Category Archives: Africa Healthcare

Africa:Major Progress in Fight Against Malaria

24 December 2013
Geneva/ Washington DC — Global efforts to control and eliminate malaria have saved an estimated 3.3 million lives since 2000, reducing malaria mortality rates by 45% globally and by 49% in Africa, according to the World Malaria Report 2013 published by the World Health Organization (WHO).

An expansion of prevention and control measures has been mirrored by a consistent decline in malaria deaths and illness, despite an increase in the global population at risk of malaria between 2000 and 2012. Increased political commitment and expanded funding have helped to reduce incidence of malaria by 29% globally, and by 31% in Africa.

The large majority of the 3.3 million lives saved between 2000 and 2012 were in the ten countries with the highest malaria burden, and among children aged less than five years – the group most affected by the disease. Over the same period, malaria mortality rates in children in Africa were reduced by an estimated 54%.

“This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century.”

In 2012, there were an estimated 207 million cases of malaria, which caused approximately 627 000 malaria deaths. An estimated 3.4 billion people continue to be at risk of malaria, mostly in Africa and south-east Asia. Around 80% of malaria cases occur in Africa.

Malaria prevention suffered a setback after its strong build-up between 2005 and 2010. The new WHO report notes a slowdown in the expansion of interventions to control mosquitoes for the second successive year, particularly in providing access to insecticide-treated bed nets. This has been primarily due to lack of funds to procure bed nets in countries that have ongoing malaria transmission.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of the population with access to an insecticide-treated bed net remained well under 50% in 2013. Only 70 million new bed nets were delivered to malaria-endemic countries in 2012, below the 150 million minimum needed every year to ensure everyone at risk is protected. However, in 2013, about 136 million nets were delivered, and the pipeline for 2014 looks even stronger (approximately 200 million), suggesting that there is real chance for a turnaround.

There was no such setback for malaria diagnostic testing, which has continued to expand in recent years. Between 2010 and 2012, the proportion of people with suspected malaria who received a diagnostic test in the public sector increased from 44% to 64% globally.

Access to WHO-recommended artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) has also increased, with the number of treatment courses delivered to countries rising from 76 million in 2006 to 331 million in 2012.

Despite this progress, millions of people continue to lack access to diagnosis and quality-assured treatment, particularly in countries with weak health systems. The roll-out of preventive therapies – recommended for infants, children under five and pregnant women – has also been slow in recent years.

“To win the fight against malaria we must get the means to prevent and treat the disease to every family who needs it,” says Raymond G Chambers, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria. “Our collective efforts are not only ending the needless suffering of millions, but are helping families thrive and adding billions of dollars to economies that nations can use in other ways.”

International funding for malaria control increased from less than US$ 100 million in 2000 to almost US$ 2 billion in 2012. Domestic funding stood at around US$0.5 billion in the same year, bringing the total international and domestic funding committed to malaria control to US$ 2.5 billion in 2012 – less than half the US$ 5.1 billion needed each year to achieve universal access to interventions.

Without adequate and predictable funding, the progress against malaria is also threatened by emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin, the core component of ACTs, and mosquito resistance to insecticides. Artemisinin resistance has been detected in four countries in south-east Asia, and insecticide resistance has been found in at least 64 countries.

“The remarkable gains against malaria are still fragile,” says Dr Robert Newman, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “In the next 10-15 years, the world will need innovative tools and technologies, as well as new strategic approaches to sustain and accelerate progress.”

WHO is currently developing a global technical strategy for malaria control and elimination for the 2016-2025 period, as well as a global plan to control and eliminate Plasmodium vivax malaria. Prevalent primarily in Asia and South America, P. vivax malaria is less likely than P. falciparum to result in severe malaria or death, but it generally responds more slowly to control efforts. Globally, about 9% of the estimated malaria cases are due to P. vivax, although the proportion outside the African continent is 50%.

“The vote of confidence shown by donors last week at the replenishment conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is testimony to the success of global partnership. But we must fill the annual gap of US$ 2.6 billion to achieve universal coverage and prevent malaria deaths,” said Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. “This is our historic opportunity to defeat malaria.”

[Courtesy AllAfrica News]

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Africa: Does Democracy Improve Your Health?

18 Nov 2013

Back in the 1990s, the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen famously wrote that “no famine has ever taken place in a functioning democracy”, coining an argument has shaped thinking across countless sectors – and none more so than healthcare.

