The recent breakout of yellow fever in Africa highlights the urgent need to continue routine immunizations.

Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. “Yellow” refers to jaundice that occurs as a side effect of the disease. According to the WHO, there are an estimated 200,000 cases of yellow fever, causing 30,000 deaths, worldwide each year, with 90 percent occurring in Africa.

The first “acute” phase of the disease usually causes fever and muscle pain with a backache, headache, shivers, loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. However, the second “toxic” phase, which affects 15 percent of patients, is deadly.

The patient develops jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of the skin) and abdominal pain with vomiting. Bleeding occurs from the mouth, nose, eyes or stomach and kidney function deteriorates. Half of the patients who enter the toxic phase die within 10 to 14 days.

Yellow fever is difficult to diagnose and there is no specific treatment. The only thing that can be done after contracting the disease is treating the symptoms. That is why vaccines are the only means of protection against the disease.

Past success in combating yellow fever was due to vaccines. According to Gavi, a global Vaccine Alliance created in 2000, mass yellow fever vaccine campaigns in 14 African countries have lowered risk of outbreaks by up to 82 percent and over 30 million doses from the emergency stockpile have been administered.

However, there has been an increase in yellow fever cases in the past few years. Some blame complacency and lack of awareness for the disease’s comeback.Yellow_Fever_in_Africa

“The resurgence of yellow fever in Africa is a classic tale of complacency: not only the routine immunizations aren’t kept up with the required levels, but the vaccine supply doesn’t match the world’s requirements. According to UNICEF, the world needs about 64 million yellow fever vaccine doses, but only 35 million are produced—42 percent under the required quantity.”

Aid is crucial for problems like this. What’s more, the size of this problem is not too big to handle through aid alone. This disease could be wiped out with something as simple as routine vaccinations.

The U.S. has plenty of resources to knock this problem out but has not utilized enough of its budget for the benefit of suffering countries. 51 percent of U.S. discretionary spending in 2015 went to national defense. Five percent went to international affairs, which accounts for more than just foreign aid.

The private sector tends to do more in terms of aid than the government. In response to the spike in yellow fever cases, the Gates Foundation has stepped in to help with a $1.6 million investment in Senegal’s manufacturer of the vaccine, says Quartz.

While this investment will help hundreds of thousands of at-risk people, it won’t last forever. That is why a long-term solution calls for awareness. Gavi’s business challenge puts awareness at the forefront as the foundation of its sustainable solution. Getting vaccines on countries’ agendas is the first step of its co-financing model.

Although it seems like diseases are something that we just have to live with, we have to realize all that we are capable of. Organizations like Gavi and the WHO have made so much progress already. Knowledge and prevention lead to solutions, and with a collective effort, humans can win against diseases. We can defeat yellow fever.

Ashley Tressel

Sources: QZ, GAVI, WHO, InsideGov
Photo: Flickr, Wikipedia

No More Ebola in Sierra LeoneAfter nearly a two-year battle with Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that Sierra Leone is finally free of Ebola.

The country recently celebrated the milestone after almost 4,000 people died since the outbreak.

The WHO noted that 42 days have passed since the last confirmed patient was discharged on September 25 of this year. Anders Nordstrom, the Sierra Leone representative for WHO, revealed the positive news.

“WHO commends the government and people of Sierra Leone for the significant achievement of ending this Ebola outbreak,” Nordstrom said.

While the country has reached the 42-day benchmark, it still has to undergo a 90-day surveillance period.

Indeed, reaching the 42-days is a good reason to rejoice. However, it does not mean that Ebola in Sierra Leone is completely eradicated. Neighboring Liberia reached the 42-day goal in May, only to experience new cases before it was declared Ebola-free again.

Still, Sierra Leone remains optimistic with the news WHO has brought forth.

“We have prevailed over an evil virus. We persevered and we have overcome. We must not let down our guard,” said Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma.

The country will continue to take preventative measures to disable potentially new cases. Bodies will still continue to be swabbed and “safe burials will continue for all suspicious cases.”

It seems as though the disease has been prevented from spreading further. However, the people who had contracted the disease have ongoing health issues.

Juliet Spencer is considered by many to be one of the lucky ones. She contracted Ebola while taking care of her husband but was able to beat the virus. While she is happy that she is alive, she is still prevented from accomplishing tasks due to lingering complications.

“I feel good today that I have survived to see this day, witnessing this ceremony,” Spencer said. “My only regret is that I do not have a good health to carry on my business. I am unable to walk, I have joint pains and ear and eye problems.”

The 90-day surveillance period will be sure to test the country. However, the WHO and the people of Sierra Leone are confident that the disease will soon be eradicated. Nordstrom adds that the country could set an example for other countries looking to expunge Ebola.

“We now have a unique opportunity to support Sierra Leone and build a strong and resilient health system ready to detect and respond to the next outbreak of the disease or any other health threat,” Nordstrom said.

