Myths in Mozambique
Along the Indian Ocean lies a southeastern African country called Mozambique. At nearly 800,000 square kilometers, the country is almost twice the size of California. With this size comes great diversities of habitat and life. Many of the country’s 5,500 plant, 220 mammal and 690 bird species live nowhere else in the world.

Yet despite its richness in resources and biodiversity, Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. Of the over 25 million people who reside in Mozambique, nearly 60 percent make less than $1.25 per day. The country also faces education challenges, with an adult literacy rate of just over 50 percent.

Unfortunately, one of Mozambique’s worst problems is the prevalence of HIV. Within the country’s borders, nearly 1.5 million people are estimated to live with HIV. Over 100,000 of those affected are believed to be under the age of 15.

These staggering numbers are largely the result of misinformation, gray areas and health myths about proper medical treatment and disease prevention. Clearly, the health myths in Mozambique need to be addressed with public health education. In that interest, many organizations have implemented innovative medical and education programs.

In October 2015, UNICEF launched a text-messaging-based program called SMS BIZ to confront health myths in Mozambique. This program was created to provide people aged 10 to 24 with reproductive health counseling services.

By allowing young adults to ask questions, talk about what is happening in their communities and gain critical information, SMS BIZ hopes to create educated communities armed with facts that allow them to reduce the occurrence of HIV in Mozambique.

By offering weekly discussion questions, SMS BIZ can assess the effectiveness of health services in specific communities. When subscribers answer a discussion question, SMS BIZ collects data regarding their gender, age and area. If surveys reveal that a community lacks knowledge about a specific reproductive health or HIV prevention issue, UNICEF can target the community and help bridge the knowledge gap with constructive feedback.

Services such as SMS BIZ by UNICEF are critical in dispelling health myths in Mozambique. Unwanted pregnancies and HIV contraction often occur when people lack education about reproductive health. Fortunately, over 41,000 people in Mozambique are subscribed to SMS BIZ, and more are joining every day.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr

GaviThe Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) is a global organization whose goal is to create equal access to vaccines for children living in the word’s poorest countries. Gavi’s new country portal makes it easier for countries to apply for, report on, renew support and keep track of collaboration to make vaccines work and protect people’s health.

Documents are accessible for updates at any time, proving convenient for managing and viewing the latest information with partners.

Gavi’s New Country Portal

Before the creation of Gavi’s new country portal, processing important information between certain health ministries, representatives and vaccine manufacturers could take up to 13 months. “With the Country Portal, we expect to improve this time by 25 percent by 2017. This means we can get life-saving vaccines to children faster,” explains David Nix, Gavi’s Chief Knowledge Officer.

Equally helpful, the portal is user-friendly with guidelines in English, French, Spanish and Russian, the main languages of Gavi-supported countries, making the application process for vaccines much more efficient.

There is great value in vaccination; regular vaccines protect people’s overall health, as well as their incomes and savings. Healthier communities play a large role in promoting economic growth, saving up to $6 billion on health treatment costs.

Children and Vaccination

Children who avoid getting sick do better in school because they are able to attend, understand concepts and perform well on assessments, all of which contribute to better employment in the future. It goes without saying that more often than not, preventing diseases is a lot easier than treating them and spares individuals any additional struggles.

In the past, the cost of vaccines and immunizations has been a hindrance to millions of children living in poorer countries. New life-saving vaccines failed to reach children in developing countries where they were needed the most.

In January 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $750 million five-year pledge funded Gavi as a new approach to the global problem. Gavi’s public-private partnership brings together UN agencies and governments to improve childhood immunization coverage and make vaccines more affordable globally.

An Organization Making Change

Gavi has already produced remarkable results. By 2015, the development model served 500 million additional children since its creation and prevented more than seven million deaths. Between 2016 and 2020, Gavi sets to extend care to an additional 300 million children.

Gavi’s new country portal and humanitarian approach have yielded effective methods for improving global health and providing assistance to the world’s poor. The hope is that as the number of vaccinated children increases, the rate of disease will significantly decline.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in HaitiThe water quality in Haiti is in desperate need of improvement. The World Bank hopes to increase access to clean water because “[it] not only saves lives, but [it] also [helps] reduce poverty and improve the livelihood opportunities of these communities,”  reports Mary Barton-Dock of the World Bank Special Envoy.