If governments face open criticism and are under pressure to win elections, we assume, they are incentivised to improve the health of their populations. Dictators are not.

“Democracy is correlated with improved health and healthcare access … Democracies have lower infant mortality rates than non-democracies, and the same holds true for life expectancy and maternal mortality,” Karen Grépin, assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, wrote in a 2013 paper. “Dictatorship, on the other hand, depresses public health provision.”

She argues that democracies entrench longer-term reforms than their dictatorial counterparts – often involving universal healthcare or health insurance schemes.

“The effects of democracy are more than a short-term initiative, such as an immunisation programme, which don’t always have lasting effects,” she said in a telephone interview. “Democracy can bring larger-scale reforms that create new things or radically transform institutions.”

But does that theory hold water in Africa?

Ghana, one of the continent’s deepest democracies, is doing well. According to Gallup data, 75 percent of its population consider its elections to be honest, compared to a median of 41 percent over 19 sub-Saharan countries. Correspondingly, it was also one of the first countries in Africa to enact universal health coverage laws.

In 2003, roughly a decade after entering a multi-party democratic system, the west African country hiked VAT by 2.5 percent to fund a national health insurance programme.

Voters who had been overstretched by the previous ‘cash-and-carry’ system happily swallowed the tax increases, and the scheme was so popular that when the government unexpectedly changed in 2008, it survived the transition.

The country still has a way to go to attain universal coverage. According to the National Health Insurance Authority, by the end of 2010 34 percent of the Ghanaian population actively subscribed to the scheme. But the institutions are now in place, laying the foundations for the future.

Similar schemes are being rolled out in other democracies like South Africa. But this isn’t a simple equation. There are plenty more multi-party systems which have failed to enact meaningful reform – think of the pitiful performance in Kenya, where the government changed earlier this year – while some more autocratic regimes are performing well.

“Several of the countries that are seen as the big success stories in public health are not very democratic,” argued Peter Berman, a health economist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Take Rwanda. Led by Paul-Kagame’s decidedly authoritarian Rwandan Patriotic Front, the country is considered “not free” by Freedom House. In the run up to 2010 presidential elections Human Rights Watch alleged political repression and intimidation of opposition party members against the leadership.

Yet the government has a strong developmental track record. “Rwanda started out with somebody who is autocratic, but who genuinely wants to see these indicators change,” Grépin said.

Over the last decade, Rwanda has registered some of the world’s steepest healthcare improvements. After the 1994 genocide – when national health facilities were destroyed and disease was running rampant – life expectancy stood at 30 years.

Today, citizens live to an average of almost double that. Deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria have each dropped by roughly 80 percent over the last 10 years, while maternal and child mortality rates have fallen by around 60 percent.

Part of its success stems from the fact that its healthcare services reach rural citizens. The leadership hands responsibility to local government and authorities and holds them accountable for their efficiency; and almost 50,000 community health workers have been trained to deploy services to marginal populations.

Like Ghana, Rwanda runs a universal health insurance scheme, though it has fared better in its roll out. Upwards of 90 percent of the population is covered by the community-based Mutuelles de Santé programme, which has more than halved average annual out-of-pocket health spending.

“By decreasing the impact of catastrophic expenditure for health care we increase the access,” explained Agnes Binagwaho, minister of health, from her Kigali office.

The benefits of that programme are clear to see at the bustling Kimironko Health Centre, which is a 20-minute drive from central Kigali and deals with most of the suburb’s non-life threatening medical complaints.

As dozens of men, women and children queue to hand over their health cards, a young nurse named Francine Nyiramugisha explains that “Ever since the Mutuelles de Santé was introduced, there has been a huge difference. You pay 3,000 RwF ($4.50) per year and then you get treatment.”

In the reception, thirty-year-old Margaret Yamuragiye, a slender sociology student who has been diagnosed with malaria, waits patiently for her prescription. “Before I got my Mutuelles card I would fear that I could not go to the clinic because it would be too expensive. Today if I have simple cough or flu, I come to the doctor, I don’t wait to see if it gets worse,” she said.

Nearby in Ethiopia, another autocratic regime registered by Freedom House as “not free” is also clocking significant health improvements. Like Rwanda, leaders in Addis Ababa have little time for political opposition, but are registering impressive developmental gains.

