Information and stories about global health.

Vatican Pontifical CouncilEvery other year, the Vatican Pontifical Council is held in Vatican City for the purpose of improving human health and well-being. From May 6-8, 2021, the Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation joined the Pope, influential scientists, Christian leaders, humanitarians, ethicists and lawmakers to discuss recent advances in technology and medical science that will make for a better world.

The Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation seek to improve global health by partnering with doctors and researchers who are nearing medical breakthroughs. At this year’s Vatican Pontifical Council, they and other foundations took center stage. The Cura Foundation’s mottos, “unite to prevent,” and “unite to cure,” described the purpose of the discussions. Here are five promising developments from the Council.

Top 5 Highlights of the Vatican Pontifical Council

  1. The solution to global health spending according to Dr. Mark McClellan, director of Duke University’s Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy. Recalling the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. McClellan explained why the U.S. and other wealthy countries need to increase their spending on aid for developing countries. He explained that meeting countries on their level will mean considering digital care, care teams, medicine availability and more. In addition, prioritizing healthcare equality will not just benefit developing countries, but wealthy countries as well. The U.S. will see minorities such as Black and Native people, who statistically earn less money than whites, gain more equality. Focusing on health equality for the world will lead to more open-minded communities and better quality of life for minorities.
  2. Pope Francis explains the union of mind, body, and soul. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union of the mind, body and soul is essential. Many factors can cause division between them, but unity encourages intellect and progress. Interdisciplinary research that works toward uniting mind, body and soul is the reason various leaders and initiators have been able to improve global health as they have.
  3. Sanford Health shares its findings on regenerative medicine. Many retired athletes and elderly people experience chronic joint pain that seems untreatable. However, Sanford Health explained that regenerative medicine can be useful in combating chronic pain. Regenerative medicine helps to speed the healing process and can especially aid practitioners in orthopedics. If regenerative medicine is integrated into care more widely, the physical quality of life will improve greatly for many people worldwide.
  4. Rick Anderson advocates for digital technologies. According to the president of DarioHealth, Rick Anderson, digital technologies are particularly beneficial for those with chronic diseases since they offer a wide variety of treatment options. For example, people with diabetes can use digital devices to test their blood sugar. Getting these devices to people who need them worldwide is a challenge, however. Anderson says the aid needed most in this scenario is internet access. Even low-speed internet can let people order what they need.
  5. New treatments for rare diseases. Dr. Michael Yeaman of UCLA has been studying neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare disease that disrupts proteins in the eyes and spinal cord and can lead to mobility loss. Different people can have widely different manifestations of NMO. Dr. Yeaman focuses on personalized medication to meet each patient’s needs. Dr. Jill Weimer, a senior director for Sanford Research, also discussed changing patients’ gene mutations as a cure for disease. While this possibility needs more research, it shows much promise.

The innovations in health and technology discussed at the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council will help minimize not only disease but also poverty. Worldwide improvements in health lead to fewer preventable deaths, more stabilized economies and more people finding jobs. Though this was the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council, it was the first virtual one, demonstrating that the Council is adapting to the pandemic and continuing to make a difference.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Italy's Pandemic Recovery
Italy quickly became a coronavirus hot spot at the pandemic’s onset, and its healthcare system and economy have struggled ever since. In early 2021, the Italian government announced a €235 billion Resilience and Recovery Plan (RRP) that will launch several economic initiatives over the next five years. Prime Minister Mario Draghi seeks to emphasize institutional reform and GDP growth in Italy’s pandemic recovery process.

How Italy Handled the COVID-19 Pandemic

Italy has documented more than 4 million COVID-19 cases over the course of the pandemic. It has confirmed more than 127,000 deaths as of July 6, 2021. The pandemic hit Northern Italy the hardest and fastest, with nearly 80% of COVID-related deaths coming from the northern region in the first four months of the pandemic.