The lack of proper sanitation and unsafe water quality in Haiti fosters the spread of disease. For example, a cholera epidemic ensued after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and 8,700 lives have been lost since. Although diagnosed cases of cholera have decreased, heavy rains in the early months of 2015 brought a surge of new cases.

Stand pipes or water points with hand pumps are the main systems used for water transportation in Haiti. Due to lack of funding, many of these water systems are no longer in service. Thankfully, the World Bank found a way to improve the situation by funding a program located in the southern region of Haiti. This global organization built professional operators whose main purpose is to maintain many of the water supply systems.

Over 60,000 people have benefited from these system improvements. The program also helped train community health workers and medical personnel, as well as strengthening the country by making it more self-sustaining.

The Board of Directors of the World Bank also authorized a $50 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA). “The Sustainable Rural and Small Towns Water and Sanitation project aims to save lives by preventing cholera and waterborne diseases in high prevalence zones, and strengthen the capacity of local agencies to deliver water and sanitation services in rural areas and small towns.” This grant will help nearly 300,000 people gain access to potable water and proper sanitation.

This project will also be linked to a ten-year, government-supported Cholera Elimination Plan. This long-term plan will save thousands of Haitian kids from waterborne, disease-related deaths. Benito Dumay, the Director General of the National Water and Sanitation Directorate, understands how essential healthy water quality is for Haiti, and is determined for the project to succeed.

Water is a catalyst for life, and now thousands of Haitians will be able to access this life-saving liquid for the first time. The World Bank reached out to the U.N., the U.N.’s development partners and the Haitian Government to collectively discuss the financing gap and what they learned about fighting cholera.

The Borgen Project has also done a great deal of work at the political level when it comes to advocating for clean water and sanitation. This nonprofit helped build support for the Water for the World Act. The organization also met with hundreds of Congressional offices, equating to 410 meetings, to discuss activism regarding water-quality programs.

Between 2009 and 2014, The Borgen Project helped mobilize thousands of Americans to email and call their congressional leaders in support of the Water for the World legislation. The bill was passed in December 2014, and millions of people gained first-time access to potable water and appropriate sanitation.

As numerous organizations fight the battle for water quality in Haiti and around the world, their tremendous progress makes the future of water quality that much clearer.

Terry J. Halloran

Photo: Flickr

Low-Cost Diagnostic ToolsWhen health clinics are a two-day excursion away, diagnosis and early detection are crucial. While it is estimated that the practice of diagnostics comprises only three to five percent of healthcare spending, it impacts about 70 percent of healthcare decisions, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry. Therefore, investing in low-cost diagnostic tools has the potential to drastically impact the prevention and treatment of the leading causes of death in the developing world.

Diagnostics For All, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, strives to create innovative, point-of-care, low-cost diagnostic tools specifically designed for those that live in “resource-poor” communities. Among their research endeavors, Diagnostics For All has developed a paper-based diagnostic tool the size of a fingernail that can be used to diagnose a myriad of diseases including tuberculosis and diabetes.

Dr. George Whitesides, co-founder of Diagnostics For All, describes the paper microfluidic tool as a more advanced, quantitative version of a pregnancy test in a 2009 Boston TED Talk. The paper chip is used to wick away fluid such as urine and changes color depending on the micronutrients being tested.

Next, the idea is to have the user take a picture of the color-developed paper “microchip” and send it to a laboratory for analysis. This technology has the potential to eliminate the need to send doctors to these developing regions, lowers the risk of disease transmission that can occur when using “sharps” such as needles and can be inexpensively repeated various times for efficacy.

Why choose paper over other materials? “One reason for using paper is that it’s everywhere. We have made these kinds of devices using napkins and toilet paper and wraps, and all kinds of stuff,” says Whitesides. “So, the production capability is there. The second is, you can put lots and lots of tests in a very small place.”

