Christian Organizations Making a DifferenceMany faith-based organizations are committed to enacting humanitarian work throughout the world. Following the example of Jesus Christ, Christians commit themselves to assisting the most vulnerable populations around the globe. Historically, Christians have helped people around the world who need humanitarian aid and are often forgotten by mainstream organizations. Here are three Christian organizations making a difference to know about.

Three Christian Organizations Making A Difference

  1. Compassion International: Established in 1952, Compassion International is a Christ-centered organization whose main objective is to assist vulnerable children in need. According to its website, this organization takes a “holistic approach to child development” by assisting impoverished children in a variety of areas, from spiritual to economic development. The organization does not view child development as an instantaneous solution but rather a long-term commitment that requires perseverance. Compassion International works with “local churches in 25 countries around the world” to complete its work. It also founded the Child Sponsor Program, allowing donors to sponsor a child for $38 a month. Even such a small donation makes a huge difference in a child’s life thanks to Compassion International. Children supported by the program “are up to 75% more likely to become leaders in their communities” and around 80% are “more likely to graduate college.” In 2019, the sponsorship program connected 2.1 million children with sponsors. This hands-on assistance gives children hope for a future beyond their current circumstances.
  2. Samaritan’s Purse: Inspired by Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan, Samaritan’s Purse is committed to assisting the poor, sick and suffering around the world. The organization effects change through the broad range of ministry projects that it conducts. Specifically, through its International Crisis Response, Samaritan’s Purse assists people impacted by natural disasters. This program provides food kits and installs community filtration systems to people in need. Crucially, these filtration systems can impact up to 2,500 people, by purifying up to 10,000 gallons of water. The organization also equips these impacted communities with medical teams and transitional shelters. Individuals may work with Samaritan’s Purse through hands-on volunteering or by creating a fundraising campaign.
  3. Cure International: Founded in 1986 by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harrison, Cure International bases its organization on Jesus’ teaching that the last will be the first. The organization dedicates its work to healing children with disabilities, whose home countries often treat them as the “last.” Cure International established its first hospital in Kenya in 1996, and since then it has established a presence in 14 more countries around the world. These “hospitals have performed more than 213,800 procedures” to treat disorders, such as clubfoot and spina bifida. Anyone can contribute to support Cure International and its work by donating just $39 a month.

These three Christian organizations exemplify the Bible quote, “Faith without works is dead.” As such, these Christian organizations making a difference demonstrate the significant impact that comes from putting one’s faith into action.

Kira Lucas
Photo: Flickr

HIV in the Central African Republic

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has affected millions of people around the world for many decades. If left untreated, HIV can slowly develop into Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and leave those infected with a compromised immune system. Thousands of individuals have suffered from the disease or lost their life to it since the first reported case in the Central African Republic in 1984. The country has mobilized numerous efforts to combat the disease but still requires assistance to ensure that the citizens have adequate testing and access to medicine. Here are five important facts to know about HIV in the Central African Republic.

