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At 5 billion, PATH’s life-saving labels make vaccines more effective | 

Health worker and vaccine vials with the heat-sensitive VVM.
Health worker and vaccine vials with the heat-sensitive VVM.
WHO

Sometimes, a simple technical fix – or techno-fix, as the critics like to say – is exactly what’s needed. It’s getting people, organizations and industry to accept the change that can be the biggest complication.

Seattle-based PATH recently celebrated a techno-fix milestone – reaching the 5 billion mark for the number of vaccine vials distributed worldwide bearing a life-saving, heat-sensitive label.

First developed by the food industry to make sure edibles remained properly refrigerated during transport, when used for immunizations this label is known as the vaccine vial monitor, aka VVM.

Most vaccines need to be kept at a precise temperature under refrigeration; VVMs tell health workers operating in harsh conditions and traveling to remote locations if the vaccines remain protected and viable by the time they are administered.

All polio vaccines today have VVMs, as do all vaccines used by UNICEF or pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, but even after 25 years they are still not uniformly in use in the private sector, in the developed world or by PAHO (Pan American Health Organization).

A chart showing the different visual readings given by VVMs to track heat exposure and damage to vaccines.
A chart showing the different visual readings given by VVMs to track heat exposure and damage to vaccines.

“We faced great reluctance by the vaccine manufacturers at first,” recalled Debra Kristensen, group leader for vaccine and pharmaceutical technologies at PATH.

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Child mortality worldwide is down, but it’s not always clear why | 

Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
Somali mother cradles her malnourished, ill child
UN

Child mortality is widely recognized as an indicator of a community’s overall health, with reductions in child deaths often cited as evidence of the impact of a particular intervention.

Two high-profile events in Washington, DC, and Johannesburg, South Africa recently celebrated the progress made worldwide in reducing maternal and child deaths over the past twenty years – and called for greater international investment to sustain and build on the success. That’s based on the assumption we already know which interventions are succeeding under real-life conditions, and which ones are most effective.

Yet linking cause and effect, even with a global health gold standard like child mortality, is not always a simple matter.

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Visualizing Brazil’s score on health and equity goals | 

A girl holds a sign that says "Fifa go Home" during a protest against the money spent on the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Paulista Avenue in São Paulo Brazil, on June 23, 2014.
A girl holds a sign that says “Fifa go Home” during a protest against the money spent on the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Paulista Avenue in São Paulo Brazil, on June 23, 2014.
AP

While soccer fans globally have been following the excitement of the World Cup matches in Brazil, riots in the country have thrust its poverty and inequality into the international spotlight. While Brazil has made progress in reducing poverty and improving health, much work remains to improve well-being in the country.

Last month, Brazilian officials announced that their country’s economy grew just 0.2% in the first quarter of 2014, which is a stark contrast to the prosperity it experienced during much of the last decade. A recent Wall Street Journal article reports that slower economic growth and rising inflation sparked protests over the last year.

The government’s spending of $11.63 billion on the World Cup—the most expensive in history–was equivalent to approximately 61% of the national education budget in Brazil and further catalyzed public discontent. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, strikes among transit workers, police officers, and other public employees have caused substantial delays in cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Also, violent protests erupted in São Paulo on the opening day of the World Cup.

So just how much progress has Brazil made in improving the health of its people?

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Obesity rising | 

obesity
Flickr, Ed Yourdon

Obesity is not one of the sexiest global health problems.

Unlike infectious diseases such as malaria, where children are viewed as innocent victims of a malicious virus, obesity is commonly perceived as a result of poor lifestyle choices made by adults.

The global health community cannot afford to ignore the problem of obesity and overweight. Globally, it killed 3.4 million people in 2010 alone. According to new findings published as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, more and more people in developing countries are joining the ranks of the world’s obese, especially women.

Between 1980 and 2013, obesity and overweight (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2) rose by 27.5% in adults and by 47.1% in children worldwide. Obesity and overweight contribute to conditions that cause death and suffering, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and joint pain.

Obesity and overweight are an increasing threat to the health of the developing world. More than half (62%) of the world’s obese live in developing countries. The video below, which uses IHME’s new Obesity and Overweight Viz tool, shows how obesity and overweight grew in every age group.

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Visualizing what’s not there in global health data | 

redacted2
Creative Commons, johnnydropout

In order to solve a health problem, it may sound a bit obvious to say you first need to know what it is. A diagnosis.

What may not be so obvious is that one of the biggest, and perhaps less appreciated challenges, in global health today is the lack of complete, accurate and comparable health data.

A series of reports on child mortality published this week in The Lancet, entitled  Every Newborn, indirectly illustrated this challenge. The Lancet report said, in a nutshell, that while we’ve made progress reducing child mortality overall, there’s been little progress made when it comes to reducing death rates in newborns worldwide.

As many news stories reported, and which Melinda Gates emphasized in a speech at the World Health Assembly, nearly 3 million babies die within 28 days of birth due to lack of attention – and resources – devoted to this high-risk time of life.

What was not emphasized is the difficulty in even getting an accurate count of these deaths. The study notes that about a third of infants lack birth certificates even at one year of age. The authors of The Lancet study also noted that countries with higher death rates are the least able to track those deaths.

Without good data, how can we be sure we understand the biggest challenges we face in improving health worldwide? How can we determine if our efforts are making a difference? 

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Most nations, except US, making progress against maternal & child deaths | 

MatMortLancet2014
The Lancet, IHME

Two studies published today in The Lancet, both of them led by researchers at the University of Washington, report a sharp decline in maternal mortality and child deaths worldwide since 1990.

The United States, as USA Today also notes, joins Afghanistan and El Salvador as one of eight nations where these positive trends don’t apply.

While the number of deaths related to childbirth is lower in the U.S. than in most poor countries, the richest country in the world is still belongs in the same category as developing nations when it comes to maternal mortality trending. Continue reading

Challenging the claim that saving kids lives reduces population growth | 

A leading aid and development expert is challenging a popular claim made by Bill and Melinda Gates, health statistics wizard Hans Rosling and others in the humanitarian community often cited to counter the concern that saving kids lives in poor countries will exacerbate global population growth.

It is sometimes described as the ‘virtuous cycle’ because it shows how preventing child deaths actually reduces birth rates! Here’s Rosling making the case in his always entertaining style:

The gist here is that as you reduce childhood mortality rates in poor communities, families have less kids. Birth rates go down and, over time, the economic well-being of these communities rises along with other health indicators. Put another way, when poor families see fewer of their kids dying young, they stop having 10 kids if they only need five to work the farm and provide for the family.

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Visualizing the massive toll of an abused drug seldom in the headlines | 

Booze
Fotopedia

The legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been big news around the country and the world.

These laws have spawned concerns that they could encourage more youths to use marijuana and lead to increased frequency of impaired driving. On the other hand, civil rights activists have endorsed marijuana legalization, noting that the law-enforcement approach has largely failed to make a dent in the drug abuse problem and that minorities are imprisoned more often than whites as a result of the prohibition of marijuana.

What about the impact of a drug that causes much greater health loss?

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, alcohol was the fifth-highest risk factor for early death and disability worldwide in 2010. The screen grab below shows how alcohol ranked higher than high body mass index (an indicator of overweight and obesity), childhood underweight, and sedentary lifestyles (physical inactivity).

AlcoholGBDAlcoholGBD2

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