West should compensate poor nations for trained health workers, say advocates | 

Patients lay down in a corridor of the pediatric area of El Fasher Hospital, North Darfur.
Patients lay down in a corridor of the pediatric area of El Fasher Hospital, North Darfur.
Albert González Farran/UNAMID

Western nations are benefiting from the migration of skilled health professionals trained in Africa. A new report by the UK-based advocacy group Health Poverty Action says that Western countries should pay back the poor countries for the training.

One of the challenges to health in sub-Saharan African countries is a lack of health workers. Africa bears 24% of the global disease burden, but only 3% of the health workers in the world are on the continent.

This shortage is exacerbated by the migration of health workers from African countries to the West, says the report The Health Worker Crisis: an analysis of the issues and main international responses. It uses four case studies to show the impact of health worker shortages in sub-Saharan Africa. It seeks to draw attention to the problem of a too small health workforce and the factors that contribute to the problem.

“Health systems can’t function without health workers. This issue is key in meeting the health related MDGs, achieving UHC etc. Yet this issue often gets sidelined,” said Natalie Sharples, Senior Policy Advisor for Health Poverty Action, to Humanosphere.

A 2006 survey by the World Health Organization identified thirty-six sub-Saharhan African countries as having critical health worker shortages. Norway has the highest density of doctors, nurses and midwives with 361 professionals for every 10,000 people. Conversely, countries like Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ethopia and Malawi have 3 or less professionals for every 10,000 people.

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Road Deaths: the blight that will claim 2 million lives annually by 2030 | 

Mikumi National Park
Mikumi National Park
Tom Murphy

(East Africa) Men gathered branches and leaves along the side of the road. A large truck traveling between the Tanzanian towns of Iringa and Morogoro was stuck in the mud.

Tire marks told of the sudden wheel’s turn taken by the driver to steer off the paved road and down into a field. The stretch through Mikumi National Park – home to elephants, giraffes, and zebras – is interrupted by speeding vehicles.  Police are scant and road safety rules, especially speed limits, are not well enforced.

Trucks pass other trucks while smaller, faster cars move between the behemoths.Vehicles will narrowly pass each other before avoiding oncoming traffic while traveling through the region’s bare hills.

Sometimes the passing driver makes the wrong decision. For this truck the outcome was quite good. He escaped from the road, truck intact. A road accident was avoided. The same cannot be said for the 1.3 million people who die due to traffic accidents each year.

Road deaths are climbing around the world, especially in developing countries. Projections by the World Health Organization (WHO) say 2 million people will die each year by 2030. The world’s rich countries will virtually eliminate road deaths thanks to safety measures and the burden will shift further to low and middle-income countries.

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Progress at risk despite millions of lives saved from malaria, warns WHO | 

Vestergaard Frandsen

Some 3.3 million lives were saved since 2000 from malaria, says a new WHO report.

Deaths worldwide fell by 45% and were more than halved for African children under five years old.

However, a lack of funds and recent problems with bednet makers means the progress made over the last decade is as risk.

“This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century.”

Cases of malaria fell by 29% worldwide over the period, but an estimated 3.4 billion people remain at risk for malaria. The problem is concentrated. According to the WHO, 80% of global malaria cases occur in southeast Asia and in Africa.

The number of bed nets distributed has declined over the past three years from 145 million in 2010 to 70 million in 2012. That falls short of the 150 million needed each year to ensure every person at risk is protected, says the WHO.
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No Controversy Here: Rwanda’s Effort to Beat HPV and Cervical Cancer | 

HPV CouricDaytime television host Katie Couric courted controversy where it does not exist, yesterday. She featured Emily Tarsell a woman who said the HPV vaccine Gardasil is responsible for her her daughter’s death.

Remaining guests, including medical doctors, discussed their support and opposition to the HPV vaccine. Couric builds ‘controversy’ by rising fear of vaccines based on non or pseudo-scientific claims. The ‘balanced’ style of reporting left viewers with few answers and may have caused more confusion than help enlighten misinformed Americans.

“So we’ve obviously heard two different sides about the HPV vaccine and I think for parents watching, it’s probably still rather confusing when you hear these heartbreaking stories that these parents have endured,” closed Couric.