5 Facts About HIV in the Central African Republic

  1. Around 5,000 citizens die each year from HIV/AIDS in the Central African Republic. In 2018, more than 5,000 individuals died from AIDS-related causes and an estimated 110,000 citizens were living with illness. Though the infection rate still remains high, the efforts being made to stop the spread of HIV have been effective. In 2010, the prevalence of HIV in the Central African Republic was 5% and according to recent data acquired in 2018, the rate has decreased, with only 3.6% of the population living with the disease.
  2. HIV in the Central African Republic primarily affects homosexual men and sex workers. In the Central African Republic, the number of HIV infections are extremely high in the sex worker population, with a prevalence of 9.2%. Similarly, gay men are also at an increased risk for contracting the virus, with a prevalence of 25.4%. Though these two demographics make up a smaller portion of the nation’s population, the lack of testing and awareness affects every citizen in the Central African Republic. With the help of funding from other countries and organizations, the Central African Republic can begin to provide more medicine and diagnostic centers for individuals.
  3. ART can treat HIV yet is seldom available in every community. While there is no cure for the virus, there is a well-known therapy for slowing it down. The treatment for HIV is a multi-drug regime known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can alleviate the severity of HIV if a person begins treatment after diagnosis. While ART does not kill the virus, it stops the virus from creating DNA in the fourth phase of cell formation and slows the spread of HIV in the body. However, in remote cities like Zemio, medicine and supplies are hard to find. The prevalence of HIV is more than 12% higher in remote regions than it is in the rest of the Central African Republic. The HIV-positive residents in these areas seek comfort and support in Community Antiretroviral therapy Groups (CAGs). Some preemptive strategies for HIV-prevention include condom use, using new needles and premature testing. It is imperative that the citizens, especially those already diagnosed with HIV in the Central African Republic, have suitable access to new condoms and needles.
  4. Due to the political turmoil in the Central African Republic, testing and medicine have become inaccessible to some regions. Because of the conflict arising in the country and other surrounding areas in 2013, ransacking or closing of medical centers weakened the already struggling healthcare system. The political unrest and violence that ensued also resulted in individuals with HIV to avoid seeking treatment or to stop taking their medication. With an increase in displacement, poverty levels and closing of healthcare facilities, individuals in the Central African Republic are in dire need of trained medical staff, consistent medical treatment and more testing sites. It is imperative for the citizens living with HIV in the Central African Republic that other nations continue to increase funding for testing locations, training and medicine.
  5. Other countries and organizations are helping in numerous ways. The Central African Republic depends heavily on funding from other countries to provide treatment for its citizens, with more than 90% of the money spent on individuals with HIV coming from international sources. After the political instability faced by the country in 2013, The United Nations Refugee Agency, also known as the UNHCR, assisted the healthcare facilities in rebuilding their database and providing immediate treatment for refugees and asylum-seekers. UNICEF, another global organization, also provides technical services and financial aid for the Central African Republic. With the help of UNICEF, the country can provide more testing, ARV treatment and care for pregnant women with HIV.

HIV has been prevalent in the Central African Republic since the first case was reported in 1984. While the virus impacts many people, weakening their immune systems, organizations are stepping in to help. Outside funding and support from agencies like UNHCR and UNICEF are helping reduce the prevalence of HIV in the country. 

Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

Benefits of MushroomsMany people recognize mushrooms these days as a trending health topic, but the benefits of mushrooms reach far beyond its popularized portrayals of a healthy supplement to add to one’s morning coffee. The perspectives of several renowned scientists and organizations with focuses on international development have proven that mushrooms are substantial in their medicinal properties, disease control, agricultural and malnutrition solutions and much more.

Mushroom Medicine

Paul Stamets is a mycologist who people know for his research and advocacy of the various benefits of mushrooms. Some of his most important unearthings include a new class of antivirals and antimicrobials called Fomitopsterols which is more potent in treating flu viruses and herpes than Ribavirin is.

By working with the Bioshield Biodefense Program, Stamets confirmed that Agarikon, the longest living mushroom in the world, has anti-tubercular properties. In addition to this, Stamets worked to study the effects of turkey tail mushrooms, which can empower the immune system, on women with breast cancer suffering from impaired immune systems. His studies showed that these mushrooms can enhance natural killer cell activities in women.

Meanwhile, the Amadou mushroom is a useful source for sustainable textile innovations. Amadou can become a cellular fabric when one boils it. People can also use it to keep a fire burning for days by hollowing out the mushroom and putting embers inside.

Disease Control

Vector-borne diseases have a close association with poverty due to their large economic impact on growing populations in urban settings. As a result, they often affect some of the poorest countries.

Insecticides are becoming ineffective in Brazil due to a growing resistance in mosquitos. Many homes in Brazil require water storage tanks due to insecure water supplies. These tanks are also major breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Researchers in Brazil have discovered that using only a plastic bottle and a black cloth containing an entomopathogenic fungus can be an effective way of countering mosquitoes. The mosquitoes become attracted to the dark cloth surface and become infected with the fungus, killing the mosquito.

Stamets had another breakthrough revelation when he took the mycelium of Cordyceps without the spores and discovered that they became super attractants. One of the most significant studies involved the attraction of yellow fever mosquitos. This discovery has profound potential for disease control by steering insects from human populations, controlling diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus (WNV).

Alternative to Poaching

Poaching is a common consequence of poverty in Thailand. Freeland Foundation’s Surviving Together program encourages sustainable mushroom farming to replace poaching and illegal logging. The program leaders collect the mushrooms that the villagers cultivate and sell them at local markets. The money that comes from the mushrooms then goes into bank accounts for the farmers to save and grow their businesses.

Freeland Foundation described mushrooms as the most fitting crop choice for the villagers because it is in high demand throughout the year in Thailand. The mushroom business is providing opportunities to those who originally thought they had no alternatives.

This program provides protection to natural forests and prevents the loss of biodiversity. The families who once felt that they had no options are now contributing to saving ecosystems.

Solving Malnutrition

Recent success at Compassion, a child development center in Lomé, Togo, models how the benefits of mushrooms reach great depths. The development center had been struggling to find the definitive answer to meet all of its children’s needs. The support that the center was receiving to feed the children did not cover the abundant number experiencing malnourishment.

With the help of Critical Needs funding, the center started a mushroom farm which became a fundamental answer to resolving a crucial problem. These mushrooms provided nutrition to the children and replenished their health while remaining cost-effective and sustainable.

Thanks to the center’s mushroom farm, the children have been able to receive lunch and take-home packets each day. The center uses the remaining mushrooms to grind as an addition to a nutrient-rich porridge.

With an increase in enrollment, all the children attending the center have become a healthy weight. The center also gains advantages in funding and employment opportunities with the surplus of mushroom products that it makes and sells locally.

Anyone can easily realize and appreciate the benefits of mushrooms. However, the extent that they can make a difference for people in need around the world may go far beyond what most realize.

Amy Schlagel
Photo: Pixabay

3D Printing in Impoverished Nations
3D printing is a technology that has existed since the 1980s. Over time, additive technology has increasingly progressed where various medical applications can use it. 3D printing in impoverished nations has several benefits specifically in medicine and medical services relating to the affordability for the general populous of these nations. 3D printing for medical applications is the process of utilizing a digital blueprint or digital model, slicing the model into manageable bits and then reconstructing it with various types of materials, typically plastic. Here are three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations.

3 Examples of 3D Printing in Impoverished Nations

  1. Custom Surgical Elements: The use of 3D printing has significantly increased in the manufacturing of customized surgical elements, such as splints. Manufacturers can make these devices and components quickly at a relatively low cost, which would greatly reduce the price of sale to the consumer. The reason for the reduced cost of production compared to conventional manufacturing systems is primarily due to the additive nature of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing actually adds material onto each layer, rather than subtracting (cutting/slicing) and combining material. This results in smaller opportunities for error to occur and the wasting of fewer materials in the long run.
  2. 3D Printed Organs: Many know this particular field of 3D medical printing as bioprinting. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, bioprinting involves integrating human cells from the organ recipient into the “scaffolding” of the 3D printed organ. The scaffolding acts as the skeleton of the organ and the cells will grow and duplicate to support physiological function. Although this particular method is still in the experimental stages, there have been successful procedures performed in the past. Researchers at Wake Forest have found an effective method for bioprinting human organs; they have successfully implanted and grown skin, ears, bone, and muscle in lab animals. Further, scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can detect various frequencies, different than a biological, human ear. The researchers behind the creation of this bionic ear theorized that they could use a similar procedure for internal organs. Similar to surgical components, 3D printed organs would greatly reduce the cost of organ transplants. Additionally, it would increase the availability of organs, which are nearly impossible to find. Locating an appropriate match within a specific proximity of the patient has resulted in a global organ shortage. Whilst some have presented a solution in the form of international organ trade, WHO states that international organ trade could provide a significant health concern because of the lengthy trips the organs would experience. 3D printed organs may be a sustainable method to help impoverished nations with supply organs quickly and cheaply.
  3. Prosthetics: 3D printing in impoverished nations could also allow people to print custom prosthetics for those in need. The lack of access to current prosthetics creates a lot of obstacles for people living in impoverished nations. Creating prosthetics with 3D printing technology has the potential to provide a person the ability to accomplish basic, daily tasks in order to support a family. Not only are current prosthetics expensive, but they are also often inconvenient or they prohibit natural motion. For example, Cambodia treats a prosthetic hand as a cosmetic item, leading the majority of the population to refuse the prosthetic due to the lack of functionality. The Victoria Hand project is currently attempting to change this perspective by providing functional, 3D printed prosthetic hands to Cambodia and Nepal. The team has performed user trials, where the aim is to distribute the 3D printed hand to the general populace. Subsequently, the design will go to multiple fabrication services to maximize accessibility.