Although paper is an economical resource, it would cost an estimated $800 to fund a single printer that is used to embed wax reading-strips into the chip to complete the device. Even then, the wax printer pays for itself when considering its ability to create 10 million tests per year if it ran 24 hours a day—each chip costing a mere five cents.

Cornell University’s Interaction Design Lab is currently developing a low cost diagnostic tool called Nutriphone. Nutriphone is a smartphone application and micronutrient testing device. Users add a dab of blood to a test strip that’s then inserted into a custom phone accessory which triggers the phone’s camera to take a photograph of the test strip. The Nutriphone app then analyzes the blood results to provide accurate health markers such as testing Vitamin B12—low levels of which may indicate anemia.

However, the main drawback of both Whitesides’ paper microfluidic chip and the Nutriphone app is cellular access in impoverished regions. While the spread of cellular technology is increasing in the developing world, 10 percent of the world population still lacks access to basic voice and text services, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

If increasing access to mobile phones in tandem with funding for the development and distribution of low-cost diagnostic tools were prioritized, the potential to bring DIY-medical testing to underprivileged communities could empower the world’s poor.

Daniela N. Sarabia

Photo: Flickr

Prevent the Zika VirusAs notorious as Ebola, the Zika virus has much of the medical field concerned with how to prevent the Zika virus from spreading.

Shortly after labelling the outbreak “a global health emergency,” WHO designed and implemented their Global Emergency Response Plan.

The plan focuses on mobilizing and coordinating with experts to aid in the surveillance of the Zika virus, its development and possibly linked disorders. It also emphasizes educating the public of the risks and proper protection measures.

Since May 2015, WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas has been closely working with affected nations. AMRO/PAHO and partner specialists were organized to assist health ministries in detecting and tracking to prevent the Zika virus from spreading. They also advise on clinical management of Zika and investigate the spikes in microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In a private, joint effort, the U.S. and Great Britain join a few nations taking the matter into their own hands.

The U.S. federal government is beginning to take action by permitting the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes, in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus.

The genetically engineered insects, containing a gene designed to kill their offspring, were developed by the British company Oxitec. The mutants have already shown effectiveness in small tests in Brazil and other countries in suppressing the populations of the mosquitoes that transmit both the Zika virus and dengue fever.

Under federal rules, genetically engineered animals are regulated as animal drugs, giving jurisdiction to the veterinary medicine division of the F.D.A.

The Zika virus was first identified in the Americas in March 2015, when an outbreak of an exanthematous illness occurred in Bahia, Brazil.

Brazil has also created their own initiatives to control mosquito populations and prevent the frequency of mosquito bites.

The Brazilian government created a task force designed to prevent the Zika virus from being transmitted for both short and long-term periods. Approximately 220,000 members from the army, navy and air force have united with 300,000 public agents and volunteers all over Brazil to exterminate breeding grounds.

Peru is also focusing on prevention. As of now, the nation only has one reported case. By fumigating areas from college campuses to bus terminals, government officials are hoping to prevent the establishment of the Zika virus inside their country. Percy Minaya, the Deputy Health Minister for Peru, visited Lima’s International Airport. Here booklets offering information on Zika prevention were handed out, as well as condoms, highlighting the important issue of sexual prevention when it comes to transmitting the virus.

Veronica Ung-Kono

An international team of researchers has developed a low-cost and portable product for detecting the Zika Virus. After using their device to test for the Zika virus in monkeys, the researchers are looking to product development as their next step.

The test is nucleic-acid based and has three steps: amplification, Zika detection, and CRISPR-Cas9-aided strain identification. Amplification is necessary because the viral load in samples such as saliva is significantly smaller than the viral load present in samples like urine.

Once the sample has been amplified, it goes into an RNA sensor called a toehold switch. The team’s research paper states that the switch can “be designed to bind and sense virtually any RNA sequence.” The RNA sensors are deployed via a paper disc that provides a sterile and abiotic environment for them. The paper changes color from yellow to purple if positive.

In the final step, the gene-editing mechanism, CRISPR-Cas9, searches the whole gene sequence for genetic markers. According to the Harvard Gazette, this step allows it to differentiate between strains of the Zika Virus.

