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A diverse look at global health issues.

Commentary: And the prize goes to ... genetically modified foods

This year's World Food Prize clearly supported genetically modified crops, but the conversation was one-sided.
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Images of advanced seed chipping machines inside Monsanto agribusiness headquarters in St Louis, Missouri. These machines are designed and built in-house and they allow the technicians to chip off tiny portions of seeds, which are scanned instantly for the perfect DNA of an elite corn seed. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

DES MOINES, Iowa — This year’s World Food Prize went to three biotech engineers, all of whom have been instrumental in bringing genetically modified foods to your table.

Inside the Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, where the prize’s four-day program took place October 15-18, the message was clear: Technology is the answer to the world’s looming food shortages, and anyone who gets in the way isn’t putting farmers and the hungry first.

And you have to admire the laureates for their candor.

In their prepared press statements, they couldn’t have been clearer about what the prize means to them.

“The committee’s decision to award the World Food Prize to biotechnology researchers,” said Mary-Dell Chilton of Syngenta in a press release, “will help convey to consumers the value, utility and safety of genetically modified crops.”


Opinion: Mental health, the 'ugly stepchild of the global health movement'

Though mental illness accounts for 14 percent of the global burden of disease, it is often dismissed as marginal and too complex to address, especially in the developing world.
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An Afghan man prepares tea near his bed in a psychiatric ward of a local hospital in Kabul. Scarred by decades of war, social problems and poverty, more than 60 percent of Afghans suffer from stress disorders and mental health problems. (Shah Marai/Getty Images)

Ask anyone to name the most pressing global health issues and they’re likely to reel off a list that includes HIV, malaria, malnutrition and maybe even climate change.

All of these are real threats that carry with them dire consequences if we fail to address them. But there’s one issue that is not usually on that list, despite the grave danger it poses: mental illness.

World Mental Health Day is observed annually on October 10 by global giants including the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO). Chances are, it’s not on your calendar – but it should be. According to WHO, mental illnesses account for 14 percent of the global burden of disease. And by 2030, the organization predicts, that number will rise to 20 percent. What’s more, the leading causes of disability worldwide are depression and other mental disorders, which afflict more than 450 million people.


Harvard panel on child mortality links child health with human rights

A panel at the Harvard School of Public Health examined what works and what doesn't on the path to reduce global child mortality.
(Samuel De Leon/Photoshare/Courtesy) (GlobalPost)

BOSTON — The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with GlobalPost, hosted a panel on Wednesday to address the path to reducing child mortality on a global scale.

The panel came weeks after UNICEF released its 2013 progress report on child survival, which revealed that 6.6 million children under 5 died in 2012, and “at the current rate of progress, up to 35 million children could die between 2015 and 2028.” The discussion also served as a follow up to the GlobalPost Special Report published in September titled "Step by Step: The path to ending child mortality."

Yesterday’s discussion explored what works in the global effort to fight child mortality, and what doesn't work.

Panel experts covered issues ranging from malaria prevention to dirty water to maternal health; but they continued to circle back to one central theme: global health is directly related to human rights.

Elizabeth Gibbons, senior fellow and visiting scientist at the FXB Center at Harvard and a former director at UNICEF, opened the discussion by establishing that issues surrounding global child mortality should be understood as a “right to survival” and a “silent emergency.”


Harvard panel to explore the path to ending child mortality

A panel at the Harvard School of Public Health, which will be live streamed here on Wednesday, examines what works and what doesn't in the fight to reduce under-5 deaths around the world.
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(Samuel De Leon/Photoshare/Courtesy)

BOSTON — The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health will host a panel on Wednesday about the steps that can be taken to reduce child mortality around the world. The event is presented in collaboration with GlobalPost and will be live streamed here, on GlobalPost’s Pulse blog, starting at 12:30 p.m.

The panel discussion comes weeks after UNICEF released its 2013 progress report on child survival. The report announced that at the current rate of progress, as many as 35 million children could die between 2015 and 2028. The event also follows up on a Special Report published by GlobalPost titled "Step by Step: The path to ending child mortality."


Opinion: Poliovirus makes a comeback, and Israel is prepared

The resurgence of poliovirus in Israel reminds us that the virus could make a resurgence anywhere. The world can’t rest until the virus has been eradicated, says Dr. Walter Orenstein.
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An Israeli child receives a vaccination against Polio at a clinic in Jerusalem on August 18, 2013. Israel took its polio vaccination campaign nationwide. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the last several months, wild poliovirus has been discovered circulating in Israel for the first time in 25 years. Although no paralytic polio cases have been reported, the presence of the virus – and the possibility of further spread within or beyond Israel – threatens the immense progress we’ve made toward global eradication.

Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) first began its work, cases have dropped more than 99 percent to a record low of 223 in 2012. Down from 125 endemic countries in 1988, only three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan — have never eliminated wild polioviruses, remaining capable of re-infecting other countries.

However, these countries have been stepping up efforts against the disease, resulting in 40 percent fewer cases as of September 11 of this year, compared to the same time last year.

The world’s progress toward eradicating polio is cause for celebration, but not complacency.


Opinion: 'The moment of truth' for child survival

A pioneering doctor on child survival says now is the time to remember the highly successful Child Survival Revolution of the 1980s.
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World Health Organisation (WHO) and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) Goodwill Ambassador Smriti Irani (C) holds a child being fed an ORS solution. (Manan Vatsyayana /AFP/Getty Images)

In the 1970s, I joined the World Health Organization to help start and lead its new diarrheal diseases control program. The goal of the program was to reduce diarrheal mortality using a highly effective method of rehydrating patients by mouth using a solution composed primarily of salt, sugar and water.

In 1982, I wrote a paper with a colleague estimating that 4.6 million children under age 5 died each year from diarrhea — a shocking figure. Today, under-5 deaths caused by diarrhea have declined by 90 percent. Why? The treatment is inexpensive, easily administered at home, and it works.


Millennium Development Goals: When failure means success

Global health advocates are calling for accelerated reductions in child mortality to meet the 2015 deadline, even though they know we won't reach the UN goal. Why many still consider MDG 4 a success story.
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Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Politicians in suits, entrepreneurs in jeans and philanthropists, aid workers and journalists dressed somewhere in between descended upon New York City this week for the annual meeting of the United Nations. 

And with about 800 days to go until the Millennium Development Goal deadline, conversation around 2015 cropped up everywhere, from cocktail receptions at UN headquarters in East Midtown to rapid-fire panel sessions at the Social Good Summit on the Upper East Side.

Two questions prevailed: What can we do to reach the MDGs by 2015? And what new development goals should come after 2015? That the president of the UN’s 68th General Assembly declared this year’s theme “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” only elevated the stakes for discussing the answers.


Child mortality rates are falling, but Millennium Development Goal is still far off

A report released by UNICEF Thursday says the world will not meet the UN's Millennium Development Goal on child mortality until 2028.
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A mother with her 3-year-old daughter who suffers from chronic diarrhea and tuberculosis, at the District Hospital, Panna, Madhya Pradesh in Central India. (Harman Boparai/GlobalPost)

The number of children who die before their fifth birthday declined by nearly 50 percent between 1990 and 2012, from more than 12 million to 6.6 million, according to a new UNICEF report.

Despite the good news, the world is not on track to reach the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to cut the 1990 child mortality rates by two-thirds by 2015. Unless the world more than quadruples the annual rate of reduction in child death, it won’t meet the MDG until 2028.


Counting the uncountable? Measuring progress in global child health

As the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals nears, United Nations statisticians say life's improved drastically for children in the developing world. How do they know?
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Leoncia Uwimbabazi and Lea Mukeshimana soothe their babies after vaccination at the Nyamata Health Center in the Bugasera District of Rwanda on September 3, 2010. With big strides made against both malaria and pneumococcal disease, Rwanda is on track to meet UN Millennium Development Goal no 4, the reduction of child mortality, officials say. 'Rwanda is one of the few countries in Africa that stands a chance of reaching the MDG targets if the current rhythm is maintained,' said Lamine Cisse Sarr, World Health Organisation representative to Rwanda. (Shanon Jensen/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of children who get measles vaccinations in Rwanda has been steadily climbing since 2001. But in June of last year, the United Nations reported a sudden drop in coverage from 97 percent to 80 percent.

When Rwandan Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho saw the statistics show up online, she was certain it couldn’t be true. She posted an indignant Tweet calling out both UNICEF and the World Health Organization: “Why is #Rwanda’s DTP3 vaccine coverage shown as 80% on your sites?”

The vaccination reports, it turns out, said little about the health of Rwanda’s children. Rather, it illustrated the challenges of measuring child health in the developing world.


Sierra Leone: Where water is foul, diarrhea is a killer

The people here endure the highest under-5 death rate in the world as local politicians and foreign NGOs fail to supply clean water.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — In Kroo Bay, a slum located in the heart of Freetown, mounds of raw sewage seep into pools of stagnant water. Children play on doorsteps, and neighbors bathe in the nearby Crocodile River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.