Inflammation and stories on medicine

top_global_healers_humanitarians_academics
Each year, Foreign Policy compiles a comprehensive list of the most prominent figures in various areas of global thinking–artists, decision-makers and advocates alike–honoring them for their respective accomplishments. This year, widely known names such as Edward Snowden, Rand Paul and Vladimir Putin appeared on the list, all claiming their earned places within modern day history.

Following are all the selectees from the “Healer” category, each with a sentence description – as presented on the Foreign Policy website – and a short motivation for why these people deserve to have their names on the list. Here are the top global healers:

Dr. Caroline Buckee – “for using metadata to fight disease.”

Buckee pioneered the idea of using cellphone data in order to track human movement in malaria-infested zones, thus helping understand the epidemiology of the disease. In modern day society, mobile phones are spreading across the third world, making for an efficient and easy marker. Buckee’s research, published in 2013, covers crucial data collected from over 15 million cellphones.

Anand Grover – “for going to the mat with Big Pharma.”

A human rights lawyer and United Nations affiliate, Grover won a case against the Swiss company Novartis, which was at the time attempting to patent its cancer drug Glivec for consumption in India. Thanks to Grover’s efforts, the generic version of this effective, leukemia-battling treatment can be acquired for a price 92 percent cheaper than previously marked, thus introducing affordable medication for the poorer Indian population.

Michael Faye, Paul Niehaus, Jeremy Shapiro and Rohit Wanchoo – “for trusting the poor to spend their money wisely.”

Four economists co-founded the organization GiveDirectly, which focuses on allocating funds directly to those in need. With headquarters in Kenya, GiveDirectly transfers donations received online into pre-selected, poverty-stricken households. Rather controversial in nature, this approach has so far witnessed success.

Hannah Gay, Katherine Luzuriaga and Deborah Persaud – “for bringing us closer to a cure for HIV.”

A pediatrician and two researchers who developed an aggressive treatment which, for the first time in history, managed to cure a newborn child of HIV. Their work is the basis potentially eradicating the death sentence of HIV in the future.

Homi Kharas – “for charting a path to the end of poverty.”

Lead author in a post-Millennium Development Goals regime panel, the former World Bank economist has put tremendous efforts into anti-poverty planning. Kharas and his peers are currently aiming to end extreme global poverty by 2030.

Erica Chenoweth – “for proving Gandhi right.”

Arguing for the success rate of non-violent conflict, Chenoweth has compiled a data set ranging from the years of 1945 to 2006 that examines effectiveness of various political strategies. Applying the data to current events such as the issues with Syria, she is pioneering a revolutionary approach to political issues.

Sanjay Basu and David Stuckler – “for warning that austerity can be deadly.”

Epidemiologist and physician at Stanford and political economist/epidemiologist at Oxford respectively, these two men have come together in analyzing the effects of economic rigidity on public health in recent times. Compiling large amounts of data, they published the book “The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills.” Their argument supports better funding of public health during economically severe times.

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir – “for showing how scarcity changes the way you think about everything.”

Harvard economist and Princeton psychologist, these two men co-authored the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.” Raising empathy for the poor, the book discusses the “scarcity trap,” and how not having enough resources changes the way people think.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, Managing Intellectual Property, Times Higher Education, The Washington Post, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Give Directly
Photo: World Bank

HIV_Care_in_Rwanda
In a country where just 20 years ago, genocide claimed nearly one million lives, the Rwandan government has revamped HIV treatment for the poor by reforming the standards of successful care.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are now over 7.5 million people receiving antiretroviral therapy, 150 times as many as a decade ago. Medications have become easier to manage and overall, more effective, forcing some patients to take no more than one pill each day. Also, HIV testing has become much more widely available and the virus is being detected at an earlier stage before the circumstances are too dire.

In Rwanda, many HIV patients are taking their medications as directed, medication which suppresses the virus in their bodies to the point where it is essentially non-detectable. Success here is achieved when the HIV positive individual can earn a living, support their family and care for their community no differently than uninfected individuals. Furthermore, patients who would have previously been hospitalized with severe complications of HIV are now receiving regular preventive care.

The steps forward being taken in this small country are undeniable. Compared with 54 percent of medical patients worldwide, 91 percent of Rwandan patients who require HIV medications have access to life-saving treatment. Even more encouraging, 98 percent of women undergo HIV testing during their prenatal visits. In a country with only one doctor for every 17,000 people, nurses and community health workers have been trained to provide HIV services that were before, only available from physicians. Aggressive media campaigns by the government and other international organizations remind and encourage the public to “Know Your Status” while targeted outreach programs concurrently focus on the high-risk groups.

Rwanda is one of the first sub-Saharan countries to nearly eradicate the transmission of HIV from mothers to their newborns. Due to this, the number of new HIV cases has been cut in half during the last decade, and perhaps soon, it will fulfill the dream of accomplishing an “AIDS free generation.”

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: The Atlantic, The World Bank, BWH Global Health
Photo: AIDS Health

mosquito
The early December release of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Malaria Report showed significant progress in the battle against malaria. The report announced a 51 percent reduction in the malaria death rate of children under 5 years old, and the number of children dying from preventable and treatable disease fell below half a million for the first time.

As one component of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, halting and reversing the incidence of malaria has been at the forefront of many global health initiatives — and, for a good reason.

This deadly disease threatens 3.4 billion people, disproportionately burdening children and African countries. The most common age of malarial death is just 4 years of age; sub-Saharan Africa seeing approximately 90 percent of clinical cases. Although, these two populations are the most vulnerable, combatting the disease has truly been a global effort. The WHO’s report also indicated that since 2000, “the progress made against malaria is responsible for a 20 percent reduction in child mortality and has saved nearly 3 million lives of children under 5.”

This treatable and preventable disease is costly. It is one of the biggest obstacles to ending death by saving lives through improving health, especially when many malaria-prone areas are already low on the ladder of development.

Lack of resources and finances deters people from getting tests and treatment, which ultimately results in death and hinderance of human potential that is very important in the developing world. Although malaria is endemic in more than 90 countries, it marks the number one cause of school and work days missed in sub-Saharan Africa, putting a strain on economies.

The fight to end death by mosquito bite has been a cumulative effort. Millions of people, billions of dollars and many large organizations have been taking flight. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was started in 2002, as well as the U.S. President’s Malaria in 2005 under President Bush.

Recently, President Barak Obama has accelerated Bush’s initiative, committing $1 to the Global Fund for every $2 contributed by the rest of the world. These are important investments not only for saving lives, but for improving development. Giving children the opportunity to live healthy lives is just as crucial as keeping them in school in order to promote productivity and development.

– Maris Brummel

Sources: CNN, United Nations Millennium Development Goals, John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
Photo: Giphy.com

winsenga_uganda_prenatal_care
WinSenga, a technology developed by students from Uganda’s Kampala Makerere University, has revolutionized prenatal technology in the African nation. WinSenga was named after Microsoft Windows and Sengas; Sengas are aunts or midwives who help during pregnancy. The Sengas can be extremely helpful during a pregnancy and childbirth, but they can also rely on traditional practices that can harm both the mother and the child. The innovation has been supported by a $50,000 grant from Microsoft and is being built in a Microsoft-funded technology incubator at the University.

The appearance of the WinSenga is similar to that of a Pinard horn, which has been used by midwives throughout history.  The device is long and cone-shaped with a hole in the middle and a flat top in order for the midwife to place the device on the belly and listen to the fetus. The sounds of the fetus are then fed into a smartphone, which can analyze the heartbeat and recommend the best course of action.

The WinSenga is revolutionary in that it is available to anyone with a smartphone and the horn and can save thousands of fetus’ lives. The technology is also much cheaper so that clinics can accumulate its benefits. Juliet Birungi, an obstetrician in Uganda, also believes that WinSenga could be used to monitor the baby when the mother is in labor. Because Ugandan hospitals are often understaffed, the technology will allow staff to remain privy to the status of the infant. This is vital as abnormal heart rate in a fetus can be a sign of severe and life-threatening delivery complications.

Birungi stated that “just like all devices, they do not replace the need for a human being who is skilled…but this device would make their work easier, and the outcome would be much better.”

