The Daily Impact: Hemorrhagic fever outbreak kills 23 in Guinea

March 20, 2014

There are twenty-three people reported dead in Guinea due to a mysterious hemorrhagic fever outbreak, reports the New York Times.

At least 35 cases have been recorded by local health officials, said Sakoba Keita, the doctor in charge of the prevention of epidemics in Guinea’s Health Ministry.

“Symptoms appear as diarrhea and vomiting, with a very high fever. Some cases showed relatively heavy bleeding,” Keita said.

“We thought it was Lassa fever or another form of cholera but this disease seems to strike like lightning. We are looking at all possibilities, including Ebola, because bushmeat is consumed in that region and Guinea is in the Ebola belt,” he said. No cases of the highly contagious Ebola fever have ever been recorded in the country.

Keita said most of the victims had been in contact with the deceased or had handled the bodies. He said those infected had been isolated and samples had been sent to Senegal and France for further tests.

More than half of the mineral-rich nation’s 11.4 million people live on less than $1 a day and many lack access to basic medical facilities and qualified medical staff.

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The Best Buys in Global Health: Striking an Effective Balance

To have real and lasting impact, we must step back from the intervention level of analysis to understand how we can mold entire ecosystems to better serve the health of broad populations. Sometimes this is called ‘health systems strengthening’, and sometimes it might be seen under the even broader rubric of ‘capacity building’.

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Partner insights: The best buys in global health

Guest contributor Amie Batson is chief strategy officer at PATH.

Later today, I’m joining a panel of international leaders, researchers, and health colleagues to dig deeply into a crucial question: which investments will help us save the lives of more women and children?

The event, organized by PATH, Devex, PSI, and partners, will introduce “Best Buys in Global Health,” a special issue of Impact magazine to be published today that invites you to explore the data, consider the options, and help us succeed. You’re also invited to watch our discussion live from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT today, and to follow the conversation and pose questions to the panelists at #BestBuys4GH.

As I prepared for today’s event, I thought about some of my own top choices. The great return on investing in women, as I’ve written here before, stands out as an unquestionable best buy in my mind. So do a few others…

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The Daily Impact: Strengthening Health Systems and Improving Service Delivery Are Crucial Global Health Investments, say Experts

March 19, 2014

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Strengthening the health systems that provide health products and care is the most critical investment in global health, according to international survey results released today by leading global health organizations, PSI and PATH, as well as Devex, the global development media brand. Global health leaders and experts will gather for an event in Washington DC today to discuss and debate what makes a “best buy” in global health. You can watch the live stream here starting at 3PM EST.

Some more about the survey:

“Investing in global health creates a more stable and secure world for us all by providing basic health care and services to people around the world,” said Karl Hofmann, President and CEO of PSI. “As private, public and nonprofit sectors think about how to best use their resources for the greatest global health care results, Impact Magazine’s ‘Best Buys’ issue will help them make the right choices.”

Of the 1,500 international health development experts polled in the survey, 63 percent believe that strengthening health systems is a crucial investment over the next five to 10 years. The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents rated improving service delivery systems – or getting health care to people who need them – as a top priority for achieving stronger health systems.

“Global health professionals clearly see stronger health systems as essential for getting quality and affordable health care to communities around the world,” said Raj Kumar, Devex’s President and Editor-in-Chief. “In an era when every aid dollar counts, we’ve got to ensure investments in health systems are getting the attention they deserve.”

Using innovation to solve global health challenges emerged as another important theme in the survey; the findings showed that investing in research and development was considered the smartest investment option for supporting innovation. The private sector was identified as a leading source for innovative technology solutions.

“Experts in our field agree that innovation has the power to transform health care and reduce poverty as we know it, but without steady funding we cannot tap its potential,” said Steve Davis, President and CEO of PATH. “Investing in innovation enables creative ideas to emerge and evolve into health care solutions that can save lives now and in the future.”

“The private sector is more engaged in health development than ever before,” said Naveen Rao, M.D., lead of Merck for Mothers. “By partnering with governments, international nonprofits and local NGOS we can bring together our complementary expertise to develop and scale sustainable health solutions to improve the lives and well-being of people everywhere.”

To learn more about the survey and PSI’s Impact Magazine’s “The Best Buys Issue: Where to Invest in Global Health in 2014,” visit http://blog.psiimpact.com/bestbuys4gh/.

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Are water, sanitation, and hygiene projects one of the Best Buys for Global Health?

Half the hospital beds in developing countries are filled with people suffering from diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. So are water, sanitation, and hygiene projects a “Best Buy for Global Health?” You’ll have to tune in tomorrow from 3-5 p.m. to find out!

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The Daily Impact: Spectre of Dengue Outbreak Looms over World Cup

March 18, 2014

Health experts warn of the potential of a dengue fever outbreak in Brazil during this summer’s World Cup if action is not undertaken. From the Independent:

Brazil saw well over a million cases last year and the global tally now totals, by some estimates, around 400 million annually. The disease causes severe headaches and aching in the bones and joints, which can get so bad it has earned the sobriquet “breakbone fever”. Around a quarter of victims become very unwell and in a small proportion of cases it can be fatal.

Although the World Cup is being held at a time of year when the dengue risk is low for most parts of Brazil, for three host cities in the north east – Fortaleza, Salvador and Natal – it will be close to its peak, said Professor Simon Hay, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, who raised the alarm in the journal Nature at the end of last year.

“Dengue is on the march,” he told The Independent. “People tend to know about malaria – most people know that if you go to a tropical country you should take malaria pills. I don’t think most people know about dengue. It’s a horrible disease if you get it.”

The mosquito species which spreads dengue, Aedes aegypti, is easily identifiable by its white spots. It is a prodigiously successful breeder and thrives in urban areas, where it can breed in stagnant water – anything from a discarded coke can gathering rainwater to a blocked gutter. Clearing potential breeding sites in host cities will be crucial, Professor Hay said, adding that fogging – the use of aerosol insecticides – should begin in April and May.

His piece in Nature received some “pretty pointed comments” from Brazilians, he says. The authorities are understandably eager to allay fears of a major dengue outbreak, with international enthusiasm for the World Cup already dented by the deaths of workers building stadiums and riots over the cost of the event to a population still blighted by poverty.

But Professor Hay has no criticism for the Brazilian health authorities – merely a concern that many of the 500,000 international football fans expected to descend on Brazil this summer, largely from countries where dengue is unheard of, might not be as wary of the disease as they should be.

“You’ve got lots of people coming and you pretty much know where they’re going and at what times. I think getting the word out that dengue is an issue – posters in the right place when fans are going into stadiums, will be important,” he said.

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Social marketing needed to increase HPV vaccine uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral infection of the reproductuve tract, according to the WHO. There is good news: record low prices for the HPV vaccine “has opened the door for poor countries to vaccinate millions of girls against a devastating women’s cancer.” Social marketing could play a vital role in taking advantage of that opportunity, according to a new study from PLoS One.

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The Daily Impact: Corruption in Pakistan Spells Public Health Disaster

March 17, 2014

As the death toll from the latest outbreak of poverty-driven diseases, like pneumonia and meningitis, in Pakistan’s Thar desert nears 100 children, experts are warning that corruption and a dysfunctional political system make a repeat of the disaster almost inevitable. From AFP:

The desert region in Tharparkar, one of Pakistan’s poorest districts, spreads over nearly 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 square miles) in the country’s southeast and is home to some 1.3 million people, including a large population of minority Hindus.

Between March 2013 and February this year, rainfall was 30 percent below usual, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months.

Asif Ikram, the second most senior administration official in the district, told AFP on Thursday that the death toll from diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis since December 1 had risen to 161 people, including 97 children.

Life in the desert is closely tied to rain-dependent crops and animals, with farmers relying on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock.

The drought is not the only reason for the recent deaths — observers say they have come about as a result of endemic poverty, exacerbated by the drought and an outbreak of disease killing livestock.

Authorities have been busy dispensing food aid and sending medics to attend to the sick following visits by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who leads the Pakistan People’s Party which rules the province.

But observers say the relief work fails to address the root causes of such disasters and warn they are likely to be repeated.

Zafar Junejo, chief executive of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), says the region has long been ignored by Karachi, the provincial capital, because it is not considered an important constituency politically.

According to the last census, Hindus make up 40 percent of the district’s population, unlike most of Pakistan which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Junejo said the authorities have little concern for the suffering of minority communities.

“We are fortunately or unfortunately a mixed Hindu and Muslim population,” he said.

“Fortunate because we are living in peace and harmony unlike the rest of the country where radicalisation is in vogue.

“But also unfortunate because being Hindu and being secular we do not fit in the official ideological definition of the country,” he added.

Javed Jabbar, founder of Banh Beli non-government organisation which works in the area, added: “When you have Karachi with 18 million people, Tharparkar is relatively less important from a political radar point of view.”

Jabbar, a former federal information minister, added that the district has fallen victim to “a failure to enforce accountability due to considerations of partisanship” that has afflicted the province for years.

He cited the case of five doctors in the province who were able to keep their jobs despite being absent from their posts for years, because of connections to political patrons.

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The Daily Impact: US and EU Warn of Possible Famine in South Sudan

March 14, 2014

US and EU envoys warned that South Sudan faces possible famine if warring forces continue to flout a ceasefire deal. From AFP:

“The parties have failed to respect their commitment to the January 23 cessation of hostilities,” said United States envoy Donald Booth, at a meeting of regional leaders in Ethiopia on the conflict in the world’s youngest country.

“This failure has led to thousands of additional deaths and an ever worsening humanitarian situation, with South Sudan facing a possible famine,” he added.

South Sudan’s government has been at war with rebel groups since December 15, when a clash between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting.

Over 930,000 civilians have fled their homes since fighting began, including over quarter of million leaving for neighbouring nations as refugees, according to the United Nations.

“If things continue as they are, the spectre of famine looms,” European Union envoy Alexander Rondos said.

“The rains are coming, and if people cannot go and plant there will not be sufficient stocks within months… This should be a matter of the greatest urgency.”

The UN warns that fighting has stopped the planting of crucial crops, while giant stores of the World Food Programme have been entirely ransacked, increasing the challenges for those struggling to stem a ballooning humanitarian crisis in what was already one of the world’s poorest nations.

Heavy fighting has continued despite the January deal, with the army on Thursday reporting clashes in the strategic oil city of Malakal, one of the hardest-fought battlegrounds in the conflict.

Over 75,000 civilians are still crammed into UN peacekeeping bases in fear of revenge attacks, with conditions becoming increasingly squalid as weeks drag into months and flooding caused by heavy rains.

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