Private health care for diarrhea in Africa kills 20,000 kids annually | 

A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.

Children in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from diarrhea are receiving lifesaving treatment at a lower rate when visiting private hospitals as compared to public ones. Closing that gap would save an estimated 20,000 lives each year.

When a child present signs of diarrhea, hospitals are supposed to instruct parents to give the child oral rehydration salts (ORS). The basic mixture of water with a little bit of sugar and salt prevents the child from dying from dehydration. It’s wide use over the past few decades has saved millions of lives. However, it is not always available nor is it recommended in every case.

“Clearly the private sector is not following public health guidelines in the way that the public health sector is doing,” said Zachary Wagner, co-author and doctoral student in public health at the University of California, to Humanosphere.

The findings from his research, with Neeraj Sood, PhD, the study’s senior author and director of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, were published yesterday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Seattle’s Party with a Purpose is on again, as ‘Agency’ | 

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Global health is sexy.

At least in Seattle. The best evidence of this perhaps has been the annual Party with a Purpose, a celebration sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance and lavishly funded by donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing and others. This year, the party’s name is changing to Agency.

Why? Here’s what the artists formerly known as Partying Purposefully say:

“Agency means taking action on behalf of others. Agency is founded in the belief that focusing the power of young adults for the betterment of a single global health cause, even just for one night, can lead to world-changing progress.”

Aimed primarily at the younger set, the idea behind this event is to combine a spectacular, posh night out with educational and fund-raising activities devoted to a particular issue in global health. Organizers bravely launched the event with a focus on diarrhea and last year took up tuberculosis.

This year, the party is July 14 and they will focus on a University of Washington organization, Health Alliance International, working with mobile phones to improve maternal and child health.

Here’s a video pitch from lead organizer Kristen Eddings:

Announcing Agency from WGHA on Vimeo.

Note: Some have raised questions about the actual impact of these celebrations, if not the conflicting message they send — as I noted to much consternation last year. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!

What I can say in defense of the idea of partying about diseases of poverty is it’s a heck of a lot better than ignoring these issues.

So party on!

A word to the wise: These events have sold out both times so if you want to go, better get your tickets as soon as they go on sale. I’m told it will be sometime in April.

PATH acquires drug company to speed fight on neglected diseases | 

Seattle-based PATH announced today that it is acquiring the non-profit drug company OneWorld Health.

OneWorld Health, which will continue to operate from its headquarters in San Francisco, was created in 2000 as the first non-profit pharmaceutical company and has been focused from the beginning on creating drugs and vaccines for use in poor countries.

“I don’t think we could have considered trying to partner with a for-profit drug company,” said Hugh Chang, head of special projects at PATH who will act as interim chief of drug development for the PATH-OneWorld Health merger. “That would have been a misalignment in terms of our missions.”

PATH, launched in the late 1970s in Seattle initially focused on women’s health issues, has grown into one of the largest players in the global health arena — due largely to its key role administering and carrying out many well-funded projects sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Known for its talent at bringing together public and private partners in innovative ways to solve health problems in poor countries, this is the first time PATH will have a direct role in developing drugs.

In the past, PATH has had to spend a lot of time and effort working to convince drug makers to join in the fight against neglected diseases. Now it is a drug maker. Continue reading

Diarrhea Still Killing Millions, Studies Show | 

Okay, so maybe we have enough studies now. It’s come down to how much money we want to spend to prevent a child’s death.

Diarrhea is a leading killer of children in the developing world, killing anywhere from 1 to 2 million children per year (the numbers tend to run all over the place). This puts diarrhea in the same class as AIDS, TB and malaria though it seldom gets anywhere near the same attention or funding.

A particularly nasty virus known as rotavirus causes the most severe form of diarrheal disease and is estimated to cause half to a third of all cases worldwide.


Rotavirus, by electron microscope

Graham Colm, Wikimedia

This week, the Lancet published two studies done in Asia and Africa showing (again) that vaccination against rotavirus significantly cut the deadly infection rates by about half. If widely distributed in the poorest countries, that translates into preventing at least a quarter million child deaths per year.

The vaccine has been around for a long time and many have long been pushing it as a cost-effective means for reducing one of the world’s leading killers of children.

“No matter where we look in the world, this vaccine has the potential for tremendous public health impact,” said John Wecker, chief of vaccine access and delivery for PATH, who was in Cape Town, South Africa, this week following an international conference focused on defeating rotavirus. Continue reading