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Global Health
With the many advances in science and medicine over the last century, it is no surprise that overall global health has been positively impacted. From the discovery of penicillin to the creation of the X-Ray machine, dedication to healthcare and these advancements have proved beneficial for both scientists and patients. The following is a discussion of the top five improvements in global health trends and their impacts on the global health conversation.

Top Five Improvements in Global Health Trends

  1. HIV/AIDS is no longer the leading cause of death in Africa. There has been a long-standing notion that the transmission of HIV was among the worst diagnoses imaginable and, furthermore, that the disease was becoming more and more rampant in many areas, especially poorer ones. However, many advancements have been made for prevention and treatment, which include newer and more effective medications, sexual education and safer sexual practices. These advancements have been used in poorer communities in African countries, where the epidemic is the greatest in severity. Thankfully, the prevention and treatment methods have been so effective that HIV/AIDS is no longer the leading cause of death in Africa. This advancement not only impacts health but restores communities’ economic success with more resources available for infrastructure and households.
  2. Vaccines are more varied and accessible. Over the last century, vaccines have not only become more varied, as well as more accessible, but their usage has risen. While vaccines have prevented diseases such as measles, polio and smallpox, a vaccine recently came out in 2011 that protects against the shingles virus. The shingles virus is a painful, blistery skin rash that originates from certain strains of the chickenpox virus, which is most common among children. However, unlike the chickenpox virus, the shingles virus is a higher risk for contraction in elders. The shingles vaccine greatly improves quality of life and has already made a huge impact. While vaccines are less standard in more disadvantaged areas, improvements are being made to include more vaccinations for more people, oftentimes cost-covered by charity organizations such as UNICEF.
  3. Mortality associated with childbirth has decreased significantly. Both infant mortality and maternal mortality rates were historically high compared to modern day rates. These statistics are an outstanding improvement from 25 years ago when infant mortality rates were as high as six and a half percent of all births and maternal mortality rates were around four-tenths of a percent. In 2017, a mere one-third of a percent of all children born did not survive past one year and an even lower percentage of mothers died during childbirth (two-hundredths of a percent). However, due to an increased overall implementation of sanitary health practices globally, these percentages continue to drop. In developed countries, where per capita income is higher, sanitary practices are at their most prevalent. Meanwhile, the opposite is true for countries with lower per capita income where there is lessened sanitary practice adherence. This, in turn, allows for a higher survival rate of both infants and mothers, leading to more families to have fewer children as they know infants have a greater chance of survival.
  4. Diabetes is no longer a “life sentence.” As recent as one hundred years ago, by the time diabetes was detectable, a person had mere months or years to live. Among the amazing improvements in global health, specifically thanks to the discovery of insulin in 1920 and all the advancements made in treatment as a result, diabetes will now have little to no impact on a person’s life expectancy. While people living in impoverished nations may have a harder time accessing treatment, great strides have still been made and are being made to provide treatment to people in disadvantaged regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, including the provision of diabetes education.
  5. Water-related illnesses are reduced by better access to clean water. Clean water, once a scarcity, has been augmented by greater attention, funding and resources for water sanitation. There is a connection between poverty, health and reduced access to clean water, where poverty exacerbates the situation and makes clean water harder to access, adding an extra layer to both poverty and decreased health. Over the last 18 years, world access to clean water jumped from 76 percent to 91 percent. This improvement has prevented illnesses such as malaria, diarrhea and dehydration.

The above list merely scratches the surface of recent improvements in global health. There is much more left in the healthcare conversation and many more advancements that are being enhanced, discovered and yet to be discovered. Improvements in global health afford people the opportunity to dissolve their poverty, allowing them to live a longer and better life.

– Alexandra C Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr

HIV in Africa: Myth vs Fact
The 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