Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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GM Cotton is not killing Indian farmers, nor is it saving them | 

Farmers examine cotton for insects.
Farmers in India examine cotton for insects.
S. Jayaraj

The suicides of farmers in India are once again making headlines. Hailstorms and rain have damaged crops for millions of farmers in India, adding to the hardship caused by erratic weather patterns.

Debt concerns have driven nearly 60 farmers to commit suicide in the past month, say advocacy groups. As usually happens, the reports of suicides are followed by claims that the culprit is a genetically modified form of cotton called BT cotton. The finger of blame is often pointed at the agriculture giant Monsanto, creator of the Bt cotton seed.

“Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India,” writes Indian activist and Vandana Shiva. “This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.”

Problem is that the argument made by Shiva and others does not stand up to the available evidence.

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South African hospital sending patients with drug-resistant TB home | 


Drug resistant tuberculosis is a serious global problem, especially those forms of drug-resistant TB that can fend off multiple types of drugs. Patients with resistant forms of TB are supposed to be treated and monitored to reduce the spread of the disease.

That is not happening in South Africa.

A new study published in the British medical journal The Lancet today shows that South African hospitals are releasing a “ substantial” number of patients with extremely drug resistant forms of TB to their homes.

Given the already poor status of people living with TB in South Africa, the lack of proper care poses a threat to the millions who live in the country. The first case of totally drug resistant TB in South Africa was recorded last year as more and more people with TB are not being cured. It is made worse by the fact that people living with HIV are at a greater risk of catching TB. Continue reading

New Data and Reports Turn Eye to Global Surgery Gap | 

A technological innovation (the iPad) a well designed survey (cluster randomization) and young health workers are the backbone of an important new study on surgery. Some might expect the combination of resources to be applied in a middle or high income nation, but a team has come together to provide a historic snapshot of untreated surgical conditions in Sierra Leone that was published in The Lancet last week.

The survey determined that 25% of respondents needed surgical care and 25% of deaths in the previous year attributable to a condition that could have been treated through surgery. In other words, surgery is needed by a significant number of people today and such services can avoid preventable deaths.

“Once, I operated on a 3 year old girl in Malawi who had fallen from a balcony and was in a coma. She needed holes drilled in her skull to release a blood clot. She survived and made a full recovery even though initially he father said that type of surgery couldn’t be done in Malawi,” said Dr Adam Kushner, one of the study’s authors.  ”Many obstacles exist from a lack of skilled providers, incuding personnel and training and the lack of supplies or equipment.  Populations also lack the knowledge to seek surgical care or don’t trust the health system.” Continue reading

New proof drug can prevent child malaria deaths | 

A new drug, derived from Chinese wormwood, is being hailed as more effective than quinine for treating children with life-threatening malaria.

In today’s Lancet online, scientists followed nearly 5,500 children hospitalized for severe malaria at 11 health centers in nine African countries. The children (under age 15) received two forms of intravenous treatment — traditional quinine or the Chinese drug artesunate (based on the wormwood derivative artemisinin).

The children receiving the Chinese drug were 23 percent less likely to die, the study found.

As described in a news article by Science magazine, many Asian countries have already switched to artesunate — a move the World Health Organization recommended be adopted globally for adults in 2006. But most malaria deaths are in children, the Sydney Morning Herald notes, and this drug should be routine for children as well.