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A diverse look at global health issues.

Right to food wins 'defensive battle' in World Trade Organization deal

Opinion: The Bali meeting yielded a flawed 'trade facilitation' agreement that still mostly benefits international trade firms.
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Fake dice are placed by activists from La Via Campesina while they hold a protest against the WTO at the 9th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Bali. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

BALI, Indonesia — A tense and acrimonious four-day standoff ended Saturday morning at the World Trade Organization meeting in Bali.

A last-minute objection by Cuba and three Latin American allies held up the agreement Friday night, with Cuba objecting to the hypocrisy of a “trade facilitation” agreement – one part of the so-called Bali package – that ignored the United States’ discriminatory treatment of the island nation under the US trade embargo.

Overnight, text was added to reflect Cuba’s concern even if it did nothing to resolve the issue. Call it the story of the WTO.


How to achieve an AIDS-free generation? Ghana has a few ideas

In the last four years, mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Ghana declined by 76 percent. What's the secret to this success?
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A man walks in Accra past a Ghanaian volunteer campaigning against AIDS. (Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)

New statistics from the United Nations released on World AIDS day this week have global health experts speculating about the possibility of an AIDS-free generation. 

Their hope lies in the cradle.

The number of children who contract the disease at birth from HIV-positive mothers dropped by more than half between 2005 and 2012, from 540,000 to 260,000, according to the report.

The decline in HIV among infants has been dramatic in a number of countries. Namibia cut infection by 58 percent between 2009 and 2012. Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia and Ethiopia all reported reductions of at least 50 percent.

But “Ghana is the true leader in the fight against AIDS,” wrote Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director for the nonprofit ONE, in a recent report. In the last four years, mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the country declined by 76 percent. 


In the Philippines, hope and despair are found among the rubble one month after Haiyan

Commentary: The international aid response to Typhoon Haiyan has been generous but needs to expand fast to help the millions struggling to cope.
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A man reconstructs his house at the bay of Tacloban, Leyte province on November 27, 2013. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

BASEY, Philippines — Elegario Ocdol’s home has become rubble. Most of the house and its contents have vanished. Only jagged pieces of fabric, metal and crockery lie strewn across the stone floor — traces of a life reduced to a memory.

Ocdol, a 38-year-old elementary school teacher, used to lead a fairly ordinary life. He worked hard to provide for his wife Maricar and their five children, worried about his debts and went crab fishing regularly to help feed his family.

But on Friday, Nov. 8, his life — and the lives of millions of others — changed forever when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines. Nearly a month later, I drove with a team of Oxfam colleagues to the expanding front line of a crucial but challenged relief effort.


US opposition to ambitious Indian program a 'direct attack on the right to food'

Opinion: The Obama administration's objection to India's newly approved Food Security Act is an act of hypocrisy.
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A low-wage earning Indian day laborer removes excess rice from a bag at a grains depot near New Delhi on August 27, 2013, one day after the Indian parliament passed a flagship $18 billion program to provide subsidized food to the poor that is intended to "wipe out" endemic hunger and malnutrition in the aspiring superpower. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

BALI, Indonesia — In the lead-up to this week’s World Trade Organization negotiations, the Obama administration has tried to block the implementation of a new program approved by the Indian government that could help feed its 830 million hungry people in a cost-effective way.

The Obama administration’s objection to the program is a direct attack on the right to food, and it threatens to kill the chances for any agreement at the WTO.

The Indian government’s newly approved Food Security Act is one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to reduce chronic hunger. Under the new program, the Indian government will buy staple foods from small farmers at administered prices, generally above market levels, thereby supporting the incomes of some of the country’s most impoverished people. From those stocks, the government will provide food to the poor, generally at below-market prices, and to public initiatives such as school-based lunch programs.


'Gun disease' afflicts Myanmar's gold miners

Gold miners drill without respiration equipment and frequently develop a lung disease that slowly kills them.

MANDALAY, Myanmar — In the gold mines of Sinktu and Thabait Kyin, in the Mandalay division of Myanmar, gold mining is famous. More than 30 gold mines are active here, but the scene doesn't look much like wealth. Half-naked men with rusty pneumatic drills and homemade dynamite are lowered 500 feet on fraying ropes into holes in the ground. Covering their faces with rags, they drill gold ore from the stone.

“We break the rocks with high pressured guns, but breathe the small particles that come from breaking the stone. We contract lung infections that we call 'gun disease,'" says Wat Tay, 35, a gold miner from Sintku Township.

