Information and stories on health topics.

How Can Golden Rice Help End World HungerDr. Gerard Barry, project leader for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is developing a type of genetically modified rice called “Golden Rice.” This rice contains the essential nutrient beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A, which is often lacking in the diets of people living in poverty. The GMO rice is referred to as “Golden” because beta-carotene produces an orange color once added to the rice. Dr. Barry and IRRI are working to address vitamin A deficiency in developing countries and hope that Golden Rice is the answer.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Barry spoke enthusiastically about engineering new types of rice pointing out that it is the staple food of a couple of billion people. His passion for the crop led to a career at IRRI and he quickly began working on Golden Rice which he explains has the potential to greatly benefit those living in impoverished conditions. IRRI hopes to distribute the GMO rice in Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the institute is located.

Vitamin A deficiency is a result of malnourishment and a limited diet. The consequences of this deficiency include tissue damage, blindness, and a weakened immune system. For those millions of people affected by vitamin A deficiency, one cup of Golden Rice a day could provide half the amount needed for a healthy diet. “This product has the potential to reduce the suffering of women and children and save lives,” said Dr. Barry. IRRI is working with nonprofit organizations to ensure the super rice reaches those who need it most. Once it has passed food and safety regulations, we will begin to see the real impact of Golden Rice.

– Mary Penn
Source: IrishCentral
Photo: Forbes

Mexico's First Midwifery SchoolIn Mexico, traditional midwifery services have been fallen steadily as women choose to have their babies in hospitals. However, many citizens who still live too far from hospitals need midwives. To meet this demand, Mexico has established its first public midwifery school, and young women are learning this ancient practice with the intent to graduate.

Guadalupe Maniero, the school’s director, explains that in Mexico, “hospitals are oversaturated, and so it’s a big problem.” Since the 2011 law that grants midwives a place among the country’s legally accepted medical professions, age-old stigmas have begun to fade. By helping to deliver babies, doctors have much more time to spend focusing on dangerous births in which the child and/or mother are in danger.

The four-year program grants its graduates certificates that allow them to practice in legitimate health centers. By interweaving longstanding cultural traditions with modern-day needs and practices, Mexico’s first midwifery school has the potential to benefit the entire country for years to come.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR

Energy Poverty Key in Healthcare DeprivationAccording to this year’s “Poor People’s Energy Outlook,” published by the NGO Practical Action, more than 1 billion people have been left with inadequate medical care because of energy poverty. The report cites such circumstances as emergency surgeries performed in the dark, lack of proper sterilization of supplies, and health centers being unable to store temperature-regulated vaccines.

The report states that over half of all health centers throughout India have no access to electricity – these centers are responsible for the health care of over 580 million people. The situation is similar throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 255 million people are serviced by healthcare facilities that lack power.

The report also highlights that even if health facilities do have access to electricity, it can be unreliable and frequently cause blackouts. In Kenya, only 25% of facilities have consistent energy services, making it extremely difficult for staff to aid patients at night, and putting emergency patients and mothers giving birth and their babies at risk. The Kenyan centers experience blackouts on an average of 6 times per month. “It can also lead to wasted vaccines, blood and medicines that require constant storage temperatures,” the report says.

Although the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), sponsored by the UN, has pushed energy access for all people by 2030, the report warns that health and education should be the top priority, not simply energy development and efficiency. The report states that the program has put too much emphasis on energy “mostly on domestic use and access for enterprise,” ignoring the critical needs of huge numbers of medical facilities and clinics.

The report also addresses the need for consistent energy access in schools, and asserts that over 291 million children throughout developing countries attend schools with no access to electricity.

The report suggests that attaining numbers on poor people’s access to energy will be much more efficient than examining solely large-scale energy development, and has proposed a new system for doing so with World Bank and UN cooperation.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Belinda Otas

Mental Illness Affected More By Poverty Than War
The citizens of Afghanistan have now weathered a 12-year war in the country and, as U.S. and as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014, a new study confirms that poverty and vulnerability are more significant to the development of mental illness and anxiety than exposure to war.

