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HIV in Africa: Myth vs FactThe existence of HIV and AIDS may be widely known, but there are plenty of misconceptions lingering about the viruses. This epidemic is serious and scary for many people, sometimes causing excessive stigma. HIV is a global issue but remains most largely concentrated in underdeveloped regions, most notably, Africa.

Knowledge about HIV, early detection, diagnosis and treatment has improved markedly since it was first recorded. Below are some commonly accepted beliefs regarding AIDS and HIV in Africa and a breakdown of the myths and facts associated with each.

HIV-Positive Individuals Are Highly Contagious

Though HIV can be spread from person to person, it does not occur as easily as some may believe.

MYTHS — HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, skin-to-skin contact, or sharing common facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens or living/working spaces. It is safe to casually touch an HIV positive individual, or even share a drink with them.

FACTS — HIV can be spread through only these specific bodily fluids: blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, breast milk, and vaginal and/or anal fluids. Even when these types of contact have been made between an infected person and a non-infected person, transmission is not absolutely certain.

Spreading HIV is Reckless Behavior That is Easy to Prevent

MYTHS — People who have been diagnosed with HIV infect other people intentionally and should be more careful in stopping the spread of HIV.

FACTS — Many infected people do not know that they are HIV positive. In fact, nearly 70 percent of individuals living with the virus are unaware. Symptoms of HIV can be very subtle, so when a person becomes infected it can easily go undetected. Many people living in Africa do not have access to contraception, testing, or treatment due to poverty and thus, the spread of HIV is not due to reckless behavior.

Contracting HIV Can Be Easily Prevented by Living a Respectable Lifestyle

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS are the results of unprotected or gay sex, or from injecting drugs with infected needles. Women, straight men and people who do not use drugs cannot get HIV or AIDS.

FACTS — While the most common methods of transmission are through sharing infected needles and unprotected sex (for both women and men), other methods exist. Mothers in Africa have been known to spread the virus to their babies through pregnancy, birth, or breast milk. If a non-positive person has an open wound, they may contract HIV if in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

HIV in Africa is Due to Irresponsible Africans and Therefore It Is Their Responsibility

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS only exist in Africa and other poor countries; western countries should not be concerned.

FACTS — Seventy percent of all HIV cases are in Africa, while 30 percent are not in Africa. Swaziland, Africa has an infection rate of more than one-fourth of the population, and continent-wide, roughly one million deaths occur on an annual basis.

Though HIV in Africa is much more prominent than in other parts of the world, it takes effort and support from those in power to end the epidemic and provide care for those suffering in all parts of the world.

There is No Hope for the Deadly HIV Epidemic in Africa

MYTHS — Once HIV is contracted, the immune system shuts down, the quality of life degrades and life expectancy significantly decreases.

FACTS — HIV only progresses to AIDS when left untreated. Treatment for HIV does exist, suppressing the infection and allowing for a long and healthy life for those infected. However, treatment for HIV in Africa is less available.

In the southern parts of Africa alone, about one million HIV/AIDS-related deaths are recorded annually, and the regional life expectancies range from 49-54 years old due to HIV/AIDS. To combat this, UNAIDS developed a plan to end the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. The steps include early detection, immediate and affordable treatment, gender equality, family planning, and an emphasis on the most susceptible populations.

The PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) has brought hope to ending the epidemic, and in 2017, decreased the number of newly reported HIV infections in young females by as much as 40 percent.

Moving forward with HIV in Africa, there is great hope in combatting the infection. As more medical knowledge is gained worldwide and acceptance of infected individuals is increasing, so is the quality of life for those living with HIV. The continued attention on the spread and prevention of HIV will be a substantial contributor to the successful end of this global health risk.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Medical humanitarian aidAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an epidemic is a significant and sudden increase in the number of cases of a particular disease in a specific area or within a certain population. Epidemics can present themselves all over the world. However, epidemics are most common in impoverished, war-torn and developing countries.

Medical humanitarian aid can help end epidemics in many impoverished countries. Most countries that receive foreign humanitarian aid are not properly equipped to deal with disease outbreaks, nor do they have the trained medical professionals needed. This is how a disease outbreak quickly turns into an epidemic.

Many international medical relief groups focus their efforts on controlling epidemics by providing adequate medical training, professionals and equipment. Listed below are some of the international medical relief groups that are working toward ending epidemics.

Medical Teams International

Medical Teams International is a Christian-based international relief group that has been using medical humanitarian aid to help end epidemics. The group works by delivering medical supplies and trained volunteers to areas in need. The mission of the group is to provide medical, dental, humanitarian and holistic relief to diverse areas without discrimination.

