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Also In Global Health News: Flooding, HIV Treatment Adherence, and Economic Growth In Africa; China Detects Superbug; U.S. Aid To Myanmar; Cash-Transfer Programs

1.8M Now Affected By Flooding In West And Central Africa; Hardest Hit-Benin Struggles With Disease, Damaged Health Centers

Flooding continues to devastate Central and West Africa – more than 1.8 million people have been affected and 400 killed, according to the U.N., United Press International reports. “The nation of Benin has been hardest hit by the floods, with over 700,000 people affected, [Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,] said” Tuesday. UPI adds, “more than 52,000 cases of cholera” have been reported in West and Central Africa since June, according to the WHO estimates (10/26). Byrs said the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) will provide $4 million to aid flood victims, U.N. News Centre writes (10/26). Outbreaks of malaria, cholera and other infectious diseases are now a “major threat” in Benin as flood waters begin to recede, IRIN writes in an article that also examines the state of Benin’s health systems and the urgent needs of the affected communities, including water purification tablets and malaria medicine (10/26).

New York Times Examines Efforts To Reduce Number Of HIV-Positive Patients In Africa Who Stop Taking Their Medications

In a first-person account in the New York Times, David Tuller of the University of California, Berkeley, writes of his experience shadowing a counselor with Family AIDS Care and Education Services (FACES), an organization in Kisumu, Kenya, that is working to identify patients who have defaulted on their HIV treatment and coax them to begin taking medications once again. “Epidemiologists refer to such patients as ‘lost to follow-up,’ and their increasing numbers in sub-Saharan Africa are causing concern among providers of HIV and AIDS care. Interruptions in treatment lead to viral strains that are resistant to the cheapest medications, and to higher rates of illness and death,” according to the piece. “Several years ago, during the rapid international expansion of HIV drug distribution, researchers reported very high rates of adherence to treatment in sub-Saharan Africa – as high as or higher than in the United States. More recently, however, studies have found that 15 to 40 percent of those who start treatment are lost to follow-up within one to three years.”  

The article details reasons patients may stop taking medications and notes several HIV programs in Africa that “are experimenting with various strategies to reduce loss to follow-up – offering a two- or three-month supply of medication per clinic visit, delivering drugs directly to patients’ homes and reimbursing them for transportation costs. FACES is exploring modest projects to raise patients’ income and stabilize their lives, like creating a microfinance system to provide water pumps and other agricultural support to help them grow more crops” (10/26).

Economic Growth In Sub-Saharan ‘Better-Than-Expected,’ IMF Report Says

“In a report released Monday, the International Monetary Fund said that growth for the sub-Saharan region … should reach 5% this year, up from an earlier prediction of 4.5%. The IMF predicted annual growth would rise to 5.5% next year,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The growth is “better-than-expected” and is partly due to “increased trade with China and other fast-growing economies in Asia and Latin America,” the newspaper writes. “[S]ub-Saharan Africa fared much better than other regions during the economic crisis in part because its banks aren’t as exposed to the global market,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which adds that African governments “also imposed sound fiscal policies that helped to buffer the shock” and continued spending “on health and education, and managing inflation and private investment” (Childress, 10/26).

China Detects First Cases Of ‘Superbug’ First Seen in South Asia

China has detected its first cases of “a multi-drug resistant superbug that surfaced in South Asia and has triggered a global health alert,” Agence France-Presse writes, citing state media reports. Bacteria carrying NDM-1, the gene that makes bacteria multi-drug resistant, was found in two babies in March, who are now healthy, and an 83-year-old man who died of lung cancer in June. AFP notes that the WHO “has urged health authorities around the world to monitor the superbug” (10/26).

Secretary Clinton Offers Aid, Condolences To Myanmar After Cyclone

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the U.S. government is offering aid to Myanmar after a deadly cyclone struck the western part of the southeast Asian country,” and she “offered condolences on the loss of life and damage caused by Cyclone Giri, which killed at least 27 people and destroyed thousands of homes,” Agence France-Presse reports. Clinton said the U.S. Embassy in the country has provided disaster relief and “will offer additional assistance as needed.” AFP notes that Clinton is scheduled to visit Malaysia on Monday as part of a two-week tour of Asia and the Pacific (10/26).

Newsweek Examines Cash-Transfer Programs Around The World

“At first glance, simply handing out cash to the poor may seem naive. When cash-transfer programs, as they’re known in the parlance of international aid, first rolled out in Latin America in the 1990s, they were met with skepticism … More than a decade later, however, evidence shows that even modest payments grant the world’s poorest the power to make their own decisions; it also indicates that they make smart choices, especially on matters of health and education,” Newsweek writes in a piece highlighting examples of some cash-transfer programs, such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, which helped cut child malnutrition by 45 percent. But the “programs are hardly a magic bullet. … Developing countries and international donors will have to find other ways to improve the quality of both health care and education,” the magazine writes (Werth, 10/25).