News & Articles

January 25, 2016

Good morning,

I hope people had lovely holidays and a good first few weeks of 2016. Here are some recent global health news pieces that started off the year.
In line with recent attention to the shifting burden of non-communicable disease to the developing world, this article shows that the greatest proportional increases in cancer cases in the coming years will be in the poorest corners of the world. Epidemiologist Lindsey Torre maps the world's hotspots for different kinds of cancers (see infographic). Many cancers can be prevented through tobacco control, vaccination, early detection, and healthy living promotion, making simple interventions in low-income countries relevant and crucial. {Article}
An increasingly important topic in public health, pharmaceutical companies called for new policies that incentivize developing novel antibiotics at last Thursday's World Economic Forum. Developing antibiotics and/or new alternatives has not been fiscally practical for pharmaceutical organizations, but is desperately needed as more and more bugs become antibiotic resistant, turning infections that used to be treatable into life-threatening problems. The meeting also covered ensuring better ways antibiotics are not overused, on top of seeking new ways to pay for their development. If nothing else comes from their declaration, antibiotics expert Allan Coukell says it's exciting to hear industries acknowledging their responsibility to make sure antibiotics are used properly. {Article}

Also at the World Economic Forum, Save the Children International is calling on the world’s largest tech firms to provide expertise to help fight the worst child crisis in decades. The head of the charity, Janti Soeripto, is requesting a hackathon event, which is a fun contest used to bring coders together to brainstorm new ideas that can rapidly become reality. Her main goal is to bring the tech-savvy into the development sector, where they are sorely needed. Technology is an increasingly useful tool. During the Ebola crisis, schools were closed for nine or 10 months so they ran educational programmes over radio. From record keeping to re-purposing basic messaging services, there are countless areas where new technological expertise could help children who lack access to better education. {Article}

Speaking of Ebola, the WHO announced at the end of 2015 that Guinea was free of Ebola, and Liberia followed in its footsteps just two weeks ago. With Sierra Leone being declared free last November, this signals the end to this West African epidemic. "It is the first time since the start of the ... epidemic in West Africa two years ago that the three hardest-hit countries had zero cases for at least 42 days," says WHO's Liberia representative Alex Gasasira. There could, however, still be flare-ups of the disease in the region, as we've seen from a couple straggling cases, and spirits are low in Africa. People are tired from the devastating outbreak. The epidemic killed more than 11,000 people and sickened more than 28,000 across 10 countries, according to estimates released by the World Health Organization. "Today's WHO announcement is welcome news but we must learn from Ebola's devastating impact and ensure we are better prepared for infectious disease outbreaks," said Dr Seth Berkley, head of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. {Articles 1 & 2}

As Ebola fades, the Zika virus is an increasing global concern right now. The graphic below is as of the first week of January, and since then it has continued to spread, including into the United States. On Friday there were three people in New York State (one in Queens) who tested positive for the virus. Zika is spread by the yellow fever mosquito, and epidemioligists say it is likely to follow the same spread as dengue fever. This outbreak is connected to thousands of babies being born with microcephaly, and some countries have warned all citizens to avoid any pregnancies whatsoever until 2018. These warnings could have interesting repercussions reflected in population changes in the future. {Article}
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As researchers look at better ways to tackle these viruses, a British biotech company is suggesting genetically modified mosquitoes. Tests have found that introducing sterilized males can reduce the number of disease-transmitting female larvae by 82% in a year. The genetically modified mosquitoes don’t spread disease because only the females bite. The procedure is not 100% effective, but if allowed to proceed to full measure, it would “reduce the mosquito population below disease transmission levels with minimal effect on the environment," according to Joseph Conlon, an adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association. {Article}

Finally, my personal favorite is actually twelve articles. The Guardian published a wonderful series over the New Year called 12 Days of Innovation. Each article highlights a surprising innovation in development, ranging from apps to help you locate your family in a natural disaster, to a super honey who's natural antibacterial properties have been boosted to provide treatment for infected wounds and superbugs, to greenhouses that text you when they need attention, to a new fish-drying method in our very own Burundi, which is increasing the mainly female workforce, boosting quality and incomes! See the full series here! They're all amazing!

Random Tidbit

It looks as though astronomers have discovered a new planet, based on a half-dozen small bodies in distant elliptical orbits, all tilted at the same angle. According to Dr. Batygin, this provides extremely strong evidence that a planet is gravitationally herding them. Unfortunately, the planet is so far away, that they have yet to locate where it is in it's orbit. {Article}
Make sure you throw a snowball sometime this week.