For over 25 years, Medical Teams International has been providing relief for refugees in impoverished and war-torn countries. For example, in 2017 the United Nations declared a famine in South Sudan as a result of the civil war that has been ongoing since 2013. Shortly after the declaration, Medical Teams International dispatched massive relief efforts to combat the Cholera and Malaria epidemics.

Currently, Medical Teams International has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 520 thousand Sudanese refugees, severely curving the disease epidemics in that area.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is one of the most well known international medical-based relief groups in the world. For over 45 years, the group has dispersed trained medical professionals and medical humanitarian aid across the globe. Medecins Sans Frontieres is also on the cusp of many medical initiatives in impoverished countries.

Medecins Sans Frontieres is known for tackling large disease outbreaks and epidemics in poor and dangerous areas. In 2017, Medecins Sans Frontieres dispatched relief efforts to Uganda after the country was declared in a state of humanitarian emergency. The group focused its efforts on the recent Cholera outbreak spreading through Uganda, setting up multiple Cholera clinics to help treat and prevent the spread of Cholera to other refugees in Uganda.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is another nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that primarily focuses on medical relief to devastated areas. The goal of the organization is to provide proper and comprehensive medical aid for impoverished areas and emergencies. In 2017, Forbes ranked Direct Relief among the top United States charities.

Over the past five years, Direct Relief has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 80 countries, many in Africa and South Asia. They have supplied over two thousand healthcare facilities and have sent billions of U.S. dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies.

These international organizations and many more have worked hard to make medical humanitarian aid more accessible to impoverished countries. Many epidemics that have started due to unsafe food, unsafe water and a generally poor environment have been contained and even eliminated by medical humanitarian aid. These organizations believe that with the right aid and volunteers, diseases around the world can be eradicated.

– Courtney Wallace

Photo: Flickr

Bill Gates on Global HealthSince 1983, J.P. Morgan has hosted an annual healthcare conference to unite industry leaders, fast-companies, innovative technology creators and people willing to invest in these technologies. Though the company is known for being a global leader in financial services, J.P. Morgan has made global health a priority by donating nearly $200 million a year to nonprofits globally, leading volunteer services and using its access to capital to help local communities suffering from poverty.

J.P. Morgan has made the following its core values:

  1. Corporate responsibility
  2. Health initiatives
  3. Strengthening communities
  4. Environmental sustainability

In January 2018, Bill Gates made an appearance at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference to discuss his thoughts. At the conference, Gates’ speech discussed recent progress in global health and what else still needs to be done. Initially, he pointed out how global health has been the focus of his foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for the last eight years. He explained how child mortality has decreased by 50 percent and credited new vaccines to reducing deaths due to rotavirus, pneumonia and malaria.

Afterwards, he expressed the need for more innovation, explaining how funding research is the most elementary step in improving global health. He mentioned the current gap between the tools that are currently available to eliminate stubborn diseases and poverty and the tools that are needed, explaining that the only solution is innovation. He emphasized how “the tools and discoveries companies are working on can also lead to breakthrough solutions that save millions of lives in the world’s poorest countries.”

He concluded his speech by emphasizing the need for more research into preterm births, as they account for half of newborn deaths. It has also become clear that a child’s nutrition and the microbiome in their stomach, or rather the interactions between the two, are the largest factor in determining the child’s survival rate. The best solution to this is ensuring that children have the proper ratio of microbes in their stomach, a problem Gates and his partners have started to tackle.

Gates and his foundation have always made global health a priority. They work with partners globally to improve the following five program areas:

  1. Global health, which focuses on developing new tools to reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria and HIV.
  2. Global development, which aims to finance the delivery of high-impact solutions, providing people with healthy, productive lives.
  3. Global policy and advocacy, which promotes public policies and builds alliances with the government, the public and the private sectors.
  4. Global growth and opportunity, which works to break down economic barriers in an effort to lift people out of poverty.
  5. U.S. programs, which focuses on ensuring all students graduate from high school and have the opportunity to go to college.

Thanks to Bill Gates, his foundation and the J.P. Morgan healthcare conference, investors and advancements will continue to increase, alleviating the burden of global poverty and improving global health.

– Chylene Babb

Photo: Flickr

top 10 clean water solutionsWorldwide, 844 million people do not have access to clean water, meaning that one in nine people are living with water unsafe for human consumption. This is referred to as The Water Crisis.

The Water Crisis surpasses its effect on global health by affecting children, education, economics and women. Every 90 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. Children are often tasked with collecting water for their families, taking time away from education opportunities. School attendance increases with increased access to clean water.