These three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations show just how important 3D printing is and will continue to be to aiding those in need. With further development, 3D printing should allow people to receive prosthetics and organ transplants more easily.

– Jacob Creswell
Photo: Wikimedia

Fake Medicine in Benin
Benin, a West African country about the size of Pennsylvania, has a tumultuous history. The site of the former Dahomey Kingdom, a kingdom that experienced rapid growth due to its involvement in the slave trade, Benin has since faced colonization, war, strife, civil unrest and a flood of pseudo-pharmaceuticals. With such struggles, a country can react in perpetuation or recovery and Benin has chosen the latter. This is most noticeable in the recent progress against fake medicine in Benin.

Fake Medicine in Benin

The origin of the issue of fake medicine in Benin likely relates to the country’s impoverished state. Benin had the 27th lowest per capita GDP as of 2017, at approximately $2,300. In terms of medical intervention, Benin has been desperate for some time now. The CIA lists the risk for Beninese citizens contracting infectious diseases as very high. The diseases responsible for the highest percentage of illnesses are bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dengue fever, malaria and meningococcal meningitis. Benin also faces struggles relating to HIV/AIDS, which resulted in 2,200 deaths in 2018.

As of 2016, the nation spent only about 4 percent of its GDP on the health sector. This lack of financing for government-sponsored health care left an opening for black market interference and fake prescription drugs quickly flooded stores and pharmacies. These drugs often have no active ingredient and do little to fight the diseases that marketing suggests they cure. Instead, they lead to a litany of new health issues, often causing ulcers and organ failure. People have linked over 100,000 deaths to fake medicine in Benin.

The Fight Against Fake Medicine

Corruption has been inherent in most of Benin’s history. The issue of fake medicine in Benin is simply another facet of the same problem. Thankfully, the country is taking steps to address the endemic nature of this devastating problem.

For all intents and purposes, the fight against fake medicine in Benin began in 2009 with the Cotonou Declaration. This declaration focused on addressing the rampant fake medicine black market at the international level, as opposed to limiting the fight to within Benin’s borders. The declaration called for a raised awareness of drug trafficking and a limiting of the freedoms that often occur for those involved. Unfortunately, not much changed following the Cotonou Declaration. Benin raised awareness, but only for a moment, and it did not take any legitimate steps to combat the issue.

True progress began with the launching of Operation Pangea 9, a government organization founded under Benin’s current president, Patrice Talon. The organization works as a task force, set on fighting the manufacturing and selling of fake medicine through raids and legislation. In 2017 alone, the organization seized over 80 tonnes of fake medicine in Benin. This serves as a sign of drastic progress. For comparison, in 2015, the organization seized only about four tonnes of contraband.

The seizures took place throughout a multitude of marketplaces in Benin, resulting in the arrest of over 100 fake medicine traders. These raids and seizures served as stage one of Operation Pangea 9’s plan to eliminate the distribution of fake medicine in Benin. It was extremely successful, yet only addressed a fraction of the issue.

After the success of the seizures, in order to prevent a lapse back into the country’s past, President Patrice Talon’s government went after the suppliers. Many knew that corruption thoroughly aided the success of the selling of fake medicine in Benin. In December 2017, the police staged a raid at the home of Mohammed Atao Hinnouho, a member of Benin’s parliament. The police seized hundreds of boxes of pseudo-pharmaceuticals and arrested Mohammed Atao Hinnouho. This raid led to the outing of a vast number of those involved in the illegal trade and sent a definitive message that no matter the sources or persons responsible, they would face justice.

