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A diverse look at global health issues.

'Humanure' may be an answer to Haiti’s tragic cholera epidemic

Commentary: Converting human waste into fertilizer would be a low cost source to boost farming.
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People play in a camp for survivors of the January 2010 quake in Haiti which killed 250,000 people, on February 28, 2013 in Port-au-Prince. The UN has in Haiti a huge mission of peacekeepers led by Brazil, helping the impoverished country with its political strife and the impact the devastating 2010 quake. Hundreds of thousands are still living rough in squalid makeshift camps, and they now face rampant crime, a cholera outbreak and the occasional hurricane. (VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

DENTON, Texas — Haiti has never fully recovered from the devastating earthquake of 2010. Widespread homelessness, impassable roads, food insecurity, and access to clean drinking water continue to hinder recovery efforts.

But perhaps the biggest problem is created by one of the most basic human functions—defecation.
Cholera, though eliminated before the earthquake, has come roaring back and shows little sign of abating. This deadly disease is spread through contact with infected feces. Despite public awareness campaigns, thousands in cities like Cap Haitien and Port-au-Prince, are still using the “flying toilet” – a plastic bag – and spreading the disease from person to person, house to house.


Two Ebola vaccines for health care workers expected as soon as November

A WHO expert group said on Friday that if proven safe, two Ebola vaccines could be made available to health care workers as early as November this year.
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Medical workers wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gesture inside the high-risk area of the Elwa hospital runned by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), on September 7, 2014 in Monrovia. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

An expert group of technicians working on developing Ebola interventions suggested last Friday that two of the most advanced vaccines could be made available to health workers in November this year, provided they are proven safe.

Safety studies for these vaccines – based on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV-EBO) and chimpanzee adenovirus (ChAd-EBO) – are currently being conducted in the United States and will be started in Africa and Europe by mid-September.

“WHO will work with all the relevant stakeholders to accelerate their development and safe use,” announced a spokesperson to the media on Friday evening at the Geneva headquarters.

The announcement followed a two-day consultation with more than 150 participants from fields of research and clinical investigation, ethics, legal, regulatory, financing, and data collection. The consensus was that as existing supplies of all the experimental medicines are limited – and there wouldn’t be sufficient supplies for at least several more months – the prospects of having vaccines available “look slightly better.” Among other possible measures, use of survivors' blood was also suggested as an alternative treatment plan.


The collective trauma of James Foley and Steven Sotloff’s deaths

Responding to the murder of journalists by terrorists.
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A photo taken on September 29, 2011 shows US freelance reporter James Foley resting in a room at the airport of Sirte, Libya. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — I didn’t know Jim Foley.

We weren’t colleagues in the field and there are no stark photos of the two of us all dusty from covering a war. In fact, I have never covered a war.

But several weeks ago when a video was released showing his captors beheading him, I felt, like many other young journalists, that it was a personal loss.

I know I wasn’t alone. He somehow belonged to all of us who want to do the kind of journalism he did. And to all of us who want to dare to think about taking some risks and diving into difficult stories, shining light on injustice and violence. It feels that the collective trauma from his killing has echoed beyond the journalism community.


How can the US better protect girls from violence?

Recent international meetings gave status to policies eliminating female genital mutilation.
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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 22: Freida Pinto, actress and Plan International Girls' Rights Ambassador, delivers a speech at the 'Girl Summit 2014' in Walworth Academy on July 22, 2014 in London, England. At the one-day summit the government has announced that parents will face prosecution if they fail to prevent their daughters suffering female genital mutilation (FGM). (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Two critical recent events — one in the United Kingdom and one in the US — have given increasing recognition to the rights of adolescent girls.

The Girl Summit in London to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) was co-hosted by the UK and UNICEF. “Investing in the Next Generation” was a focus of discussions among more than 40 African heads of state that came to Washington for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit.


Eating three large onions will not cure Ebola (and dispelling other myths)

Some West Africans believe Ebola strikes for spiritual reasons, rather than a medical ones. Here are the most popular false cures.
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A woman washes her child with salted water, on August 25, 2014 in a suburb of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, relying on a rumor that was spread in the area claiming that salted water helps to fight against the Ebola virus. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

While the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has triggered panic among Americans on its spread, it is hardly surprising that the people actually dying from the disease have their own set of misplaced ideas of its spread and cure. And its not just confined to an “ignorant few”.

At least 1,552 people have died in this outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The latest WHO estimates, released on Thursday, show that over 40 percent of the cases took place just in the last three weeks, suggesting an accelaration in the outbreak. Most of these new cases have been concentrated within a few localities.


How polio is crippling Pakistan

The country is the worst-affected in the world, and doctors say now is the time to fight it.
A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a young girl in Quetta on May 12, 2014. Pakistan will set up mandatory immunization points at airports to help stop its polio outbreak spreading abroad. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, two children – 1-year-old Ahmed and 16-month-old Laiba – became the latest victims to polio in Pakistan, taking the total cases in the country to 117 already this year. If current trends continue, this number is likely to grow substantially by the end of 2014.

Even a few cases of polio can quickly infect other children, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of Center for Disease Control (CDC), recently. “Without eradication, a resurgence of polio could paralyze more than 200,000 children worldwide every year within a decade,” he said.

Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries in the world where polio is endemic. But while cases are surfacing thick and fast here, this is not true for the other two countries in this bracket. Only 8 incidents have been reported in Afghanistan in 2014 and the number is even lower in Nigeria – currently at just 5. So what is going wrong in Pakistan?


Cameroon finds a way to celebrate World Mosquito Day

Malaria kills 2,000 people per year in this country of 23 million people. Virtually all of these deaths could be prevented by mosquito control and early treatment.
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Local official Luc Assamba on World Mosquito Day in Briquerie, one of Yaounde's poorest neighborhoods. (Malaria No More/Courtesy)

YAOUNDE, Cameroon — How do you celebrate World Mosquito Day?

If you’re the NGO Malaria No More, you send “junior ambassadors” to Cameroon’s capital city to lead a loud and raucous street rally.

Onlookers crowd around a local official as he digs out sewage trenches so that water will flow and mosquitoes can’t breed. They listen to a song about malaria, to speeches, and to children being quizzed. Kids who get the answers right get mosquito nets.

The loudspeakers are turned up high, and despite the hot weather, men and boys, and women and girls in brightly colored dresses jostle to get close to the speakers, dancers and drummers.


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.
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. 


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.


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.
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.