Safety concerns again affect Ebola response in DRC

International aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended work in an area of Democratic Republic of Congo close to where authorities are fighting an outbreak of Ebola, after two local staff members were abducted by gunmen, reports The Telegraph.

"On the February 8, MSF lost contact with two colleagues following an incident that took place between Nyabiondo and Masisi, North-Kivu province," an MSF spokesperson said. "Following that incident, MSF decided to suspend partially its activities in the health zone of Masisi. The staff have since returned safely. "In order to ensure its team security, MSF reduced its staff on the field but continue to provide vital medical care in the General Hospital of Masisi."

All other MSF activities, including its work to control Ebola, in the vast North Kivu province will continue as normal. 

According to the latest WHO Ebola update, the volatile security situation in North Kivu “at times limits the implementation of response activities,” with the risk of the disease spreading regionally or nationally still very high. 

feb 19, 2019


Ebola vaccine used to contain the disease in DRC

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is confident that an experimental vaccine being used in DRC is playing a major role in controlling the spread of Ebola. Cases of Ebola haven’t increased at the same rates as was the case in 2014 in West Africa before the vaccine was introduced. The rollout of the rVSV-ZEBOV in the DRC has been done using the “ring vaccination” strategy, which involves vaccinating the first and second degree contacts of an infected individual. The “immediate” group didn’t contract Ebola while some individuals in the delayed group contracted the disease. This evidence gave the WHO hope that the vaccine could be 100% effective.

Yet, six months after the first case was diagnosed, the outbreak is still not contained and cases are being reported almost daily and occasionally spreading outwards, reports “The Conversation”. The challenge is to reach adequate numbers of vaccinated people in a country where many people are on the move because of political violence and even for those living in relative peace, the poor infrastructure is not favorable for effective vaccination.

Feb 11, 2019


UHC Day – what is it?

A year ago, the WHO declared 12th December International Universal Health Coverage Day. One year on, many people across the world still struggle to get to a clinic or cannot afford the care available there.

International Universal Health Coverage Day (UHC Day) on December 12th aims to mobilize stakeholders to call for stronger, more equitable health systems to achieve universal health coverage, leaving no one behind. It’s an annual rallying point for the growing global movement for Health for All, according to http://universalhealthcoverageday.org/

Citizen News Service in India reports that countries require a strong primary health care platform as the backbone of universal health coverage. “If we do not have UHC, we risk losing the gains made in fighting HIV infection, TB, malaria or any other disease control. We cannot afford not to strengthen UHC. In addition to UHC, we also need to scale up research and development of better tools to prevent infections such as HIV”.

Dec 12, 2018


As Tanzania's LGBT fear for their lives, HIV will thrive

A report by CNN outlines fear and danger since the announcement by a powerful Tanzanian politician that people suspected of being gay should be rounded up and arrested. The call by Paul Makonda, regional governor of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city at the end of October initiated a chain reaction in the country, forcing many into hiding. In November, a young trans woman fled her home in Dar es Salaam to go to Kenya's capital, Nairobi, with the help of Kenya-based nongovernmental organization Jinsiangu, which is supported by the International AIDS Alliance and its Rapid Response Fund.

Those unable to flee are instead pushed underground and into hiding, kept from entering the outside world -- which blocks their access to health services, such as those protecting against HIV/AIDS.

Being forced to be "invisible" due to "public antagonism" exposes people to sexual violence and abuse for which they are also not taken seriously by the police, said Christine Stegling, executive director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Growing homophobia will fuel the HIV epidemic, experts fear. "You have a whole part of the community not engaging in conversations about sex, sexuality and conversations around HIV," she said. "In the last couple of years, there's a really heightened hijacking of rhetoric against gay people as part of local politics, making life very hard for communities ... and to have HIV programs."

Global outcry in response to Mankonda's announcement has calmed the situation somewhat in Dar es Salaam and nationwide, but not entirely.

Dec 3, 2018


We all need more sleep!

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called sleep deprivation a public health crisis, saying that one-third of adults don’t get enough sleep.

The New York Times reports that some 80 percent of people report sleep problems at least once per week.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of the ways your sleep deprivation is personally harming you:

First, learn how much sleep you need. Generally, if you’re waking up tired, you’re not getting enough.

However, the gold standard of eight hours per night might not be right for you. A study from 2015 brought into question whether we need that magical number, so following your body is the best way to figure out the right rhythm. The only real guideline is to get as much sleep as you need to feel refreshed and energized the next day, and then do that every single night.

nov 5, 2018


International aid saves millions of lives but gains at risk: report

Reuters reports that international aid financing and innovation has helped to save nearly 700 million lives in the past 25 years, but those gains could be lost if momentum and political will wane.

A report by international aid advocacy group the ONE Campaign said the progress against preventable deaths and diseases since 1990 could stall, and even go into reverse, unless donor governments make new commitments to innovation and action.

The international community is “severely off track” to reach United Nations global health targets – agreed by 193 countries and known as the Sustainable Development Goals – by 2030, the report said.

It called on donors, governments and philanthropic organizations to “mobilize more money for health and deliver more health for the money”, arguing that such investments would pay off by boosting Africa’s economic output and stability.

The good news is that the world knows what it takes to succeed, said the report.

october 17, 2018


On the hunt for disease X

From Ebola to swine flu to HIV/Aids, viruses borne by animals have caused some of the most devastating epidemics in history. What will come next? In Sierra Leone, The Telegraph joined scientists working to find Disease X – a virus that is as yet undiscovered, but which could have the potential to ravage populations.

The virus hunters of Sierra Leone are part of an international network known as Predict, launched with $200 million funding from USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) and currently operating in more than 30 countries. The project has amassed tens of thousands of samples for analysis and discovered more than 900 new viruses. Predict is a forerunner of the more ambitious Global Virome Project – a 10-year plan to identify as many as possible of the estimated 1.6 million unknown viruses in birds and mammals. Of these, it is thought between 600,000 and 800,000 are zoonotic, meaning they have the potential to jump from animals to people. Earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it was sufficiently concerned about what was lurking in the wild to include something called ‘Disease X’ in its global strategy plan, representing an as of yet undiscovered pathogen with the potential to spark a pandemic.

Virus hunting is a relatively modern preoccupation, pioneered in the mid-to-late 20th century by scientists such as Peter Piot (director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) and Karl Johnson, who first identified the Ebola virus in 1976.

october 8, 2018


An Ebola “perfect storm” is brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The World Health Organization has determined that the chances the virus will spread both within DRC and to neighboring countries are “very high.”

The storm’s main ingredient: insecurity brought on by war, writes VoxNews. The outbreak epicenter is in North Kivu, a conflict zone that borders Rwanda and Uganda. More than a million people are displaced there, and armed opposition groups have been carrying out deadly attacks on civilians. The conflict even forced the WHO to temporarily halt its response in Beni, a city in North Kivu where 33 people have been infected with Ebola.

Since the outbreak was declared on August 1, there have been 150 confirmed and probable cases, and 100 deaths. While the appearance of new cases has been slowing in recent weeks — from 40 per week to around 10 — two new Ebola patients turned up last week in a previously unaffected area, Tchomia, about 75 miles from Beni on the border with Uganda. The WHO was able to link those cases to the Beni outbreak, which raised concerns that the virus is on the move.

The WHO’s emergency response chief, Dr. Peter Salama, warned of “a series of grave obstacles” ahead of ending the outbreak.

Chief among them: “community resistance and mistrust.” This mistrust has caused some people who are eligible for Ebola vaccines and treatments to refuse them. Local politicians have also “exploited and manipulated” people’s Ebola fears ahead of a December election in the country.

“It’s arguable that this is the most difficult context in terms of responding to Ebola outbreak,” Salama said.

The worst-case scenario is that the Ebola virus continues to spread in DRC’s “no go” zones, and moves across DRC’s border to other countries in the region. If that happens, we could be facing a nightmare like the 2014-’15 Ebola epidemic, during which more than 11,000 people died. The only good news: This time, we have an effective vaccine.

october 3, 2018


Why do women still die in child birth?

Every other minute, a woman or girl dies as a result of pregnancy complications or childbirth. “Why has the global decline in maternal mortality stalled?” asks the Guardian.

The majority of deaths are from conditions that could have been prevented had women received the right medical care throughout their pregnancies and during birth. Severe bleeding and infections after childbirth are the biggest killers, but high blood pressure, obstructed labour and unsafe abortions all contribute.

The overwhelming majority of maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 1990 and 2005, maternal mortality rates decreased by an average of 2.3% a year – way below the 5.5% needed to achieve the MDGs. And now the decline seems to have plateaued.

Why has the figure plateaued? When there is a high death rate, relatively simple interventions – raising awareness among women of the importance of seeking medical attention during pregnancy and childbirth, training local community health workers to spot signs of problems in labour – will bring fairly quick wins.

But moving the needle much further requires greater political will and more money. It requires more long-term and complex investments in the health system.

What next?

Strategic targeting of resources will be required to ensure that the poorest, most vulnerable women are better supported. Another of the sustainable development health targets is to ensure universal access to family planning services. There is also a standalone goal calling for gender equality, which specifically includes ending child marriage, and ensuring universal access to reproductive healthcare.

sept 25, 2018


TB is the deadliest disease

 The latest report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria shows both progress and challenges in the fight against epidemics, said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. Indicators confirm that if funding is insufficient, the three diseases could return to the forefront of global health. The number of HIV infections has dropped and continues to decline, albeit too slowly.  Malaria cases are on the rise again.  And tuberculosis remains the deadliest of the three pathologies.

Sept 14, 2018