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Also In Global Health News: WFP In North Korea; Maternal Health In Indonesia; Possible Vaccine Contamination; GM Mosquitoes In Malaysia; Mobile Micro-Insurance In Kenya

World Food Programme Director Visits North Korea, Tours Food Factory

U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran and former U.S. Special Envoy Jack Pritchard arrived in North Korea Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports (11/2). The visit is WFP’s “first top-level visit to the communist country in nearly 10 years,” the Associated Press reports, adding that Sheeran “met with Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and then visited the a food factory in Pyongyang” (11/3). Pritchard will “stay in Pyongyang for three or four days for talks with North Korean officials” and then travel to South Korea, AFP reports, citing South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “The communist North suffered famine in the 1990s which killed hundreds of thousands of people and still receives supplies from the … WFP, aid groups and countries … The United Nations predicts that Pyongyang will have to import 1.1 million tons of cereals this year. But UN agencies have raised only 20 percent of the 492 million dollars they estimated in 2009 would be needed for the North,” AFP adds (11/2).

Jakarta Globe Examines How Maternal Health Improvements Alleviate Poverty

“Improving maternal health through proper family planning and better health care is the key to alleviating poverty in Indonesia,” the Jakarta Globe writes, citing public health experts and government officials. “Maternal health is the most important investment for the future … It’s like a vicious cycle: if the mother is unhealthy, the baby is likely to also be unhealthy, and there’s no future for the country,” Firman Lubis, chairman of the Healthy Indonesia Coalition, said as he “echoed the results of a two-day international conference last week in [the Indonesian city] Yogyakarta, … which concluded that high pregnancy rates and poor maternal health were hampering poverty-alleviation efforts.” Budiharja, Indonesia’s head of community health at the Ministry of Health, “added the government was working on policies that could prevent maternal deaths, including rolling out a pilot project to make births at community health centers and state hospitals nationwide free of charge,” and said the agency’s 2011 budget is $268 million compared with $179 million in 2010 (Sagita, 11/2).

South Korean FDA, WHO Looking Into Possible Contamination At Crucell Vaccine Plant

South Korea’s FDA “will review Crucell NV’s investigation into possible contamination at a vaccine plant before deciding whether to undertake its own probe of the situation,” Bloomberg reports. Crucell “said Oct. 28 that it halted production and shipments of” its Quinvaxem shot – which is distributed by UNICEF and provides protection against five childhood infectious diseases, and Hepavax-Gene, a vaccine for hepatitis B – because sterile production at its Shingal facility “may have been compromised,” the news service writes. Alison Brunier, a spokesperson for the WHO, said the agency was also looking into the matter (Yoon/Derafino, 11/2).  

Malaysia To Release GM Mosquitoes In An Effort To Combat Dengue

“Malaysia will soon take the controversial step of releasing genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes into the wild as part of an experiment to test their survival in natural conditions,” SciDev.Net reports. The ultimate goal is to slow the spread of dengue fever in the country. The country’s National Biosafety Board approved the move last month, making it the “first major country in the world to release GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes for field testing – second only after the Cayman Islands in 2009,” according to the news service. “The developers hope male GM mosquitoes will compete with normal males for females so that repeated releases cut numbers of A. aegypti  in dengue-prone areas” (Tan, 11/2).

National Geographic Examines Technology-Based Micro-Insurance For Kenyan Farmers

National Geographic profiles Kilimo Salama, a technology-based program that insures “more than 9,500” small-scale farmers in Kenya. The article explains how the program works, reporting that “[p]articipating farmers pay an extra 5 percent of the value of high-yielding seeds, chemicals, and fertilizers sold by agricultural companies MEA Fertilizers and Syngenta East Africa Limited, which are registered with the Kilimo Salama partnership. These companies match the farmers’ investment to cover the full 10 percent premium it takes to cover the program’s cost.” Farmers use mobile phones to purchase fertilizers and confirm their policies and must also be registered with one of Kenya’s weather stations so the program can track whether there has been severe drought or excessive rainfall. The article quotes several experts on the program’s viability (Ogodo, 10/29).