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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


Eradicating Ebola is the global community’s next step in ensuring worldwide health. The disease is rare but extremely contagious, and causes internal and external bleeding as well as a severe fever. As soon as the virus enters the body, it weakens the immune system by attacking immune cells. In time, it causes blood vessels to carry less blood, which results in organ failure and eventual death.

Also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever or Ebola virus, the disease is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids or objects that have been contaminated by bodily fluids, such as medical needles. It can also be contracted through contact with infected animals, specifically bats and primates.

There have been a number of Ebola cases internationally but the disease has mainly remained in regions of West Africa. The disease originated in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it was Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone that witnessed the largest Ebola epidemic in 2014 through 2016. An estimated 28,616 people contracted the disease and this resulted in 11,310 deaths.

Fortunately, the presence of Ebola has been contained since the outbreak. In 2015, researchers from the World Health Organization began testing a vaccine in Guinea, which returned with a 100 percent success rate. This vaccine was developed through a “ring vaccination” approach. The approach separated patients and their immediate contacts from the general public.

The vaccination report was released in December 2016. As Marie-Paule Kieny, lead author of the report, states: “While these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, they show that when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenseless.” Although the vaccine demonstrates progress in eradicating Ebola, it is in need of additional safety research before it can be formally licensed.

Another development in eliminating Ebola comes from a group of Canadian researchers. The group administered a drug known as Interferon Beta-1a to patients infected with Ebola. The drug, which is used to treat hepatitis B and C, had surprisingly effective results. “After 21 days, 67 percent of the Interferon-treated Ebola patients were still alive, compared to just 19 percent of the others,” reports Tom Blackwell from The National Post.

Although more research must be conducted regarding Interferon Beta-1a, findings look promising. The vaccine also demonstrates significant progress in eradicating Ebola, a disease that is now destined to become an element of the past.

Gigi DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

Tropical Diseases
Neglected tropical diseases are transmitted diseases caused by parasites, and are usually found in tropical and subtropical regions. They mostly affect people in poverty who live in unsanitary conditions. Most of these neglected tropical diseases can be easily prevented with treatments and vaccinations that are affordable.

Lymphatic Filariasis
More than 1.3 billion people across 72 countries might be at risk for this disease, and more than 120 million people are infected by it. Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infections from parasites called filarial worms and leads to abnormal enlargements of body parts which cause great pain. The disease is better known as elephantiasis. There has been some success in stopping the spread of the disease by using preventive chemotherapy. The disease can also be treated with a care package that alleviates pain and prevents any more disfigurement.

Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)
The River Blindness disease gets its name from the black flies that are found in fast-flowing streams and rivers. Infections cause blindness and skin disease. Ninety percent of cases occur in Africa with a lot of cases in Latin America and Yemen. Long-term skin damage and blindness can be prevented with a medicine called ivermectin.

Schistosomiasis (Snail Fever)
Schistosomiasis gets the nickname “snail fever” from freshwater snails carrying the disease. Children can be highly susceptible to the disease when they swim and fish in infested waters. Snail fever has spread in a lot of poor areas in Africa because of migrations and population movements, but the World Health Organization has worked to spread awareness and treat infections. The WHO even implemented campaigns to distribute praziquantel which can be a large-scale treatment of schistosomiasis.

Ascariasis (Roundworm Infection)
Ascariasis is one of the most common neglected tropical diseases, infecting more than one billion people per year and causing 60,000 deaths each year. The disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm called Ascaris lumbricoides. More than one hundred worms could infect a human at a time. The earthworm eggs can be accidentally ingested through contaminated food, water and soil. Some symptoms can be minor such as coughing, loss of appetite and a fever. In severe cases, it can cause malnutrition, intestinal blockage, and pneumonia. There have been companies that have been donating to help fight the disease such as Johnson and Johnson pledging to donate 200 million tablets of mebendazole by 2020 and GlaxoSmithKline donating one billion tablets of Albendazole a year.

Trachoma
Trachoma is another eye disease that is a lot more severe than River Blindness. It is one of the most infectious causes of blindness and affects about 1.9 million people. Trachoma is either spread through physical contact with the eye and or nose discharge from other people. Fleets of flies have been known to carry the disease as well. This neglected tropical disease mostly affects women and young children in poor rural areas in Africa and Asia. The World Health Assembly has adopted Resolution WHA51.11 which is geared towards eliminating the disease by 2020.

With continued intervention from governments, NGOs and corporations, these neglected tropical diseases can be effectively targeted and eliminated, ensuring lives of enhanced productivity and prosperity for millions of people around the world.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

Product (RED)
Since its discovery in 1981, 35 million people have died from AIDS or AIDS-related diseases. The early years of the disease presented challenges for the medical community. However, as more people learned about the disease, another challenge emerged: how to best educate the public about the dangers of the disease without creating a stigma. This challenge still persists today.

The worldwide impact of AIDS is prolific. In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV. Every day approximately 5,753 people contract HIV — about 240 every hour. In 2015, 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 78 million people have contracted HIV and 35 million have died of AIDS-related causes.

In 2006, Bono, lead singer of the Irish band U2, and Bobby Shriver, an activist and attorney, created Product (RED) to advocate for better awareness of AIDS. The two men believed that if they combined the efforts of NGOs, governments, the medical community, global business brands and celebrities, they could create a powerful force to foster understanding of the disease. The influential allies also provided funding for research to eradicate the disease.

Product (RED) business partnerships include Apple, Gap, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola. By creating products specifically for Product (RED), the partnership allows consumers to use purchasing power to fund AIDS treatment and awareness around the globe. (RED) partners contribute a portion of their (RED) product profits to fight AIDS, and up to 50 percent of the profits go directly to fighting AIDS.

Over the past decade, Product (RED) raised $365 million to support the Global Fund. Product (RED) has become a global brand; the combination of awareness and research is powerful. The money raised by Product (RED) provides life-saving medicine for those living with AIDS in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.

When Product (RED) began, only 2.1 million people had access to medication. Through their efforts, the organization raised money to fund medication for more than 18 million people. They have also increased the access to medication; in rural areas of Africa, filling a prescription is not easily accomplished. However, Product (RED) and its partnership with the Global Fund help create a pathway for the medication, by making sure the medicine reaches the people that need it most, the system is more efficient and life-saving.

AIDS is a worldwide epidemic, but the decade of Product (RED) illustrates the power of the combination of global alliances and knowledgeable consumers as a force for change.

Jennifer Graham

Photo: Flickr

PEPFAR Progresses Toward AIDS-Free Generation
December 1 marked World AIDS Day, which this year brought hopeful news about the 35-year-old epidemic. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) shared new data demonstrating significant progress in HIV reduction in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The announcement revitalized PEPFAR’s resolve to yield an AIDS-free generation by 2030.

In the press release, three countries represented the progress-at-large toward AIDS eradication due to the astonishing prevalence of the disease there. Respectively, Zimbabwe globally ranks fifth in most HIV cases among adults, followed by Zambia at seventh and Malawi at ninth.

Even so, reductions of the disease in these nations is appreciable. The incidence of HIV in adults since 2003 have decreased by 76 percent in Malawi, 51 percent in Zambia, and 67 percent in Zimbabwe. Across the three countries, the community viral load suppression among HIV-positive adults averages 65 percent, indicating HIV transmission is nearly under control. These shocking results are inspiring broader action and reinvigorating the AIDS-free dream.

Surpassing President Obama’s 2015 targets of global AIDS reduction, PEPFAR now provides about 11.5 million people with antiretroviral treatments, has performed 11.7 million voluntary medical male circumcisions, and has facilitated 2 million HIV-free births.

The momentum is gaining. Along with their World AIDS Day press release, PEPFAR announced their $4 million, two-year partnership with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). The project will enhance HIV service delivery to men in the Mulanje District of Malawi through mobile clinics and door-to-door household level testing. According to the project’s success, it will serve as a community-based-treatment model for other areas that are difficult to service, improving health care opportunities for hard-to-reach places around the world.

While there is still a long road ahead, PEPFAR’s announcements last week served as reminders that an AIDS-free world is not only possible but well within sight. Now is the time to redouble global efforts to prevent and treat HIV so that a new generation can live completely AIDS-free.

Robin Lee

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

Health Security Agenda
On Nov. 4, President Obama signed an executive order advancing the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which the administration started in 2014. As a result, the United States will now prioritize the GHSA on a presidential level.

As part of the GHSA, the United States has joined with 55 different countries, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies.  The GHSA’s top goals include the improvement of research accountability and outbreak detection, and 22 countries have already begun to evaluate outbreak responses and identify areas to improve upon.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the under-secretary general of the United Nations, suggests that the WHO needs to focus on outbreak response as one of its five main priorities in order to ensure that the global health goals will be met by 2030.

According to USAID, the “GHSA promotes global health security as a national priority through targeted capacity building activities, such as improving laboratory systems, strengthening disease surveillance, improving biosafety and biosecurity, expanding workforce development, and improving emergency management.”

USAID also proposes to support the GHSA initiative by addressing animal health, human health and the environment. USAID’s Bureau for Global Health Assistant Administrator, Dr. Ariel Pablos Mendez, says that USAID’s attention to animal health is particularly important: 70 percent of new infectious disease outbreaks begin in animals.

WaterAid also celebrates the GHSA’s anticipated role in improving the safety of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. WaterAid explains that spread of infectious diseases such as cholera could end with access to safe water.

The GHSA’s intent to combat antimicrobial resistance relates directly to water quality. Access to safe water could prevent up to 60 percent of diarrhea cases. These cases require treatment with antibiotics, and increased use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance among bacteria.

People and diseases travel rapidly due to the spread of globalization. The CDC summarizes, “A disease threat anywhere can mean a threat everywhere.” The GHSA is designed to detect and prevent this spread of disease. “No single nation can be prepared,” the order declares, “if other nations remain unprepared to counter biological threats.”

Madeline Reding

Photo: Flickr

Diseases _AfghanistanAfghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world, where thousands of people die each year from preventable diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) uses age-adjusted rates to compare these diseases and see which ones cause the most deaths. Age-adjusted rates are the rates/dates that would have existed if the population under study had the same age distribution as the “standard” population. Based upon this data, the following are the top 10 diseases in Afghanistan:

  1. Coronary Heart Disease: A disease in which a plaque builds up in the coronary artery and blocks oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart muscle.
    Based on an age-standardized death rate taken in 2014, coronary heart disease ranks number one of the top diseases in Afghanistan taking thousands of lives each year. Of all the deaths in Afghanistan according to the 2014 data, coronary heart disease accounted for a little more than 9 percent. The age adjusted death rate for this disease calculates to 193.21 per 100,000 people ranking Afghanistan twentieth in the world.
  2. Pneumonia: Lung inflammation caused by bacterial or viral infection.
    Influenza: Also known as the “common flu.”
    According to data recorded in 2014, deaths caused by influenza or pneumonia totaled 28,841 people. The age-adjusted death rate is 97.78 per 100,000 people making it the second most prominent disease in Afghanistan. Unfortunately 72 percent of children who suffer from pneumonia are unable to reach the necessary care of a doctor.
  3. Tuberculosis: a bacterial disease caused by growth of nodules in the tissues.
    The age-adjusted death rate for tuberculosis as of 2014 is 70.41 per 100,000 people. This ranks Afghanistan number 13 in the world regarding mortalities from tuberculosis. Early treatment and proper diagnosis needed to cure tuberculosis and therefore upwards of 13,000 Afghans die each year from the preventable diseases in Afghanistan.
  4. Diarrheal Diseases: Loose bowel movements that often cause dehydration.
    In 2014, 15,977 people or 7.10 percent of the population died because of diarrhoeal diseases. This often can be prevented by drinking safe, clean water and access to adequate sanitation which many Afghans cannot accomplish. Only 48 percent of those with a diarrhoeal disease receive the proper rehydration needed to survive. With many diseases causing early childhood deaths, diarrheal diseases account for 25 percent of them.
  5. Diabetes Mellitus: The most common form of diabetes.
    In 2015 there were 935,800 cases of diabetes in Afghanistan and 19,698 deaths. The age adjusted death rate for tuberculosis as of 2014 ranks diabetes mellitus in Afghanistan number 71 in the world regarding mortalities.
  6. Lung Disease: A problem with the lungs that prevents the lungs from working properly.
    Lung disease caused 2,874 deaths according to data recorded in 2014. The age adjusted death rate is recorded as 27.77 per 100,00 people ranking Afghanistan number 43 in the world regarding lung disease mortalities.
  7. Rheumatic Heart Disease: The age adjusted death rate for this heart disease is 27.57 per 100,000 people as published by data in 2014. Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which heart valves are damaged (caused by the rheumatic fever). The rheumatic fever is a disease caused by untreated strep throat or scarlet fever.
  8. Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure.
    The age adjusted death rate ranks hypertension in Afghanistan at 25th in the world for deaths from hypertension. Without the proper access to professionals and doctors, diagnosing then implementing a way to fix hypertension is extremely difficult.
  9. Breast Cancer: A group of cancer cells that begin in the breast and often spread to other parts of the body.
    One in eight Afghan women are affected by breast cancer. According to the Minister of Public Health Affairs, “[Breast cancer] is not a fatal disease if we seek treatments.” However, the age adjusted death rate of breast cancer ranks Afghanistan number 20 in the world.
  10. Liver Disease: Some type of damage or disease to the liver.
    One of the most serious liver diseases in Afghanistan is hepatitis or inflammation of the liver. In 2013, almost 30,000 cases of viral hepatitis were diagnosed. The WHO is dedicated to fighting the “silent killer” by raising awareness and providing cures.

While deadly, the top 10 diseases in Afghanistan are treatable with the proper awareness and care.

Casey Marx

Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street
Sesame Street uses its influence to improve global health through its unwavering support of Youth Day and Global Goals — both of which are recognized by the United Nations — to encourage young children to act as voices of change.

Youth Day 

Youth Day is celebrated on August 12, and this year’s theme is centered around the eradication of poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production. Sustainable consumption means meeting Earth’s present and future needs by simply being aware of everyday actions that affect the planet and learning to minimize waste and pollution.

The beloved children’s show shared the following important message on Facebook: “With the help of our friends around the world, we hope children continue to be inspired and empowered to be the change they deserve!”

Iconic Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird and Elmo are pictured carrying signs that promote multiple Sustainable Development Goals like quality education, clean water, and sanitation.

Sesame Street and Sustainability 

The U.N.’s list of Sustainable Development Goals comprises 17 other objectives including no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being. According to the U.N., these plans to transform the world can be met with the collective efforts of government authorities and regular individuals alike.

Sesame Workshop’s shows use media outlets for the greater good in more than 150 countries. Since it first aired in 1969, Sesame Street has aimed to give disadvantaged children equal opportunities through numerous educational outreach programs. Additionally, Muppet characters are created to address specific and relevant concerns.

One such character is Khokha — lead Muppet of Sesame Street coproduction Alam Simsim — is a model for girls’ education in Egypt. Another Muppet, Kami, is an HIV-positive Muppet living in South Africa. She destigmatizes HIV/AIDS by telling children that it is okay to touch someone affected by the disease.

With everyone working together, the reality of a brighter future is more than attainable. Sesame Street is drastically improving global health by getting involved and spreading the word about the need to care for the planet and its people.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Athletic Tracks_ China
Education is meant to be helpful, but recently thousands of Chinese children have fallen ill due to their school facilities. Adding to the unhealthily high levels of pollution throughout the country, athletic tracks in China composed of low-quality materials have been essentially poisoning the students who use them.

Affected students experienced a wide range of symptoms, from nosebleeds to skin conditions and coughs. Many of the affected schools reside in Beijing, but the problem persists at schools throughout the country.

The main school discussed by the Chinese media has been the Beijing No.2 Experimental School, where the track tested positive for high levels of benzene substances and formaldehyde. Other tracks around China have been proven to contain ethylbenzene and other toxic chemicals.

Many of the athletic tracks in China were produced from recycled materials, including old tires. Manufacturers may have been trying to cut costs by using sub-par materials.

Parents across China have been concerned about their children for months, citing illness, doctors visits, and even noting strange smells coming from the tracks. Some concerned parents even petitioned their schools to remove the dangerous tracks.

Users of China’s social media site, Weibo, have taken to the internet to express their experiences and views using the hashtag #ToxicSchoolTrack.

As a result of the national concern, the Chinese Ministry of Education plans to inspect all affected tracks before the start of the new school year and has already begun to replace those that are deemed below standard. According to the ministry, producers of “poisonous tracks” will be severely punished for their actions.

Thus far, Chinese officials have shut down nine factories involved in the production of the dangerous unregulated tracks. Multiple executives and employees of the factories, who are believed to be directly involved in the scandal, have been detained by authorities.

Even though the Ministry of Education is taking steps to improve the conditions of various running tracks, some parents still lack hope. One father states, “It takes a time to clean up things like these and it requires action from different agencies. I doubt we’ll see any real effects soon. For me, my priority is to guarantee my child safety and a good environment to grow up in.”

Hopefully, the Ministry of Education will take the public outcry to heart and continue cracking down on poisonous track producers, as well as continue working to ensure the safety of affected students.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr