Thursday, May 12, 2016

In West Africa, progress on family planning but millions not treated for HIV

Women gather for the launch of the national family planning campaign in a low-income neighborhood of Bamako, Mali in April.
This was originally published on Global Health TV on April 26, 2016.

BAMAKO, Mali — Last year, there were several reports of how West Africa, after decades of seriously lagging behind the rest of the world (and Africa) in family planning, was finally starting to embrace it. IntraHealth International covered this topic extensively on its Vital blog, and I wrote about my own views of family planning in Mali here at Global Health TV.

Senegal, in particular, emerged as a family planning leader in West Africa and provided hope for the rest of the region. The three main reasons for Senegal’s success were strong political will, better coordination and collaboration and innovative approaches, according to Babacar Gueye, IntraHealth country director in Senegal.

New programs here in Mali, like Keneya Jemu Kan (USAID Communications et Promotion de la Santé, in the Bambara language), are making a major push to increase health indicators beyond the anemic progress of the past three decades. For example, the percentage of married women using any modern method of family planning in Mali has only increased from 1.3% in 1987 to 9.9% in 2013, and Keneya Jemu Kan is working to bend that rate upwards. (Full disclosure: I work as a consultant for Keneya Jemu Kan).

But a disturbing new report from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, claims that similar progress is not being made in HIV/AIDS. On the contrary, MSF claims that millions of people in West and Central Africa are being left out of the global HIV response despite globally agreed goals to curb HIV by 2020, and is calling on the international community to develop and implement an urgent plan to scale up antiretroviral treatment for countries where critical medicines reach fewer than one-third of the population in need.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Brazil struggles to contain damage of mosquito that transmits Zika virus

Dr. Sylvia Lordello of Saúde Criança speaks to a group of parents about Zika.

This was originally published by Global Health TV on March 31, 2016.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — A group of about 20 poor parents (mostly women) from the slums gathered this month in the offices of Saúde Criança (“child health” in Portuguese), a social enterprise that works with impoverished children and their families in a holistic way. After a meditation, they got down to the main point of the meeting — the Zika virus and how to avoid it.

These poor young mothers are prime candidates for Zika. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits Zika, will suck anyone’s blood — rich or poor. But they thrive in the densely populated favelas of Rio and other Brazilian cities where few people have screened windows and where even mosquito repellant may be a luxury. Many people have water cisterns on their roofs, usually not covered, which makes an ideal breeding ground for Aedes aegypti.

Dr. Sylvia Lordello, a medical doctor on staff at Saúde Criança, told the parents that prevention starts at home and reviewed a series of steps that could be taken to make their homes less hospitable to mosquitoes, such as covering their cisterns and not leaving water in the plates under house plants.

“If the whole country fights Zika, the mosquito cannot win,” Dr. Lordello told the parents. “Zika is not stronger than the country.”

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Amid a flurry of high-tech approaches, some find merit in low-tech techniques

DKT street theater provides family planning information in Bihar.
This was originally published on Humanosphere blog on March 7, 2016.

Because of the meteoric rise of the internet and cell phones in many developing countries, many global health programs have been rushing to embrace these technologies as efficient ways of reaching large numbers of people with information on such issues as family planning, HIV prevention and maternal and child health.

This is happening in countries like India, Tanzania, South Africa, and Ethiopia, where technologies like the internet, mobile phones, social media and geographic positioning systems are bringing health delivery into the 21st century.

But some programs are eschewing high tech and sticking with low tech as the best way to bring vital health information to their low-income consumers, at least for now.