Italy’s unemployment rate rose from 9.2% in 2020 to 10.2% in 2021, with youth disproportionately affected. In the regions of Sicily, Calabria and Campania, youth unemployment climbed to 46%. Additionally, 45% of Italians agreed that the pandemic has impacted their personal income.

A four-level color-coded system sorts locations in Italy by infection risk. White and yellow areas have “total freedom, by day and night,” representing a lower risk of coronavirus infection. Orange represents a higher risk, and red represents an extreme risk. Orange and red regions observe a curfew between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. As of June 28, 2021, all regions are white areas. It is no longer mandatory to wear a mask outdoors, but the country is suggesting that people continue carrying one and observe safe social distancing rules.

Italy’s Plans for Tourism

Tourism is a vital component of the Italian GDP, and in just one year, the country saw a 60% drop in tourists due to COVID-19. Italy estimates a loss of around €120.6 billion in tourism revenue for 2020, and so far, 2021 has also been a lackluster year for tourism.

Italy’s pandemic recovery process includes once again allowing foreign visitors. In June 2021, the country opened to tourism from most European countries and a few others as well. Visitors from the U.S., Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates who arrive on COVID-tested flights can also enter the country. All tourists from outside the European Union, Israel or on COVID-tested flights must quarantine for 14 days and provide a negative COVID-19 test. However, most tourist attractions, including beaches, theaters and museums, are open to the public at limited capacity.

Italy’s Economic Recovery Plan

Draghi continues to work with the E.U. to secure aid for Italian citizens. As a result, Italy will receive the largest share of the E.U.’s €705 billion recovery fund because of the economic strain the pandemic placed on the country. The plan will offer environmentally conscious solutions for economic expansion.

The Italian government will allocate €18.5 billion to hospitals to reduce pressure on the healthcare system. The RRP will help hospitals digitize and will invest in “community hospitals” for patients not needing extensive care. It will also set aside €7 billion to strengthen home care. All these plans are efforts to relieve hospitals overwhelmed with patients.

Forty percent of the RRP is for green-related investments. A study by Scientific Reports found that Italy’s air pollution played a larger role in spreading the pandemic than population density, so Italy plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. The RRP will also fund construction, which will offer many citizens job opportunities. The construction market is estimated to grow 3.5% in the COVID-19 recovery process.

Many Italians are looking forward to life returning to normal. Italy’s pandemic recovery plan offers hope that the country will succeed in its economic expansion and infrastructure development.

Camdyn Knox
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccinations in IndonesiaAs the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Indonesia continues to rise, Indonesia falls in the top 20 countries with the highest COVID-19 cases. In March 2021, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) initiative provided its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccinations in Indonesia. The widespread distribution of vaccines brings hope for the country’s recovery as COVID-19 has severely impacted the Indonesian economy and pushed many into poverty. COVID-19 vaccinations in Indonesia bring the country one step closer to recovery and normality.