The study, focusing on war and mental health in Afghanistan, says that war is undoubtedly an identifiable precursor to mental illness, but that poverty and vulnerability are actually “stronger and probably more persistent risk factors that have not received deserved attention in policy decisions,” said Dr. Jean-Francois Trani.

The study elaborates on the origins of mental illness and political violence, saying that unemployment and lack of access to resources contribute to the absence of one’s place in a social hierarchy, which leads to mental anguish that, in turn, can cause young people to act violently towards any government or institutions of authority.

The study calls these social and cultural predetermined factors “social exclusion mechanisms,” and maintains that these factors were in place before war began, but are exacerbated by military conflict. The researchers recommend that policymakers take into account all factors of these at-risk groups to create a more stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Washington University in Saint Louis
Photo: Trends Updates

indonesian-frog
A new study led by Harvard Medical School researcher Matthew Bonds is linking an environment’s biodiversity and public health, namely its susceptibility to the spread of disease. Bonds found that countries with decreased biodiversity “will have a heavier burden of vector-borne and parasitic diseases,” an assertion which has drastic implications for public health systems worldwide.

Previously, some might have suggested that a lack of funding is the biggest roadblock to protecting people from pathogens. These new findings indicate that governments may be well-served in their quests for healthy citizens by protecting natural ecosystems. Bonds explains that “the more organisms you have out there, the more things there are that can interrupt the life cycle of disease, and the less concentration you’ll have of any vector.” When humans urbanize an area, many species are forced out of their natural habitats and end up dying off in large numbers. Pests and other disease-carrying creatures breed freely, resulting in a much greater risk of exposure for humans.

The United Nations estimates that one out of every three species on Earth faces extinction. Bonds uses this statistic to demonstrate how a country like Indonesia faces a grave threat from losing its biodiversity: given a 15% decline in this metric, the country would face a 30% larger disease burden. By elucidating biodiversity’s link to public health, Bonds demonstrates yet another area in which undamaged ecosystems provide major benefits to humans who can exist alongside natural cycles, instead of in place of them.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR
Photo: About Indo

Last Sunday at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, doctors reported that an infant in Mississippi has been cured of HIV. The baby’s mother was HIV positive, and in hopes of controlling the virus, the baby was treated with high doses of three antiretroviral drugs within 30 hours of birth. Treatment was ongoing for 18 months. Two years later, there is no trace of HIV in the child’s blood. Early intervention with antiretroviral drugs seems to be the key to this “miracle cure.”

In the world of medicine, this is groundbreaking as this child is the first to be “functionally cured” of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Emphasis is being placed on the timing of intervention rather than the particular drug or number of drugs used. Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi who treated the infant and mother, stated that the current hypothesis is that through “early aggressive therapy” they were able to prevent reservoirs or “hiding places” from being seeded with the virus. Doctors will continue to follow the unidentified baby girl’s progress but as of now, she is off of treatments and assessed by doctors as “perfectly healthy.”

In the US, 100 to 200 babies are born infected with HIV every year. Around the world, nearly one thousand babies are born infected with HIV or more than 300,000 a year. As of last Sunday, one has been cured. This is just the start of a lot of work and research that has to be done but without a doubt these findings give great hope in the possibility of a cure for HIV.

– Rafael Panlilio
Source: CNNReuters, You Tube

Students and faculty at the University of Bristol are actively making many necessary pharmaceuticals more available to people living in the developing world. The university created its’ own “equitable access policy” act in order to help create affordable medicine and drugs that will be more accessible to patients suffering curable diseases throughout the world.

Any drugs that are produced using the University of Bristol are entered into this program and the result is a giant difference in prices, making them more realistically available to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford their medicines. Hopefully, other universities will create similar policies and contribute to making needed medicine more accessible. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that limited access to medicine is responsible for about 18 million deaths every year. The ability to get needed medicine at a lower price could save lives while also allowing people in the developing world to hold on to more of their disposable income, letting that money move in and out of local economies. While some programs have already been established to provide HIV/AIDS related medication at lower prices, people suffering from other diseases have not yet been able to receive such aid.

Affordable medicine and treatment are important anywhere, but they are especially important in the developing world. More reasonably priced medicine may be able help many people who have to choose between buying their medicine or food for their family. It may be just a small step now, but if such programs spread to other universities, they could make a great impact in helping the world’s poor.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Medsin
Photo: Photo Dictionary

New Pope, New Take on Contraceptives?The beginning of this March is an important time for the Catholic Church, as Pope Benedict XVI resigns from the papacy. With the seat of St. Peter empty, what global issues will the new Pope face?

Catholics and non-Catholics alike realize that the Pope and his decisions have an influence in many areas throughout the world. The next Pope, whoever that will be, is going to inherit the Church in a time of crisis. While there is a myriad of problems to be dealt with within the Church, one issue related to international poverty will be at the forefront: the use of birth control.

Pope Benedict famously stirred up no small bit of controversy in the international aid community back in 2009 when he claimed that the use of condoms does nothing to prevent the spread of HIV and that the availability of condoms actually makes the problem worse. Around the same time, the Pope offered a rare example in which the use of condoms would be acceptable in the case of a male prostitute using one. Such comments brought about different feelings about where the Church would be going with the issue; would it stay conservative or consider altering its’ stance on condoms?

The next Pope will have an opportunity to make his own statements about birth-control and perhaps his stance may be slightly more accepting than his predecessors. It would be irrational to expect the Catholic Church to reverse its position on the issue of birth control, but it is also important to remember the relationship between overpopulation and poverty. Even the smallest bit of change could make a difference for millions and hopefully, it will start to come about with the new Pope.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: The Guardian

C. Everett Koop Passes Away at 96

C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General of the United States, died yesterday at the age of 96. He is perhaps the most recognizable figure to hold that position because of his impact in raising awareness about the then-emerging disease of AIDS. He served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush for seven years, while the AIDS/HIV epidemic became a national and international epidemic.

Concerned with healthcare all over the world, he wrote the influential book “Critical Issues In Global Health”, in 2002. It became required reading for anyone wanting to understand the complex needs of providing adequate healthcare in the 21st century, and beyond. He put together experts and professionals from around the world, from different backgrounds, to compile a comprehensive look at the challenges and tools needed for improving people’s health.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO, wrote the first chapter entitled “The Future of the World’s Health.” He states that “our first priority must be to decrease and eliminate the debilitating excess burden of disease among the poor.” Getting people out of poverty is what will lead to the greatest improvements, a critical component being the creation and distribution of low-cost/or free medications.

The book has great charts and statistics to show where progress has happened, and where efficiency can be improved. In China, it is reported that the average life expectancy had increased from 35 years old in 1949 to 70 years in 2002, infant mortality declined from 31.4 per 1000 live births to 20/1000, and maternal mortality reduced from 1500 per 100,000 live births – to 61.9/1000.

In the forward by Jimmy Carter, he says, “the miracles of science could and should be shared equally in the world,” emphasizing rising inequality and its role in the prevalence of the disease.

Though C. Everett Koop had no legal authority to set government policy, Koop described himself as “the health conscience of the country. My only influence is through moral suasion.” He improved the health of millions worldwide.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Annals, USnews.nbcnews.com

Avian Flu Outbreak in MexicoGuanajuato, a state in the center of Mexico, is proud of its agricultural sector. However, a recent outbreak of avian flu has forced the Mexican Government to slaughter nearly 500,000 fowl to prevent further damage.

Senasica, Mexico’s National Food Health, Safety, and Quality Service, has vaccinated nearly 200,000 other birds to protect them from infection. This strain of avian flu was called “highly pathogenic” by Mexican health authorities. As a result, intense inspections are being carried out in nearby areas, with experts analyzing over 2,500 recently taken samples from more than 20 farms.

Mexico has seen a few outbreaks of avian flu over the past few years. In March 2012, 22 million hens had to be slaughtered, which resulted in economic instability due to the shortage of some staple goods like chicken and eggs.

This strain of avian flu is called AH7N, a different type of the disease than the one which has received much world attention in recent years (H5N1). Senasica will continue to provide vaccinations, even for “areas with no presence of the virus in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Jake Simon

Sources: Global Post, Washington Post
Photo: HowStuffWorks