doctors will find themselves prosecuted unjustly,” they write.
The WHO “has unveiled a new set of priority actions to better address preventable health conditions in Africa,” presented on Tuesday at the 62nd WHO Regional Committee for Africa session in Luanda, Angola, Devex reports (Valdez, 11/20). WHO Regional Director for Africa Luis Sambo said in a statement, “This strategy (.pdf) aims to scale up health promotion interventions in order to contribute to reducing the leading causes of preventable deaths, disabilities and major illnesses from communicable and non-communicable diseases, violence and injuries, maternal and child health conditions, and new and re-emerging threats to health in the African Region.” According to the statement, the document lists five principles intended to guide the implementation of seven priority interventions, which include “strengthening the stewardship role of the ministry of health; strengthening national technical and institutional capacity for health promotion; sustaining institutional capacity for health promotion at national, regional and local levels; and gathering and disseminating evidence on best practice and effective health promotion approaches” (11/20).
IRIN examines how the WHO’s recent declaration that the MenAfriVac meningitis A vaccine can be transported or stored for up to four days without refrigeration will affect immunization campaigns in Africa’s meningitis belt, which runs from Senegal to Ethiopia. “As a result, very remote populations will access the vaccine more easily, the logistics of vaccine campaigns will be simpler, and vaccine campaign costs will drop both for partners and for national governments, said Michel Zaffran, coordinator of WHO’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), and Marie-Pierre Preziosi, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between international NGO PATH and WHO,” IRIN writes. Zaffran said, “I am quite confident that within the next year or two, we’ll have one or two more [vaccines] re-licensed in this way,” according to the news service. “Analysis on the heat stability of hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines is under way; next on the list are yellow fever, rotavirus and pneumococcal disease,” IRIN notes (11/20).