Friday, September 23, 2011

Cancer Rises in Africa, A Continent Ill-Prepared to Handle It

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on Sept. 20, 2011.
"Thank God I have AIDS and not cancer, because that would be a death sentence," an HIV-positive woman told Ann Kim, a freelance journalist on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project, in a clinic in Botswana earlier this year.
Botswana, a well-off country by African standards, has an adult HIV prevalence of 24 percent, the second highest in the world, and a health system well-prepared for dealing with it, but not cancer.
In Togo, Dr. Kokou Agoudavi, the head of non-communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health, told me that Togolese cancer patients sometimes sell their houses or fields to pay for cancer treatment, which is not available in-country. They have to go to neighboring Ghana, if they can afford it. He said this often happens in the late stages of cancer, when survival rates are low.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New campaign aims to reach Americans to give unvaccinated kids a Shot@Life

NEW YORK — Did you know that in developing countries a child dies every 20 seconds from diseases that are entirely preventable with vaccines? Did you know that the number of children dying every year from these preventable diseases is nearly equivalent to half the children entering kindergarten in the U.S.?

Those are a few of the points driven home yesterday at the official launch of Shot@Life, a new United Nations Foundation campaign directed at the U.S. public and Congress, at a luncheon here on the first day of the U.N. High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases.  

 Some of these facts were new to me even though I have been working in global health for almost 20 years, and not all of it was bad. For example, I learned that 80% of the world’s children are vaccinated. That was wonderful to hear.

But the flip side is that, in 2011, one in five children does not have access to the immunizations they need, and that translates into 1.7 million children dying from diseases that have all but disappeared in the U.S. The UNICEF representative at the launch called this “The Last Quintile,” and it will undoubtedly be the toughest quintile.

Friday, September 16, 2011

U.S. committed to fighting NCDs, but not financially

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are now the leading cause of deaths in the world, killing more than 36 million people in 2008 (63% of the total). Cardiovascular diseases were responsible for 48% of these deaths, cancers 21%, chronic respiratory diseases 12% and diabetes 3%, according to a report published this week by the World Health Organization. 

But NCDs are definitely not “rich country”  diseases anymore: 80% of those deaths took place in low- and middle-income countries. 

And it is getting worse. This week the Washington Post reported

“The world is facing a growing avalanche of death from heart attack, stroke, cancer, emphysema and diabetes, with many of the victims working-age people in poor countries. Governments and individuals could intervene to prevent up to half those deaths, but no country is doing all it could.”

The economic impact of all that death and disability is profound. Just take cancer, the second leading cause of NCD deaths. Last year, the American Cancer Society reported that the total economic impact of premature death and disability from cancer worldwide was $895 billion, representing 1.5% of the world’s gross domestic product. That’s enormous, and it’s just one of the four main NCDs.

What to do about the newly-discovered worldwide epidemic in a time of fiscal austerity and, in the U.S., hostility to new social spending, was one of the main issues discussed at an event last week at the Center for Global Development “U.S. Outlook for the Non-Communicable Disease Summit.” 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Social Good Summit aims to put social media to work for development during UN Week

African first ladies tweeting for the first time is only one of many wonders of technology and global development to be highlighted at the upcoming Social Good Summit and its Digital Media Lounge to be held during the U.N. General Assembly next week in New York.

The United Nations Foundation and its high tech partners behind the Summit gave us a sneak peek of coming attractions during a tele-briefing yesterday.

There will be a head of state at the Social Good Summit — President Kikwete will accept an award for his commitment to furthering technology and new media in Tanzania — and the first ladies of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa will also be on hand to tackle Twitter. In an event entitled “First Ladies, First Tweets,” they will publicly demonstrate their first efforts to harness social media to advance their issues.