“Chagas disease — a parasitic infection transmitted through an insect commonly known as the ‘kissing bug’ — is one of the most common infections among pregnant women in the Western Hemisphere,” Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “It can be found all over Latin America, from Mexico and Central America to Paraguay and Argentina,” he writes, adding, “For expectant mothers, what makes Chagas disease especially harmful is that it can be passed to their unborn children, causing highly lethal congenital infections.”
“[P]articipants at a symposium held last week by the U.K. Consortium on AIDS and International Development warned that [progress on HIV and tuberculosis (TB) vaccines] could be jeopardized by the recent downturn in global health funding,” BMJ reports. The journal summarizes comments made at the meeting by researchers and advocacy group representatives, who stressed that successful vaccines for HIV and TB would save millions in existing research investments and long-term treatment costs (Moszynski, 5/22).
“This week in Geneva, health ministers from governments around the world will meet at the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA) for their annual meeting to discuss health issues that affect everyone everywhere,” Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), writes in this post in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog. “Among the resolutions they will consider is one supporting the Global Vaccine Action Plan, a road map to ensure that by the end of this decade, every child, everywhere enjoys the full benefits of immunization,” he notes.
Al Jazeera’s “Counting the Cost” program on Saturday focused on the fight against malaria and the “business behind its treatment and prevention.” According to the program, progress against malaria “is being threatened in these tough economic times. There is a $3 billion shortfall in funding for malaria treatment and prevention.” The program reports on drug-resistant malaria strains in South-East Asia; examines a vaccine candidate under development by GlaxoSmithKline; speaks with Jo Lines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Christoph Benn of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria about the impact of the international financial crisis on the fight against the disease; and discusses a mobile phone app developed by a group of medical students that would help people receive a quicker diagnosis and treatment (Santamaria, 5/26).
“The last three countries where polio is still paralyzing children — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — said on Thursday that they have enlisted Muslim women and religious leaders to allay fears of vaccination and wipe out the disease,” Reuters reports. According to Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a special assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister who is in charge of the polio eradication campaign, more than 20 leading Islamic scholars “have signed an endorsement of the polio eradication program, which is being used to persuade Pakistani parents” to allow their children to be vaccinated, the news agency writes. In Nigeria, the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations is backing a polio immunization campaign there, Reuters notes. “It is not the first time that the world has come tantalizingly close to wiping out the crippling disease,” the news agency writes. “‘We’re so close, there is no time for complacency,’ Dr. Christopher Elias, head of global development at the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a major donor, told Reuters in Geneva,” Reuters adds (Nebehay, 5/24).
“[P]eople everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox,” a Bloomberg View editorial states, adding, “Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run.” The editorial notes, “If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.”
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on Wednesday “met Uttar Pradesh [UP] Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow,” India, where they “discussed health care programs in the state that Mr. Gates intends to take up through” the foundation, NDTV reports (Zanane, 5/30). The Gates Foundation will work with the state “on health and related developmental projects, particularly in the areas of maternal, neonatal, child health and telemedicine,” India Today writes (Srivastava, 5/30). According to NDTV, “A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will be signed within two months between the UP government and the foundation, with the objective that the foundation shall provide technical, management and program design support in maternal, neonatal and child health, vaccination and other health- and agriculture-related programs” (5/30). “‘The foundation will also support the state in tackling health-related challenges by experimenting with new and innovative methods for effective behavioral changes, delivery of services and management of health systems,’ the UP CM said after meeting Gates,” the Daily Mail writes (Srivastava, 5/30).
“A global initiative to rid the world of polio launched an emergency action plan on Thursday because gaps in funding and vaccination coverage threaten to derail a final push towards stamping out the paralyzing disease,” AlertNet reports (Rowling, 5/24). “Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunization gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to launch an Emergency Action Plan,” a GPEI press release states. “‘Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,’ said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization,” the press release states. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success — working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable,” she added, according to the release (5/24).
Anirban Chatterjee, chief of health and nutrition for UNICEF in Ghana, said the country “is doing a lot” to fight child mortality — referring to a recently launched vaccination campaign and an initiative to educate mothers about nutrition — but “I don’t think it’s enough” to reach the fourth U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds by 2015, Inter Press Service reports. “I think there is definitely scope and need for more improvement,” he added, according to the news service. A GAVI Alliance-supported campaign to provide vaccines against rotavirus and pneumococcal disease is underway, but Chatterjee added that efforts to improve nutrition need to be provided simultaneously because he “said malnourishment can sometimes double or triple the chances of dying from a condition like diarrhea or pneumonia,” IPS writes.
In a report (.pdf) released on Tuesday, the non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, said a new $10 billion global vaccination plan “fails to address the 20 percent of babies — some 19 million infants — who never receive basic, life-saving shots,” and that, “[r]ather than pushing for novel vaccines, the plan should focus more concretely on strategies to get existing vaccines to children,” Nature’s “News Blog” reports (Maxmen, 5/15). The “‘Global Vaccine Action Plan’ has been designed to implement the ‘Decade of Vaccines’ project and will be considered by health ministers gathering next week in Geneva for the 65th World Health Assembly,” according to an MSF press release, which adds, “MSF welcomed the increased emphasis on vaccines stimulated by the ‘Decade of Vaccines’ but expressed concern that some key challenges are being glossed over” (5/15).