Through the night groups of men squat above mine shafts, ankle deep in muddy puddles, waiting to haul out ore or winch up their friends. After working in the mines for a decade, workers' lungs begin to give out, they say. Hidden in bamboo huts, attached to oxygen, they wheeze out their last days.


Secretive trade pact called 'most harmful ever' for affordable medicine

Global health advocates say the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the US and 11 other countries, is an attack on public health. Part of the proposal was published by WikiLeaks last week.

SALT LAKE CITY — “Humans before profit!”

“Stop the corporate coup!”

“We are stakeholders, too!”

These were the slogans of a rally outside Salt Lake City’s Grand American Hotel Tuesday, where about 120 people gathered to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries.

While protesters marched through the rain, chanting and waving brightly colored signs, inside the hotel, negotiators met for the first time since WikiLeaks published a draft of the TPP’s chapter on intellectual property last week. In the leaked draft, US officials proposed strengthening and lengthening pharmaceutical patents while dismantling international laws designed to keep medicine affordable.


Harvard panel to look at new approaches to global health

A panel at the Harvard School of Public Health, which will be live streamed here on Friday, explores approaches to transforming the global health agenda.
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(left: Tom Miller, center: courtesy of The Global Fund, right: Kent Dayton/Courtesy)

BOSTON — The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health will host a panel on Friday about how the field of global health is changing — and how it must change in the future. The event is presented in collaboration with GlobalPost and will be live streamed here, on GlobalPost’s Pulse blog, starting at 10 a.m.


How gender bias hides itself in the global health field

Science is a long way from achieving gender equality, say women leaders in the field, but many scientists of both genders can't see it.
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A polio vaccinator administers oral drops to a child in the Dawanau district of Kano, northern Nigera, on October 28, 2013 during a polio immunization campaign. (Aminu Abubakar/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — On day three of the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Washington, DC, I waited for a much-needed cup of coffee behind a trio of attendees deliberating their next move.

The conference gathered 3,600 doctors and public health professionals from some 100 countries to discuss the newest developments in tropical medicine and global health. I was invited to present about global health and the media, and stayed on an extra day to attend some sessions and report.

One member of the trio suggested to his colleagues that they head across the street for breakfast, and his female colleague flipped through the schedule read aloud the title of the session she would miss that morning: “Promoting Women Leaders in Global Health.”

She looked up with a bored expression and said, “No, thank you.”

Perplexed by her nonchalance, I went to the panel. In the room were about 100 women (I also counted six men) who were anything but nonchalant about the issue. Throughout the session, presenters and audience members made compelling cases for why they think the gender disparity in the field of global health is important to discuss.


Typhoon Haiyan: Using keywords and hashtags to help the Philippines

A new project combines computer-generated algorithms and volunteers to quickly sift through social media noise during disasters.
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A man sits amongst the wreckage of his devastated home in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan on November 13, 2013 in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, packing maximum sustained winds of 195 mph, slammed into the southern Philippines and left a trail of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines on Saturday, reducing whole neighborhoods to rubble and killing an estimated 2,500 people, Sheena Opulencia hasn’t taken a break. 

When she finds a spare minute between meetings and phone calls for her job as an information manager for ACF International in Manila, she pulls out her smart phone and sifts through hundreds of messages and photos that have been posted on social media about the typhoon.

With the flick of her index finger she categorizes tweets calling for food, water and electricity. She rates photos of the chaos and destruction “mild” or “severe.” Flick. Flick. Flick.


Oxfam challenges brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle to help fix global food system

A campaign seeks to harness the power of the 10 biggest food companies to fight hunger, malnutrition, poverty and human rights abuses.
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Coca Cola cans are seen on a production line at a bottling plant near New Delhi, India. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Since February, four of the world’s largest food companies have officially embraced the United Nations' principles on empowering women. Coca-Cola has announced new plans to prevent water pollution among suppliers and Nestle became the first major brand to commit to work with local communities before making agricultural land deals.

The moves come six months after the food giants started working with the nonprofit Oxfam to identify agricultural policies that could be perpetuating hunger, poverty and human rights abuses. As part of the project, called “Behind the Brands,” Oxfam is acting as a sort of consultant to the 10 biggest food companies, including Pepsico, General Mills and Kellogg’s. At the same time, though, Oxfam has been loudly trumpeting the companies’ wrongdoings to the world using petitions and social media campaigns.