Polio is Back

Mothers and babies waiting in line for a Polio vaccination; photo: hdptcar/flickr

A mere two weeks after World Polio Day, a fast moving polio outbreak has struck three central African countries. The first confirmed re-appearance of the disease was reported on 4 November in the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville), but the disease then quickly spread to both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. Within a week, the UN reported 226 infections and 104 deaths, with numbers rising quickly.

Polio is a contagious viral disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. Left untreated, polio can cause paralysis and death. It strikes children and young adults of both sexes equally. Usually, however, less than 10 percent of cases actually develop symptoms, and only 1 percent of these remain permanently paralyzed. This particular outbreak, meanwhile, is proving past medical statistics wrong.

According to the joint communiqué released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the rate of mortality for the current outbreak is alarmingly high. This has spurred the government in Brazzaville and numerous international agencies to launch a large-scale emergency vaccination campaign, which is to begin today. The vaccination drive is supposed to provide vaccinations to 3 million children and adults in central Africa.

Over the last decade, the number of polio cases reported annually had ground to a virtual standstill. Nigeria, for example, long considered to be Africa’s polio hot spot, had an impressive 98 percent drop in cases since 2009. International health authorities are therefore still musing on the causes of last month’s outbreak. It seems that the immunity of the children, teenagers and young adults in the region may have been lower than expected. Furthermore, today’s virus seems to be of a relatively new Indian strain that was first found in Angola in 2007 and which now slowly found its way further north.

Although the current outbreak may be considered an unexpected setback in what can otherwise be considered a fairly successful fight against the disease, we must never become complacent. As promised time and time again, polio must be made history.

The ISN holds an excellent set of resources on infectious diseases, epidemics, pandemics, and disease control. In addition, the ISN Digital Library also offers a comprehensive list of international health organizations.

The World Cup: Hoping for the Best

World cup of hope? Courtesy of mikkelz/flickr

If you think that HIV/AIDS is Africa’s most serious problem, think again.

Malaria is the biggest known killer on the continent. Malaria is an infectious disease produced by a nucleus holding cell called Plasmodium. There are many variations of the disease but only one is fatal to humans, the Plasmodium Falciparum. In Africa the disease causes $12 billion worth of economic losses every year and worldwide it kills more than any other communicable disease except tuberculosis.

The ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Africa will help stimulate the strained economies on the continent and will allow states to sustain the costs of the infectious disease, thus helping people get access to the aid and treatments they need. The event has opened up 650,000 jobs to South Africans and the expected income for the whole event is around $7 billion (approximately R55 billion.)

After the World Cup is finished some 144,000 jobs will remain, allowing people that may have been out of work to continue to profit. Hopefully the income generated over this month, as well as months and years to come will make for better treatments for malaria and other infectious diseases ravaging the continent. An unfortunate factor is that malaria usually hits the poor population particularly hard and often prevents them from even accessing aid. There is hope that this event will help reverse this trend.

With the permanent jobs created by the event and with more money flowing to development and health projects, the strains on the poorest may be alleviated and access to treatment may be boosted.

For the sake of the African people, I hope it works.

Make sure to check out our recent Special Report on the World Cup and its impact beyond the football pitch.

Sam is our youngest ISN intern yet and attends the George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia. His interest include world history, sports and biology.

It’s World AIDS Day

Protoype of a sculputre to be unveiled today by the Desert AIDS Project in Palm Springs, CA / Photo: Jayel Aheram, flickr
Desert AIDS Project sculpture prototype / Photo: Jayel Aheram, flickr

Universal access and human rights is the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day. For 21 years, we’ve used 1 December to remind ourselves that the virus exists during the other 364 days of the year as well.

By the way, the US recently announced that it would lift a ban on people carrying the HIV virus from entering the country, a move that was long overdue.

From the ISN Digital Library:

    • HIV in the UK from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in London

 

 

You can scan all of our offerings concerning AIDS/HIV here.

No Me Moleste Mosquito

World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008
World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008

A recent Miami Herald article sparked my interest for the small insect. Its name is Aedes Aegypti, one of the 3500 mosquito species identified so far, known for spreading dengue fever, but also the Chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.

The Miami Herald article describes how Mexico is currently struggling to counter a resurgence of dengue fever. It is not the only Latin American country dealing with the buzzing issue. Brazil and Argentina have apparently reported record numbers of cases this year.

At first, hearing about yet another disease striking Mexico alarmed me. It was only after reading more on the issue – as in the case of the H1N1 virus – that I was settled. Dengue fever has a relatively low death rate. Only 2.5 percent of hospitalized patients do not survive the disease. However, the tropical febrile disease is particularly costly, with patients requiring constant and long-term monitoring. Therefore, in the case of Mexico this we know for sure: The spreading disease will strike tourism and the economy as a whole yet another blow.

With the fever increasing rapidly in tropical and subtropical areas, we ask: What can be done against the dangerous disease and its carrier – the mosquito? Researchers all over the world are testing dengue fever vaccines and at the same time considerable efforts are being invested in mosquito eradication.

Of the existing population policies and programs the ones of Singapore appear to be the most developed ones. After the 2005 dengue outbreak the country launched enhanced measures, including the introduction of fines for those who allow mosquitoes to breed in their homes and also for those found with standing water at construction sites (standing water being the larval hatching grounds of the Aedes Aegypti).

A New Global Fund?

More healthy mothers and children is the goal.
More healthy mothers and children is the goal / photo: Alemush, flickr

“Why don’t we have a Global Fund for maternal health, like the one for TB, malaria and AIDS?”, implored Dr Siriel Nanzia Massawe, an obstetrician in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

I was jolted by this desperate doctor’s question, buried in a recent New York Times article about the prevalence of maternal deaths during pregnancy and childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa.

You mean we don’t have a Global Fund fighting maternal – and for that matter, child – mortality? I wondered incredulously.

After all, two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for a significant reduction in child and maternal mortality by 2015. And former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan established the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2001 to reach this third health-related MDG.

So why has only the MDG addressing communicable diseases been deemed worthy of a Global Fund? After all, the international community is far behind on all MDG health-related targets: maternal mortality has been stagnant for two decades; more than nine million children under age five still die every year; and AIDS infection rates are still too high for antiretroviral treatments to keep pace.

Clearly, a more synergized and streamlined approach to the three health-related MDGs is desperately needed. Each one impacts the other: For example, AIDS and malaria cause specific complications for pregnant women and their fetus’s development.

In the end, perhaps every one of these MDG initiatives could be more fully realized if greater attention were paid to how they interact. Has the time for an integrated Global Fund for Health arrived?