Viwers are left thinking that there is an actual debate over the HPV vaccine when there isn’t.

There is more agreement in the medical community than Couric’s show lets on. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women both receive the vaccine and are screened regularly for cancer. It is the same recommendation made by the World Health Organization for countries around the world. Continue reading

Drunk Continent: How much do Africans really drink? | 

Erik Hersman

Africa, it turns out, is the new frontier for the booze industry. Developing countries plus the right demographics make for the right market opportunity. The major beverage companies know it and they are making a move.

The thing is, reported Jessica Hatcher for TIME this month, that Africa has a drinking problem. Health systems are unable to cope with the increasing number of people affected by alcohol.

Chronic corruption means every new control measure is an opportunity for police to solicit bribes. While average per capita consumption figures (excluding South Africa) are very low, Africa has the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the world: 25% of those who drink drink too much, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Beverage companies dismiss that figure as poorly sourced, and certainly the problem is underresearched.

A closer look at the data reveals a more complicated story. Yes, the Africans that do drink have a high rate of alcohol abuse, but the overall drinking levels are right about on par with the rest of the world. That appears to be due to the fact that many Africans, particularly Muslims, do not drink at all. Continue reading

Getting ‘simple’ global health solutions to actually work | 

ORS defeat diarrhea, but they are not always used.
ORS defeat diarrhea, but they are not always used.

There are know solutions to some of the world’s biggest health problems, but they are not applied. The problem is that ‘simple’ ends up not being so simple. For example, one of the best ways to ensure that a baby gets the right nutrients is to breastfeed. This is especially true in developing countries where the food options are often sparse and lack essential vitamins and minerals. All a mother has to do is feed the baby with the milk that her body naturally produces.

Sounds easy enough.

In the end it is complicated. Breastfeeding is time intensive and can be painful for some mothers. Dr. Karen Grepin, a NYU health researcher, refuted the idea that breastfeeding is a simple solution in a blog post last year.

I can tell you from first hand experience, breastfeeding was among the most physically and emotionally challenging aspects of raising my own son. Continue reading

The Man Who Beat Smallpox: on global health, Gates, and why poverty is slavery | 

foegeBill Foege is the man.

You wouldn’t know it though, because he’s one of the most self-effacing guys you could meet. Try to compliment him on his singular achievements in global health, and he expertly deflects it. But behind the facade of a humble, ho-hum doctor, he’s really a social justice radical (he calls poverty the modern-day version of slavery). That’s what Tom Paulson thinks, anyway. By the end of the podcast, you’ll probably agree.

What’s indisputable is that Foege has had a massive global impact. He directed the Centers for Disease Control during the Carter and Reagan administrations. When Bill Gates created his foundation to fight poverty and disease, he turned to Foege for advice. And last year, Foege was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his leading role in eradicating smallpox, the only human disease to be eliminated.

What does global health mean and how has it changed? Has the Gates Foundation lost its way? And how did being really, really tall help him fight smallpox in Nigeria? We ask Foege all this and more, and boy, does he have some stories to tell. If you want to fight poverty and disease, and actually succeed, you owe it yourself to listen to this special extended conversation.

Plus, we welcome the other Tom, Tom Murphy (our East Coast correspondent), to the podcast for the first time to discuss the headlines, including the Syrian refugee crisis and what the next generation of the Millennium Development Goals should look like. Tune in below.

And don’t miss a single Humanosphere podcast – we’re now on iTunes! Check it out and subscribe.

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Update: Private funding of the world’s public health agency | 

A robust debate continues over at the journal Foreign Affairs — over how much the World Health Organization is depending on private sources of funding these days.

Flickr, Public Domain Photos

Last week, we highlighted a critique written by journalist Sonia Shah. That prompted some thoughtful exchanges over on Humanosphere’s Facebook page.

Now, Foreign Affairs has a rebuttal called “Setting the record straight …” from the WHO’s communications director Christy Feig, who says Shah made a number of “erroneous statements”:

“To set the record straight: Eighty percent of WHO’s budget now comes from governments.”

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