Connect to share and comment

A diverse look at global health issues.

How is a US-backed mobile health program helping mothers in South Africa?

Kaiser Family Foundation reporting fellow Sara Jerving heads to Johannesburg to learn more about MAMA, a public-private effort to improve maternal health
140626 MAMA mom and phone 2Enlarge
Mthandazo Ntini, 21, holds her 6-week-old daughter, Luyanda Grace, and checks messages on her phone after her visit at the Esselen Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Sara Jerving/GlobalPost)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – After landing in Johannesburg following a 19-hour flight from New York, I hop in a taxi heading towards the city center. As I look out the window, the nation’s largest city seems calm. The streets are clean, children are playing in the parks, and family homes and business complexes dot the landscape. The grass is parched a golden hue as winter rolls in. People stroll down the streets, shielding themselves from the cool weather with winter caps and sweaters.

But the quiet calm conceals a troubling concern in this nation of over 52 million people. South Africa is failing its mothers and newborns. Across the country, 4,300 women die each year as a result of complications that arise during pregnancy and childbirth. For babies, it’s even worse. Some 20,000 are born stillborn and another 23,000 babies die within their first month, according to UNICEF. Yet another 75,000 children don’t make it to their fifth birthday. While the South African government has made efforts to improve maternal and child health outcomes in the nation, still over 60 percent of deaths of children under 5 years old are avoidable, due to failures of the health system, such as poor assessment and management of care in hospitals. 

More

Halting the rise of obesity rates means behavior patterns must change

Commentary: Exercise and healthy eating are essential for the 2.1 billion people who are overweight or obese.
Obesity Commentary 62514Enlarge
A woman shops for food items near a display of bottes of soda at a superrmarket in Rosemead, California on June 18, 2014, a day after a bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have had to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the legislation, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, passed the state Senate in May, but on it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly on June 17, the Los Angeles Times reported. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

SEATTLE, Washington — We all know the world is getting heavier, but here’s the scary truth: the problem is reaching epic proportions — so much so that no single country in the world has seen a drop in obesity rates over the last three decades.

Today, 2.1 billion people — nearly one-third of the world’s population — are either overweight or obese. Globally, that breaks down to an estimated 37 percent of adults and 14 percent of children. Among kids, rates of overweight and obesity have increased nearly 50 percent in the last 33 years, setting these children up for a lifetime of preventable health issues.

A recent Lancet study shows that the rise in global obesity rates since 1980 has been rapid, substantial and widespread in both the developed and the developing worlds. While rates in developed countries have begun to stabilize, rates of both overweight and obesity remain on the rise in the developing world; nearly two-thirds of the word’s obese live in the world’s poorest countries. This problem is only expected to intensify as incomes in low and middle-income countries rise.

More

Building on a movement for maternal, newborn and child survival

Guest post: Two years after the launch of a global movement to end child mortality, those working on the campaign say more government leaders need to stand up and speak out for women and children in Africa
062414 tanzania childEnlarge
A woman and her child at the Mbagala Rangitatu clinic in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania on April 4, 2011. Margaret tested HIV positive in 2007. She was counselled to use ARV prophylaxis after 28 days into her pregnancy to protect her baby, who was born free of HIV. (SIEGFRIED MODOLA/AFP/Getty Images)

“It is not good enough.”

In a video interview presented at Canada’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit last month, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete shook his head. He was talking about his country’s progress in preventing deaths among children under 5 years old. Since 2000, child mortality in Tanzania has dropped significantly from 147 deaths per 1,000 live births to 54 per 1000 just last year. But to Kikwete, it wasn’t good enough.

With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals fast approaching, Tanzania is within reach of the MDG 4 target to reduce child mortality by two thirds—to a rate below 49 deaths per 1,000 live births. Much of the East African country’s progress can be credited to the dedication and determination of Kikwete and his team who have demonstrated the will to lead on the issue. The story of Tanzania illustrates the profound importance of political leadership to the health and well-being of women and children, even in resource constrained settings.  

More

High cost of vaccines complicates crisis response in South Sudan

Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières says thousands of children have missed critical vaccines because pharmaceutical companies won’t budge on price
140620 South SudanEnlarge
A South Sudanese child receives measles vaccination given by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders) in an isolated makeshift IDP camp for Dinka ethnic group placed in an island betweet Bor and Minkamman on March 5, 2014. (JM Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan, humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) could not provide thousands of children with a life-saving vaccine last year, as it had hoped to do—not because of a lack of syringes or medical personnel—but, because the vaccine price was too high. 

This year, South Sudanese children are continuing to go without vaccinations. That’s because for over a year, MSF has been at the negotiating table with British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline over lowering the price of the new pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), but the company hasn’t budged. The PCV vaccine can prevent infectious diseases like pneumonia, which is problematic in overcrowded refugee camps like Yida, where over 70,000 people live on a patch of land less than 5 square miles. Its lack of affordability is just one challenge faced by the organization in this volatile region, where a recent attack by the Sudanese government struck a village, hitting an MSF-run hospital and wounding six people.

More

Visualizing preventable child deaths around the world

The Pulitzer Center’s latest interactive map shows where progress has— and has not—been made in the global campaign to end child mortality

Last year, the PULSE team worked closely with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to produce an interactive map of the number of children who die each year before age 5 from preventable causes such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

More

How India's hospitals fall short, in photos

Across the country, many urban hospitals are under-staffed and under-resourced—unable to meet patient demand. Photographer Sami Siva documents the challenges.

WEST BENGAL, India —Across the country, access to health care is still a challenge for many people. Most government-run primary health centers in rural areas lack good hygiene, infrastructure and the medical staff to provide first-rate treatment for patients. Such shortcomings result in the overcrowding of hospitals in urban areas. In cities like Calcutta, the bigger hospitals face such an overwhelmingly high number of patients that they have insufficient doctors and resources to provide good medical care.

More

Sending deepest thanks to 18 strangers whose blood saved my life

Commentary: World Blood Donor Day is June 14. Just 8 percent of Americans eligible to give blood do so each year.
Blood Donor Day Commentary 61114Enlarge
Bags with human complete blood are filtrated and scanned at the production and logistics center of the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK) blood donation service in Wiesentheid, southern Germany, on July 24, 2012. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Donating blood is, for the most part, a comfortable experience. The clinicians are friendly. The chairs are soft. You get cookies. You get stickers. You get endless compliments on your veins.

It’s so easy to give blood that I fear it may lull donors into thinking of their gift as an anodyne act of do-goodism, the human tissue equivalent of chucking a Pepsi bottle into the recycling bin. It’s not.

Having recently been at the other end of this particular supply chain, I’d like to offer some perspective on how much these pints matter.

More

Heroin epidemic takes hold of people—and politics—in India’s Punjab state

A widespread problem, with official estimates that more than 50 percent of youth are using drugs, is finally triggering government action.
20140326 harman graphic 01Enlarge
(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

AMRITSAR, India — On a recent sweltering summer day, 27-year-old Gaurav Sharma tossed and turned on a small bed in the corner of a well-lit room. He buried his face in the pillow to try and forget the aches in his legs. A plaque hanging on the wall behind him spoke to his anguished state: “Drug addicts are not bad people who need to be made good, they are sick people who need to be made well.”

Sharma had not had any heroin for 24 hours. The withdrawal symptoms had begun.

“When it is really bad, it feels like I’m drowning and can’t breathe,” he said.

Drug use has become an epidemic here in the city and throughout the northern Indian state of Punjab, with officials estimating that more than 50 percent of people between 18 and 35 are using illegal drugs, including heroin and prescription opiates. More than two-thirds of the state’s rural households have at least one drug addict. 

More

Partnering to protect women from HIV

Guest post: Women and girls continue to bear a disproportionate and unacceptable burden of HIV. A new public-private partnership could ensure they have the tools to protect themselves from infection.
140514 HIV gel ringEnlarge
New HIV prevention technologies on the horizon, pursued in the new public-private partnership by International Partnership for Microbicides and the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, include monthly rings and gels that deliver ARVs and that could be combined with contraceptives. (Andrew Loxley/Courtesy) (Andrew Loxley/Courtesy)

The world is making tremendous progress to curb the course of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Since peaking in 2005, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by nearly one-third, and new HIV infections in children have fallen by more than half since 2001.

But not everyone is benefitting equally from these advances. Women and girls continue to bear a disproportionate and unacceptable burden of the disease. A new public-private partnership agreement announced last week between our organizations – the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), a nonprofit product developer, and the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, a major research-based pharmaceutical company – could help address this and ensure women have the tools to protect themselves from infection.

More

How do journalists and policy analysts choose what to cover in global health?

Deputy editor Marissa Miley joined a panel discussion about “the story behind the story” for global health reporting at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.
2 marissa zambiaEnlarge
Elina Makopo, left, and her 12-month-old daughter, Jane, visit with community health worker Elizabeth Kafumo at the Kamupundu Primary Health Care Unit in Lufwanyama, Zambia. (Marissa Miley/GlobalPost)

WASHINGTON — How can a start-up global health NGO get its work featured in the press?

(Answer: Don’t use “academese,” but do send your peer-reviewed paper.)

How can medical students seeking to do video reporting get their foot in the door?

(Answer: Pick a narrow topic, make sure editorial and technical standards are up to par.)

And why doesn’t veteran reporter Don McNeil tweet? (Answer: He’s concerned his candor would be too much.)

These were among the questions raised by audience members at a panel discussion called “How the Media Chooses Global Health Stories” held on Monday at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) meeting

It’s not often I get the chance to step outside of my day-to-day role as journalist and editor to reflect on how I cover global health—or to connect with those who are making similar editorial decisions every day. But participating in the panel, I was able to do just that.

Joining me for the discussion were New York Times global health correspondent McNeil, NPR senior health editor Joe Neel, and Kaiser Family Foundation director of global health and HIV policy Jen Kates. The conference was organized by CUGH, a coalition of universities seeking to share expertise and best practices in order to better address global health problems.

More