This process improves upon previous tests which performed serum analyses that tested for the antibodies to certain viruses. In the past, this led to false positives, as the tests were unable to differentiate between the Zika Virus and close relatives like the dengue virus that share a geographical range.

Similarities between the targeted Zika Virus genomic sequences and those of the dengue virus range between 51 to 59 percent.

To ensure the accuracy of their test, Keith Pardee, a faculty member of the University of Toronto, told ResearchGate that the researchers exposed their test to low and high concentrations of the dengue virus, as well as “off-target regions of the Zika genome.” It differentiated between the target genome and everything else successfully.

All three components of the test can be freeze-dried for storage and distribution without damaging their effectiveness, which allows them to be sent to rural clinics for use. This means that even low-resource areas could have access to faster and more accurate tests for the Zika Virus. Previously, Pardee said, people needed to travel to urban areas for such accurate tests.

In an interview with ResearchGate, Pardee noted numerous potential benefits of the team’s test. It could potentially track the Zika Virus outbreak, and it would help physicians to more quickly identify and treat the infected. Physicians can also then take precautions to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: National Cancer Institute

Task Force for Global Health

Beginning in 1984 as the Task Force for Child Survival, the Task Force for Global Health started as a leading secretariat for various international health organizations such as UNICEF, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Bank. The Task Force worked alongside these global health organizations to design and improve effective child and family wellness, healthcare and survival strategies.

Thirty years later, the Task Force for Global Health has grown into a global nonprofit organization for public health. According to Forbes Magazine, the Task Force is the fourth largest nonprofit in the U.S. Headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, and under the leadership of public health expert Dr. Mark Rosenberg since 1999, the organization stands as the biggest nonprofit in Georgia since its expansion in 2013.

The Task Force focuses on three major areas: improving the efficiency of public health systems and field epidemiology, providing accessible treatment of immunizations and vaccines and eradicating neglected tropical diseases.

However, despite the Task Force’s incredible reputation and longstanding credentials, it remains largely unknown to a majority of the world. In an interview conducted by Georgia Center for Nonprofits’ (GCN) quarterly magazine, Georgia Nonprofit NOW, Rosenberg explains that keeping the Task Force under wraps was not only an intentional but effective strategy.

Rosenberg told GCN, “From the beginning, we have always tried to build coalitions, but it’s not always easy to get organizations to work together. If you want a partnership to work, our founder Bill Foege taught us, you’ve got to shine the light on your partners, and not on yourselves. We focus attention on our partners, and as a result, we are not well known in Georgia.”

The Task Force’s decision to maintain a low-key profile has resulted in high effectivity, not only as a major collaborator to some of the world’s most well-known nonprofit organizations but also as a large scale mobilizer towards peace and health care reform.

The Task Force for Global Health has managed to cover an incredible amount of ground in improving healthcare and offering accessible vaccinations and treatments to approximately 495 million people in 149 countries. The organization provides support and professional level healthcare training programs in 43 countries around the world, which results in widespread, efficient and accessible health care globally. Having formed strong partnerships with private and public healthcare providers and programs worldwide, the Task Force for Global Health has and continues to succeed in bringing about incredible reform and is changing the lives of millions of people every day.

Jenna Salisbury

Zika Virus Database

The World Health Organization (WHO) has teamed up with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to launch a Zika virus database to list and categorize all scientific studies on the Zika virus worldwide. The project is focused on helping global researchers understand and combat the virus.

The two agencies have identified and collected all investigations and research on Zika, including those that have been, or are in the process of being published and compiled them into a searchable database, according to a recent press release by the PAHO.

Experts creating the Zika virus database included the search mechanism in order to help researchers explore unknown factors about the possible relationship between Zika and congenital malformations.

The WHO declared a public emergency on Feb. 1, 2016, due to Zika’s suspected link to a range of serious health concerns, including birth defects in babies born to mothers who are infected with the virus and the development of neurological disorders in adults.

Researchers have been focused on identifying a correlation between Zika and microcephaly, a rare condition that causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads and brain damage.

Zika is a predominately mosquito-borne disease that arrived in Brazil last spring. Since then, it has spread to 34 countries and territories in the Americas. Between 3 to 4 million people could be infected with the virus by early next year, according to the WHO.

Communities affected by poverty face the most risk, as the virus is easily transmitted in crowded areas where access to sheltered air conditioned space is limited. A lack of running water and waste management combined with poor housing in urban areas also contributes to the continued spread of the virus.

The Zika virus database is part of the WHO’s wider plan to combat the disease globally through its Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan.

The strategy is currently focusing on mobilizing and coordinating partners, experts and resources to help countries provide medical care, communicate risks and proper protection measures to the affected communities. The initiative also involves fast-track research on vaccine development.

Lauren Lewis

Photo: Flickr

Malaria Research

According to the Gates Foundation, malaria continues to be a major health concern in almost 100 countries, infecting 207 million people and killing 627,000 individuals in 2012 alone. Despite an increase in malaria funding over the past several years, challenges remain in completely eradicating this disease.

However, fighting malaria is one of the Foundation’s main missions and the organization has contributed $2 billion to the cause to date. Notably, the Gates Foundation launched a multi-year strategy known as Accelerate to Zero in 2013 that focuses on making new partnerships for more efficient, affordable drugs.

In addition, this past April, the organization offered the biotechnology innovations firm Amyris an additional $5 million, in the form of a stock buyback, for its malaria research project.

Amyris is a biotechnology innovation firm whose partnership with the Gates Foundation spans roughly ten years. Replacing the relatively expensive and time-consuming method of directly extracting artemisinin from the Chinese Sweet Wormwood plant, Amyris created a new strain of Baker’s yeast microbes that produce artemisinic acid. According to the firm, the result is a “precursor of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial drug.”

With malaria research grants from the Gates Foundation and partnership with the Institute for OneWorld Health and the University of California, Berkley, the organization has since distributed the microbes to Sanofi for mass manufacture.

In 2015, the company was awarded the United Nations Global Citizen Award for this continued effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Amyris is also expected to develop faster, cheaper methods of manufacturing pharmaceuticals that otherwise require elaborate processes for extraction.

This year’s renewed grant will ensure the application of this technology and the actual reduced cost of malaria medicine.

According to John Melo, the CEO of Amyris, the firm’s goal is the complete eradication of malaria through low-cost and sustainable cures. He further stressed the importance of future cooperation between private and public sectors in battling other epidemics.

Haena Chu

Photo: Flickr

Why Thailand's Measures Against POlio are Intensified
In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that “the spread of polio is an international public health emergency.”

The poliovirus is transmitted through contaminated food and water and it multiplies in the intestine. It can also invade the nervous system and cause spinal and respiratory paralysis in one in every 200 infections. The disease is capable of causing death within hours.

On Feb. 18, Thailand stepped up its precautionary measures against polio, when Laos, a neighboring country, declared a public health emergency as a result of the virus.

The director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC) stated that “though Thailand is declared free of polio, Thais are still at risk of contracting the disease particularly in provinces close to Laos.”

In these border areas, residents are required to receive polio vaccines. Acute flaccid paralysis patients and patients from Laos in border hospitals are advised to be kept under close surveillance. According to the DDC, authorities in Laos have also rolled out two measures against polio, including residents in Laos being required to receive polio vaccines one month before leaving the country and having the vaccine administered to people planning to stay in Laos for more than one month.

The main concern for the intensified measures against polio is the spread of vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPVs) in Laos and Myanmar recently.

According to authorities, the VDPVs are “strains of the poliovirus that have genetically mutated from the strain contained in the oral polio vaccine.”

In April, Thailand and other countries are expected to simultaneously switch from using the trivalent oral polio vaccine, “which contains three poliovirus serotypes, to bivalent OPV in an effort to eradicate wild poliovirus type 2.”

Here, unlike the previous vaccine, when digested by the body, this one replicates in the intestinal tract, providing immunity from subsequent polio infections.

Polio has caused many disabilities and deaths around the world. Thailand is making great efforts to minimize the spread of this disease locally and subsequently helping save the lives of others from this deadly disease.

Vanessa Awanyo

Sources: BBC, Bangkok Post
Photo: Flickr