Alyson Atondo

Sources: CNN, ABCNews, The Atlantic
Photo: Wikimedia

global health
Think about how much of an issue health care is here in the United States. Then think about how, although not perfect, the majority of us have access to even basic healthcare and the right to go to a hospital if we need care.

In third world countries, the idea of healthcare and regularly scheduled doctors’ visits is almost non-existent. Even where healthcare does exist, there are not enough healthcare workers compared to the ratio of people. It is time to take action in thinking about the effects of poor healthcare and how to improve global health overall.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to 60 countries currently have less than 23 health workers for every 10,000 people. Worse yet, 13 developing countries have less than one hospital per million people, a staggering figure that seems impossible but is a reality in these countries. These ratios are expected to get even worse in 2045 when the world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion. It is clear that the time to implement initiatives to improve global health is now.

Although it is extremely important that there are an adequate number of healthcare workers and doctors in relation to the population that they serve, it is critical to advocate behavioral changes. Diseases and conditions such as HIV, obesity and malnutrition can be fought in part by simply taking the time to educate people on the importance of self-awareness, safety and proper sanitation.

Spending is another component of improving global health. Although the number of pandemic outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola has been increasing, the World Bank projects that less than a third of the $3.4 billion needed to maintain a strong (not excellent) pandemic preparedness system has been committed. Also, according to the World Health Organization, donor countries have only spent $3 billion of the $6 billion needed to maintain the health of the public globally.

In order to improve global health, the WHO sums it up best when it says that the main areas of focus are health systems, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services and preparedness. If the emphasis, time, effort and money can be placed on these areas of health, then the world will be well on its way to improving the global health of the public.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Time, Clinton Foundation, WHO, APA
Photo: Global Health

Brigham Young University leads effort to combat the rising threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in developing countries.

BYU engineers and scientists have teamed up to tackle drug-resistant bacteria, a major global health threat. The goal is to create a faster diagnostic test for blood infections caused by these bacteria, according to the Daily Herald.

“The goal is to take a blood sample and know, within an hour’s time, what the bacteria is and what antibiotic resistance profile it has,” said Adam Woolley, chemistry professor and one of four BYU investigators on the project.

The threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria plagues countries in all parts of the world, but the most affected areas include developing countries.

In India, over 58,000 babies died in one year as a result of infection. In Thailand, the infections cause over 38,000 deaths per year.

BYU’s $5.4 million system aims to consolidate the process from collecting blood to diagnosing it into one solution, reports the Daily Herald.

However, a project of this proportion will take years. In the meantime, solutions that could aid these efforts include improving conditions in hospitals and communicating these antibiotic-resistant threats to those at risk (i.e. the world’s poor).

In May, the World Health Assembly recognized the urgent need to eradicate these threats and developed a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance, according to the WHO.

As stated in the draft, “The goal of the draft global action plan is to ensure, for as long as possible, continuity of successful treatment and prevention of infectious diseases with effective and safe medicines that are quality-assured, used in a responsible way, and accessible to all who need them.”

In March, the Government of Brazil hosted a meeting to address current gaps in innovation and research and development related to the plan.

In more local terms, the WHO has announced that the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week will be held this year, from Nov. 16 – Nov. 22. The theme of the campaign is Antibiotics: Handle with Care, with the message that “antibiotics are a precious resource and should be preserved.”

Ashley Tressel

Sources: Herald Extra, Medscape, CDC, WHO 1, WHO 2, WHO 3
Photo: Flickr

In a new study published in The Lancet, experts introduced an all-encompassing approach to achieving the Zero TB Declaration, which urges the rapid eradication of tuberculosis (TB).

The study was prompted by Salmaan Keshavjee, Director of Harvard Centre for Global Health Delivery, and co-edited by Soumya Swaminathan, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Currently, the strategy for treating TB is to target those in serious condition; the study done by Keshavjee and Swaminathan states that early detection is crucial to eradicating tuberculosis.

They suggest finding individuals infected with TB before they can transmit and thoroughly treat them for all strains of TB. It is also important to treat individuals in close contact and at high risk.

“The drivers of TB include poverty, poor housing, under- nutrition and HIV infection, underscoring the need to address this problem holistically,” Swaminathan said.

The study also draws attention to the importance of focusing on middle and low-income settings, as poverty and malnutrition make people vulnerable to airborne diseases. In addition to stopping transmission, the study suggests addressing “the social mechanisms that fuel tuberculosis.”

The World Health Organization’s End TB Strategy also supports the prevention aspect of the Swaminathan and Keshavjee study. The End TB Strategy also aims to treat those in close contact and high-risk individuals through collaborative tuberculosis/HIV activities.

Swaminathan stated: “We have to hit this bug hard and hit it quickly. Cutting transmission in the community is key to the control of any infectious disease. Many cities in the world are seeing worrying increases in transmission of drug-resistant tuberculosis. All of us are vulnerable and, therefore, we must all act.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: Zeenews, TheLancet, WHO
Photo: United Nations