10 Facts About the Indonesian COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

  1. The first shipment of more than one million doses allocated to Indonesia under the COVAX initiative arrived in Indonesia on March 8, 2021, as part of more than 11 million doses allocated to the country.
  2. The shipment of vaccinations in Indonesia is part of the largest vaccine procurement and supply process of all time. Immunizing the world against COVID-19 is the most significant global vaccination attempt in history.
  3. Indonesia has initiated one of the world’s biggest immunization programs, aiming to vaccinate 181.5 million citizens in a period of 15 months. This equates to two-thirds of its population.
  4. COVID-19 vaccines have been requested by the Indonesian government from several companies as well as through the COVAX initiative.
  5. Indonesia has been included in COVAX’s Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) group. The AMC ensures that 20% of the country’s most vulnerable population will have access to COVID-19 vaccines by the close of 2021.
  6. There is a concern about logistical difficulties hindering COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Indonesia. COVID-19 vaccines would have to be transported from the country’s capital of Jakarta to more than 10,000 health centers throughout Indonesia. Some of these facilities are in remote locations and have limitations in terms of logistics, infrastructure, storage and other essential resources.
  7. Vaccine storage capabilities in Indonesia present another challenge as there are specific temperature requirements in order to preserve the effectiveness of the vaccines.
  8. Indonesian people have been open to child immunization, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about vaccine hesitancy. There are concerns about whether such vaccines would be considered halal as Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim. Other fears stem from misinformation and misconceptions about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines.
  9. Indonesia aims to prioritize health workers, police officers, teachers and other civil officials as it implements its COVID-19 vaccination program. The population younger than 60 will be next in line as Indonesia’s approach does not prioritize the elderly. The logic behind this is by slowing the spread in younger people, the elderly will be protected from getting COVID-19 via close relatives. This is because many households are intergenerational, which means separating the old from the young is nearly impossible.
  10. To improve vaccine equity, the COVID-19 vaccine campaign is using live tracking systems to register vaccine recipients, monitor COVID-19 exposure and easily spot gaps and issues.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Indonesia is the first step to COVID-19 recovery for both the people and the economy. With immunity, the strain on Indonesia’s healthcare system and resources will hopefully be alleviated. With economic recovery, the pandemic-induced unemployment rate will go down and businesses will strengthen, contributing to overall poverty reduction in Indonesia.

Mary McLean
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in air quality as lockdowns and public health restrictions have led to improved quality in many areas. Additionally, research has found a link between poor air quality and poor COVID-19 outcomes. The decline in pollution will be only temporary, and in many areas was actually smaller than scientists anticipated.

The impacts of poor air quality on global health beyond COVID-19 are numerous. However, curbing emissions and improving quality where it is already poor are huge undertakings. Nonetheless, looking at those living in urban areas where quality is monitored, more than 80% of people are experiencing air pollution in excess of the limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). This makes air quality a pivotal global health issue.

Another important factor in addressing this issue is the distribution of the negative effects of poor air quality. In other words, the development of any program or policy interventions ought to consider the inequitable distribution of those effects. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that while wealthier people tend to be responsible for the majority of air pollutants, those living in impoverished areas disproportionately experience the harmful effects of those pollutants.

A. What Compromises Air Quality

There are two main categories of air pollutants: those naturally occurring and those human-made. While dust storms and wildfires can introduce harmful particulate matter, there are also numerous sources of pollution driven by human activities. These include automobiles, certain types of power plants, oil refineries and more. In addition to particulate matter, other pollutants that adversely affect health include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Finding new yet affordable ways to decrease the pollutants we release into the air is challenging but not insurmountable. Putting this into perspective, 90% of people around the world are breathing unclean air according to WHO guidelines.

B. What Poor Quality Air Does to Our Health

Beyond the link between air pollution and poor COVID-19 outcomes, research also shows the negative impact air pollution has on the risk of stroke and heart disease, certain types of cancer, lung infections and diseases and even mental health. Furthermore, both air quality and environmental quality tend to be worse in areas of the world already comparatively disadvantaged.

According to research on the effectiveness of European climate and pollution policies, the number of people prematurely dying after exposure to fine particulate matter pollution decreased by approximately 60,000 between 2018 and 2019. Better yet, between 2010 and 2020, there was a 54% drop in premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide pollution. Despite these positive outcomes, they also demonstrate the extent of the damage airborne pollutants can do to human health.

C. What Has Proven Successful in Protecting Air Quality

Like health policy progress, innovations in air quality programs and policies often start at the local government level. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cities around the world are implementing ultra-low and zero-emission urban access zones, deploying hundreds of thousands of electric buses, and learning from their own successes in moving to clean municipal transportation in order to teach other cities to do the same.

The EDF notes the importance of gathering detailed data on air quality. This data allows organizations to identify communities disproportionately affected by pollution and develop targeted approaches to protecting and improving air quality. This type of data can help localities not only measure levels of pollutants over time but pinpoint hotspots. Hotspots include, for example, those caused by construction sites and manufacturing facilities. The need for this type of data is worldwide, but developing nations are in particular need of the tools necessary for thorough air quality monitoring.

Highlighting the successes experienced in air pollutant reduction efforts in wealthier counties may seem counterintuitive given the importance of addressing inequalities across the world. Still, they also represent numerous lessons for developing cities and countries to learn. The negative experiences of areas already developed have yielded data, technology and sample policies from which leaders worldwide can draw. Moving forward, it is essential that organizations and leaders around the world prioritize improving air quality.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Pixabay

The Top 5 Health Tech Companies in SpainThe world of health technology has been growing exponentially in the last decade and continues to grow, especially with the novel coronavirus still affecting the world. One of the most prominent locations for health technology is in Spain. The industry has a large quantity of health tech company startups in Spain; high-quality companies are making new drug discoveries for treatments and creating virtual therapies that can help those in impoverished areas receive the medical care they need. Here are the top five health tech companies making strides in Spain.

The Top 5 Health Tech Companies in Spain

  1. Elma Care is an app that combines comprehensive health insurance with remote medical consultations. This great new resource emerged in Barcelona, Spain, in 2017. Elma Care is one of the top five health tech companies in Spain because the app keeps all of a patient’s medical information in one place, allows consultation with primary care physicians remotely and offers tools like preventative medicine plans to help people access healthcare with more ease and efficiency. All of this is possible from the comfort and safety of the home, allowing for social distancing during the current global pandemic.
  2. Devicare is a specialty biotech company that focuses on chronic diseases. The company, founded in Barcelona, Spain, strives to develop solutions for the treatment process of chronic diseases. The company also offers a mentoring service with a team of experts and nursing staff. Often, chronic diseases involve a multitude of doctor visits and, in many cases, few answers. However, Devicare offers a cheaper and easier way of treating chronic diseases.
  3. Savana Medica provides a platform in which the clinical data for patients from healthcare organizations can be managed. EHRead, a form of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, technology, can obtain valuable health information that aids medical professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. It is one of the top five health tech companies in Spain because this technology fosters quick and efficient access to records, which can help doctors understand a patient’s history of disease and illness.
  4. Genomcore is a company that has created an interface that stores a patient’s genetic information. Founded in 2015 in Barcelona, Spain, the platform that Genomcore provides for patient information can be efficiently shared with medical professionals when necessary. Genomcore helps foster more personalized treatment for patients and consequently the possibility of faster recovery from illness.
  5. Mediktor was founded in 2011 but has made a new name for itself due to increased use during the pandemic. Mediktor is an app that gives symptom assessments to patients via their own personal devices before even seeing a medical professional. In March 2020, the company released the COVID-19 symptom checker. With Mediktor, people were able to determine, with great accuracy, whether or not they needed to see a medical professional in relation to COVID-19 symptoms.

The top five health tech companies in Spain are instrumental to the world of healthcare today. While many people have restricted access to needed medical attention, these new technologies can change that.

– Grace Aprahamian
Photo: Flickr

Tibetan WomenAs part of a marginalized sovereign state in East Asia, the people of Tibet have endured immense social, economic and religious challenges within their cultural community due to the external pressures of neighboring countries. Hailing from the mountain territories that skirt the peaks of Everest, the inhabitants of Tibet have long-held traditions of national pride and spiritual independence. Within Tibet, gender equality and health play a crucial role in the development of Tibetan women in society.

Economic Progress in Tibet

Despite the territorial and governmental tensions that mark contemporary Tibetan life, the small yet mighty community has progressed immensely in terms of overall socioeconomic well-being and universal rights for local citizens. Chief among the recent improvements in Tibet is the notable reduction of the poverty rate. In just four years, the poverty rate descended to one-fifth of its initial percentage, currently stabilized at almost 6%. International aid projects and development efforts have all helped to strengthen the Tibetan economy and improve the quality of life.

The Place of Tibetan Women in Exiled Society

Although the plight of Tibetan countrymen against Chinese occupation has received wide recognition, Tibetan women frequently experience neglect in public discourse. The women of Tibet have had to navigate a gender system that is fairly fluid yet rigid in its intricate pattern of sexuality, duty and societal standing. All of these factors tie into the physical and emotional well-being of women.

Tibetan women are free to attend school if they have the material means to do so and Buddhist nuns have permission to pursue the same level of higher education as monks, thanks to the advocacy of the Dalai Lama for Tibetan gender equality. However, Tibetan society still views women as part of the less favorable gender.

According to an interview by international journalist Cornelius Lundsgaard, parliamentary leader Tenzin Dhardon Sharling is one of the few women that holds a leadership position within the Tibetan government, serving both the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the Tibetan Women’s Association. During her interview with Lundsgaard, Sharling comments on the manner in which gender roles affect the structure of household responsibilities. Sharling stresses that “there is more of a need for basic, sustainable projects.” Essential needs such as healthcare, access to food and education are all crucial for gender equality.

Tibetan Women’s Health

Maternal and public health are the most immediate priorities for equalized health among Tibetan women. Unfortunately, the maternal mortality rate is exceedingly high in comparison to the rate in other nations. In comparison to the national average, Tibetan mothers are five times more likely to die during childbirth. Given how dire the situation is, it is clear that Tibet’s healthcare system has several gender-related deficiencies that require addressing.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of obstetric clinics in Tibet meets the minimum amount to serve the population. However, based on the occurrence of maternal mortality, it is evident that a larger number of centers would be beneficial. Part of the discrepancy in women’s healthcare lies in the perceived cultural differences between men and women. Although women are active participants in movements for political change and have access to higher education, most Tibetan households still divide domestic practices along gender lines.

Tibetan households reaffirm the patriarchal principles that exist in certain Buddhist teachings. Thus, investing in Tibetan gender equality and women’s clinics may not appear as valuable to male members of the community. Leaders need to reevaluate the patriarchal attitude that is prevalent in society. This will help ensure that resources for women receive adequate funding.

The Future of Tibetan Women

In spite of the gender imbalances, the region has made considerable progress to improve equality. The Tibetan Women’s Association continues to strive for women’s empowerment. The Central Tibetan Administration has held workshops on how to address gender concerns and prevent discrimination. Furthermore, the rise of female leaders like Tenzin Dhardon Sharling will bring women’s rights and political representation to the forefront. As Tibetan women continue to advance in society and serve as health practitioners and doctors, equal representation is becoming a reality in the sphere of Tibetan public health. With the growth of the gender equality movement, the healthcare system will be one step closer to addressing the needs of Tibetan women.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

COPE NepalCOPE Nepal is a youth-led organization that collects and analyzes information about COVID-19 in Nepal to help coordinate efforts to send resources to Nepalese communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

COVID-19 in Nepal

There is no country that has not felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal included. The first case of COVID-19 in Nepal was detected on January 23, 2020, and the first case of COVID-19 that was locally transmitted was detected nearly two months later on April 4, 2020. On March 9, 2021, the country’s total COVID-19 case count reached 274,869 and total deaths reached 3,012.

Due to an inadequate healthcare system, COVID-19 is particularly concerning in a developing country such as Nepal. After the detection of the first local transmission, Nepal took significant steps to limit COVID-19 transmission. However, difficulties arose due to cases with unknown origins and overwhelmed quarantine centers. Self-isolation became the only option, which is harder for the Nepalese government to regulate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative effect on Nepal’s economy. In the last fiscal year, Nepal’s economy contracted for the first time in 40 years. Tourists were not allowed to climb the country’s famous peaks due to COVID-19 restrictions, hurting an economy that is highly dependent on tourism. Furthermore, as a result of school closures and other factors, child marriage is on the rise in Nepal, threatening to reverse progress made toward keeping girls in school.

COPE Nepal

As Nepalese colleges and universities transitioned to remote learning and many young adults found themselves in a state of uncertainty, they embraced creativity and innovation. COPE Nepal is an organization that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of university students from data analytics, branding and communications backgrounds created COPE Nepal with the goal of collecting, presenting and disseminating data about COVID-19 in visual formats. According to the co-founder of COPE Nepal, Anup Satyal, the COVID-19 lockdown opened up more opportunities to make a meaningful impact in Nepal.

COPE Nepal’s Strategy

COPE Nepal’s strategy consists of four parts which are outlined in the acronym COPE:

  • Coordinate efforts and responses with local government and NGOs
  • Operationalize and allocate resources
  • Personalize the COVID-19 response to each location
  • Evaluate strategies and results on a daily basis

COPE Nepal has published a total of four reports showing the progression of COVID-19 in Nepal in a way that is easily understood by policymakers and average people. These reports are also easily accessible on the humanitarian information portal ReliefWeb.

On Instagram, COPE Nepal posted calls for individuals to share their accounts of the conditions in government quarantine facilities. Its Instagram also includes graphics and data from the four published reports and information about COVID-19 safety such as how to properly dispose of personal protective equipment (PPE).

A group of talented Nepalese university students started COPE Nepal out of a desire to help their country better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Nepal transitions out of lockdown, COPE Nepal’s data collection and dissemination is important to ensure vulnerable populations are sufficiently protected from COVID-19.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Female Empowerment in PoliticsThe high rate of preventable maternal mortality rates in developing countries continues to be a cause of concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal mortality “as the death of a woman from pregnancy-related causes during pregnancy or within 42 days of pregnancy.” Maternal mortality occurs almost entirely (99%) in low-income countries. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of impoverished countries estimates 239 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate is 12 per 100,000 in high-income countries. Research shows that female empowerment in politics links to reduced maternal mortality rates.

Reasons for High Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries

Female Representation in Government

Global female representation in government has increased to more than 20% while maternal mortality has declined by 44% since 1990. Is this a cause-and-effect scenario or merely coincidence? A recent study titled, “Maternal Mortality and Women’s Political Participation” offers data to support that it is not just happenstance and that female empowerment in politics has a direct effect on maternal mortality levels.

In 2020, female participation in parliament reached 24.9% globally. One reason for the rise in women’s representation in government is the fact that several countries are adopting gender quotas. Gender quotas secure a number of seats in government for women. At least 130 countries have adopted gender quotas and have an average of 26.9% female representation. Countries that have implemented quotas have seen maternal mortality decline at an accelerated rate. Estimates have determined that gender quota application results in an average of a 9-12% drop in maternal mortality.

Female Policymakers Prioritize Women’s Health

Health is a vital contributing factor in empowering women. Women statistically prioritize policies aimed at improving female conditions at a higher rate than their male counterparts. These policies often target issues such as education, child marriage and maternal health. Countries with gender quotas in place show an estimated 8-11% rise in “skilled birth attendance” and a 6-11% rise in the use of prenatal care.

A paper that Cambridge University published in 2016 asserted that an increase of only 1% in women’s representation in government resulted in five fewer maternal deaths and 80 fewer infant deaths out of 100,000 live births. These studies and statistics conclude that women’s participation in legislatures improves the health of its female constituents.

Eradicating Maternal Mortality

Female empowerment in politics contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals, which the U.N. established, include reducing maternal mortality (SDG 3.1) and increasing the number of women in government (SDG 5.5). These goals are complementary to each other. By working toward SDG 5.5, which is to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life,” it is reasonable to conclude that the world could achieve, SDG 3.1, which is to “reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births” by 2030, in tandem.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Global COVID-19 Relief
Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners in Health is setting an example for an effective and compassionate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a global nonprofit organization that has been fighting for access to quality healthcare. The organization has catered to low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) since 1987. It does a good job of supplying strong on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief.

The Way Partners in Health Works

Partners in Health has developed on-the-ground networks of local healthcare professionals, community workers, facilities and government partners. These networks are poising Partners in Health to support strong on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief. They are also challenging the traditional “control over care” that LMICs traditionally use to combat pandemics.

Dr. Paul Farmer is chief strategist and chair of the Partners in Health board of trustees and recently won the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture for his impact at the intersection of global health and human rights and his leadership in advocacy for a global COVID-19 response that is humane as well as effective. Farmer is chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s chief of Division of Global Health Equity, a physician and anthropologist.

Replacing “Control Over Care” with “Global Equity”

Farmer feels that the global health arena needs to overhaul the dominant “control over care” approach, which focuses on containment and isolation during epidemic outbreaks. The COVID-19 response has heavily emphasized isolation and social distancing more than rapid testing and treatment. In a recent Forbes interview, Farmer noted that LMICs lacked ventilators and oxygen masks for treatment during the onset of the pandemic. Instead, Farmer advocates “global health equity” so everyone has access to trained staff, medicines, supplies, appropriate facilities and best practices.

In Rwanda, Partners in Health supports community health workers who do contact tracing and accompany sick people. Farmer feels that the Partners in Health COVID-19 response in Rwanda has been stronger than the United States’ response as the U.S. does not utilize community health workers in the same way.

Investment in Local Health Systems

The Partners in Health COVID-19 response is succeeding. This is because Partners in Health has already deeply invested in the local health systems of the 11 countries it supports. In each country, Partners in Health focuses on systems building through training strong medical staff. It also focuses on securing facilities with electricity, running water and ample space. From there, Partners in Health works very closely with local governments to implement universally shared best practices to ascertain quality care. Partners in Health employs community health workers to help community members access to care. It employs 18,000 staff with 99% from countries served by Partners in Health. It also supports at least 12,000 community workers who make more than 800,000 annual home visits to patients and families.

The Partners in Health COVID-19 response includes testing and contact tracing. It also includes free care and treatment for all COVID-19 patients at all Partners in Health-supported health facilities. The Partners in Health COVID-19 response includes assisting local governments by providing personal protective equipment (PPE). It also includes training in infection protection and control measures. Mobilizing community health workers is a third facet of the Partners in Health response to the pandemic. Partners in Health’s extensive experience with infectious disease outbreaks in several countries has informed it significantly. The organization supports the “People’s Vaccine” and COVAX global movements for free and readily accessible COVID-19 vaccines. Two examples of Partners in Health’s COVID-19 response include the building of a quarantine center in Liberia and an initiative to aid disadvantaged girls in both Rwanda and Haiti.

Partners in Health Liberia’s Quarantine Center

Partners in Health Liberia opened a 26-bed quarantine center in the coastal city of Harper in April 2020. It accomplished this by working with Liberia’s health ministry and other local health partners. The center provides medical and psychosocial services 24/7. It includes dignified care amenities such as hand-washing stations and gender-friendly washrooms. It also includes appropriate medical equipment such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation monitors. This is a great example of providing more on-the-ground global COVID-19 relief.

Partners in Health Haiti Supports Teens Coping with Emotional Stress

The Partners in Health Women and Girls Initiative (WGI) offers a spectrum of activities. This includes drawing, yoga and guided meditation in Haitian Creole for teens overwhelmed with COVID-induced stress. The organization is also raising funds to provide each of the 80 Port-Au-Prince WGI participants with internet access and solar lamps. The resources will help them continue their studies during COVID-19 lockdowns. Partners in Health established WGI in 2008 to empower disadvantaged girls in both Haiti and Rwanda.

The world is beginning to grapple with the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Farmer and Partners in Health will play an important role in ascertaining that LMICs receive them too. “[COVID-19] is a sharp reminder that everyone should be concerned with making vaccines available, regardless of ability to pay, the country in which you happen to be born or live, or any of the other criteria that have long been abused to deny equitable access to the fruits of modern science,” he said.

Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

 Address Neglected Tropical DiseasesOn November 12, 2020, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a bold set of plans to address the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) throughout the next decade. With this vote, the WHO endorsed a “road map” written by the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases team to address neglected tropical diseases in the world’s most vulnerable regions. The decade-long project aims to establish global programs with international partners, stakeholders and private organizations. These partnerships will work to accomplish an ambitious set of goals that will end the spread of certain neglected tropical diseases and improve the quality of human life in regions susceptible to neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)

Neglected tropical diseases are commonly defined by global health organizations such as the WHO and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as a group of diseases that primarily affect those living in tropical and subtropical climates and disproportionately spread in remote areas or regions afflicted by poverty. Among the 20 diseases that the WHO categorizes as neglected tropical diseases are dengue, rabies, leprosy, intestinal worm and sleeping sickness.

Tropical and subtropical regions include Central America and the northern half of South America in the Western Hemisphere, most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many of the countries in this range are developing or impoverished nations. A lack of development and healthcare infrastructure in nations that lie in tropical regions, such as lack of access to clean water and health education, creates a more fertile breeding ground for the spread of dangerous diseases.

The reason that these diseases are considered “neglected” is that regions where neglected tropical diseases cause the most damage are populated by people with little political power or voice, a result of widespread poverty, location and other socioeconomic factors. As such, the spread of these diseases goes largely unnoticed and there is little incentive at the international level to take measures to combat these ailments. Though NTDs do not receive high-profile attention in the larger medical community, the WHO estimates that more than one billion people are affected by NTDs. The WHO sees the urgency to address neglected tropical diseases.

WHO’s 2021-2030 Road Map

The WHO outlined a set of “overarching global targets” that it will pursue over the course of the next decade in work with foreign governments, community organizations and NGOs. These overarching goals, to be accomplished through achieving a number of “cross-cutting targets” are the primary effects the WHO hopes to achieve by 2030:

  1. Reduce number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 90%. To attain a 90% reduction rate of those requiring treatment for neglected tropical diseases, the WHO altered its approach to disease treatment from a vertical, single disease eradication method to a horizontal, cooperative effort across several countries. This would require 100% access to water supply, greater international investment in healthcare and action at the federal level to collect and report data on infection.
  2. Eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries. There are a number of neglected tropical diseases that the WHO lists as “targeted for elimination”: human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy and onchocerciasis. In the WHO’s road map, elimination of a disease means complete interruption of transmission, effectively stopping a disease’s spread. For eliminating diseases such as leprosy, the WHO hopes to assist 40 countries to adopt epidermal health strategies in their healthcare systems.
  3. Completely eradicate two NTDs. The two diseases listed as “targeted for eradication” by the WHO are yaws, a chronic skin condition, and dracunculiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms in unclean water. Both diseases are, according to the WHO, either easily treatable or on the verge of eradication. Dracunculiasis, for which there is currently no vaccine or medical treatment, only affected a reported 54 people in 2019. Yaws is still endemic in 15 nations but can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.
  4. Reduce by 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTDs. The implementation of increased prevention, intervention and treatment can increase the quality of human life in tropical and subtropical countries. This final overarching goal aims to create nationwide efforts to alleviate or eliminate the chronic symptoms of those infected with neglected tropical diseases as well as prevent the further spread of debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

Ending Neglected Diseases

To address neglected tropical diseases, the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the WHO’s road map will require a multilateral and thorough implementation as well as cooperation and leadership from each of the partner countries affected. The WHO seeks to encourage each tropical and subtropical nation to take ownership of their healthcare programs, which will create a sustainable, international network to strengthen global health in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. Putting the fight against neglected tropical diseases in the spotlight as well as dedicating time and resources to taking on these diseases, can remove the “neglected” from neglected tropical diseases and put the global community on a course toward eradicating these diseases.

– Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr