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Also In Global Health News: North Korean Health Crisis; HIV/AIDS In India; Antibiotics For Malaria Prevention; WHO Flu Pandemic Status; Dengue In Florida; HIV/AIDS Among IDUs In Ukraine

Amnesty International Report Describes North Korea’s ‘Desperate Picture of Health’

A new report by Amnesty International paints a “desperate picture of the health of North Korea’s population,” the Guardian reports. Amnesty International describes “a country of stunted children, where the hungry eat poisonous plants and pigfeed … amputations are conducted without anaesthetic and doctors are paid in cigarettes,” according to the newspaper. In the report, which is based on interviews with aid workers and North Korean defectors, the human rights organization “accuses the North Korean regime of systematic neglect and calls on the international community to intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster,” the Guardian writes. The article also notes that “malnutrition has paved the way for a tuberculosis epidemic,” from which at least 5 percent of the population suffers (McCurry, 7/15). “There was no immediate reaction from North Korea, which is sensitive to outside criticism and usually responds through its state-controlled media, though sometimes days or even weeks later,” the AP reports (Kim, 7/15).

India’s AIDS Activists Unsure Of Epidemic’s Future

“[T]here is disquiet among AIDS activists and health professionals about what lies ahead” for India’s epidemic, Financial Times reports. “The Geneva-based Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] will support India’s treatment programme until 2016, but beyond that lies uncertainty as donors enter an era of austerity, and New Delhi has shown little willingness to fill the void,” according to the article. India increased treatment after 2004 after “sustained international pressure and an inflow of foreign financing,” which “marked a sharp turn for a government that long resisted pleas to provide free drugs to AIDS patients,” according to the newspaper. The article includes comments from Siddharth Dube, an HIV/AIDS expert with the New York-based World Policy Institute, who fears the government will “back away” from its commitment after foreign financing ends, and Domodar Bachani, deputy director of India’s National AIDS Control Organisation, who “insists the government will not abandon those living with AIDS” (Kazmin, 7/14).

Study Suggests Antibiotics Could Prevent Malaria

“People at high risk of malaria may benefit from taking a cocktail of antibiotics as a preventative step, according to the results of a study in mice,” Reuters reports. Researchers said that the antibiotics could “prompt healthy people to develop a natural immunity to malaria parasites” and could be useful preventatives in settings where malaria seasons are “high risk but relatively short.” The findings, published in Science Translational Medicine, showed that healthy mice given the antibiotics then infected with malaria parasites “generated a vaccine-like immunity” and the team now wants to test their findings in clinical trials in humans, according to the news service (Kelland, 7/14).

WHO Flu Pandemic Status Ruling Delayed

The committee that will advise the WHO on whether to end the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic status has pushed back its mid-July meeting, according to Agence-France Presse. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the news service that “the team had decided to wait a few more weeks in order to obtain more information about the development of the flu in the southern hemisphere’s winter,” specifically in Australia and New Zealand. She said the committee is now expected to meet at the end of July or in August (7/14).

Dengue Reemerges In U.S. For First Time In 75 Years

The New York Times reports that “about 5 percent of the population of Key West has recently been exposed to the virus that causes dengue fever,” the first reemergence of the virus in the U.S. in 75 years, according to a CDC report. There were 27 cases in Key West last year and 12 so far in 2010, according to the newspaper (Grady, 7/13). Reuters writes that Harold Margolis, chief of the CDC’s dengue branch, is “concerned that if dengue gains a foothold in Key West it will travel to other southern cities where the mosquito that transmits dengue is present, like Miami” (7/13).

Organizations Step In To Fight HIV Among IDUs In Ukraine

“Despite entrenched corruption and police interference, community organisations lead the fight against HIV among drug injectors and sex workers in Ukraine,” the British Medical Journal reports. The feature examines the state’s response to the HIV epidemic, including clinics that provide counseling, testing and substitution therapy but “cannot effectively champion HIV prevention in drug injectors and sex workers” because, as Pavlo Smyrnov, a deputy director at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine said, “both these groups are outside the law, so it’s difficult for government organizations to work with them. The only official outreach they can provide is through the police, who either lock them up or take money.” The article also discusses non-governmental action, including work funded by the Global Fund, which is “largely channeled” through the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and is estimated to reach 52 percent of injecting drug users. The article notes that in 2004 the Global Fund “stopped payments” from going directly to the Ukranian government because of “budgetary irregularities and a lack of transparency” (Hurley, 7/13).