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A diverse look at global health issues.

Civil war is killing children in the Central African Republic — but it's not doing it with bullets

Experts weigh in on the short- and long-term ways war negatively impacts child health.
A girl pauses in a camp for internally displaced peoples in Kabo in the northern Central African Republic. (Spencer Platt/AFP/Getty Images)

Getting health care has never been simple in the Central African Republic, where there’s a 16 percent chance a baby won’t make it past his or her fifth birthday and life expectancy tops out at age 50. But as violence has escalated in the wake of a coup in March, workers have fled government health clinics and many of the humanitarian organizations that have been propping up the country’s medical system have withdrawn from the country or cut back services.

At the same time, people who were forced from their homes by marauders are living in fields, where food is hard to come by and mosquitoes are plentiful. Malnutrition is rife, according to a new report from Médecins Sans Frontières. Cases of malaria, a leading cause of death, are climbing at an alarming rate.

Children have been hardest hit, said Ellen van der Velden, who heads up MSF’s head of mission in the Central African Republic. But that’s not surprising — research shows children who grow up in war-torn countries are more likely to be malnourished and more susceptible to disease. Eight of the 10 countries with the world’s highest child mortality rates are engaged in conflict. The Central African Republic ranks number six.

“For children, the biggest casualties of war are not caused by bullets,” said Philip Verwimp, an associate professor of development economics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. “Children are far more likely to die from malnutrition, exposure to infectious disease or lack of access to health care.”


Pneumonia: The 'forgotten killer'

GlobalPost correspondent Marissa Miley heads to Zambia to look at efforts to prevent and treat the leading cause of death for children under five.
(Marissa Miley/GlobalPost)

LUSAKA, Zambia – I touched down at Lusaka International Airport on Thursday, just shy of midnight, via layovers in Amsterdam and Harare, Zimbabwe. The long, but otherwise unremarkable 24-hour journey was made suddenly poignant by back-to-back rounds of fumigation upon our descent into each African airport – “international health requirements,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker. Within seconds, another flight attendant charged down one aisle, and then the other, wielding a small yellow-and-red bottle, filling the cabin with an over-fragranced aerosol reminiscent of commercial bathroom spray. It’s to kill insects, the first attendant clarifies, as I pull him aside to ask him why this spray is used. “I cannot say,” he says, when I press for more.

A child behind me coughs, has been coughing for most of the trip, and even though it’s coincidence, likely triggered by tiny scented particles in the air, it focuses my jet-lagged brain on the reason I’m landing here in the first place: pneumonia.


A look at teen pregnancy around the world

On world population day, the UN calls attention to the risks involved with teenage pregnancy. These are the five countries where babies are most likely to be born to a teen mom.
A pregnant teenage patient stands on November 12, 2009 at Panzi hospital in Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a center that specializes in the treatment of rape victims. (Adia Tshipuku/AFP/Getty Images)

To mark World Population Day Thursday, the United Nations called attention to the plight of the 16 million teenage girls who give birth each year.

"Adolescent pregnancy is not just a health issue, it is a development issue," said UNPF Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in a statement. "It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights."


Q & A: Researchers close in on malaria vaccine

Australian immunologist Michael Good talks to GlobalPost about the promising new malaria vaccine he developed.
A baby suffering from Malaria and a chest infection cries at Malakal Teaching Hospital in the capital of South Sudan's Upper Nile State Malakal. (Camille Lepage/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Good made the switch from doctor to scientific researcher because he couldn’t stand to watch any more babies die.

“I can be a doctor and treat sick children — and that’s honorable,” he said to himself. “But if I can develop science that can save millions of children, how much more valuable would that be?”

Now, as the developer of a promising new malaria vaccine, he’s poised to do just that. Malaria, a disease caused by parasites transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos, kills an estimated 660,000 children a year, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, a child dies of malaria every minute.

“For children, it’s probably the number one public health issue,” said Good, an immunologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.


Child mortality declining, but not on pace to meet Millennium Development Goal

Global child mortality has fallen 41 percent since 1990, but a new United Nations report says efforts must be redoubled to meet 2015 deadline.
A Somalian woman feeds her two-year-old malnourished baby using a syringe at Dinsor hospital in Somalia. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of children who die before their fifth birthday dropped by 700,000 between 2010 and 2011, which is not enough to put the world on track meet the United Nation’s goal to cut deaths by two-thirds before 2015, according to a UN progress report published Monday.

Still, global health leaders remained optimistic.


Op-Ed: Put ladies first with education and contraception in Tanzania

Empowering Tanzania’s next generation of women means committing to contraception today.
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Tanzanian First Lady Mama Salma Kikwete (second on left) sits with US First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, (L-R) Malia and Sasha, as they attend a dance performance at the National Museum in Dar es Salaam, on July 1, 2013. The African First Ladies Summit, “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” will be held in Dar July 2-3, 2013. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
As First Ladies from around the world, including Michelle Obama, gather in Tanzania today to talk about women’s empowerment, it’s crucial that both education and contraception are addressed. Tanzania has one of the world’s youngest populations, with nearly 45 percent under the age of 15. That represents a huge number of young women who will soon face choices about education, careers, sex, childbearing and marriage.

Focus on health: Obama's trip to Africa

Obama will address global health issues such as nutrition and HIV/AIDS during his visit to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa.
US President Barack Obama (R) shows the White House press corps what rice looks like on June 28, 2013 during an event on food security in Dakar. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Africa this week greeted President Barack Obama with song, dance and children wearing t-shirts screen-printed with the slogan, “Welcome home, Mr. President.” But on the backstreets of Dakar, Senegal, where Obama made his first stop, some people were skeptical that Obama’s visit would make a difference to their daily well being.


Calling Attention to tropical diseases on Capitol Hill

Rare and neglected diseases affect more than 1 billion people around the world – including millions in the US
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Nirmala Gudapati, director of the Society for Health, Education and Economical Progress (SHEEP), inspects medical kits to be distributed to leprosy patients during Anti Leprosy Week in Hyderabad on February 5, 2013. Leprosy, a Neglected Tropical Disease, currently affects approximately a quarter of a million people throughout the world, with 70 percent of these cases occurring in India. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Globally, more than 1 billion people, mostly impoverished, suffer from at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD), according to the World Health Organization. These infectious diseases have names perhaps as unfamiliar to most Americans as their clinical definitions themselves, including Schistosomiasis (parasitic worms) and Onchocerciasis and filarial infections (river blindness). They often emerge in developing countries as a result of contaminated food and water and limited access to health care. But in recent years, NTDs have popped up with increasing rigor in the US, from Texas to Florida, and this incidence seemed partly the impetus for a hearing held Thursday in the House of Representatives by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

World Health Organization releases global report on violence against women

What the report exposes is a vast spectrum of human rights abuses against women that spans beyond geographical boundaries—far across any one political, cultural or religious landscape.
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March 8, 2013- Women painted their upper bodies for a protest against violence against women during the celebration of International Women's Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images) (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

One third of the world’s women are subjected to physical or sexual violence by a partner or stranger.

This is just one staggering statistic revealed by the World Health Organization’s new report released this week, which documents what the organization is calling “a public health problem of epidemic proportions.”


Pollution and autism linked, kids in poor countries more at risk

A new study linking pollution to autism in the United States raises concern about children living in the developing world, where toxic air often goes unregulated and access to mental health care is limited.
Afghan children carry coal for a brick factory on the outskirts of Jalalabad on May 9, 2013. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Compared to the United States, where reports of autism have jumped 78 percent since 2007, autism rates in developing countries are growing at a crawl. But in light of new research linking autism with air pollution, experts say children in middle- and low-income countries may have a higher risk of developing the disorder than those in the United States.