The Daily Impact: US and WHO join 26 Countries to Head off Global Epidemics

February 14, 2014 – Happy Valentine’s Day

The US and 26 other countries launched a new effort to prevent and fight outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases before they spread around the globe. From the AP:

U.S. health officials called the Global Health Security Agenda a priority because too many countries lack the health infrastructure necessary to spot a new infection rapidly and sound the alarm before it has time to gain a foothold and even spread into other countries.

Germs “do not recognize or stop at national borders,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday as representatives from participating countries, the World Health Organization and other groups met to discuss plans. “A threat anywhere is indeed a threat everywhere.”

Yet fewer than 20 percent of countries are adequately prepared to respond to emerging infections, she said.

Infectious diseases are a growing concern. Just in the past year, China alerted the world that a new type of bird flu was sickening people; a mysterious and deadly new respiratory virus emerged in the Middle East; and scientists detected the spread of some older diseases to new locales including the first appearance of mosquito-borne chikungunya virus in the Caribbean.

New diseases are but a plane ride away, warned Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are too many blind spots around the world,” he told reporters in preparation for Thursday’s meeting.

The goal of the new effort: Over five years, the U.S. will partner with other countries to bolster local disease monitoring, develop tests for different pathogens and help regions create and strengthen systems to report and respond to public health emergencies.

Last year, the CDC began a pilot project in Uganda to improve detection of such diseases as cholera, drug-resistant tuberculosis and hemorrhagic fevers. Motorcycles raced samples from sick patients in remote parts of the country to provincial capitals, where they could be shipped overnight to a laboratory that could rapidly report the results back.

It “showed that very rapid progress was possible,” Frieden said.

This year, the CDC and Defense Department together will spend $40 million for similar projects in 10 other countries, which are yet to be named. In 2015, the Obama administration is seeking $45 million in new funding to further expand the work.

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Healthier lives for Mozambique’s children, one sprinkle at a time

On February 5, 2014, the first sale of Super Bebe happened in Mozambique, after awaiting approval from the Ministry of Health. As advertised in the commercial above, Super Bebe is a simple, once-a-day nutritional supplement in the form of a powder that can be sprinkled onto any baby food mothers are already using.

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The Daily Impact: Progress to Increase Family Planning Access Fragmented – UN

February 13, 2014

Significant gains have been made to reduce maternal and child deaths as well as increase family planning access, over the past two decades. However, UNFPA warns that the progress has not reached all women. From the Guardian:

The number of women dying in pregnancy or childbirth has dropped by almost half, and total global fertility rates have fallen by nearly a quarter. But access to health services remains patchy, particularly in rural areas of Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia, and sex discrimination remains deeply entrenched.

“A belief in, and commitment to, gender equality is not universal, and gender-based discrimination and violence continue to plague most societies,” says a report by the U N population fund, the UNFPA, which reviewed progress against commitments made at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.

The wide-ranging study, which examines progress in more than 170 countries that signed up to the Cairo programme of action, found that people with disabilities, those from indigenous groups, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have also faced persistent discrimination.

It says governments had talked the language of gender equality by introducing laws to ensure women’s rights were protected, but had been selective about their implementation.

One in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual abuse, and in some places men openly admit they have raped and face no consequences. In no country are women equal to men in political or economic power, it says.

“While the core message of the ICPD was the right of all persons to development, the rise of the global middle class has been shadowed by persistent inequalities both within and between countries. While we have made important gains in health and longevity, these gains are neither equally shared, nor accessible for many,” says the report.

The outcome of the ICPD in 1994 was considered groundbreaking. It was the first time member states agreed that equal rights and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services were essential for sustainable development.

Discussions about population control moved from slowing growth rates through family planning policies to look instead at ways to improve the lives of women and girls more broadly, emphasising their social and economic empowerment, women’s right to control their bodies and their fertility through access a range of modern contraceptive methods, along with universal access to education for girls.

The outcome document contained more than 200 recommendations, with a deadline of 2015. It sought to address the environmental impact of population growth and emphasised the elimination of all forms of violence against women, the reduction of maternal mortality rates, and an end to sex discrimination. It also touched on migrants’ rights to services and the support of indigenous groups.

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The Daily Impact: Polio Returns to Kabul After 13 Years

February 12, 2014

The first case of polio in more than a decade has caused Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul to launch an emergency polio vaccination campaign. From AFP:

The three-year-old from a nomadic family living on the northeastern edge of the city was diagnosed after being admitted to hospital in neighbouring Pakistan, a spokesman for the Afghan public health ministry said Tuesday.

The spokesman, Kaneshka Baktash Turkistani told AFP it was not clear whether the girl had contracted the virus in Kabul or Pakistan.

The highly contagious polio virus remains endemic in both countries, but Kabul city has not had a reported case since the Taliban regime was ousted by a US-led invasion more than a decade ago.

Turkistani said the Pakistani authorities had informed his ministry of the incident.

“After this, we launched an emergency polio campaign in Kabul and luckily so far, we have not found any other cases of polio,” he said.

Besides Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria is the only other country in the world where polio, a disease that paralyses children, is still endemic.

Due to massive internationally-backed efforts the number of cases has dropped significantly in Afghanistan in recent years, with most reported from the insurgency-hit south.

Despite targeting health workers associated with the government, Taliban insurgents have allowed polio vaccination teams to visit their areas in recent years, a move that authorities say has helped to contain the disease.

