PSI and Gates Collaborate to Test Male Circumcision Innovation in Zimbabwe

This week, the New York Times reported on the development of two male circumcision devices: PrePex and Shang Ring. Both are exciting innovations that make it quicker, easier and safer to perform circumcisions on men.

Now that three studies have shown that circumcising adult heterosexual men is one of the most effective “vaccines” against AIDS — reducing the chances of infection by 60 percent or more — public health experts are struggling to find ways to make the process faster, cheaper and safer.

The goal is to circumcise 20 million African men by 2015, but only about 600,000 have had the operation thus far. Even a skilled surgeon takes about 15 minutes, most African countries are desperately short of surgeons, and there is no Mohels Without Borders.

So donors are pinning their hopes on several devices now being tested to speed things up.

Dr. Stefano Bertozzi, director of H.I.V. for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said it had its eyes on two, named PrePex and the Shang Ring, and was supporting efforts by the World Health Organization to evaluate them.

Cholesterol-Lowering Statins Linked to Reducing Pneumonia

Results from a study on patients using cholesterol-lowering statins point to a lower likelihood of contracting pneumonia as compared to the placebo group. The news is quite exciting, but there is a major caveat. Given the design of the trial, the causality of the statin reducing pneumonia in adults is not strong. Further research will be necessary to uncover the direct link. However, there is good reason to be optimistic given that there is something that is helping to reduce the likelihood of patients contracting pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a serious problem for the elderly and small children. Determining ways to reduce risk can save thousands of lives each year. Reuters reports further on the study:

CrestorIsraeli researchers found that of nearly 18,000 adults in a clinical trial of rosuvastatin (Crestor), those given the drug were 17 percent less likely to develop pneumonia over several years, versus people given a placebo.

That’s a small effect, and no one is suggesting people start on statins in the hope of warding off pneumonia.

Instead, the researchers say their findings give indirect support to clinical trials looking at whether statins help prevent certain complications in patients with serious infections.

“We would not recommend using statins for the prevention of the infectious disease,” said lead researcher Dr. Victor Novack, of Soroka University Medical Center in Israel.

Healthy Dose: Food Crisis Hits Chad

March 20, 2012

The international community has been warning for several months about an impending food crisis in the Sahel region.It’s here. And the Kanem region of Chad is where it is first hitting.

“Child malnutrition rates have soared in the region of Kanem, which is now in the grip of a full blown emergency, Action Contre La Faim (ACF) said. Kanem is one of the first areas to be affected by a looming crisis in the Sahel region where some 15 million people in half a dozen countries risk hunger in the coming months.

More than 2,000 children in Kanem were admitted to nutrition treatment centres in February alone, triple the number treated in December, according to ACF.

“For the people in Kanem the emergency is already here,” ACF spokeswoman Lucile Grosjean said. “I was at a therapeutic centre and two children died because they arrived very late. They were in such a bad shape that it wasn’t possible for us (ACF) to save their lives,” she told AlertNet by phone from Kanem’s main town of Mao.

Aid agencies have warned for months of an impending food crisis in the semi-arid belt south of the Sahara desert following drought and poor harvests. The United Nations estimates at least 15 million people in the Sahel could be affected, including 3.6 million in Chad, 5.4 million in Niger, 3 million in Mali, 1.7 million in Burkina Faso and hundreds of thousands in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania respectively.

Video: Investigating the Causes of Water Shortages in Ghana and Nigeria

Both Ghana and Nigeria are suffering from major water shortages and the causes are not entirely known. An investigation by Steve Sapienza for PBS looks at how Nigeria’s Ameto Akpe and Ghana’s Samuel Agyemang are holding their respective governments through investigative reporting.

Here is a small snip-it from the report:

STEVE SAPIENZA: In the neighboring country of Ghana, residents of the capital, Accra, are frustrated with the government’s failure to provide a reliable supply of piped fresh water, this despite Ghana’s ample water resources and a steady flow of foreign aid for water projects.

About four years ago, when Accra was experiencing severe water shortages, the public named these containers Kufuor gallons after the sitting president. Now reporter Samuel Agyemang is asking why these containers are still found in area neighborhoods.

Samuel Agyemang is an award-winning reporter who anchors the national evening news for Metro TV.

SAMUEL AGYEMANG, Metro TV: Hello. Good evening. And welcome to the weekend news.

STEVE SAPIENZA: His investigation into illegal nighttime water tapping led him to pursue the much bigger problem of gaps in water access citywide. The story starts right in his own backyard, the seaside enclave known as Teshie.

WHO Director General Warns of Growing Antibiotics Resistance

Margaret Chan

“Worldwide, the fact that greater quantities of antibiotics are used in healthy animals than in unhealthy humans is a cause for great concern,” said WHO director general Margaret Chan in her remarks to a meeting of infectious disease experts in Copenhagen last week.  She warned of growing resistance and urged for restrictions in the use of antibiotics in food production and a concerted crackdown on counterfeit medicines.

The Independent reports:

“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

She continued: “Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise in Europe, and elsewhere in the world. We are losing our first-line antimicrobials.

“Replacement treatments are more costly, more toxic, need much longer durations of treatment, and may require treatment in intensive care units.

Healthy Dose: HIV/AIDS up in Uganda; Burden Falling on Women

March 19, 2012

More than half a million people contracted HIV in the past five years, most of whom are women, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey.

This puts the number of people now living with HIV/Aids at about 2.3 million people up from approximately 1.8 million in 2005. The results released by the Ministry of Health on Friday also indicated a slight increase in the prevalence rate of the disease from 6.4 per cent in the 2004/2005 to now 6.7 per cent among 15-49-year-olds.

Women alone had a prevalence rate of 7.7 per cent and men at 5.6 per cent with higher figures registered in the urban population and wealthier class for women and both rural and urban men had the same prevalence rate.

Those in their 30s and 40s were found most affected by the virus. The unmarried, widowed or divorced were also more likely to be infected.

What was also worrying is that comprehensive knowledge about prevention and transmission of the disease was very low at 34 per cent for women and 41 per cent for men. This meant that most of the messages were either not reaching the people or were misinterpreted.

The sampled districts in the eastern region registered the lowest prevalence rate. Incidentally, the regions where the highest numbers of men practicing circumcision were also recorded. West Nile on the other hand registered the highest prevalence increase from 2.67 per cent in 2006 to 4.4 per cent now.

Some interventions like Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) were doing well. The survey based on household and individual interviews with 11,340 households.

India: More Homes Have Phones Than Latrines

Data from the India census finds that, out of 246.6 million households, only 46.9%  have lavatories. The majority, 49.8%, defecate in the open and 3.2% reported using use public toilets. That means nearly half of the households in the entire country do not use a latrine of any sort.

“Open defecation continues to be a big concern for the country as almost half of the population do it,” Registrar General and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli said while releasing the latest data. “Cultural and traditional reasons and a lack of education are the prime reasons for this unhygienic practice. We have to do a lot in these fronts,” he said.¹

Standing in stark contrast is the fact that 63.2% of homes have a telephone. This means mobile technology has found a way to reach the majority of Indians by creating competitive markets that enable prices so the majority of Indians can access it. Meanwhile, a pressing public health need lags behind. To be fair, a comparison between phones and latrines is not entirely fair, but it does illustrate the possibility to reach housholds in a rapidly growing manner.

The BBC reports further on the data from the census:

About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar. All three are among India’s poorest states with huge populations which live on less than a dollar a day.

Healthy Dose: Zimbabwe On Verge of Providing Free Maternal Health Care

March 16, 2012

Mothers in Zimbabwe will soon have access to free maternal healthcare thanks to over half a billion dollars pleged by donors, says finance minister Tendai Biti.

A brighter future - making progress against HIV/AIDSAccording to the Zimbabwe Maternal And Perinatal Mortality Survey conducted in 2007, 26,000 to 84,000 women suffer from disabilities caused by complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year.

“The statistics are that 790 out of 100,000 mothers are dying [at birth] and that’s genocide,” Biti said.

There are, of course, many factors contributing to these high figures of maternal death and injury, including HIV/AIDS, food shortages, international isolation and a dramatic decline in the quality of primary health care services in the last decade.

However, clinical fees has remained an issue at the forefront of Zimbabwe’s struggle to improve maternal healthcare.

It costs, for instance, between 10 and 50 dollars to deliver a baby in an urban public facility and this has kept even the most basic services out of reach of the country’s poorest.

“[It is] concerning when there are user fees in place for antenatal consultations, deliveries and referrals, making it unaffordable for many women to access these — often life-saving — services in public health clinics and district hospitals,” said Mari Carmen Viñoles, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Zimbabwe.

Not only do the fees deter many poor rural women from seeking medical assistance, but those who fail to settle their debts are often ‘unlawfully’ detained in hospitals and clinics, reports Radio VOP.

In October 2010, deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe told the Zimbabwean Parliament that since giving birth is a “national duty”, women “should not be made to pay maternity fees”.

That same month, the government launched the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa and the related Zimbabwe Health Sector Investment Case which called for a 700-million-dollar investment to improve healthcare and to provide access to health services to the poorest citizens. The plan was backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization.

Healthy Lives Wins “Best Blog” Award

We are honored by the announcement today that Healthy Lives won the award for “Best Blog” at the Nonprofit PR Awards from PR News.

We are thankful for the acknowledgement and we strive to make this site a useful resource for PSI and the global health community-at-large. Our fellow finalists, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants – AICPA Insights blog and Cone Communications – What Do You Stand For? Blog should be commended for their excellent work.

This seems like a great opportunity to solicit your feedback about the blog. We aspire to be a resource to readers interested in global health and development.  Every morning we post our Healthy Dose global health news roundup, and email it to our subscribers. We are continually updating the site throughout the day with the latest insights, opinions, field reports, and news.  It is easy to measure the traffic to the site, but we want to know how you think we are doing. Are there stories you would like to see covered more often? Are we bringing you the right perspectives on the issues? What do think about the site? How can we improve?

Please leave a note in the comments section or hit us up on twitter @psihealthylives to share your thoughts.

We thank you for reading and look forward to continuing the conversation.

- The PSI Healthy Lives Team