Earlier this fall, my oldest son invited me to watch him run his first half marathon in Durham, North Carolina. While standing at the starting line, facing hundreds of runners of different ages, I could not help but be amazed by the irony of the situation: In the midst of a region in the United States known as “tobacco road,” there was tangible evidence of a significant, healthier turn in people’s norms and behaviors.
I consider myself a pretty lucky person. I often work across the beautiful islands of the Caribbean, with their glistening turquoise seas, the lush greenery, fresh tropical fruit… I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Paradise is not always perfect, however: Beneath the postcard views is an often not-so-perfect public health system.
A recent “close encounter” in the Caribbean served as a stark reminder of this truth. Different from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, it didn’t involve little green men nor giant floating spaceships, but something just as unknown, at least to me: chikungunya, a viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, I was infected with chikungunya a little over a year ago during a work trip to the Eastern Caribbean in support a results-based financing project for the health sector. Our team was de-briefing near the ocean when it happened: I felt a quick sting from a mosquito bite, but didn’t think much of it. I felt unusually tired that evening, and by the next morning a number of other symptoms appeared – it was indeed chikungunya.
Measles cases in U.S. highlight need to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases everywhere
The news media in the United States and abroad has been abuzz in recent days focusing on the measles outbreak at Disneyland. The irony of this situation is that measles, after being officially eliminated in the United States in 2000, reappeared in 2014 with 644 cases in 27 states as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC). The reason is simple: while in the 1980s, more than 97% of one-year olds in the United States were routinely vaccinated, the current share has fallen to 91%, facilitated by exemptions in some states that permit parents to “opt out” of vaccinating children on the basis of religious or personal beliefs. In other parts of the world, continued measles outbreaks in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have also occurred due to weak routine immunization systems and delayed implementation of accelerated disease control.
On the eve of World Water Day (March 22), there is some good public health news that is unrelated to medical care for the “sick,” but to a critical investment that makes people healthier and more productive, and promises a higher quality of life, particularly among the poor.
The 2012 UNICEF/World Health Organization report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation, says that at the end of 2010, 89% of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, had access to improved drinking water. This means that the related Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has been met well ahead of the 2015 deadline. The report also predicts that by 2015, 92% of people will have access to better drinking water.
But, the not-so-good news is that only 63% of the world has improved sanitation access, a figure projected to increase only to 67% by 2015, well below the 75% MDG aim. Currently 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation. The report also highlights the fact that the global figures mask big disparities between regions and countries, and within countries (e.g., only 61% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water).
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When healthcare professionals take the Hippocratic Oath, they promise to prescribe patients regimens based on their “ability and judgment” and to “never do harm to anyone”.
Although extraordinary progress in medical knowledge during the last 50 years, coupled with the development of new technologies, drugs and procedures, has improved health conditions and quality of life, it has also created an ever-growing quandary regarding which drugs, medical procedures, tests and treatments work best.
And for policy makers, administrators and health economists, the unrestrained acquisition and use of new medical technologies and procedures (e.g., open heart surgery to replace clogged arteries, ultrasound technology scanners to aid in the detection of heart disease, and life-saving antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS) is increasing health expenditures in an era of fiscal deficits.
In many countries, I’ve see how ensuring value for money in a limited-resources environment is not only difficult but requires careful selection and funding of procedures and drugs. It also comes with serious political, economic and ethical implications—and with new drugs and technologies appearing every day, this challenge isn’t going away. What should countries do?
Принимая клятву Гиппократа, профессионалы из области здравоохранения обязуются лечить пациентов, основываясь на своих «способностях и суждениях», а так же «никогда и никому не навредить».
Впечатляющий прорыв в области врачебных знаний за последние 50 лет, сопровождаемый развитием новых высоких технологий, лекарств и методик лечения, значительно улучшил средний уровень здоровья и качества жизни в целом. Однако при этом зачастую это приводит к ситуации, когда все труднее и труднее становится определять, какие же лекарственные средства, методики, тесты и процедуры окажутся самыми эффективными.
Для тех, кто принимает решения и управляет экономикой здравоохранения, бесконечное приобретение и внедрение новых медицинских технологий и процедур (например, операции на открытом сердце, ультразвуковая сканеры для выявления болезней сердца, а так же антиретровирусная терапия против ВИЧ/СПИД) ведет к существенному росту расходов на здравоохранение, особенно заметного в эпоху бюджетных дефицитов.
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On recent visits to Moscow and Tbilisi, and driving from Baku to the Sheki and Agdash regions in Azerbaijan, I observed challenges and progress in making roads safer. Why should this matter to public health folks? Or should this be only the concern of engineers?
If one of the goals of development is to improve health outcomes by reducing premature mortality, injuries and disability, then unsafe roads are a key public health challenge.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA) the problem is acute. Road traffic deaths rank among the ten leading causes of death: people are 2-3 times more likely to die from road injuries than people in Western Europe. For every death, many more people have injuries that require medical care.
What is causing this problem? For sure, more people are driving because the number of cars has increased significantly due to rising incomes—the traffic jams in some ECA cities vividly reflect this change. Poor road conditions and spotty enforcement of speeding, drunk driving, and seatbelt and helmet laws are leading culprits. “Distracted driving,” due to the growing use of cell phones and texting, is also resulting in more car crashes.
Last week, the World Bank hosted the Washington, D.C., launch of The Lancet’s 2011 child development series, four years after the journal revealed that more than 200 million children under five in low- and middle-income countries were not reaching their developmental potential, due to (preventable) risk factors like stunting, iron and iodine deficiencies, and lack of cognitive stimulation. The latest research findings in The Lancet provide even greater clarity on the developmental inequality that continues to plague many millions of children.
As a World Bank staff member, I feel privileged to have participated in two landmark global public health events.
In June 2001 at a UN General Assembly Special Session, world leaders collectively acknowledged—for the first time—that a concerted global response was needed to arrest the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This led to the establishment of the Global Fund and bilateral initiatives such as PEPFAR, which helped fund a scaled-up response to HIV/AIDS, as well as to malaria and tuberculosis. The net result for the most part has been impressive: a dramatic expansion in access to treatment that has saved millions of lives, a significant reduction in the vertical transmission of HIV (mother to child), technological progress resulting in cheaper, more effective treatments, and better knowledge about HIV transmission to guide prevention efforts—while highlighting the need to revamp health systems to make the effort sustainable.
I’m in New York this week at the UN Summit on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs), where more than 30 heads of state, 100 ministers, international agencies, and civil society organizations are discussing a pressing global health issue: NCDs. This is a policy nod in the right direction, as NCDs have been largely ignored in development circles even though they cause two-thirds of all deaths in the world (most of them prematurely) and long-lasting ill health and disability, and due to NCDs’ chronic nature, increase the risk of impoverishing millions of people who lack or have limited access to health systems.