This contrasts sharply with the situation in Pakistan, where militants have branded polio campaigns as cover for espionage and routinely attack vaccination teams.

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The Daily Impact: UN Backs Gender Equality for Post-2015 Agenda

February 11, 2014

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay made a public call for gender equality to be fully integrated into the post-2015 agenda at the opening of the 57th Session of Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

“We believe there should be a stand-alone goal or goals on equality and non-discrimination that addresses all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex,” [Pillay said].

The UN is currently formulating a new post-2015 agenda to chart the course of global development for decades to come, expanding on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted at a UN summit in 2000, which aim to slash extreme hunger and poverty, cut maternal and infant mortality, combat disease and provide access to universal education and health care, all by the end of 2015.

Ms. Pillay also called for the overall strengthening of treaty bodies to meet the triple challenge of a significant backlog, chronic under-resourcing and insufficient compliance with reporting obligations. “If no prompt action is taken to rectify these problems, the treaty body system is threatened with collapse,” she warned.

But she also paid tribute to what CEDAW has managed to achieve over the past three decades. “The struggle has been long, and it seems to me that, rather than just mulling over our setbacks or assessing the challenges ahead, we too rarely pause to appreciate our accomplishments along the way,” she said.

“The work of the Committee, in my view, is a cause for great pride. Over more than 30 years, this Committee has worked assiduously to elaborate in detail the contours, content and details of the full range of women’s rights.”

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The Daily Impact: Chikungunya fever Spreads in East Caribbean

February 10, 2014

The mosquito-borne virus, Chikungunya fever, that is commonly found in Africa and Asia continues to spread in the Caribbean. From the New York Times:

Chikungunya fever, a viral disease similar to dengue, was first spotted in December on the French side of St. Martin and has now spread to seven other countries, the authorities said. About 3,700 people are confirmed or suspected of having contracted it.

It was the first time the malady was locally acquired in the Western Hemisphere. Experts say conditions are ripe for the illness to spread to Central and South America, but they say it is unlikely to affect the United States.

“It is an important development when disease moves from one continent to another,” said Dr. C. James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad. “Is it likely here to stay? Probably. That’s the pattern we have observed elsewhere.”

Chikungunya fever is particularly troublesome for places such as St. Martin, a French and Dutch island 230 miles east of Puerto Rico, where two million tourists visit annually. In an effort to keep the disease from affecting tourism and crippling the island economy, local governments began islandwide campaigns of insecticide fogging last week and house-to-house cleanups of places where mosquitoes could breed.

The French side of St. Martin to the north has had 476 confirmed cases, the largest cluster in all of the islands, while the Dutch side has had 40 cases, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

Already, the travel search engine Kayak said there was a 75 percent decline in searches for St. Martin in the past three weeks, compared to the same period last year.

Searches for Martinique, which has had 364 confirmed chikungunya cases, were down 18 percent.

“When I read about chikungunya, I thought: ‘There’s a mosquito in St. Martin waiting for me, rubbing its little feet together waiting to get a hold of me,’ ” said Betsy Carter, a New York City novelist who was scheduled to travel to St. Martin with two other couples in January. “So we all decided not to go.”

Ms. Carter was particularly nervous, because she had contracted a different disease from a sand fly a few years ago in Belize, which caused half her hair to fall out. Despite having bought insurance, last month the three couples lost $9,000 they paid to stay at Dreamin Blue, a luxurious villa overlooking Happy Bay.

“The owners said they would spray the house,” Ms. Carter said. “But what if you want to leave the house?”

Public health and tourism officials on the islands are urging visitors to wear long sleeves and insect repellent high in DEET.

“Not a lot of bookings were canceled, but there were a few people not understanding exactly what this was, thinking it was a pandemic on a large scale,” said Kate Richardson, a spokeswoman for the French St. Martin’s tourism board. “People got a bit scared, and a few of them have declined to take their trips.”

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The Daily Impact: Humanitarian Deal Struck to Evacuate people From Syria’s Homs

February 6, 2014

A deal was reportedly struck to allow the evacuation of civilians from the embattled town of Homs, in Syria. From Reuters:

The United Nations made clear that it was not a party to the deal and while it was ready to send in aid, it did not yet have the go-ahead from the government and opposition sides in Syria’s war to move on the reported agreement.

“The United Nations and humanitarian partners had pre-positioned food, medical and other basic supplies on the outskirts of Homs ready for immediate delivery as soon as the green light was given by the parties for safe passage,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.

Syria earlier said it reached a deal to allow “innocent” civilians to leave the rebel-held old city of Homs, potentially the first positive result after deadlocked peace talks in Switzerland last week.

The government’s announcement came hours after rebels declared a new offensive in the northern province of Aleppo, in response to an escalated air assault by government forces trying to recapture territory and drive residents out of opposition-held areas.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used siege tactics to surround and try to starve out rebels holding strategic areas, a technique increasingly copied by rebels as well.

The siege of the old city of Homs has gone on for over a year, and activists say 2,500 people are trapped inside the area struggling with hunger and malnourishment. They represent only a small fraction of besieged Syrians across the country in desperate need of aid.

“The agreement will allow innocent civilians surrounded in the neighborhoods of Old Homs – among them women and children, the wounded and the elderly – an opportunity to leave as soon as the necessary arrangements, in addition to offering them humanitarian aid,” said a Syrian foreign ministry statement, cited on Syria TV.

“It will also allow in aid to civilians who choose to stay inside the old city.”

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