Globally, there is a $260 billion deficit each year due to lack of basic water and sanitation. With the provision of clean water, time and effort previously spent collecting water can refocus on other opportunities. Universal access to basic water and sanitation could result in a $32 billion reduction in healthcare costs.

Women are disproportionately affected by The Water Crisis, as they spend an estimated six hours collecting water every day; this time could be spent on education, family life and work.

The water crisis and its detrimental effects can be resolved with the provision of basic water and sanitation; this resolution can be reached with the top 10 clean water solutions.

Top 10 Clean Water Solutions:

  1. Educate: Educate the population to change consumption and lifestyle habits.
  2. Innovate and Conserve: Water sources, such as aquifers and rainwater, are prone to evaporation and unpredictability. The invention of new water conservation techniques will counteract this issue.
  3. Recycle: Recycling wastewater decreases water imports and encourages self-sufficiency in developing countries.
  4. Agriculture and Irrigation: Approximately 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture. Improving agriculture and irrigation practices can appropriately distribute clean water for human consumption.
  5. Water Catchment and Harvesting: Areas without clean water rely on water catchment systems. Efforts to establish water harvesting systems provide independent control of resources.
  6. Infrastructure: Poorly managed infrastructure devastates the economy by wasting resources, increasing costs, diminishing quality of life and facilitating the spread of water-related diseases. Improved infrastructure conserves resources and enhances quality of life.
  7. Water Credit: The Water Credit Initiative utilizes microfinancing to provide affordable loans to those who require additional help in establishing clean water solutions.
  8. Water Equity: Water Equity relies on social impact investing to increase funds for water and sanitization loans.
  9. New Ventures: New Ventures funds research and development of new approaches to The Water Crisis.
  10. Global Engagement: Global Engagement is the foundation for lasting change on local and international levels

Although these are the top 10 clean water solutions, they are not the only solutions to The Water Crisis. Clean water access improves health, education and work opportunities for families across the world.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

New Generation of ResearchersNearly half of the world’s population is currently at risk of contracting malaria. In particular, Africa bears most of the burden of this prevalent disease, with 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of deaths from malaria occurring there. Developing and implementing an effective malaria vaccine continues to be one of the world’s top public health priorities.

MalariaX, a new online global health course, may be an important step toward inspiring scientists to study malaria and equipping them to combat it effectively in today’s environment. Hosted by Harvard University, Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the Swiss Tropical & Public Health Institute, this course aims to provide an all-encompassing education in several topics crucial to the elimination of malaria. The core curriculum includes the biology of malaria, the specifics of disease transmission, new methods for elimination and, most importantly, offers instruction on the use of real-world data and analytical strategies to implement prevention programs

Unlike other courses before it, MalariaX emphasizes training a new generation of researchers to have the knowledge and skills to approach malaria eradication from varying perspectives. Furthering our understanding of the intricate connections between the social, political, historical and economic context of malaria transmission continues to be as important as exploring the biological aspects of the disease itself.

Implementing efficacious vaccine programs requires a deep knowledge of a country’s health systems and the way that the population will react to certain public health techniques. There is no “one size fits all” method in public health. Thus, strategies to eradicate a disease must vary between countries, and sometimes even between regions of a country if necessary. The new generation of researchers will need to focus on the various scientific and social underpinnings of malaria if they wish to truly suppress and eliminate it.

One of the most important trends in global health has been the rise of evidence-based interventions, which are a prominent portion of MalariaX’s curriculum. Researchers in the 21st century have unparalleled access to various technologies that allow them to gather data from the countries affected by malaria.
Equipped with the appropriate information, malaria-eradication efforts become more fine-tuned and are more likely to succeed as they have been developed and implemented based on real-world data. In the past, applying many of the theories and plans proved to be ineffective due to a lack of valid information.

Malaria is preventable and curable, and global efforts to combat the disease have already been incredibly successful. Although there have been reductions in the mortality rate for all groups by 29 percent, as well as for children under five by 35 percent, there is still much work to be done. With its innovative, easy-to-access curriculum, MalariaX could prove to be a difference maker in providing a new generation of researchers with the skills to conquer malaria.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Flickr

What Is PATH and How Have They Improved Global Health
The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) is an international, nonprofit organization that is a leader in innovating global health solutions. The program’s aim is to bring about effective and cutting edge technologies and products to underserved areas of the world and to work toward providing major healthcare needs. PATH works closely with partners around the world to bring passion and innovation to solving these problems and to scale them on a global level.

PATH has five primary vehicles of innovation, being:

  1. Vaccines, which are developed to be quickly deployed to where they are needed most. Using its own Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, PATH brings in top innovators from around the world to work on vaccines at every stage – from testing and producing to deployment technologies that promote safe usage.
  2. Drugs, where PATH works closely with partners to provide affordable medicines targeting low income countries. This allows life-saving medicines to be accessible by more people and more quickly where they are needed most.
  3. Diagnostics, which are an integral part of managing people’s health, is hugely developed by PATH. It is creating and implementing fast-acting, single use “point‑of‑care” diagnostic exams in order to get fast results when time matters and to ensure sterility.
  4. Devices, which PATH helps accelerate, are primarily focused on sterilization. Water, air, food and medical supplies all need to be clean in order to be effective and safe. This is where PATH steps in, reinforcing markets for water sanitation products, developing sterilization devices and making all of these available to areas without access.
  5. System and service innovations, which involves working with the current infrastructure, or, as in many cases, strengthening the currently standing one to allow the flow of medical innovations from suppliers to the local communities in need. Included in this is the training of local personnel where there are shortages and providing them access to digital aid to help local medical systems.

PATH works hard to take the most innovative medical solutions available to countries that need it most, and in many cases, develops its own solutions to issues as well. By strengthening methods that give people access to important medical supplies, medicine, newer technologies and practices, PATH is an important ally in underserved areas.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

Five Reasons to Care About Global Health
Caring about global health isn’t limited to providing mosquito nets and vaccines. It is an expansive endeavor that attempts to deal with illnesses resulting from natural disasters, war and poverty. With this in mind, here are five reasons to care about global health.

 

  • Food Borne Illness: The development of international agricultural trade combined with the misuse of antimicrobials has increased the risk of foodbourne illness outbreaks from microbial contamination, chemicals, toxins and undiscovered diseases.

 

  • Global Economy: Disease outbreaks strain economies monetarily, but also weaken individual workers’ ability to support their families or contribute to society. The biggest hit to many countries affected by disease outbreak is a loss of tourism and consumer confidence. The cost to treat many diseases on such a large scale is astronomical compared to the preventative costs.

 

  • Drug Resistance: With new diseases appearing at a rate of one or more per year, known viruses and diseases are becoming increasingly drug resistant, elevating the likelihood of outbreaks. Diseases that were once considered treatable, like tuberculosis, are now becoming drug resistant.

 

  • Outbreaks: Transmittable diseases are making their way across oceans via airplane passengers and mosquitoes. Examples include the SARS epidemic in 2003, the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza in 2009 and, most recently, the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014.

 

  • Bioterrorism: Both accidental and deliberate outbreaks, whether malicious or simply negligent, pose severe threats globally. Examples include toxic chemical accidents, radionuclear accidents, environmental disasters and intentional release of toxic agents like anthrax and other bioterrorist actions.

There are many more reasons to care about global health in such an interconnected society as is present today. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the World Health Organization are working to achieve global health security. Investing in global initiatives that increase the probability of early detection and control of communicable diseases can ensure a healthy global economy.

Rebekah Korn
Photo: Flickr

Tobacco Control Methods
The World Health Organization found that the number of countries implementing tobacco control policies has quadrupled since 2007. Today, 63 percent of the population is covered by tobacco control methods. Tobacco control methods may come in the form of advertising bans, restricting smoking in public areas and other limitations on the use of tobacco.

One in 10 deaths around the world is caused by tobacco, and deaths caused by tobacco are entirely preventable. Tobacco-related illnesses also place a large burden on the healthcare system; each year the cost of healthcare and productivity loss due to tobacco is $1.4 trillion. Economic productivity is also impacted by tobacco use. Premature death and disability due to tobacco decreases the size of the workforce and potential output of a country.

The burden of tobacco-related deaths is higher in developing countries. More than 80 percent of deaths caused by noncommunicable disease, such as heart and lung disease, occur in low and middle-income countries. Tobacco is the leading risk factor for noncommunicable diseases. People of lower economic status and education levels often use tobacco at higher rates than people in a higher economic class.

The World Health Organization created the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to lay out methods for governments to limit tobacco use. Published in 2005, this was the first international public health treaty negotiated by the WHO. This framework puts forth the MPOWER tobacco control methods that aid governments in monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies, protecting people from tobacco smoke, warning people of the dangers of tobacco and enforcing bans on tobacco.

Since the framework was published many countries have taken action to reduce the prevalence of tobacco in their population. For example, after monitoring tobacco use within the country, Nepal placed the largest health warnings on tobacco packages; the warnings cover 90 percent of the package. In India, a survey showed that one in two tobacco users wanted to quit. India created a program and toll-free quit line in 2016 to support and encourage those who wanted to quit. The Philippines passed the Sin Tax Reform Law in 2012, which taxed tobacco products. A followup survey in 2015 showed that there were far fewer smokers in the country.

Today, one-third of countries monitor tobacco use. More countries need to design policies to measure tobacco use; these plans will help countries promote overall health and save healthcare costs. Upon gathering data, governments can create tailored and successful programs to reduce tobacco use.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr


The WHO’s “Ten years in public health 2007-2017” report chronicles the “evolution of global public health” over the past decade. The report emphasizes the escalation of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCD) as the largest threat to global health.

Chronic NCDs are categorized as diseases that progress slowly. The four main NCDs are cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease, all of which share common risk factors abundant in non-health sectors. NCDs have only recently been recognized as a main component in the impending global health crisis. These chronic diseases share four risk factors: tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, unhealthy diet and minimal physical activity.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 70 percent of global deaths were due to NCDs (39.5 million out of 56.4 million). Out of the 39.5 million NCD fatalities, 30.7 million occurred in low and middle-income countries.

Health systems traditionally rely on curing individual disease as they arise. However, current health systems are not sustainable due to insufficient disease management and care. Access to disease treatment is becoming unavailable for millions of individuals, including affluent people in wealthy countries.

A study released by the World Economic Forum states that diabetes cost the global economy nearly $500 billion in 2010 and this is projected to increase to $745 billion by 2030. Newly approved cancer treatments average $120,000 per person, causing medical care to be “unaffordable for even the richest countries in the world.”

These high costs have four severe implications:

  1. They undermine the traditionally ethical ideal that healthcare should be available to everyone;
  2. The need for social protection becomes obvious when a person has to spend much as 60 percent of their income to get diabetes medication;
  3. Prevention becomes the foundation of global health;
  4. High costs clarify that no economy can outlast the NCD global crisis by investing solely in treatment services.

The WHO report ‘Ten years in public health 2007-2017’ estimates that 40 million people die each year from NDCs, “accounting for 70 percent of all deaths worldwide.” According to Margaret Chan, Director-General at WHO, chronic noncommunicable diseases have surpassed infectious disease as the leading cause of death worldwide.

The WHO’s newly established ‘Health Emergencies Programme’, enables faster response to global pandemics and emergencies. The programme collaborates with various countries and partners to “prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from all hazards that create health emergencies, including disasters, disease outbreaks and conflicts.” It is also focused on community engagement and increasing disease prevention in public health services.

Chan urges the world to focus on implementing universal health care to reduce noncommunicable diseases. It is the ultimate expression of equality, ensuring no one is left behind.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr


The winning team in Northwestern University’s 4th Annual Global Health Case Competition proposed a sustainable, long-term health plan in the form of a “birth kit” to reduce neonatal mortality in Nigeria.

Every day, nearly 2,300 Nigerian children under the age of five lose their lives. According to UNICEF, essential medical care during childbirth and the weeks following would have prevented most of these deaths.

Neonatal mortality in Nigeria constitutes a quarter of deaths among children under five. A majority of these deaths occur within the first week after birth and are caused by birth asphyxia, infection and premature birth.

On Feb. 18, 2017, Northwestern conducted its annual health case competition. For the fourth year, the university invited students to propose solutions to a 21st-century global health challenge to raise awareness and encourage innovative thinking. The 2017 competition included six teams consisting of five students each from different schools.

The 2017 case centered around neonatal mortality in Nigeria and the implementation of chlorhexidine, an inexpensive and effective antiseptic gel. Severe infection and sepsis, an immune response to bacterial infection in the bloodstream, are two of the leading causes of neonatal death in Nigeria. The students’ assignment involved integrating chlorhexidine into “Nigeria’s healthcare institutions, culture, and maternal care regime.”

The winning team’s three-year implementation plan centers around a “birth kit,” which includes the chlorhexidine gel and other materials essential for home births. The umbilical cord is a common entry point for infectious diseases, so the gel would be used to sanitize and protect mothers and their newborns. Sustainability was the team’s focal point. They proposed a partnership with a nonprofit to help cooperatively create a demand for the birth kit, then slowly normalize chlorhexidine in Nigeria’s childcare culture.

Courtney Zhu, a member of the winning team and a sophomore studying journalism and global health, said, “From this experience, I gained insight into the mechanism of tackling modern health challenges, and realized just how valuable collaboration is in a multidimensional field like global health.”

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr