10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Panama
Situated as the southernmost country in Central America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama has a population of nearly four million people across 29,000 square miles and a terrain which includes rainforests, mountains, beaches, wetlands and pasture land. The capital, Panama City, has a population of under half a million. Panama’s strongest industries include import/export, banking and tourism. It has enjoyed economic stability and growth, which can translate to good health and long life expectancy when residents can access education, health care, water and sanitation resources equitably. Here are the 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Panama

  1. The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama is that currently, the average life expectancy of a man in Panama is 76.1 and 81.9 for a woman. This averages to 78.9 for the entire population. Panama ranks 58th worldwide for life expectancy.
  2. In Panama, the leading causes of death are chronic, noncommunicable conditions such as circulatory diseases (diabetes and heart disease). Diet, high blood pressure or smoking can cause these. Panama has taken action by implementing the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and passing legislation guaranteeing smoke-free environments. The United Nations suggests dietary guidelines for healthy eating and recently added recommendations for children under 2 years of age.
  3. Traffic accidents in Panama are on the rise. The World Health Organization reports a road traffic death rate of 14.3 per 100,000 in 2016, while that number was only 10 per 100,000 in 2013 with 386 actual deaths. While the law in Panama requires seatbelt use, hazardous conditions due to lack of road maintenance, poor signage and overly congested highways are causes of this increase in accidents. Investment in roads and highway infrastructure could lower the number of deaths.
  4. The WHO reports that homicides in Panama are decreasing. In 2010, there were 23.4 homicides per year per 100,000 and in 2015 that number went down to 18.7. More than six times as many men suffer homicide in Panama than women (32.3 men per 100,000 compared to 4.9 women per 100,000). Young people between ages 15 and 29 are the most frequent targets of homicide (40.5 per 100,000). Strong laws are in place to combat violence in relation to firearms and alcohol and the WHO reports effective enforcement of laws against intimate partner violence and elder abuse. Panama could make improvements in the areas of enforcement of sexual violence and child maltreatment laws.
  5. Because of Panama’s tropical climate and wet, forested areas, mosquito-transmitted illnesses such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever pose a risk for Panamanians. Death is more likely in vulnerable people, such as infants. When new outbreaks arise, such as with the Zika virus, the WHO monitors transmission and infections closely in case they become widespread or pose a risk to travelers in the region. People can transmit the Zika virus sexually and it can also pass from mother to fetus. Microcephaly, a severe birth defect linked to Zika, poses a risk to the fetus of pregnant women, though death is rare. The WHO reports one death of a premature infant. Another disease that has limited impact in Panama is the hantavirus (linked to contact with rodents). The WHO reports approximately 100 cases with only four total deaths occurring. There is no treatment or vaccine for the hantavirus. Recommendations state to control the rodent population to prevent it.
  6. Panama saw 1,968 new cases of tuberculosis in 2017 (co-occurring with HIV in 90 percent of patients). TB and HIV are amongst the leading causes of premature death in Panama. People with HIV have more compromised immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to contracting TB. Panama spends $1.9 million each year treating and combating TB and HIV. Relapse of patients and drug-resistance pose particular challenges. Tuberculosis affects twice as many males as women, and the greatest incidence is among people ages 25-34 years.
  7. Mortality in young children has steadily declined in recent years. Deaths of children under 5 in 1990 were 27.2 per 1,000 live births, and in 2017, 17.2.  Deaths of children under 1 per year in 1990 were 20.9 per 1,000 live births, and in 2017, 13.4. Between 2007 and 2017, neonatal disorders dropped from number one to number three as a cause of premature death, and congenital defects dropped from number four to number six. These statistics are a result of a dramatic improvement in maternal and infant care for non-indigenous rural Panamanian women through a program called Health Protection for Vulnerable Populations, instituted in collaboration with the World Bank and the Minister of Health.
  8. The education of girls in Panama is important to life expectancy and maternal health. UNICEF reports that girls with no education receive 30 percent less antenatal care compared with those who have received a secondary education. The antenatal care is beneficial to learn about life-threatening risks in childbirth such as eclampsia, as well as immunization against tetanus and HIV testing and medication to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV. UNICEF calls for increased equity in antenatal and postnatal care particularly for indigenous women and infants in Panama.
  9. The upcoming Burunga Wastewater Management Project will address the serious health risks posed by untreated wastewater. The World Bank cites the lack of Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) as a major risk to public health. Currently, people dump untreated water into several rivers in the areas of Arraijan and La Chorrera. Despite economic growth in Panama, impoverished people will continue to be vulnerable to reduced life expectancy because of waterborne illnesses such as giardiasis and cholera, especially without updates to infrastructure in rural areas with attention to access to clean water and sanitation.
  10. In 2018, The World Bank approved an $80 million project in Panama called the Comprehensive National Plan for the Indigenous Peoples of Panama. This project has the aim of improving health, education, water and sanitation for indigenous people who are more vulnerable to natural disasters, for example. Built into the plan is a goal to develop the cultural relevance of programs. In order for life expectancy measures to continue to improve, Panama must equitably address the needs of indigenous as well as rural groups.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama show that the country faces ongoing challenges in health care, but measures of life expectancy are hopeful and improving. With follow through on projects to assist the indigenous and rural people, and ongoing investment in infrastructure, Panama should continue to rise in the ranks amongst the world’s flourishing, healthy and stable nations.

– Susan Niz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

worst earthquakes and the human toll
While the death toll and size of an earthquake can provide logistical data, other factors influence the devastation victims face and the rate they can recover. For communities already struggling, these disasters can be particularly devastating. Ranked below are the 15 worst earthquakes and the human toll of each.

15 Worst Earthquakes

  1. Haiti (2010): At the top of the list of 15 worst earthquakes and the human toll, Haiti suffered an initial 7.0 magnitude quake followed by two aftershocks killing 316,000 people. Due to a lack of adequate reinforcement, buildings across the country crumbled. A loss of power and phone lines interfered with efforts to provide aid. After nine years, Haiti still attempts to repair itself.
  2.  Nepal (2015): After crumbling landmarks and 10-story buildings, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake added landslides and avalanches to its path of destruction. An estimated 9,000 citizens died and 22,000 more suffered injuries. More than 600,000 people lost homes and began facing extreme poverty. However, its government and humanitarian organizations responded quickly. Temporary education centers and shelters helped the displaced, and over the last three years, facilities are recovering.
  3. Sumatra, Indonesia (2004): The 9.1 magnitude disaster in the Indian Ocean produced severe casualties and devastation. The earthquake itself likely killed 1,000 but the tsunami that followed left 227,898 dead or missing. Because of the short time span between the earthquake and tsunami, no one could create separate death tolls. Indonesia had damages of $4.4 million.
  4. Sichuan, China (2008): Whole villages lay flattened after a massive 7.9 quake. Schools and other facilities collapsed, trapping people inside. Estimates determined there were around 90,000 dead, 5,300 of them being children attending class. Buildings injured an estimated 375,000 more citizens and rescue teams attempted to find missing children after the chaos.
  5. Tohoku, Japan (2011): An unfortunate 15,703 deaths occurred after an earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan. The total economic loss racked up to $309 billion to provide reconstruction and services. A nuclear power plant near Okuma suffered damages to its reactors, causing a radiation leak. Thanks to evacuation efforts, the leak did not harm anyone. Several fires occurred after and the event destroyed docks.
  6. Izmit, Turkey (1999): Lasting less than a minute, an earthquake striking southeast Izmit left 17,000 dead and 500,000 homeless. Thousands of buildings and an oil refinery were among the destruction. There was a large outcry of people persecuting contractors for their poor workmanship and their use of cheap materials. Authorities found very few of them guilty, however. The 7.4 magnitude earthquake caused an estimated $3 to 6.5 billion in damages.
  7. Rudbar, Iran (1990): A 20,000 square mile earthquake devastated homes and farms at midnight. An estimated 50,000 people died and 135,000 injured, some living in simple houses that lacked support. An aftershock the following day caused a dam to burst, adding to financial losses and further loss of farmland. Estimates determined that the reconstruction of the region cost $7.2 billion.
  8. Kashmir, Pakistan (2005): Kashmir, the disputed area between India and Pakistan, suffered a loss of 80,000 people after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake. Four million others became homeless. Sections of towns completely slid off sides of cliffs; landslides also created a blockade for relief workers. In addition, the fact that it occurred just before winter worsened the conditions of those seeking shelters.
  9. Mexico City, Mexico (1985): Mexico City fell to chaos when 400 buildings crumbled, and the power and phone systems blacked out. Public transportation also halted, leaving panicked citizens without communication or instructions. An estimated 250,000 people were without shelter, and a final death count totaled 10,000.
  10. Yunnan, China (2014): Around 4.7 in magnitude, this earthquake killed 398 citizens. The earthquake injured an estimated 1,000 people and displaced over 200,000. Several homes and infrastructure susceptible to earthquakes faced damages as well. The Committee for Disaster Reduction had issued its highest-level response to provide aid: emergency responders prioritized search-and-rescue and the organization directly allocated resources for this purpose.
  11. Puebla, Mexico (2017): A 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico on the anniversary of its 1985 earthquake. Since the 1985 quake, people underwent earthquake drills which helped limit the damage in the 2017 earthquake although 225 deaths still occurred. Additionally, the earthquake damaged buildings and Mexico had to evacuate its people. Nearby, homes had also crumbled.
  12. Norcia, Italy (2016): After suffering multiple previous quakes in a short timeframe, another 6.2 magnitude earthquake occurred between two towns: Norcia and Amatrice. Numerous aftershocks, magnitudes 5.5 through 7 then followed. Because of its unfortunate location between cities and mountain villages, the quake took 247 victims. Rubble from mountains trapped others and blocked roads.
  13. Ecuador (2016): After this earthquake, 100,000 people needed shelter, 6,000 suffered severe injuries and 700 died. The earthquake destroyed schools and homes along with health care facilities. Flooding following the crisis worsened an outbreak of the Zika virus, but World Vision helped lessen its impact. It provided information on mosquito control and provided activities to teach sanitation in order to prevent the spread of Zika.
  14. Balochistan, Pakistan (2013): The largest province in Pakistan, Balochistan felt an immense tremor from an earthquake with a 7.7 magnitude. Awaran, one of six districts affected, lost 90 percent of its houses. The death toll stood at 328 with more than 440 wounded. Excessive mud that the earthquake brought in buried food, water and houses.
  15. Chile (2010): In 2010, a severe 8.8 magnitude earthquake damaged 400,000 homes. Copper production, crucial to Chile’s economy, halted until power resumed. Including loss of exports, the damages totaled $30 billion. The government estimated that the earthquake directly affected 2 million people, while another 800 had died.

Sporadic and unrelenting, earthquakes affect both coastal and inland areas. However, all of the 15 worst earthquakes and the human toll experienced in each have a uniting factor in that they received aid. Despite the severity, government programs and humanitarian bodies rushed to the scene, supplying temporary homes and rations to those suddenly without a place to live. Also, even though most major cases take years to restore themselves, organizations and governments often do not stop giving aid.

– Daniel Bertetti
Photo: USAID

Reducing the Threat of Mosquitoes
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), viruses spread by mosquitos kill an estimated 700,000 people a year. Out of the mosquito-spread viruses, dengue, Zika and chikungunya are considered some of the most dangerous due to the quickness and severity of their infection rates. Although disease prevention has proven to be expensive for developed and developing countries alike, Wolbachia is increasingly being explored as a new tool in the fight against mosquitos.

Wolbachia Bacteria

Wolbachia, a word most of us are not familiar with, is, in fact, a safe and naturally developed bacteria that is present in 60 percent of all insect species. However, Wolbachia is not found in the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito that are the primary transmitters of dengue, Zika and chikungunya to humans.

The bacteria prevent the spread and outbreak of viruses by acting as a natural competitor in the mosquito. First, Wolbachia boosts the immune systems of Aedes aegypti mosquitos and prevents viruses from being able to spread to and survive on the species. Secondly, Wolbachia effectively consumes molecules, such as cholesterol, which viruses need in order to thrive.

In other words, viruses are being prevented from spreading viruses mosquito-to-mosquito and mosquito-to-human. This bacteria has proven to be very efficient in reducing the threat of mosquitos.

The World Mosquito Program

The leader in utilizing Wolbachia against mosquito-spread viruses is the nonprofit World Mosquito Program (WMP). The WMP conducts research, works with communities, governments and other nonprofit organizations and implements the release and studying of Wolbachia bacteria in mosquito populations.

Currently, the WMP operates in 12 at-risk countries with a primary interest in economically disenfranchised countries and populations.  These 12 countries are Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia, Kiribati, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. According to the U.N. Development Programme, viruses such as Zika pose tremendous economic, health care and tourism risks to countries while simultaneously hurting people in poverty who have a reduced access to health and sanitation facilities.

Support in Reducing the Threat of Mosquitos

Throughout the countries mentioned above, the WMP has gained countless support from communities, governments and nonprofits. For instance, the Australian and New Zealand have worked closely together to fund the WMP projects in Fiji and Vanuatu. In Fiji, these additional funds have allowed the WMP to reach an additional 120,000 people.

A well-known U.S. nonprofit organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has become an important funder for the WMP projects and for developing new technology for research and operations. The U.S. Agency for International Development has proven to be a lead contributor to financing projects against Zika in Colombia, where 25 million people are at-risk to an outbreak.

Other important actors that participate in WMP programs include the U.K. and Brazilian governments, the Candeo Fund, the Wellcome Trust, local rotary clubs and many health ministries and local governments.

Results are just as vital as gaining support for reducing mosquito-spread viruses. While the WMP has not moved onto phase two by analyzing the reduction of viruses, they have collected data for the spread and sustainability of Wolbachia in mosquito populations.

Tri Nguyen Island, Vietnam, Queensland and Australia have witnessed the spread of Wolbachia to nearly 100 percent of their mosquito populations since the projects began.

Doubts about Wolbachia

While initial results look promising, there have been reasonable doubts expressed about using Wolbachia bacteria. Some studies suggest that Wolbachia enhances the ability of West Nile Virus to spread in the Culex tarsalis mosquito and that temperatures play a large role in the effectiveness of the bacteria. However, the WMP has discounted the temperature claim by referencing the success rates in Vietnam, Australia, Brazil and Colombia in reducing the threat of mosquitos.

Despite the possible consequences, the WMP has maintained its belief in the ability of Wolbachia and continuing to research and study the results as much as possible. Looking at their sponsors, the WMP has become a popular potential solution to actors affected by and interested in mosquito-spread viruses.

These sponsors are not the only ones, however, as the WHO has labeled Wolbachia as a viable tool going forward. In 2016, the organization recommended that Wolbachia should be tested in pilot programs in order to gain more beneficial evidence. In fact, their laboratory tests confirmed that Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya were reduced in mosquitos introduced to Wolbachia.

The WMP’s program is meant to be a long-term, low-cost and sustainable virus reduction solution, not the one to be used just in emergency circumstances. With that being said, Wolbachia should be part of a greater toolbox in reducing mosquito-spread viruses through prevention, containment and reduction.

To reiterate, the entomology coordinator for the WMP operations in Brazil stated to the U.N. that Wolbachia bacteria is not a silver bullet, but it is really promising.

– Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

Zika in Mexico
The zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection that — although relatively harmless to adults who catch it — can irreparably damage unborn children and cause microcephaly. A pregnant woman who contracts zika will show minimal signs of sickness, such as a fever or rash; her child, however, will be born with microcephaly — a disease that causes abnormal brain development. The child will most likely never lead a normal life.

What is the Zika Virus?

Zika has often been referred to as a ‘disease of poverty,’ because it falls under the sect of disease that are significantly more widespread among impoverished communities. An epidemic is also costly for the country affected. The total cost of the Zika epidemic in Latin American countries is estimated to be around $7 billion.

Zika in Mexico

The first reported cases of zika in Mexico occurred in November of 2015. When a mother contracts Zika and gives birth to a child with microcephaly, it puts a great financial and emotional strain on the family. With a zika-impaired child, the parents are unable to go back to work as soon as they would with a healthy baby, or continue to work as much as they were able to in the past.

Poor households in Mexico have the greatest likelihood of exposure to the virus and they generally tend to be the least able to handle the effects. Women in impoverished communities are not likely to have access to healthcare services that can protect them from contracting zika. In addition, the female populations in these areas are also not likely to have the resources to take care of a child with microcephaly.

Zika also has the potential to widen gender gaps in Latin American countries such as Mexico, as it creates a higher demand for women to stay home to care for impaired children. In cases like this, women may choose to give up working in order to become full-time caregivers for their children with microcephaly.

Access to proper housing and sanitation can also influence the risk of getting zika in Mexico. Low-income areas also do not typically have quality healthcare systems, and due to such factors numerous impoverished people bear the brunt of disease epidemics like zika. For pregnant women between 2015 and 2016, over 5,000 cases of Zika in Mexico were reported, although it is likely that thousands of cases in rural areas went unreported.

The Fight Against Zika in Mexico

Before zika spread to Mexico, the incidence of microcephaly in infants was 3.7 per 100,000 births; after zika was introduced, that number rose to 11.7 per 100,000. Women were weighed down more and more by the pressures of pregnancy and childcare — specifically in low-income communities — and the lack of resources available for improvement only worsened matters.

The epidemic of zika in Mexico has ameliorated significantly since the days of 2015. As of 2017, Mexico’s Secretariat of Health reported only 602 confirmed cases of zika in pregnant women. Now, thanks to a greater awareness of the dangers and effects of the disease, the people of Mexico can better protect themselves and their children from life-changing viruses such as zika. But as with any health concern, preventative measures and proactive efforts domestically in Mexico and abroad to keep zika in Mexico at bay.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Google

Zika Virus Kills Cancer CellsTo most, “Zika virus” is synonymous with “devastation.” Here is a quick summary of Zika’s recent global impact:

  • Between January 1, 2007, and April 6, 2016, 62 nations and territories reported Zika virus transmission.
  • Zika Virus brought widespread infection to the Regions of the Americas in 2015.
  • The most recent outbreak indicated by the World Health Organization occurred in India in May 2017.
  • Based on initial research, the scientific community concedes that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  • No vaccines or treatment exist for the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

What positive news related to this devastating threat could possibly exist?

In a startling new study, the Washington University School of Medicine—in conjunction with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine—assert that Zika virus kills cancer cells in adult human brains. The Journal of Experimental Medicine published the results in a report in early September. It posits that injecting the Zika virus into the brain at the same time as surgery could potentially remove life-threatening tumors.

The Zika virus attacks malignant brain tumors called glioblastomas. Glioblastoma is one of the most challenging cancers to treat. The conventional treatment is brain surgery followed by radiation and rounds of chemotherapy within 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. Follow-up procedures must begin as soon after surgery as possible, as new glioblastomas can generate rapidly. Frequent patient observation with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans is another vital element of ongoing medical care.

Still, most tumors reappear within six months. A small population of cells, called glioblastoma stem cells, often survives the treatments and continues to divide, producing new tumor cells to replace the ones killed by the cancer drugs. Glioblastoma stem cells are hard to kill because they can avoid the body’s immune system and are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. However, researchers believe that the Zika virus kills cancer cells, preventing new tumors from recurring after surgically removing the original tumor.

Despite such aggressive treatment, glioblastoma cells remain deadly: most patients die within 15 months. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, nearly 52 percent of all primary brain tumors are glioblastomas. Each year in the United States, this widespread form of brain cancer affects approximately 12,000 people. U.S. Sen. John McCain announced he is battling with glioblastoma in July 2017.

The Washington University – University of California San Diego School experiment revealed that the Zika virus favored destroying glioblastoma stem cells over normal brain cells in mice. Two weeks later, the mice with Zika virus injected into their cancerous tumors exhibited smaller tumors than those without the virus. Mice with Zika virus injected into their brain tumors seemed to survive longer than those without the injections.

Despite differences in the biological systems of mice and humans, the research team believes their proposal the Zika virus kills cancer cells merits pursuing. The joint research team hopes to begin human trials in the next 18 months.

According to Michael S. Diamond, MD, Ph.D., the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, “These cells are highly resistant to conventional therapies.” Diamond continued, “While the Zika virus does harm to the brains of developing fetuses, it may prove effectual in the treatment of glioblastoma in adult brains.”

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr


According to the National Public Radio (NPR), health researchers have reported that the number of new cases of Zika infections in Puerto Rico has risen to over 34,000 since 2015. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the virus peaked during the summer months of 2016, with more than 2,000 new cases being reported per week.

Because Zika is a relatively new epidemic, individuals living in Puerto Rico have not yet developed any immunity to the virus. Therefore, the transmission of the disease has been rampant.

In more recent months, the number of Zika infections in Puerto Rico has decreased to around 200 new cases per week. However, it continues to remain a serious problem within the region. Researchers from the CDC have confirmed that the number of Zika infections in Puerto Rico have far surpassed that of dengue virus infections. Dengue is another disease most commonly spread by mosquitoes.

The Zika virus is transmitted via the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Pregnant women who become infected are especially at risk of the disease.  Those infected are likely to pass on the infection to the fetus during pregnancy, which can lead to serious birth defects. Additionally, sexual relations and blood transfusions can spread the virus. Common symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, headaches, muscle pain and red eyes.

As of 2017, over 1,000 confirmed cases of reported Zika infections in Puerto Rico were among pregnant women. Doctors at the High-Risk Clinic at the University of Puerto Rico have treated some of these infected women. They witnessed at least 14 cases of babies born with severe brain damage.

Notwithstanding, some babies may not begin to show signs of defects or abnormalities until several years after birth. This calls for babies to be closely monitored by health professionals for up to four or five years after birth.

The CDC has listed different recommendations for preventing contraction of the disease. These recommendations are especially important because of the lack of a vaccine for the disease.  Some of their recommendations include wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when mosquitoes are around, ridding homes of any standing water and using insect repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. They especially advise against pregnant women traveling into Puerto Rico or any other areas where the virus is present.

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr

Disease Prevalence
Viruses like Ebola and Zika might dominate the news, but for those living in poverty, disease prevalence of this type is anything but new.

Living in poverty is one of the key factors increasing someone’s risk of contracting an infectious disease. Though diseases like Ebola and Zika may hold prominence in the media at the moment, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Diarrhea, Malaria and others still remain firm in many parts of the world. HIV/AIDS alone infected 36.7 million people in 2015. In impoverished areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost 1 in every 25 people is HIV positive.

The areas where disease prevalence is high are also areas of extreme poverty. Communicable diseases impact a greater number of people when they are living in destitution, war zones or in other remote places without medical infrastructure. In addition, those with diseases in poor countries often face ostracization in their communities over the stigma of their illnesses.

Looking at this phenomenon in the 20th Century, the Zika Virus first emerged in Uganda and Tanzania in the 1950s. Ebola appeared in two simultaneous outbreaks in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. It isn’t mere coincidence infectious diseases emerge in these places. Large groups of people living together in poverty provide a breeding ground for new diseases.

The reasons for this phenomenon are simple, without access to healthcare, poor people who find themselves contracting a disease are forced to suffer through the infection unaided. In turn, those who come into contact with them risk contamination and if their living conditions lack basic sanitation or host crowded conditions, a disease can spread quickly.

Developed nations in Europe are already facing this problem as refugees, eager to escape war zones in the Middle East, bring their health problems with them. In Greece for example, refugees are grouped into crowded camps without access to health infrastructure in many cases.

Rather than trying to restrict the flow of people over increasingly porous international borders, developed nations would do better to address the source of the problem. By reducing poverty and helping to improve healthcare infrastructure in poor countries, developed nations can lessen the spread of infectious diseases around the world and prevent disease prevalence.

The World Health Organization recently announced it would be “scaling up its emergency response activities” for 800,000 individuals living in refugee camps in Northeast Nigeria. Refugees have fled recent fighting between the government and Boko Haram and now live in crowded conditions without healthcare.

The WHO’s response efforts in the country will focus on providing health services to refugees, but the situation is complicated by ongoing violence and starvation. The current level of response from the international community is not adequate to prevent new outbreaks in Nigeria and other depressed regions.

Enclaves of poverty like the refugee camps in Nigeria present a viable threat to the health of the world. While the WHO’s response to the crisis is commendable, more is needed to reduce the possibility of new viruses developing before new outbreaks occur.

By simply supporting programs aimed at reducing malnutrition in poor countries, officials hope the health outcomes of those living there can be improved exponentially.

Will Sweger

Photo: Flickr

Digital GAP Act
While the developed world sends emails to colleagues, updates friends on Facebook and conducts research using online databases, the 4.2 billion who lack access to the internet linger behind on economic, health and education development.

The 60 percent of the population currently offline is predominantly low-income, rural, female, elderly and illiterate, according to the House Foreign Affairs committee. Seventy-five percent of the 4.2 billion are condensed into only 20 countries.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, authored the Digital Global Access Policy Act, better known as the Digital GAP Act, to increase internet access in developing countries using a “build-once” policy. The Digital GAP Act would also require more transparency in the U.S. accomplished through projects to open more possibilities for private firms to invest in internet infrastructure to aid developing economies.

During a $100 million road construction project years ago, Liberian officials decided not to lay cables that would have added $1 million to the project’s cost. The lack of connectivity in Liberia and other developing countries has cost lives and economic growth. The build-once policy would help avoid the need to later add cables for internet connectivity for tens of millions of dollars.

However, history has shown lack of internet connectivity has repercussions reaching far beyond development as the world suffers the impacts of crises longer and more deeply. In 2014, the outbreak of the Ebola virus infected over 28,000 people in West Africa, killing over 8,000. This was due in large part to the lack of reliable internet access that hindered coordination between community health centers.

Those treating Ebola patients did not send patient information to other health facilities at the click of a button, but instead physically transported the information. This was not only less efficient but also exposed those outside of the quarantined red zones to the virus. Increased internet connectivity during the Ebola outbreak could have cut exposures, improved the tracking of the viruses’ spread and opened the possibility of international analysis anywhere with scanned and uploaded patient documents.

The world faces a similar struggle in containing the Zika virus. The current strategy involves notifying travelers where the virus is, but officials in many developing countries have no way of tracking the effect of the virus in their own communities. Containing the virus and notifying vulnerable populations could be as Recode writes, “as easy as the click of a mouse or a swipe of a mobile application.”

In addition to improving crises response, the Digital GAP Act’s purpose is to aid developing countries in expanding economies, creating jobs, improving health and education, reducing poverty and gender inequality and promote good governance of a populace. The U.S. is to “promote first-time internet access to mobile or broadband internet for at least 1.5 billion people in developing countries by 2020 in both urban and rural areas,” the House Foreign Affairs committee wrote in an official press release.

The Digital GAP Act also stresses the importance of U.S. cybersecurity for the U.S. in its provisions. If passed, the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment’s title would change to include “Cyberspace.” The Department of State would be required to designate an Assistant Secretary for Technology, International Communications and Cyberspace to lead diplomatic cyberspace efforts, and the president would include information on internet access, cyber security policy and internet freedom in the next White House Cyberspace Strategy session.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would integrate efforts under the Digital GAP Act to increase internet access and the protection of private information. The Peace Corps Act would include an amendment that would allow Peace Corps to develop volunteer positions for the purpose of increased internet connectivity. The president would share with Congress plans to promote U.S. partnerships to provide internet infrastructure for increased access in developing countries and direct the House in advocating for these efforts abroad.

The House of Representatives passed the Digital GAP Act and the Senate is expected to vote soon.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Zika Virus
The Zika virus has become one of the most discussed global health issue since outbreaks resurfaced on the island of Yap in 2007.

The virus has caused many health problems and prenatal risks. It’s important to be educated on its transmission and origin in order to reduce the probability of outbreaks within households and communities. Here are the 10 most interesting facts about the virus.

  1. In Uganda 1947, scientists were testing animals and insects for evidence of yellow fever. They accidentally came across a virus being transmitted from mosquitoes to monkeys and named it Zika, after the forest it was discovered in.
  2. Zika virus is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. These mosquitoes are notorious for being daytime biters, however, they also bite during the night. These mosquitos are primarily found in tropical regions and are the same mosquito responsible for yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya transmission.
  3. The Zika virus can also be spread by sexual intercourse (anal oral or vaginal). Pregnant women and individuals infected with the virus are advised to practice safe sex or abstinence to prevent the spread of the virus to their partners or possible contraction.
  4. The incubation period for the virus is three to 12 days. The symptoms are similar to other arbovirus infections such as fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache. These symptoms last for three to seven days. The Zika virus symptoms are usually mild and require no specific treatment.
  5. Protection against mosquito bites is essential for prevention of the Zika virus infection. One preventative measure is to wear lightly coloured clothes that cover the body and reduces attraction.
  6. The Zika virus could cause birth defects such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Several case reports and studies based on laboratory confirmation have linked infants and fetuses with congenital brain abnormality to their mothers who have been infected with the virus during her first or second trimester of pregnancy. Zika virus infections that occur during the third trimester are affiliated with poor intrauterine growth and fetal death.
  7. A diagnosis of the Zika virus infection can only be confirmed through laboratory tests on blood and other body fluids, such as semen, urine and saliva.
  8. There is no vaccine for the virus, however, data reveals that protection against Zika virus challenge can be achieved by single shot plasmid DNA vaccines with a full-length Zika virus pre-membrane and antibody neutralizing property or inactivated virus vaccines in susceptible mouse models.
  9. Researchers backed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases developed three vaccine approaches to protect monkeys from the Zika virus. The first experiment involved a comparison between an inactivated Zika virus vaccine and a placebo injection. After a boosted dose of both vaccines, the monkeys that received the inactivated Zika vaccine showed an increase in antibodies while those who received the placebo had high levels of virus replication. Another trial using experimental DNA vaccine shots, the monkeys were exposed to the Virus.
  10. The World Health Organization and partners have made efforts to manage and prevent medical complications caused by the Zika virus infection. The organization plans to implement the Zika Strategic Response Plan between July 2016 to December 2017.

Shanique Wright

Photo: Flickr

Protect against zika

Top scientists around the globe are working and using new technologies to find out whether new trends in vaccinations could help protect against Zika. With the most recent and most popular public health crisis at the forefront of international attention –the Zika virus outbreak– the world is bringing new information, methodology, literature and scientific measures at a pace that keeps followers baffled. Now, scientists hope to set a world record for the speed at which they can develop a Zika vaccine, and new technologies are helping them along the way.

These novel prevention and intervention procedures could change the way that the public health field addresses epidemics, namely viruses.

Leading the pack with the first grant, biotech company Inovio received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct an experimental Zika vaccine trial on humans. They have already been able to prevent the virus from taking hold in monkeys, and Harvard Medical School reports developing two successful Zika vaccines that have shown promise in mice.

Although many companies and institutions are gunning to be the first, funding can be problematic. President Obama said that a Zika vaccine could be produced relatively quickly should Congress provide a budget for it. Democrats struck down a bill allotting 1.1 billion dollars to research for the vaccine because of tacked-on, unrelated political moves. The president attributed the denial of the bill to typical politics.

Despite this setback, new technology still allows for research to be conducted by private institutions. A relatively recent bit of tech called DNA vaccination now allows current Zika researchers to develop effective vaccines. This form of the shot only contains a fraction of the viral DNA, as opposed to an entire viral unit, allowing the production of these treatments to be more cost effective and less dangerous.

In the past, one pitfall for researchers was the potency of the vaccine. This type of shot has to enter a cell in order to take hold (unusual in the world of vaccines), so it became necessary to invent new delivery technologies. Now, an electric shock may replace the classic puncture-style injection– a development claimed by Inovio.

So, can new trends in vaccinations help protect against Zika? Researchers hope to have a successful answer and vaccine in mass production by 2018.

Connor Borden

Photo: Pixabay