New Ebola Vaccine Kills Virus in MonkeysA recent study published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation has reported that a new prototype aerosol Ebola vaccine was found to successfully neutralize the deadly virus within monkeys during clinical test trials.

The study, led by Dr. Michelle Myer and conducted collaboratively by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, determined that the experimental vaccine activated immune cells within the respiratory system that subsequently provided full protection against the virus. The study also notes that this is the first time researchers have attempted to use an aerosol vaccine within monkeys to fight a hemorrhagic viral fever such as Ebola.

Co-author of the study Dr. Alexander Bukreyev, a medical virologist from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, recently stated, “This is one of the few vaccines that works. The initial several decades of attempts to develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus were unsuccessful.”

Vaccination researchers within the medical community have become familiar with the notion of failure, as an experimental drug designed to treat Ebola patients proved ineffective in fighting the virus. The experimental drug, known as TKM-Ebola-Guinea, was designed by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals and reportedly was, “Not likely to demonstrate an overall therapeutic benefit,” for patients infected with Ebola.

The drug was designed to utilize RNA interference, a process in which the functions of certain genes within the Ebola virus are disrupted and subsequently renders the virus incapable of attacking human cells. Prior to the failure of the trials within human subjects, many researchers considered the experiment the single most promising lead in the race to stop Ebola, as the drug had proved effective in stopping the virus in monkeys during clinical test trials

Since the unprecedented outbreak of the disease in West Africa last year, the virus is estimated to have killed over 11,000 people and infected an additional 27,000 people in the nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.

As the aerosol vaccine does not require the assistance of trained medical professionals, the distribution of the vaccine within developing regions that lack adequate health infrastructures and large personnel staffing will prove to be notably less challenging. Dr. Igor Lukashevich, a medical virologist from the University of Louisville, recently argued that “This aerosolized form of the vaccine is really what the field needs right now. The discussion […] right now is if this Ebola outbreak will be some kind of game-changer for vaccine development, or will it only be one more scare that will be forgotten.”

Dr. Meyer explained in a recent interview that human cells “in the lungs are acting as the first barrier for protection. That’s ideal to combat the virus at the site of the infection.”

Four of the monkeys used for the study were given a single dose of the vaccine, while an additional four were given two doses of the vaccine. Two other monkeys were given a liquid form of the vaccine, while two more monkeys were not vaccinated in order to serve as controlled variables for the study. Four weeks after the administration of the vaccines, all 12 of the monkeys were administered 1,000 times the fatal dose of the Ebola virus.

Two weeks after the injection of the Ebola virus into the test monkeys, all of the vaccinated monkeys had remained healthy while the two unvaccinated monkeys became infected with the disease and were euthanized.

Dr. Daniel Bausch, a medical virologist of Tulane University, noted that the study was “a positive step forward,” but cautioned that “it’s not a breakthrough or ‘Eureka!’”

The success of the aerosol vaccine during the clinical trials on the monkeys indicates the next step will now be for testing to begin on humans in the coming months.

James Thornton

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, MB
Photo: Red Orbit

Can the Infectious Disease, Yaws, be Eradicated SoonYaws is a relatively unknown disease in the developed world, but in poor tropical areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Western Pacific, it is common and can lead to disfigurement and disability.

Yaws is the most common endemic treponematoses, a group of bacterial infections that also includes nonvenereal syphilis and pinta. All of these infections are transmitted through non-sexual contact with an infected person. They can cause skin lesions, bone pain, bone lesions, nose deformities and the thickening or cracking of a person’s hands and soles of the feet. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 75% of infected people are under 15 years of age, with most cases seen in children aged 6 to 10. Gender is not a determining factor of infection.

Yaws is spread through skin-to-skin contact, usually after a small injury occurs, something common when children play. Yet, WHO states that “overcrowding, poor hygiene and socioeconomic conditions facilitate the spread of the yaws.”

The disease is not life-threatening, which is likely why it became a neglected disease in the scope of global disease work. But if left untreated, a person can become permanently disfigured and disabled. Such a diagnosis is bad for anyone infected with the disease, but since mostly children suffer from yaws, it becomes a life-long issue if not resolved quickly. When a child contracts yaws, their ability to go to school is jeopardized. If left untreated, absenteeism rises among children and their future employment, especially feeding their families through farming, is impacted.

It has long since been thought that yaws could be a disease that can have complete eradication since humans are the only carriers of the disease. Previously, initiatives to eradicate yaws were undertaken with almost complete success. But the mass effort was prematurely lifted and the disease returned, though not quite on the same scale as before.