Conclusion

As of 2019, the country almost entirely eradicated the issue of fake medicine in Benin. The shelves of grocery stores that once held fake medicine now stand empty, and open-air pharmaceutical markets are a thing of the past. People should take the way in which the Beninese government dealt so swiftly with this issue as an example, a sign of what is possible when a country properly focuses attention and resources. Although Benin requires more in terms of setting up a proper health care system, these advancements serve as a sign to the end of an endemic issue and should not be overlooked.

– Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Worms in Nigerian Children

Soil-Transmitted Helminths (STHs) are a type of macroparasitic nematode intestinal infection that transmits to humans through infected soil, more commonly known as worms. These worms typically infest soil when it comes into contact with infected fecal matter, and can directly find its way to a person’s mouth from one’s hands, unwashed vegetables, undercooked meat or infected water supplies. Since STHs become more prevalent with a lack of proper sanitation services, they affect impoverished and developing countries disproportionately more than already developed countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 1.5 billion people worldwide have an STH infection. In particular, worms in Nigerian children are a cause for concern.

Types of Worms

The three most common worm infections in humans are hookworms, roundworms and whipworms. Hookworms are the most infectious type since their larva can hatch in the soil and penetrate the skin of whoever comes into contact with it. Infected people with a large number of worms – typically people who go for a long time without receiving treatment – have a high level of morbidity (risk of death). Those with serious infections can suffer significant malnutrition, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, general weakness and physical impairment.

Nigeria’s Struggle

Nigeria is one of the most at-risk countries for communities suffering from STH outbreaks due to improper sanitation in many urban slums and the warm, tropical climate that worms thrive in. There is a much higher prevalence of worms in Nigerian children – especially when they are of the age to attend school. Overcrowding and improper sanitation of impoverished communities are amplified when children attend school without proper waste or washing facilities. In addition, younger children do not have a fully-developed immune system yet, creating the perfect condition for worm infections.

A study conducted in the slums of Lagos City, Nigeria concluded that the overall prevalence of worms in Nigerian children was at 86.2 percent; of these children, 39.1 percent had polyparasitism. These figures are startling and daunting, but there are effective treatments and preventative measures available. The problem is making the methods of control affordable and accessible for people in poverty.

Organizations Taking Action

Organizations are taking steps to bring proper deworming treatment and sanitation to children in Nigerian slums. The WHO has a comprehensive strategy for combatting STHs in developing countries that the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control is trying to follow. Nigeria is trying to equip school teachers with the proper training to administer worm medicine for children in slums when they attend class. This medicine would be available to school children twice a year, or as needed in some cases.  Even children that do not have worms will be able to access this medicine in order to take precautionary measures against future infection. Even though Nigeria’s infrastructure is not in the right place to make widespread and accessible sanitation a reality for low-income communities, administering affordable medicine to children is a great first step.

The problem of sanitation has fallen to international humanitarian organizations like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF has conducted talks in Nigeria to educate the general populous about the importance of sanitation and taking infectious diseases seriously. With the help of the European Union, UNICEF has also installed a WASH facility in a northern Nigerian rural community. This facility consists of a solar-powered borehole that pipes up fresh well water from the ground into a 24-liter capacity tank to store the clean water safely. With further policy development and implementation measures, these facilities can expand to cover some urban slums as well.

The case of worms in Nigerian children looks bleak at the moment, but the ball is rolling with eradicating the worm epidemic. The increased sanitation of impoverished communities and more affordable and regularly-distributed medicinal treatment can very well make the dream of taking worms out of the equation for Nigerian children a reality.

– Graham Gordon
Photo: Pixabay

postpartum hemorrhaging
In the advanced world, a postpartum hemorrhage is a very manageable and preventable condition; however, postpartum hemorrhaging is a leading cause of maternal mortality. A staggering 99 percent of all deaths resulting from postpartum hemorrhaging occur in lower income countries. Postpartum hemorrhaging is responsible for 59 percent of maternal deaths in Burkina Faso, 43 percent in Indonesia and 52 percent in the Philippines.

Why Postpartum Hemorrhaging Is Common

In these developing countries, the increased frequency of postpartum hemorrhages is due to a lack of experienced obstetricians and caregivers who can properly treat the condition. There is also a lack of access to proper medications as well as care for those medications.

Oxytocin is currently the most common drug prescribed for preventing postpartum hemorrhages. The World Health Organization recommends that oxytocin be routinely administered and actively managed; however, oxytocin must be stored and transported at two to eight degrees Celsius, two conditions of which developing countries cannot accommodate.

A Possible Solution

A rival drug has been in the works to be as efficient as oxytocin in preventing excessive bleeding post childbirth as well as be more manageable in the living conditions of developing countries. The drug is a heat-stable carbetocin. This type of drug does not need refrigeration and can maintain its efficacy for at least three years when stored at 30 degrees Celsius. These requirements are far more realistic and achievable in developing communities.

The World Health Organization conducted a comparative study between the heat-stable carbetocin and oxytocin for prevention of postpartum hemorrhages. Approximately 30,000 women were sampled and given either drug to study the effects each had on prevention. It was concluded that the heat-stable carbetocin was not inferior to oxytocin.

Saving Mothers’ Lives

With such a high rate of deaths from postpartum hemorrhaging in developing countries due to the strict requirements for oxytocin that cannot be met, the heat-stable carbetocin will drastically improve the mortality rates. The new drug will be readily available and easily managed where it was once not.

Permitting the usage of the heat-stable carbetocin has many benefits that will better developing countries in a multitude of ways. If used widely, the drug could very possibly put an end to this tragically common occurrence.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

ATM pharmacies in South Africa Cut Wait Times for Chronically Ill Patients
The suburb of Alexandra, South Africa, is now home to Africa’s first pharmacy dispensing unit. ATM pharmacies in South Africa are expected to have a profound effect on the wait time for patients and the efficiency of clinics.

Simple Solution to Improve Lives

The machine operates as seamlessly as an ATM that dispenses money and completes the transaction in as little as three minutes as opposed to hours. Also known as an “ATM pharmacy,” the unit comes as a convenience to citizens with chronic illnesses, while freeing up space in local clinics. Most importantly, people dependent on medication have another option in receiving repeat medication that does not compromise safety or effectiveness.

The new development comes from experts from nonprofit Right to Care, Right ePharmacy and the Gauteng Department of Health. Right to Care works to provide prevention, care and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as tuberculosis and cervical cancer.

Developers chose Alexandra as the first location because of its large population, burdened facilities, and level of need, Right ePharmacy managing director Fanie Hendriksz said.

The Need for ATM Pharmacies in South Africa

Innovations like ATM pharmacies in South Africa are a step toward higher-quality healthcare, making it easier for patients to be consistent with their medication schedules. One of the main target groups for this project was people with HIV in need of repeat antiretroviral medicine, as South Africa now has the world’s largest AIDS treatment program.

In addition to being overcrowded, some clinics are also understaffed. Nurses may be referred to other clinics to compensate for lack of staff. HIV/AIDS activist Bhekisisa Mazibuko broke into Kgabo clinic pharmacy to make a point about the outlandish wait times for chronic medications in Tshwane, a city not far from Johannesburg. Some patients start waiting in line as early as 3 a.m.

Mazibuko, who lives with HIV, used a brick to break the pharmacy door after it closed for the day at 4 p.m., not attending to patients who had been waiting for hours. He distributed medicine to hypertension, diabetes and HIV patients before being arrested.

A Way Forward

Patients whose conditions are stabilized are encouraged to use the pharmacy dispensing unit (PDU), although a referral from a doctor is necessary. The patient engages in a simple process of scanning their personal ID and entering a pin and speaking with a pharmacist via video correspondence.

Through this video chat, patients can be advised and directed on how to take the medication and its possible side effects. The patient then selects their medication which is robotically dispensed along with a receipt. The PDU has served more than 4,000 people and dispensed 18,000 prescription medications so far.

According to Right to Care chief executive Ian Sanne, the amount of time South Africans spend waiting in line at health facilities is quite extensive and is damaging to economic productivity. ATM pharmacies in South Africa is likely just the beginning of many healthcare innovations in Africa.

– Camille Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Hepatitis C Drugs
Three years ago, a 90% effective hepatitis C medication, called Sovaldi, was released by Gilead Sciences. A three-month round of treatment costs $84,000. Janssen Pharmaceuticals released its own drug, Simeprevir, at $66,000 per round of treatment, and other pharmaceutical companies like AbbVie and Zepatier charged similar prices as they released their own hepatitis C drugs.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, as well as other neurological problems. Worldwide, there are four times as many patients infected with hepatitis C as there are with HIV. About 150 million people live with chronic hepatitis C and 500,000 people die of hepatitis C complications every year.

Before Gilead, Janssen and other companies developed their newer, more effective medications, hepatitis C patients were treated with ribivarin and interferon, an antiviral drug and an immune-system modulator. The drugs caused fatigue, nausea and depression, and after one year of treatment, only 50% of patients were cured.

The WHO added hepatitis C drugs to their list of essential medicines, which they update every two years and some pharmaceutical companies offered deals with low-income countries. Gilead, for example, sold Sovaldi for $900 per round of treatment in Egypt in 2014.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative made a deal with an Egypt-based pharmaceutical company last spring to sell a highly effective drug combination for $300 per treatment round.

Hepatitis C is especially prevalent in Egypt, affecting over 10% of the population, because of a vaccination campaign in the 1960s and 70s where syringes were reused for multiple patients. The disease is so widespread that barbers wear gloves and use disposable razors. Hepatitis C has even been spread between family members through sharing toothbrushes and nail clippers.

However, 80% of new infections happen in medical centers; in response to these figures, UNICEF and the WHO are working with the Egyptian government to educate both clinicians and the general population about hepatitis C.

Many patients await treatment, but the Egyptian government anticipates treating 1 million people for hepatitis C in 2016. As the cost of treatment decreases and sterilization and infection control practices are improved, the presence of hepatitis C in Egypt and elsewhere will diminish.

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr

Khushi Baby
In rural Rajasthan, North India, an innovative necklace has been introduced into the health system to track a child’s vaccination history. It is helping to increase the number of children protected against diseases that can kill them in the first few years of their lives.

Approximately 1.5 million children die every year from diseases that can be prevented by vaccination and India has one of the worst immunization records in the world. Less than 60 percent of children in India are vaccinated, a number far below the World Health Organization’s target of 90 percent.

The necklace is called Khushi Baby (which means ‘happy baby’) and is a small plastic pendant on a black string. A computer chip in the pendant stores vaccination data as well as the mother’s health records.

The chip interfaces with a mobile app for community health workers. The health workers just need to tap the pendant to the back of a tablet, syncing the devices and storing the information in the chip. The Ministry of Health and other health agencies can then easily access the data.

Particularly for families that live far from cities, getting access to vaccinations can be difficult. Rural areas have fewer clinics and parents are not always aware of when or why their child might need a vaccination. “Many mothers don’t understand the importance of vaccines and choose not to take their children to immunization clinics,” says a statement on the Khushi Baby website.

With the help of the necklace, health workers no longer need to carry cumbersome records for every patient. Furthermore, the necklace allows health workers to see which vaccine the child needs and when. “Khushi Baby wants to ensure that all infants have access to informed and timely health care by owning a copy of their medical history,” said Ruchit Nagar, co-founder of Khushi Baby.

According to the BBC, Khushi Baby costs less than US$1 to make. Currently, there are around 1,500 children in the Khushi Baby system. Health workers plan to expand the program to include the 1 million people within Rajasthan’s health system.

Michelle Simon

Sources: BBC, Antara Foundation, CNN, Daily Mail
Photo: Antara