“They’re not very democratic but they have the power and authority to allocate resources towards population health needs,” Harvard’s Berman said.

There’s no universal coverage scheme in Ethiopia, but government has opted to focus on deploying basic healthcare services across hard-to-reach rural areas.

Starting from a pitifully low base, it has spent a decade training a network of around 40,000 extension workers to bring care to rural communities. Over ten years, the nation registered a more than 25 percent decline in HIV prevalence, according to a 2012 progress report. Under-five mortality has declined to 101 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2009/10, from 167 in 2001/2. Infant mortality halved in the same period.

Those examples should be evidence enough that the relationship between democracy and improved healthcare isn’t a simple one. “There are autocratic governments that care about the people and there are autocratic governments who don’t. There are democracies where politicians respond to a broad public demand, and then there are democracies where the politicians respond to narrower interest groups,” Berman said.

“There is no simple equation between democracy and caring about public health.”
[Courtesy of This is Africa]

South Africa: HIV/Aids Vaccine Research Hope

13 November 2013

South Africa is the only country in the world where a large AIDS vaccine trial is being planned, as the global scientific community struggles to find a way to eradicate HIV.

Announced at this week’s international AIDS Vaccine Conference in Barcelona, the South African trial will involve the only vaccine shown to have some effect on the virus when it was tested among 16,000 people in Thailand. Released in 2009, the Thai trial’s results showed that HIV infection rates were 31 percent lower in participants who had received the vaccine than those who had not.

“On the eve of some of the most important vaccine trials, I am proud of the critical role that the people of South Africa will play,” said Ntando Yalo from the Networking AIDS Community Of South Africa, speaking at conference opening.

But the trial’s researchers are cautious.

Glenda Gray is the South African trial’s lead researcher and executive director of the Perinatal HIV Research at the University of the Witwatersrand. She told conference delegates that trial would begin by testing the Thai vaccine on a small group of people to confirm the vaccine worked as well in South African populations as it did in Thai participants.

“It might not show the same efficacy as in Thailand,” Gray said. “For example, South African women are bigger, and have different (levels of) exposure to the virus.”

With a national HIV prevalence rate of about 17 percent, South Africans are likely to have had much more exposure to the HIV than people in Thailand, where just one percent of the population is HIV-positive. The modest protection offered by the Thai vaccine might be too weak for South Africa, Gray added.

If the vaccine is effective within this smaller group, researchers will modify it for use against the predominant strain of HIV found in South Africa. This modified vaccine would be tested on about 240 people and, if successful, move to a larger trial involving about 5,400 people.

Chasing a “Machiavellian” virus

But the virus, described as “Machiavellian” by scientist Dr Scott Hammer at the start of the conference, continues to evade almost all attempts to eradicate it.

Johnson & Johnson Head of Research Dr Jerry Sadoff said he had been involved in creating 11 vaccines, none of which had taken more than seven years to develop. HIV was the exception, he said.

“You can make a career out of the AIDS vaccine – I have been researching it for almost 30 years,” he joked.

Most vaccines train the body to recognise and kill viruses by injecting people with small, non-toxic “deactivated” parts of the virus.

The body learns to make antibodies to fight the deactivated virus, so that when it is faced with infection from the live, dangerous virus, it is able to recognise and fight it.

But HIV’s constant mutation once it is the body makes it a moving target that is hard to pin down.

About two percent of people infected with HIV are able to contain the virus so that they don’t get sick. Scientists have been studying these “elite controllers,” including sex workers in South Africa, for years but still don’t yet know how their immune systems manage to do this.

Unlocking how our immune systems can produce “broadly neutralising antibodies” to fight HIV is “one of the holy grails of vaccine design,” according to Hammer.

But as scientists struggle to unlock the secrets of our immune systems and HIV, AIDS Vaccine Conference organisers have decided to move away from narrow focus on vaccines.

About 13 years after the first AIDS Vaccine Conference was held, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise will open next year’s conference to a wider range of scientists working on HIV prevention methods, including antiretroviral (ARV)-based vaginal or rectal gels – or microbicides – as well as other forms of ARV-based prevention and medical male circumcision.

This much larger gathering of HIV prevention experts will convene in Cape Town next year.

Organisers also raised the issue of a therapeutic HIV vaccine for the first time. Unlike the vaccine being tested in South Africa, a therapeutic HIV vaccine would aim to treat HV infections, not prevent them. A small therapeutic HIV vaccine trial is currently underway in the United States.

[Courtesy AllArica News]

Kenya: 30,000 Children Targeted in Polio Campaign

THE government aims to immunize at least 30,100 children in Bondo district during the five-day polio vaccination which begins today.

The vaccination programme coordinator Ann Okoth said the door to door exercise will target children from the age of 5 years and below.

She appealed to parents and guardians to ensure all eligible children get the vital immunization. She was speaking yesterday during a preparation forum ahead of the exercise.

Okoth lamented that some parents had a tendency of denying their children access to such important services, and therefore warned that such cases will not be tolerated whatsoever.

She said the vaccination team was prepared to traverse the district including the islands of Mageta, Sifu, Ndeda and Oyamo to ensure that no child is left out during the exercise.

Okoth cautioned the parents to be wary of criminal elements who may take advantage of the exercise to rob residents by impersonating vaccination officials. “Our team will be provided with certified accreditation from the Ministry,” she added.

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Seattle: Global Effort Targets the Leading Killers of Children

25 May 2013:

PATH, a Seattle-based global health development organisation, is aiming to save two million lives by 2015 by jointly tackling diarrhoea and pneumonia, the leading killers of children globally.

Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, delivered the message at the ninth annual PATH Breakfast for Global Health held in Seattle on Tuesday.

“Today we placed a bold stake in the ground, with partners around the world, to save two million lives by the end of 2015,” Davis said.

PATH will begin its efforts in India, Cambodia and Ethiopia, where intervention is most urgently needed and PATH has resources. While all three countries have seen their child mortality rates from diarrhoea drop, India’s pneumonia death rate remains stagnant, accounting for 24 percent of deaths of children under five, the same as in 2000, according to 2013 World Health Organisation statistics.

“No parent should have to bury a child because of something we can help prevent or treat,” Davis said.

Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two diseases that overwhelmingly affect children in African and Asian countries, Davis said, with diarrhoea claiming around 760,000 lives a year. And while the number of children dying in Africa before the age of five has decreased, it still vastly outnumbers all other parts of the world, according to the 2013 WHO statistics.

Melinda Gates, philanthropist and founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helps fund health development and vaccines world wide, spoke at the breakfast of the importance of vaccinating children as well as “appropriate” science that meets the needs of communities in the developing countries.

“[The] developing world is littered with pilot programmes,” Gates said.

As he took to the stage, Davis pointed to a tool belt around his suit jacket. A visual aid, the belt allowed Davis to show and carry some of the tools that can prevent the deaths of so many children from diarrhoeal disease, tools that will be used to achieve PATH’s life-saving goal.

Clean water, soap, zinc tablets for oral rehydration therapy and the rotavirus vaccine, which stops some diarrhoeal diseases before they start, were all included.

But it’s not just science and vaccines that can improve the lives of communities ravaged by diarrhoea. Deeply held cultural traditions and ideas about the disease have to be altered as well.

Dr. Alfred Ochola, PATH’s Technical Advisor for Child Survival and Development in Kenya, spoke about educating Kenyans on how to reduce the risk of diarrhoea in their communities through hygiene practices like hand washing.

But Ochola, who lost a brother and sister to a diarrhoea outbreak in Kenya as a child, has found that at first, people are reluctant to embrace change.

“A big [challenge] is combating old beliefs that diarrhoea is a curse and not an infection, and that the death of a child is an inevitable part of life. ‘God will give you another one’ is a common saying in Kenya,” Ochola said.

Many people believe a child who has diarrhoea is cursed, Ochola said. Vomiting and diarrhoea are welcomed because it rids the body of the evil inside it, while it should be taken as a sign that something is seriously wrong.

Poverty is another challenge in combating the diseases. Although heart disease and diabetes are becoming the new illnesses of poverty, according to Davis, diarrhoea and pneumonia still adversely affect children of developing countries in Africa and Asia.

In Africa and Southeast Asia, the percentage of child deaths are higher than the global average and have not significantly decreased in 10 years.

Both regions have seen child mortality from diarrhoea fall from 13 percent to 11 percent of deaths from 2000 to 2010, but in Africa, the rate of death from pneumonia has actually increased, from 16 percent to 17 percent.

“Too many people lack the financial means to seek care when it’s most needed, like paying for transportation to get to a health facility far from home… We often reach women and their children too late,” Ochola said.

Ochola told the story of Jane Wamalwa, a Kenyan woman who came to understand the reasons behind making a change in long-held practices in treating and preventing diarrhoea. Wamalwa lost three children to the disease, and has now become a trusted source of information on good anti-diarrhoea practice in her community, Ochola said.

“It has become her calling,” he added.

[Courtesy AllAfrica News]

Africa: 7 Million on HIV/Aids Antiretroviral Treatment

23 May 2013:

The number of people in Africa receiving antiretroviral treatment increased from less than 1 million to 7.1 million over seven years, according to a United Nations report which documents the progress in the AIDS response in the world’s second largest continent.

“Africa has been relentless in its quest to turn the AIDS epidemic around,” said the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé.

Antiretroviral treatment increased from less than 1 million in 2005 to 7.1 million in 2012, with nearly 1 million added in the last year alone. AIDS-related deaths were also reduced by 32 per cent from 2005 to 2011.

The UNAIDS Update on Africa, which was released to coincide with the beginning of the African Union’s (AU) 21st summit in Addis Ababa, which began Sunday and runs through 27 May, attributes this success to strong leadership and shared responsibility in Africa and among the global community. It also urges sustained commitment to ensure Africa achieves zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

“As we celebrate 50 years of African unity, let us also celebrate the achievements Africa has made in responding to HIV–and recommit to pushing forward so that future generations can grow up free from AIDS,” Mr. Sidibé said.

The report states that 16 countries–Botswana, Ghana, Gambia, Gabon, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe–now ensure that more than three-quarters of pregnant women living with HIV receive antiretroviral medicine to prevent transmission to their child.

Despite positive trends, Africa continues to be more affected by HIV than any other region of the world, and accounts for 69 per cent of people living with HIV globally. In 2011 there were still 1.8 million new HIV infections across the continent, and 1.2 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

In the report, entitled Update, Mr. Sidibé emphasizes that sustained attention to the AIDS response post-2015 will enhance progress on other global health priorities. He also identifies five lessons in the AIDS response that will improve the world’s approach to global health. These are: focusing on people, not diseases; leveraging the strength of culture and communities; building strong, accountable global heath institutions; mobilizing both domestic and international financial commitments; and elevating health as a force for social transformation.

“These strategies have been fundamental to Africa’s success at halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic and will support the next 50 years of better health, across borders and across diseases,” he said.

The report also stresses AU leadership is essential to reverse the epidemic. At this year’s Summit, AIDS Watch Africa, a platform for advocacy and accountability for the responses to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria founded by African leaders in 2001, will review progress on health governance, financing, and access to quality medicines, among other areas, and measure whether national, regional, continental and global stakeholders have met their commitments.

The AU, UNAIDS and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) will also launch the first accountability report on the AU-G8 partnership, focusing on progress towards ending AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa.

[Courtesy AllAfrica News]

NIGER: Cholera Outbreak

NIAMEY, 22 May 2013:

Cholera has struck 248 people in Ayorou in the Tillabéry Region of northwestern Niger, killing six, two of them Malian refugees.

Among the sick are 31 Malian refugees who are living in Tabareybarey and Mangaize camps near the Mali border, according to the Tillabéry health services and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

In the camps and in surrounding villages, UNHCR has upped the supply of clean water to refugees, is distributing oral rehydration solution, soap, and disinfectant tabs to clean water, but more drugs are urgently needed, it said in a 21 May communiqué. NGO Médecins sans Frontières is treating those who have contracted cholera in camps.

UNHCR is worried that cholera could spread quickly due to the high concentration of refugees in the region.

Most of the cases were inhabitants of the town of Ayorou, which hosts a Sunday livestock market frequented by people from all across the region. The Ministry of Health is trying to temporarily shut down the market, which is just next to the River Niger, the suspected source of the contamination. The Health Ministry has also banned anyone from using, or drinking, water from the river, though this is very difficult to monitor.

The World Health Organization is supporting local health authorities to contain the disease’s spread.

Last year 5,785 people contracted cholera in Niger, and 110 of them died, according to UNHCR.

[Courtesy of IRIN]