Recently, the idea of complete eradication has come back up. The two most effective antibiotics to treat yaws are azithromycin and benzathine penicillin, both of which can be given with relative ease. Even though no vaccine is available for yaws, if early diagnosis is achieved, treatment with the antibiotics can occur and sanitation can be improved to help stop the spread of the disease. With the steps, the end of yaws is in sight.

There have already been cases of previously endemic countries achieving complete eradication, including India. The Yaws Eradication Programme (YEP) was launched in India in 1996 with the goal to have complete eradication in the country. In 1997, 735 cases of yaws were reported; in 2004, the country was considered to have achieved “Zero Case.” Because not all cases of yaws are reported, only time will tell if complete eradication can be sustained, but right now all signs are pointing to success.

With great things already happening in India and a plan in place to achieve more success globally, yaws should be eradicated from remaining endemic countries by 2020.

Megan Ivy

Sources:, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Chacha

vaccinesEven in this day and age of technology, there are roughly 1.5 million children who die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases. One of the main reasons is the lack of reliable electricity in developing countries. What if there was a way to keep life-saving vaccines at a cool temperature in places of extremely warm temperatures with no reliable power for months?

This is the challenge Bill Gates presented to Nathan Myhrvold. The result was a thermos model device that looks like a keg and can be easily transported on a motorcycle. Arktek, the Passive Vaccine Storage Device, uses regular ice water and no power, keeping vaccines at a temperature just above freezing for months.

Arktek has just one small battery for the display screen at the top, which has a built-in cell phone to send text messages to alert others if, for example, you are running low on ice. The device was tested in up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, where it can last 6 to 8 weeks. In a cooler area, it can last for months.

Well, how this is possible, you may ask?

Arktek uses super insulation, similar to what is used for cryogenic fluids, at very low temperatures and to protect spacecraft from extreme temperatures.

The device has already saved millions of lives. It was used in West Africa to transport the experimental Ebola vaccine during the recent outbreak. According to Bill Gates, the current vaccine-preventable disease to focus on is polio, which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes to eradicate by 2018. Once polio is conquered, the next vaccine-preventable disease would be malaria.

The device is also practical in countries with reliable power, such as the United States, for the transportation of organs. Currently, organs are transported in hand-held coolers that do not last long very long. Myhrvold states the example that if the organs are not transported within a certain amount of time they will go bad in the current device used. That is when Arktek comes in handy, as a superior alternative method for transporting organs.

Arktek has received awards and recognition for its innovative technology. These include the 2014 Good Design Award in the Humanitarian Category from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design and the 2014 ViE Award for the best technological development.

Arktek is the result of Intellectual Ventures’ Global Good Program and Intellectual Ventures Lab. The innovative company is owned by Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Information Officer at Microsoft. Intellectual Ventures has partnered with AUCMA, China’s largest refrigeration manufacturer, to help distribute these devices to remote areas. This is a partnership that will save millions of lives from vaccine-preventable diseases and potentially result in a healthier future for the world’s poor.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: CNN Videos, Intellectual Ventures
Photo: Fast Company

Vaccine-Shelf-LifeIt is hard enough to find vaccines for the world’s deadliest diseases, but scientists also grapple with another concern: shelf life.

In order for vaccines to remain potent, they must be kept within a range of suitable temperatures. For instance, they are rendered useless in excessive heat.

The effects of such temperature fluctuations can be substantial. According to the global health nonprofit PATH, the cholera vaccine Dukoral has a shelf life of 36 months when stored at temperatures between 2-8 degrees Celsius. If stored at 27 degrees Celsius, the vaccine will only last 14 days.

This poses a problem for those performing vaccinations in the developing world; in countries near the equator, the heat can be stifling. That means vaccines could expire when they are needed most.

Compounding the problem is the lack of electricity in certain regions. With high temperatures and no reliable way of keeping supplies cold, many vaccines go to waste.

At Intellectual Ventures Lab, scientists are developing a new device to keep vaccines at the ideal temperature, as part of their Global Good program. The Arktek, a passive vaccine storage device, is able to keep vaccines cold for a month with no electricity. It uses the same techniques to remain protected from extreme temperatures as employed by spacecrafts.

The device was put to the test during the recent Ebola outbreak. When health care workers started to test Ebola vaccine candidates, they needed a way to keep them cold during transport and storage.

The vaccines were required to be kept between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius, well below the usual temperature range of the Arktek device. However, with some quick modifications and carefully conducted tests, the container was modified to support such low temperatures.

That meant scientists could prolong the shelf life of experimental Ebola vaccines, if only for a few days longer.

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Intellectual Ventures Lab, PATH, World Health Organization
Photo: Science Museum

A new series published in a U.K. medical journal demonstrates the growing role of religion in global health.

The three-part series from The Lancet focuses on faith-based healthcare and how religious organizations can play a crucial role in helping health coverage become universal. The series suggests a lack of evidence about the abundance of health services faith-based organizations provide and represent. However, the series also validates the important role faith-based health providers play in immunization, prevention of mother and child deaths, HIV services and antimalarial campaigns.

The role of religion in global health is even more crucial in areas with fragile health systems.

Faith-based organizations have a unique opportunity because of their experience, strengths and capacities. According to The Lancet, the chance to play a vital role in global heath arises from their wide geographical coverage, infrastructure and influence. For a faith-based organization to have an impact on global health, it needs the support and trust of its community. This is where religious leaders play a role.

Religious leaders tend to have lots of authority at the grass roots within a community, as well as the ability to shape people’s opinions. Leaders of faith-based organizations, along with having substantial social and political sway, also have a network of people they inspire, in turn mobilizing congregations to make a difference. For example, Channels of Hope, a project of the Evangelical Christian aid organization World Vision International, mobilized almost 400,000 local leaders to transform health and development in their communities.

Religious leaders are also a reliable source when it comes to information about medical programs. Some vocal minorities may use religious arguments and possible distrust of government to advocate against immunizing children, but by enlisting the help of leaders in the religious sector, medical programs can extend their reach.

Such an occasion was seen in both Angola in the late 1990s, and India in the late 2000s. In both instances, religious leaders helped to educate those who distrusted government officials.

Muslim leaders in India helped to reverse opposition to polio vaccines in certain areas where rumors and misconceptions about the government were rampant. In Angola, churches helped to end polio by making sure messages reached isolated populations — the same areas that often saw high illiteracy rates and poor media coverage.

Partnerships also play a key role in global health, as shown by case studies examined in The Lancet series.

When religious leaders partner with groups including government organizations, public-sector agencies and international development actors, effectiveness is often boosted.

Such an instance occurred in Sierra Leone in the 1980s when Muslim and Christian leaders united with UNICEF and led a campaign to increase immunization rates in children under the age of 1. By combining forces, rates increased from six percent to 75 percent.

By joining forces, not only can it be made possible that every child is vaccinated, but a successful partnership can also help generate long-term support for necessary health services for children.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Medical Xpress, UNICEF
Photo: Cross Catholic

Coca-Cola products reach every corner of the world while essential medicines do not. ColaLife, a UK charity, noticed this and decided to make a change. ColaLife uses Coca-Cola to open up the private sector supply chain to deliver affordable and effective medicines.

ColaLife produced the Kit Yamoyo, an anti-diarrhea kit. Diarrheal diseases cause life-threatening dehydration, which is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in developing nations. Each year, it takes the lives of 760,000 children, even though it’s curable.

The problem is that these children do not have access to the cure, which is what ColaLife sought to solve. The Kit Yamoyo contains Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), soap, and zinc, which act as a cure. The package itself acts as a measuring device for water needed to mix up the ORS and zinc, and can also be used as a storage device as well as a cup.

The Kit Yamoyo has a v-shaped cup to easily fit into the Coca-Cola delivery crates. As a compact, low-cost product, the Kit Yamoyo piggybacks Coca-Cola’s supply chain to reach remote areas. It is a symbiotic relationship: Coca-Cola products continue to reach and get sold in remote areas, while the consumers gain access to more medicines than ever before.

The kits themselves are sold with Coca-Cola products. As the kits make their way out to the remote areas, the demand for them becomes greater. It’s a positive situation for everyone involved: Coca-Cola products are sold, the retailer makes a profit, and the consumer gets the medicine they need to help their children.

With enough funding, the Kit Yamoyo will have a big impact. It will widen vaccine coverage in remote areas and reduce death rates caused by dehydration and malnutrition. It will also encourage an increased investment in training and help health workers reduce child mortality rates. ColaLife has proven that the supply chain is just as important as the medicine itself.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: ColaLife, University of Delaware, WHO, Zambia Daily Mail
Photo: Just Giving

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Medicine has long been involved in tackling infectious disease and facilitating the development of new drug therapies. In 2008, UAB and the Southern Research Institute collaborated to create the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA), which has been working to develop new drug therapies for a number of viruses.

Over the past five years, the ADDA has spent a lot of time, money and energy on building up their infrastructure and technological capacity.

These efforts have paid off.

Recently, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided a $35 million, five-year grant to the UAB School of Medicine. This money is being used to establish the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), a national research consortium focusing on the discovery of new and better drug therapies.

The AD3C is focusing on developing therapies against four specific RNA virus families – influenza, flaviviruses, coronaviruses, and alphaviruses. These infections cause diseases including West Nile virus, SARS, MERS, chikungunya and dengue fever.

