Several blogs recently reported on issues discussed last week during a conference sponsored by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, titled “Lives in the Balance: Delivering Medical Innovations for Neglected Patients and Populations.” The following is a list of those posts.
The Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” examines efforts to prevent and treat cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, where “cervical cancer kills large numbers of women, many of whom are never diagnosed because local hospitals do not recognize the disease until it is too late.” However, “[a] very simple and cheap form of screening has begun to be introduced — and now there is the possibility of a vaccination program against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancers,” the blog writes, noting a recent announcement by the GAVI Alliance that it plans to fund HPV immunization programs in several countries. According to the blog, “15 countries [are] asking to be considered,” and “Uganda and Rwanda have already been approved, although some ‘clarifications’ are required from the governments on how their programs will run.” The blog continues, “No one believes it will be easy to introduce the HPV vaccination in Africa, and there may be problems,” including issues with efficacy and cost (Boseley, 12/14).
“Last week a global health event took place in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to foster greater political will and explore ways to accelerate results, innovation, sustainability, and equity in the field of immunization,” Baroness Hollins, emeritus professor of psychiatry of disability at St George’s University of London, writes in the BMJ Group Blog about the GAVI Partners Forum. She discusses the GAVI Alliance’s work and the benefits of vaccination strategies, writing, “[W]e need to ensure that governments around the world commit to the global vaccines action plan and that innovative, effective, and cost efficient organizations like the GAVI Alliance are supported to carry out their vital work.” She continues, “It is simply unacceptable that, in the 21st century, any child should die from a vaccine-preventable disease or acquire a serious physical or mental impairment which was entirely preventable. We must continue to support vaccination efforts in the developing world to ensure that as many children as possible lead healthy, active lives” (12/12).
In this Guardian “Global Development Professionals Network” blog post, Robert Steinglass, senior immunization adviser at John Snow, Inc., and immunization team leader for the USAID-funded Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, writes about the importance of innovation to improving childhood immunization programs and health systems. He notes he recently moderated a panel at the GAVI Partners’ Forum, during which participants discussed different approaches.
BBC News examines ongoing efforts to develop a female-controlled microbicide to prevent HIV infection. But so far, “efforts … have presented a great deal of frustration in the fight against this global epidemic,” the news service writes, detailing the history of some failed experiments. “According to the Microbicide Trials Network, there are currently nine different microbicide products in clinical trials,” BBC notes. Angela Obasi of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said, “In many parts of the world — especially in the parts of the world where HIV is most prevalent — there are gender status issues that make it very tricky for a woman to control the circumstances under which she is exposed to HIV. … So methods that are controlled by women give them a critically important power over the safety of their own bodies,” according to the news service (Gill, 12/8).
Vaccines “save lives by protecting people against disease,” but they “also are an engine for economic growth — far beyond their health benefits,” GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley writes in a CNN opinion piece. GAVI and its “many partners, including prominent companies,” “recognize that in addition to the humanitarian need, countries such as Tanzania are emerging markets that can fulfill their economic ambitions only if they also can ensure good health for their citizens,” he states. Berkley describes efforts to increase vaccination rates in Tanzania, and he writes, “[W]e know for a fact that vaccines — in addition to saving lives and improving health — are the cornerstone of a vibrant economy, fuel growth and serve as a magnet for foreign investment. Indeed, research has shown vaccines to be among the most cost-effective investments in global development.”
“British mobile phone group Vodafone and drug maker GlaxoSmithKline are joining forces on a novel project to increase childhood vaccination rates in Mozambique using text messaging,” Reuters reports. With the aim of increasing the proportion of children covered by vaccination by five to 10 percent, a one-year pilot project supported by Save the Children “will register mothers on a ministry of health database, alert them to the availability of vaccinations and allow them to schedule appointments by text,” the news agency notes. In addition, a three-year partnership between Vodafone and the GAVI Alliance, supported by the British government, will “study how health ministries across sub-Saharan Africa can use mobile technology to improve their immunization programs,” Reuters notes, adding, “Britain will match Vodafone’s contribution of technology and services with a $1.5 million cash contribution to GAVI” (12/10).
“In an effort to fight the human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, more than 30 million girls will be immunized against HPV by 2020 with GAVI support, the global health alliance announced on Thursday,” Xinhua/Global Times reports. “Rwanda and Uganda have been conducting HPV pilot projects through donations from vaccine manufacturers and are expected to roll out the vaccine nationwide with GAVI support in 2014,” the news service writes, adding, “By 2015, GAVI plans to immunize approximately one million girls with HPV vaccines and a large number of other countries are expected to run HPV pilot projects, and by 2020, more than 30 million girls will be immunized against HPV, [GAVI Alliance CEO Seth] Berkley said” (12/7).
In this PLoS “Speaking of Medicine” blog post, Julien Potet and Katy Athersuch of Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) Access Campaign say that the WHO’s decision last week to “simply continue monitoring” the medical research and development (R&D) industry’s ability to address the needs of people living in developing countries “by creating a global R&D ‘observatory'” is “a deeply disappointing outcome that will not help re-shape priorities, increase funding or catalyze development of urgently needed new medical tools; at best it will only underscore further how badly these actions are needed.” They discuss how access to new tools, technologies, and treatments “can save lives” and some of the progress made in expanding R&D. Advocates’ “pressure will be critical for engaging governments and mobilizing the public leadership needed to support the research for cures that millions of neglected patients await,” they conclude (12/6).
Strengthen Health Systems To Integrate Polio Vaccinations Into Routine Childhood Immunizations, Save The Children Report Says
Speaking at the GAVI Partners Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, David Olayemi, senior program adviser at Save the Children in Abuja, Nigeria, said fewer than half of children in Nigeria are receiving routine immunizations for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTP), and the rate is dropping, Guardian health editor Sarah Boseley reports in her “Global Health Blog.” Launching a Save the Children report that “calls on GAVI to step up efforts to reach the last 20 percent of children across the developing world who are not getting routine immunization,” Olayemi said part of the reason for the lack of coverage are large efforts to vaccinate children against polio, which offer incentives to health care workers to leave clinics to go into the field, leaving no one to perform routine immunizations, the blog notes.