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Also In Global Health News: Semi-Synthetic Artemisinin Development; Libyan Humanitarian Situation; Netherlands Possibly Scaling Back Recipients Of Development Aid; African Lab Society Launched; Maternal Mortality In Bangladesh

Scientists Refine Efforts To Develop Semi-Synthetic Artemisinin

PostMedia News/Vancouver Sun reports on recent advances by researchers to speed the development of semi-synthetic artemisinin to treat people with malaria. Though artemisinin is currently derived “from the sweet wormwood plant found in parts of Asia and Africa … cultivating and harvesting the plant and then extracting artemisinin is time-consuming and labour intensive,” the news service writes. By introducing genes from the wormwood plant that give rise to artemisinin into yeast, researchers have shown they can boost the production of the compound. “The idea is to provide the developing world with antimalarial drugs at the lowest possible cost and, in addition, to provide a very stable supply because this yeast-fermentation process is shorter term and more reliable than growing the plants themselves,” said Patrick Covello, a senior research officer at the National Research Council in Saskatoon, involved in the ongoing project. Covello said he “understands that Sanofi-aventis will begin commercial-scale production in 2012,” according to the news service (Haight, 3/21).

Media Outlets Report On Humanitarian Situation In Libya

Aid groups on Friday appealed for Libya’s neighboring countries to keep their borders open “as they braced for a potential exodus of refugees from Libya following intensified fighting and the declaration of a no-fly zone,” Reuters reports, noting that so far an estimated 300,000 people have fled the country (Nebehay, 3/18). On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to political and military leaders “to ensure the safety of (Libyan) citizens and guarantee access to humanitarian aid,” Agence France-Presse/ABS-CBN News reports (3/20). BBC News reports on how health workers in the conflict zones in Libya and Bahrain have come under increasing attacks and the ongoing efforts to protect this group (3/21). In related news, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday reported that some of its aid workers “had returned to the rebel-held Libyan city of Benghazi two days after withdrawing for security reasons,” Reuters writes in a second story (Nebehay, 3/18).

Dutch Government Considers Scaling Back Number Of Countries Receiving Development Aid

The Dutch government is considering plans to reduce the number of countries receiving development aid, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports. “The new list, which cuts from 33 to 15 the number of countries receiving direct government-to-government aid, is part of a broad rethinking of development cooperation, says Dutch Deputy Development Cooperation Minister Ben Knapen,” the news service writes (3/18). “According to information recently leaked to the press, Mr. Knapen wants to end development aid to Bolivia, Tanzania, Zambia, Suriname, Egypt, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Guatemala, Kosovo, Moldavia, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Senegal,” Expatica.com reports (3/18). “Before the cuts can be implemented, the proposal must be submitted to parliament,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports in a second story (3/18).

African Society for Laboratory Medicine Officially Launched

During a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) – “an organization that hopes to strengthen Africa’s laboratory standards and research capacity” – was officially launched, Nature News reports. According to the publication, PEPFAR put $4.2 million toward the creation of the society, “which will be based in Ethiopia” (3/16). According to Walta Information Center, “the ASLM launch brought together over 300 participants from 36 countries, including officials and seven Ministers of Health from Africa and leading organizations specializing in strengthening laboratory systems from Africa and the world.” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby and Director Of Global Health at the CDC Kevin De Cock attended the meeting, and former President Bill Clinton delivered an address via video stream, the news service writes (3/17).

Guardian Examines Maternal Mortality In Bangladesh

A post on the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” examines some of the cultural factors that influence maternal mortality rates in Bangladesh, including the absence of men in the delivery room. “Despite the lack of any law forbidding men to enter the delivery room, fathers are normally not present during the birth of their own child – an attitude that needs to change, say the country’s first midwives, who are due to graduate next month,” according to the blog. “If [men] could see firsthand the complications of childbirth, they would be more likely to send their pregnant wives to proper medical facilities and less likely to insist on early childbirth after marriage,” according to Mala Reberio, one of 20 midwives in the country undergoing a training program to meet international standards. The post also highlights findings from the government’s Bangladesh Maternal Mortality and Healthcare Survey 2010 and reports on the government’s efforts to expand its pool of qualified midwives (Hussain, 3/17).