global health newsletter

23 may 2016

good morning,

Happy Monday!

~global health~

The WHO is officially suggesting a shorter drug regimen for multi-drug resistant TB that has seen success in multiple African nations, although it has not gone through formal clinical trials. The new drug regimen shortens the treatment from two years to nine months, raising hopes that hundreds of thousands of people will stay the course and be cured. The existing course of combined heavy-duty antibiotics used against MDR-TB lasts up to two years and there are toxic side-effects to some of the drugs, including deafness. About half of those put on the treatment give up, raising the risk that their disease will return and spread to other people. The WHO feels that even without formal trials, these new drugs "have real potential to save lives immediately." For MDR-TB, patients can now also take a less toxic combination than for XDR-TB – the extremely resistant form. Cure rates are much higher with the shorter course of treatment – more than 80%, compared with 50% before.
Life expectancy across the globe has increased by five years since 2000, the fastest rise in lifespans since the 1960s, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Babies born in 2015 can expect to live to 71.4 years (73.8 years for females; 69.1 years for males). The longest lifespans are in Japan, where last year’s newborns are expected to live to almost 84.
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Countries are finding that the urban economic development to which they aspire brings poisoned air, and ill-health, leading to an early death for a great many people. WHO data shows that there is now little or no escape from the plague of poisoned air; people in 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants are breathing air with pollution levels that exceed WHO minimum safety guidelines. That figure is almost halved in high-income countries, where the figure is 56%. Developing countries tend to have fewer regulations on pollutants like smog, sometimes leading to much worse pollution. However, there are also many cities who are reducing air pollution. By checking traffic growth, reducing industrial smokestack emissions, increasing the use of renewable power sources, and prioritising walking and cycling networks, they are rapidly – and cheaply – improving air quality and cutting the number of deaths. Pollution has become the biggest killer in the world, and is not something we can ignore.
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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is committing $80m to help plug the gaps in data on women and girls that is needed to meet the UN target of achieving gender equality by 2030! It will support national statistics offices to collect and refine reliable information on the contribution women and girls make to society and the barriers they face in fulfilling their potential. Specific areas that need more data include the amount of unpaid work women carry out in the home and gender-based violence, often regarded as too difficult to collect. “We can’t close the gender gap we all aspire to close unless we close first the data gap,” says Melinda Gates. Research published by McKinsey last year found that if every country addressed gender inequalities at the same rate as its fastest-improving regional peer, the world could add $12tn to the global economy.

The Global Alliance for Urban Crises, which officially launches at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, is an ambitious attempt to re-envision humanitarian responses in cities. The deadly spread of ebola in west Africa and the prolonged earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti were a wake up call for the international community: they must find a more effective way to tackle humanitarian crises in urban settings. One of the alliance’s first steps has been to rally approximately 25,000 experts – one fifth of whom specialize in urban affairs – to advise vulnerable cities in disaster preparedness and relief work. The international non-profit Canadem is coordinating this database of on-call advisers, who could be dispatched anytime starting next month.

Speaking of the World Humanitarian Summit - it's today and tomorrow! Politicians will meet in Istanbul to debate how to deal with global crises that have been exacerbated by war, climate change and natural disasters. The summit is intended “to help share knowledge and establish common best practices.” UN secretary general has arranged this year's summit around five key commitments: preventing and ending conflict; respecting the rules of war; leaving no one behind on the sustainable development agenda; working differently to end need, and investing in humanity. There will be a push to allow local groups a greater say in how and where aid money is spent – rather than letting the big global agencies decide – and a concerted effort to get the world to spend more on disaster risk reduction.

~burundi in the headlines~

Burundi's government attended regional peace talks this weekend in Tanzania, which had been postponed since December. Some opponents, however, said the absence of several leading opposition groups made it more like a "monologue" by the government, undermining the process. The talks were attended by some Western donors and a U.N. representative. The Tanzanian mediators did not provide a list of opposition groups that attended.


In the village of Congo in Venezuela along Catatumbo River, lightning strikes almost 300 days a year. They call it “the Never-Ending Storm of Catatumbo,” or “Maracaibo’s Lighthouse.” NASA has officially declared the area the lightning capital of the world, dethroning Africa’s Congo Basin. The reason for the change: Sixteen years worth of data from the lightning sensors on a satellite allowed the team to analyze the numbers with unprecedented precision.

That's all for this week. I'll be in tomorrow!