UAB will be coordinating with top research scientists from across the country, who will be working to target and inhibit the expression of specific enzymes that are essential for viral replication.

Richard J. Whitley, M.D., will serve as the principal investigator and program director of the new center. He is a distinguished professor at UAB School of Medicine and is a renowned expert in antiviral treatments.

The AD3C will be comprised of three main cores: an administrative core, a screening core and a medicinal chemistry and lead development core.

The administrative core will be housed at UAB and deal with the daily operations of the center, as well as monitor and review the research progress. The screening core will be located at the Southern Research Institute and will develop screening assays for compounds that inhibit viral replication. Lastly, the medicinal chemistry and lead development core will also be located at the Research Institute and will be the main center for creating new potential therapies.

The AD3C hopes to reduce the global burden of disease that represents both biological threats to U.S. citizens and unmet medical needs to people across the globe.

Program director, Whitley, is confident that over the next five years the center will be able to develop leading drug therapies to accomplish just that.

He notes, “This team of investigators from across the country and their respective institutions represent terrific intellectual talent to address these challenges.”

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: ICT, UAB
Photo: UMMC

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

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

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

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

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

– Sonia Aviv

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

In every corner of the world, people know the famous Coca-Cola logo. There are few places on the entire planet that a person might venture to and find Coke products scarce and in low supply, including underdeveloped nations. If the Coca-Cola Company has access to these distant regions and manages to vend their products, why do these nations go without vital medications and health treatments?

Simon Berry, a worker for UK Aid, originally had this question which led to the birth of an organization: ColaLife. ColaLife began on the Internet in 2008, and since, has gained thousands of online-based supporters. Running on a staff primarily composed of volunteers, ColaLife utilizes the same means that the Coca-Cola Company and other worldwide producers use to put their products in every place they can. The organization accomplishes these goals by making use of innovations and networks, like those at Coca-Cola, and opening supply chains and distribution channels for simple medications to reach those in need.

The statistics speak for themselves – in many of these developing areas of the world, 1 in 9 children die at very young ages to preventable diseases, such as diarrhea, the second largest killer of children. Statistics such as this one are what prompted Simon and others to put the plans for ColaLife in motion and provide assistance and medicine in areas where they were previously inaccessible.

Aside from donations and sponsorships, ColaLife has also taken to the internet and social media to bring awareness to these preventable deaths and their mission to end them. The independent non-profit group can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and they also maintain YouTube and SoundCloud channels.

– Ryan Miller

Sources: ColaLife, Product Design of The Year 2013
Photo: The Dieline

Health workers have strong influences in people’s lives. It is important that they be informed and efficient, which is why IntraHealth International runs three programs designed to improve the work done by health workers around the world. IntraHealth recognizes that supplies and advocacy are great, but trained professionals take it to the next level.

Their three programs are Championing the Health Worker, Health Workforce and Systems Strengthening and Health Worker Training and Performance. While each of these programs does good in itself, they work together to achieve higher standards in health care that a single program could not reach alone.

Fully aware of the shortage of health workers in developing areas, IntraHealth strives to  engage more people in global health professions. This benefits future generations, but what about people who need help now? IntraHealth deploys trained health workers in the regions they are needed most first. In instances of child birth, the presence of trained medical workers can mean life or death for the mother and infant.

Although trained medical workers are essential to the success of this operation, effective management systems are also necessary. Human resources and management skills, like medicine, can be taught to large populations and provide them greater opportunity to help their community thrive.

IntraHealth helps existing organizations improve their policies and planning to better serve both patients and health workers, strengthen human resource information systems for better decision-making, promoting practices to increase the longevity of health workers and improving overall productivity. The HRH Global Resource Center also helps spread information on human resources specifically for the health workforce.

A prime example of the three programs working together can be seen in Uganda. The country saw an almost 7,000 person increase in the health workforce between October 2012 and April 2013 thanks to IntraHealth’s combined effort with the Ugandan government. Because of this increase in knowledgeable staff, the government allocated 49.5 billion shillings (around US $20 million) to continue growth of the health workforce. This was only the beginning. After the increase in health workers, it was necessary to decide the most effective placements for each worker. With the Uganda Capacity Program, a system that sorts through applications to find the best fit, efficient placement saved the government millions of shillings and created clinics more able to serve their communities. The health workers trained by IntraHealth in human resources practices were also able to continue improvement of operations. Uganda has a history of insufficient numbers of health workers. Only 58 percent of needed positions were filled in Mbale, but by 2013, the number jumped to 70%. With recent clever advertising, over 35,000 applications were sent in for consideration.

– Jordan Bradley
Sources: Global Health Knowledge
Photo: Flikr