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A diverse look at global health issues.

World Humanitarian Day: Remembering brave people and invisible victims

When almost a billion people go to bed hungry every night, being a humanitarian is not a choice, says Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for Plan International.
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A South Sudanese child receives a dose of vitamin A given by Medecins Sans Frontieres in an isolated makeshift IDP camp for Dinka ethnic group placed in an island between Bor and Minkamman, South Sudan, on March 5, 2014. (JM Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

On World Humanitarian Day, I am reminded that close to a billion people go to bed hungry every night, making humanitarian work crucial.

Consider this – 24 hours from when you are reading this piece, approximately 24,000 more children will have died worldwide from preventable diseases. This is an everyday reality, but these deaths can be stopped with access to clean water, health care, immunisation, safety and education. 

When I am asked what inspired me to get involved in humanitarian work, I ask myself if there is any choice when faced with this reality. 

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How the US pulled off its humanitarian aid missions to the Yazidis

Everything you could want to know about the technology that made the aid airdrops in Iraq possible.
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A young displaced Iraqi Yazidi, who fled a jihadist onslaught on Sinjar, stands inside a tent after he took refuge at the Bajid Kandala camp in Kurdistan's western Dohuk province, on August 13, 2014. Time is running out for starving Yazidis trapped on an Iraqi mountain as the West ramp up efforts to assist survivors and arm Kurdish forces battling jihadists. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

US Air Force cargo planes have flown seven missions over northern Iraq this week to drop humanitarian aid to Yazidis trapped by the Islamic State on Mount Sinjar in Nineva Province. While the US Central Command won’t specify where these flights are coming from, a little research can uncover more information than the government is willing to share.

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Two of America's food giants commit to fighting climate change

Kellogg's and General Mills have made some industry-leading promises to reduce harmful greenhouse emissions. It's a start.
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PEKANBARU, SUMATRA, INDONESIA - JULY 12: A view of a palm oil plantation in Pelalawan district on July 12, 2014 in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. According to Greenpeace, the destruction of forests is driven by the expansion of palm oil and pulp & paper has increased the greenhouse gas emissions, pushing animals such as sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction, and local communities to lose their source of life. (Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

In a breakthrough in the fight against climate change, two of the biggest global food giants – Kellogg's and General Mills – have announced their commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their agricultural supply chains. Kellogg's released their new climate policy on Wednesday, specifying their targets to reduce harmful emissions, trailing a similar announcement by General Mills on July 28. Both companies made the public statement following public pressure from advocacy group Oxfam America and their campaign’s over 238,000 supporters.

“Kellogg’s new commitments add momentum to calls on government and the wider food and agriculture industry to recognize that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we need to tackle it,” said Monique van Zilji, manager for Oxfam’s ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign, in a press release on Wednesday.

Kellogg's will, for the first time, start reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production, which is where the majority of the company’s climate pollution takes place, according to Oxfam. Meanwhile General Mills’ commitment has “leapfrogged the company to the top of the industry in terms of engaging in climate action,” said Heather Coleman, Oxfam’s climate manager.

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Doctors to Congress: Ebola will likely rage for a year or more

Experts believe the epidemic centered in West Africa is likely to kill many more people. Should the US have taken action sooner?
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A 10-year-old boy walks with a doctor from Christian charity Samaritan's Purse, after being taken out of quarantine and receiving treatment following his mother's death caused by the ebola virus, in the group's Ebola treatment center, at the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia, on July 24, 2014. (Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty Images)
Experts believe the epidemic centered in West Africa is likely to kill many more people. Should the US have taken action sooner?
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Africa’s to-do list for reducing chronic disease is long

Q&A with health researcher Tom Achoki: Better data on non-communicable diseases is needed most.
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A doctor reads a man's blood pressure on April 19, 2012 at a temporary blood clinic in Sudan. Chronic diseases will account for a quarter of deaths in Africa by 2015, as per WHO estimates. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—A study on the global burden of disease published in The Lancet last month suggests that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are fast becoming the biggest health problem in middle- and low-income countries, especially in Africa. The rise of chronic illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease was a heated topic of discussion at a gathering of US and African leaders in Washington DC earlier this week.

There is no dearth of warning signs that NCDs are taking over as leading causes of death in Africa. For every death due to HIV in 2005, cardiovascular disease killed five others in Africa. We know now that by 2015, chronic diseases will account for a quarter of deaths in Africa, according to World Health Organization estimates.

GlobalPost spoke with Tom Achoki, a physician and panelist at the Corporate Council on Africa event held on Monday, to understand what needs to be done to handle the alarming increase of NCD deaths in Africa.

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Aid groups 'stretched very thin' as conflicts persist in Middle East

Even with added funding, relief workers see difficulties in the months ahead.
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Residents of Syria's Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, collect aid food. (RAMI AL-SAYED/AFP/Getty Images)

Though the latest round of fighting in Gaza began barely four weeks ago, the crisis already has taken a toll on the United Nations' ability to respond to the vast humanitarian needs across the Middle East, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said.

“In less than a month, we have lost eleven of our own,” said Salvatore Lombardo, the agency’s director for external relations and communications. Almost 270,000 displaced Palestinians are living in 90 UNRWA shelters across Gaza, he added.

“While designated emergency shelters were originally equipped to accommodate 500 people, these facilities are now accommodating more than 2,000 people,” he said.

It’s not just the UN. Other humanitarian groups are feeling the weight of supporting the growing number of victims and refugees in Gaza as other conflicts persist in the Middle East. Aid workers say relief efforts face not only shrinking supplies of manpower, food, water and funding, but also the diluted attention of the media, policymakers and donors.

“[We are] being stretched very thin by a number of disaster responses,” said Lawren Sinnema, humanitarian and emergency affairs program management officer at World Vision, an international Christian nonprofit that aids children and their families in times of poverty, war and calamity.

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Africa’s next big health challenge: non-communicable diseases

Though HIV/AIDS gets more attention, an increase in deaths from heart disease and diabetes threatens the continent's economic and social development.
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From left: Dr. Raj Panjabi, associate physician at Harvard Medical School moderates a panel on Monday, August 4, 2014, on non-communicable diseases as part of an ongoing conference in Washington DC on US-Africa investment. The panel brought together government officers and private investors from US and Africa. (Indrani Basu/GlobalPost)

WASHINGTON — Facing inadequate health care resources in their home country, each year more than 7,000 Kenyans seek treatment for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer and cardiovascular disease outside their nation’s borders in European and Asian countries.

“Some of them die on the way to these countries,” said James Macharia, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, before a crowd of government officers and entrepreneurs from US and Africa in Washington on Monday. “Others die on the way back.”

NCDs are a growing problem in Kenya and across the African continent. For every death due to HIV in 2005, cardiovascular disease killed five others in Africa. By 2015, chronic diseases will account for a quarter of deaths in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. And by 2020, the largest increases in NCD deaths will occur in Africa, by far surpassing any of the developed countries, the WHO estimates. The global health body predicts that if this trend continues in Africa, NCDs alone will kill far more people than deaths due to communicable and nutritional diseases put together.

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Mobile health unproven but not without potential in South Africa

Proponents say working in the relatively new field of mHealth is "like flying and building a plane at the same time"
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The 'Vodacom' tower in Johannesburg, South Africa, reminds onlookers of the importance the telecommunications sector plays in this nation of 53 million citizens, where there are more mobile SIM cards then there are people. July 2014. (Sara Jerving/GlobalPost)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Towering over downtown Johannesburg is a huge cylindrical skyscraper, a red banner at its crown with one word printed in white, ‘Vodacom’—the name of the largest telecommunications company in South Africa. The tower reminds onlookers of the importance the telecommunications sector plays in this nation of 53 million citizens, where there are more active mobile SIM cards then there are people.

The dominance of mobile technology is hard to miss in South Africa. The country has one of the highest mobile subscriber penetrations in sub-Saharan Africa. Advertisements for companies like Vodacom litter the airwaves and online. In a city like Johannesburg, there are few residents who aren’t connected to the rest of the world through a cellphone. 

For South Africans, having a cellphone means more than just socializing. It also means having a portal to access information and connect with health services.

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Here's what you need to know about #AIDS2014

Highlights from this year's 20th International AIDS conference, themed 'Stepping up the Pace' against HIV, via Storify.

Two advances may pave new ways for combating malaria

GlaxoSmithKline has applied to license the world’s first malaria vaccine and researchers in Tanzania have developed a new model for testing malaria drugs in Africa.
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South Sudanese suffering from malaria rest in the MSF (Doctors Without Borders) tent near the temporary camp for internally displaced persons in Mingkaman, South Sudan, on February 5, 2014. Around 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. (Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP/Getty Images)

The UK-based pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline made waves last week with the announcement that it was seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first-ever malaria vaccine. GSK hopes that its vaccine, called ‘RTS,S,’ will prevent millions of malaria cases each year.

Meanwhile, researchers in Tanzania said this week they have made strides in developing an important research tool that they hope will significantly contribute to developing anti-malarial drugs and vaccines suited to the African population.

Both recent advents in the field of malarial research hold promise in tackling one of the world’s deadliest diseases. But there’s still a long way to go before eradicating malaria, experts say.

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