The application is set to expand into other developing nations with similar problems after its clinical trial in January of 2014.

Lienna Feleke- Eshete

Sources: WinSenga, All Africa
Photo: African App Project

chinese_redheaded_centipede_morphine
According to Medicaldaily.com, centipedes are now known to treat medical pain more effectively than morphine. Although the number of opioid painkillers has increased during recent decades, doctors have been trying to find a less complicated alternative to treat pain.

Recently, doctors have discovered that centipedes might provide that alternative. Researchers have found that some components of centipedes’ venom can act as a potent painkiller. Although it is not classified as an opiate, the centipede’s venom is just as potent as morphine but has no side effects.

The morphine used in this type of alternative medicine comes from the Chinese redheaded centipede. The Chinese redheaded centipede “paralyzes its prey by injecting venom that blocks a voltage-gated sodium channel protein.” These proteins are responsible for having an imperative role in pain transmission. The venom thus blocks pain from the body.

During the testing process, researchers injected mice with massive amounts of the centipede’s venom. After the mice were infected with the venom, they were subjected to a series of tests. The tests touched upon different areas such as thermal, chemical, and acid testing.

The results showed that the venom was most similar during the thermal and acid testing, it acted better than morphine during chemical tests. In addition, the mice showed no side effects.

As a result, the venom is undergoing a series of trials with humans. These subjects either suffer from chronic ailments or pain. According to Medicaldaily.com venom immunotherapy was better at treating a person allergic to stings than EpiPens.

Other research has shown that this type of venom can help block the proteins responsible for inflammation, thus reducing pain for sufferers of arthritis. Conclusively, centipede venom can soon be considered an alternative to morphine or other opiates.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Medical Daily, Medical News Today
Photo: Open Cage

mosquito_malaria
Throughout the course of history, there has never been a deadlier disease than malaria. Every year, an average of 300 million people are diagnosed with the disease, and on average, around 500,000 of those patients die. Infected mosquitos carry the disease, transmitting it to humans through a bite. This phenomenon—the origin of this disease—seems to stretch back to the earliest humans.

In light of the continuing deaths due to malaria, there is a cure. In fact, Jesuit missionaries in Peru discovered the cure to malaria over 400 years ago, in the early 1600s. Within the cinchona tree existed a substance called quinine, a treatment that is still used effectively in malaria cases today.

Since 1897, we have known how to prevent the disease. At that time, the British army surgeon Ronald Ross posited that mosquitos were the agents of the disease, a view divergent from previous notions of “bad air.” Simply, to protect against the disease, individuals need to protect themselves from mosquitos, particularly in tropical populations where the disease is rampant.

Yet, despite the quantity and quality of information regarding malaria, the disease continues to persist with vehemence today. In her TED Talk, Sonia Shah conjectured that there are three reasons for the failure to eradicate malaria: the complex science of the parasite that causes the disease, poverty and the challenges of providing adequate medical care in the developing world, and lastly, the lack of a cultural awareness in regards to the disease, much of which exists in the countries most affected by the disease.

Malaria poses a scientific challenge because of the complex parasite that causes the disease, one that lives half its life within a cold-blood mosquito and the other half within a warm-blooded human. Its resilience to attack—to the defenses of the human body—is multifaceted and unknowable. The parasite evades attacks and is constantly undergoing change. Thus, it is quite difficult to create a drug that works in all of the seemingly infinite stages of the parasite’s life cycle.

Malaria also creates an economic challenge for affected communities. The disease occurs most in countries with little resources. In order to protect from mosquitos, individuals need access to proper clothing and housing, resources that struggling communities often lack. Furthermore, beyond an inability to protect from the disease, poor communities often do not have adequate medical care (i.e. access to quinine) after contracting the disease.

Lastly, in these same countries where the disease takes many lives, there is often a failure to appropriately recognize malaria and the grave dangers it poses. Malaria has become a fairly routine part of existence, as its victims are numerous. Therefore, many have become desensitized to its seriousness and take minimal measures to prevent against mosquitos.

There is not an easy solution to eradicate malaria. However, the unnecessary loss of life incited from the disease beckons an international attempt. Governments need to improve basic conditions of life, and in doing so, educate their populations about the deleterious effects of the disease.

By eliminating malaria, our generation would forever change the course of human history, providing a certain medical security to those who need it most.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: National Geographic,, TED
Photo: NANDA

Jim Kim World Bank President US Fiscal Uncertainty Affecting World Economy
It is constantly said of the profound impact of the United States’ domestic developments have abroad, that when the U.S. sneezes the rest of world catches cold. But what of the bottom 40% of the population of developing countries living in such squalor, unable to afford access to the most basic medical attention?

President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim warns of the dire effects that a hard credit defaults would have on the world’s poorest. Kim issued these statements in Washington D.C. where this week meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund took place in the wake of the recent government shutdown.

The inaction on Capitol Hill has led to international anxieties that a bill will not be passed on time to raise the U.S.’s debt ceiling, and would thereby create a U.S. default that would result in an international calamitous economic backlash. The U.S. Treasury debt has kept global economies perilously afloat for years, including those emerging economies of developing countries in Asia and Africa.

As the House and Senate continue their standoff, the Treasury Department’s Oct. 17 deadline looms mere days away. World leaders are deeply concerned with U.S.’s perilous waltz at the edge, but in the midst of dense official debate, it becomes easy to forget the repercussions on the world’s poorest people.

In an interview with USA Today, Kim urged legislators to “Please consider politics beyond the Beltway, politics beyond your own districts. Really think about the impact that inaction can have on poor mothers in Africa, trying to feed their children. It will really have an impact on those mothers. It will have an impact on young men and women trying to create businesses in the Middle East. This is real. This is not a theoretical impact. It’s very real.”

In the cold shadow of an uncertain future, President Kim’s words shed light on a cause that all parties and nations can and must agree on: the eradication of extreme poverty. Perhaps it is more fortuitous than darkly ironic that the meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund followed up the United States government partial shutdown.

The talks have surely opened the dialogue to support heroic bipartisanship in Congress in the interest of the global good and sustainability—a responsibility that the United States has the privilege to hold alone.

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: CNN, New York Times, LA Times, BBC, USA Today
Photo: Yahoo News

How Diseases Lead to Poverty

What causes poverty? When looking at the factors that can lead to poverty in a region, there are many things that could be highlighted. One can look at the government, at conflict, at the lack of natural resources, or at the shortage of quality education in a region. However, poverty in a region is not only caused by conflict or inadequate education, but also by diseases. Increasing health in a region can significantly reduce global poverty, in effective and unexpected ways.

People in developing countries face challenges due to diseases that those in developed nations do not. For instance, in a developing country, someone who gets sick may have to sell their possessions to pay for medicine. Parents, not expecting their children to survive, have more children and spend less on education. Tropical diseases, and other health risks specific to a region limit tourism and foreign direct investment, affecting the potential prosperity of a nation.

According to research done in 2011 by The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), more than two-thirds of all people living with AIDS (23 million) lived in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 1.2 million people died from the disease, accounting for 71 percent of all the AIDS related deaths in the world. Not surprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa is also one of the poorest regions in the world.

But while the problem of AIDS – and the poverty it causes – might seem insurmountable, it only takes around $100 a year to save one AIDS victim.  To put this amount in perspective: the United States spends roughly $600 billion annually on its military, nearly twice as much as the second highest spender, China.  How different would the world be if the United States decided to trim the amount it spends on its military, and use that to help other countries eradicate diseases?

People from poor countries need help to get healthier. Unfortunately, most developing countries simply do not have the resources to provide healthcare for their people. The richer nations need to make an involved effort in helping these countries eradicate diseases such as AIDS and malaria. By increasing the amount of aid that the United States and other developed nations give to combat diseases, the world will see a decrease in death from preventable diseases, and, as a result, a decrease in global poverty.

Travis Whinery

Sources: WHO, UN AIDS, Economist
Photo: China Daily

Aid_to_Disaster_Hit_Communities
Whenever conflict or disaster hits a particular region of the world, one of the logistical challenges which must first be overcome is getting aid to every person that needs it in the shortest amount of time.

For this reason, aid agencies are piloting new access technologies to provide innovative solutions to old problems. Here are five promising ideas that are already being tested in different parts of the world:

The first is a digital school in a box. In order to create an environment where children have access to quality learning anytime and anywhere, UNICEF is piloting the “Digital School in a Box”. Sixty schools in Uganda, with about 100 and 200 children, have been given a pack containing a solar-powered laptop with a speaker, a projector, a document camera and Internet connectivity.

The objective is to connect children in rural schools and health centers to outside learning networks and tools. The kit can also be used to connect rural communities to health resources, emergency information, and entertainment.

Mobile phones to monitor food insecurity are second. In areas where roads have been badly damaged, information concerning food availability can be hard to gather. To solve this problem, the UN World Food Programme has typically conducted face-to-face surveys to collect information on how many people lack access to food, who they are, and where they live.

Since this requires a considerable amount of time and resources, the agency is now using SMS polls to monitor food insecurity through simple questions concerning meal patterns. The solution is being piloted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will soon be tested in Somalia as well.

Third is to use mobile phones to find missing children. In order to speed up the process of reuniting children with their parents after a conflict or disaster, UNICEF is piloting RapidFTR, an open-source mobile phone application. The result of a master’s thesis, the innovation allows aid workers to quickly upload the child’s vital information and photograph to a central database that can be accessed by other UN agencies and NGOs.

With the help of humanitarian workers that have authorized access to the database, parents can verify if their missing children have been registered. Uganda Red Cross and Save the Children are currently testing the application in eastern Uganda, where many people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have sought refuge.

3-D printing spare parts is fourth innovation to help get aid to disaster hit communities. Although the cost of 3-D printing are still high, global experts are considering the possibilities of using this technology to provide disaster-hit areas in the developing world with access to things like irrigation pipes, farming tools, water pumps, wind turbine blades, spare parts for machinery, and health aids.

Since the digital model of any of these objects – which typically require significant time and money to be imported – could be downloaded and printed out, usually in thin layers of plastic at a time, innovators believe that low-cost 3-D printing could have many uses in the developing world. Last May, global experts met in Italy to discuss the implications of this technology for sustainable development.

The fifth and last innovation is the standardized data collection for feeding programs. In order to provide feeding programs with a standardized method for data collection that can be used for admissions and discharges, specialized software called Minimum Reporting Package has been devised.

Now in use by Save the Children UK, WFP, and Concern Worldwide, the innovation allows agencies to better monitor the efficacy of Supplementary Feeding Programs, as well as quickly deliver standardized information to donors and governments in times of crisis.

-Nayomi Chibana

Sources: IRIN, Humanitarian Innovation Fund, World Food Programme
Photo: The Virtual Underground

E_Partogram

Childbirth can often be a dangerous time for the mother and child in developing countries. Pregnancy and childbirth together are two of the leading causes of death in the developing world, since one in seven women experience a complication. The risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth rises with each additional child. Since women typically give birth six to eight times, there is a great need for improved monitoring and response to health concerns during childbirth.

Now, a nonprofit health organization associated with John Hopkins University, Jhpiego, has developed an innovative new way to decrease the dangers of childbirth. They created the E-Partogram, the technological version of the paper Partogram, developed by the World Health Organization.

The new E-Partogram is a handheld portable device that links small town doctors and midwifes to other medical experts in hospitals. The devise also tracks the progress and health of women who are in labor so that complications can be detected and treated as soon as possible. At the low cost of $50 per tablet and lifetime of at least three years, the E-Partogram is likely to become an effective way of preventing childbirth deaths and illnesses.

Although the paper Partogram was already available to doctors and midwifes in developing countries, it was not widely used due to its time consuming nature and difficulty to manage during pressing and busy times. Jhpiego recognized the need to develop new technology to address this major health concern and went to work created the E-Partogram.

With the development of new health technologies like the E-Partogram, developing countries finally have the resources to improve healthcare systems and reach people in rural areas. John Hopkins University and its partner, Jhpiego, are working to ensure that these medical technologies are globally accessible and affordable for even the poorest countries. Although childbirth is still dangerous, E-Partogram will greatly reduce deaths of women and children around the world.

– Mary Penn

Sources: The Gazette, CNN, Saving Lives at Birth