Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tremendous progress against malaria seen but challenges remain

Twins Dorcas and Deborah Bendak, 7, under their mosquito net at their home in Musoma, Tanzania. Insecticide-treated bednets have become the cornerstone of malaria prevention efforts. Photo: Riccardo Gangale/VictorWorks, Courtesy of Photosphere
This was originally published on Global Health TV on April 25, 2017.

When I was a young development worker, I engaged in high risk behavior one night in a village in Mali: I slept without a mosquito net. A week or so later I contracted malaria.

Of all the diseases I have written about here, malaria is the only one with which I have personal and intimate experience. And it was not pleasant. It was so debilitating, so sapping of my energy, I remember not caring whether I lived or died.

Fortunately, I was an otherwise healthy young male and bounced back briskly after a week or so of misery. In fact, I have lived long enough to see the beginning of the end (or at least the decline) of this global killer: In December, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the World Malaria Report 2016 in which it estimated that 1.3 billion fewer malaria cases and 6.8 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2015 than would have occurred had incidence and mortality remained the same. About 97% of those deaths averted were for children under five years (who are most vulnerable to the disease, along with pregnant women).

Monday, May 8, 2017

Promoting contraceptives to adolescents in Mexico? Make the campaigns fun

Monserrat, Ariantne and Isis and their children visit a
RED DKT clinic in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico
City to find a contraceptive to space the birth of their
next child. Photo: David J. Olson
This was originally published on Global Health TV on March 21, 2017.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — I met the three young women at a reproductive health clinic in Iztapalapa, the most populous and fastest-growing borough of Mexico City, with a population of 1.8 million on the eastern side of the capital city.

Ariatne and Isis, both 20 years old, each have one child. Monserrat was their aunt, but didn’t look much older. She had three children. All of them were looking for a way to space the birth of their next child. One of them wanted to wait five years; another, ten years.

All of them had chosen intrauterine devices (IUDs) as their contraceptive, one of them told me, “because they are comfortable and secure.”

Although unplanned pregnancy is a big problem in Mexico (and the rest of Latin America), good sexual and reproductive healthcare is hard to come by in Mexico, especially for adolescents, according to a recent study.

Almost three-quarters of pregnancies among adolescents aged 15-19 in the region are unplanned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and about half of those end in abortion. Among all women 15-19 who need contraceptives, 36% of them are not using a modern method. The unmet need is highest in Central America, where 46% of sexually active adolescents who want to avoid pregnancy are not using modern contraceptives.

DKT México, a non-governmental organization that uses social marketing to prevent HIV and promote contraception in Latin America and the Caribbean, has learned some lessons about how to promote contraception to young people after success in promoting condom use but failing to do the same with contraceptives after they took a more traditional approach.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Though preventable, cervical cancer causes half million cases per year

Four volunteers of ICANSERVE Foundation exhort women to take advantage of free cervical and breast cancer screening at an event in the Philippines. Photo: ICANSERVE Foundation

This was originally published on Global Health TV on February 28, 2017.

Over 16 years ago, Sally Kwenda survived colon cancer and HIV, and then lost her husband and two children to AIDS-related illnesses.

Sally Kwenda
“Just when I thought I was done with the hurt and the pain, I was diagnosed with stage II cervical cancer,” she recalls. “Many of those I have met on this journey have either passed away or are worse off than me. Many of them got their diagnoses when it was too late to change the tide. Yet cancer does not have to be a death sentence. My experience reveals that cancer is curable.”

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in Sally’s home country of Kenya as well as in 38 low- and middle-income countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The reasons for the high rates of cervical cancer in Kenya, according to Deborah Olwal-Modi, executive director of the Kenya Cancer Association, include lack of knowledge and awareness, inadequate facilities for prevention and treatment, economic barriers, and co-morbidity of cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS. For example, almost all women (97 percent) do not know that a virus causes cervical cancer, according to a new study among women in major Kenyan cities.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

As infectious disease falls, chronic disease increases; possible solutions emerge

A patient in Kenya undergoes a full physical exam as part of an attempt to detect and treat non-communicable disease supported by Novartis Access. Photo: Bedad Mwangi

This was originally published on Global Health TV on January 31, 2017.

As 2017 begins, we celebrate the fact that many diseases of developing countries have been significantly weakened. The numbers of people suffering from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis are in decline. Children are healthier and living longer.

But as these communicable diseases wane, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) wax (like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases).

This was hammered home by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington which, just in the last two months, released three new reports that provide further evidence of this trend:
  • Almost 20% of global deaths in 2015 were linked to elevated blood pressure, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study. The number of people in the world with high blood pressure, including hypertension, has doubled in the past two decades, putting billions at increased risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
  • Cancer is growing almost everywhere in the world but the greatest increase between 2005 and 2015 occurred in the poorest countries that are least equipped to deal with it, according to a new analysis.
  • 30% of all deaths from diabetes worldwide occur in the poorest countries bringing a double burden of disease – from communicable and non-communicable disease – to many countries in Africa, according to a new IHME report. Women often bear most of the burden.