International Aid

Government Policy, Health Systems, Healthcare Workforce, International Aid, Non-Communicable Diseases, Organizations, Refugee Health

Refugee Health in Europe: Who is Responsible?

~Written by Victoria Stanford (Contact: vstanford@hotmail.co.uk)

Tents below a motorway pass, Piraeus Port, Greece. Photo credit: Victoria Stanford

 

The number of refugees arriving in Europe continues to rise, despite the EU-Turkey deal struck in March 2016 aimed at halting the numbers of new arrivals. This deal represented one of the first consensual decisions made by the 28 member states of how to respond to the unprecedented refugee crisis in Europe seen over recent years. However, across Europe there remains an overwhelming lack of political effectiveness, or indeed will, to co-ordinate the care of those arriving on the continent. Supranational institutions, European governance bodies, NGOs and humanitarian partners have scrambled in varying degrees of commitment to offer their services to refugees and the impression for many is that they are not achieving enough, quickly enough. But how have the various actors responded to the health needs of the refugees, and who is held accountable for this most basic human necessity?

Arrival versus Settlement

There is a significant difference between the immediate and long-term healthcare needs seen among refugee populations. This protracted crisis must be able to respond to both the immediate and often-life saving measures needed on Greek islands where refugees are still arriving by boat, and the long-term needs of refugees who have settled in host countries, in many cases for months or even years. Understanding this transition between the emergency and post-emergency phase, is essential for planning an effective healthcare response. The needs of those new arrivals mostly consists of sanitation, nutrition, shelter and basic safety provision, whilst those further along the asylum process must be integrated into long-term health systems that provide them with more complex and comprehensive services such as chronic disease management.

 As it stands, the initial needs of refugees arriving to European shores are often provided by humanitarian agencies who are equipped to launch an emergency response, and gradually they hand over this responsibility to the local health care structures. An excellent example of this was seen in Bulgaria when Doctors without Borders provided medical care to over 1500 refugees, allowing the national authorities who have now taken over healthcare service provision in this area, to build capacity and prepare (1). In many places this handover scenario has not been achieved so clearly and in fact often it is best for organisations and local partners to share the healthcare responsibilities. For example in Piraeus port in Athens (now dissolved), NGOs such as Praxis and the Red Cross were stationed within the camp itself and acted as primary care providers to the population on the ground, referring patients who required more specialised care on to state-run and funded hospitals or clinics in Athens. A similar system is currently established between the residents of the Jungle camp in Calais and the PASS clinic (Permanence d'Accès aux Soins de Santé)-provided by the government for refugees and others without social security insurance in France. However the extent to which this collaborative effort is effective depends much on the nature of the healthcare needs required; patients with mental health issues requiring long-term psychological treatment or those with post-surgery rehabilitation needs are often prematurely discharged or simply not offered longstanding care. Logistical difficulties are also often neglected as many appointments and consultations are arranged in neighbouring cities and patients are required to arrange their own transport which for many is an impossibility.  Achieving adequate provision and access in healthcare for refugees is complex and is largely dependent on context, their status in the asylum process and capacities of local health organisations.

The ‘Unofficial’ Refugee

Much complexity has been added to this crisis by the lack of clarity in defining those who are arriving in Europe- undocumented migrants, labour migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are terms often confused and used interchangeably and this has an impact on how these people can interact with official services. As refugees and others spread across Europe, the way in which they settle varies dramatically-there are families living in air-conditioned containers in official UN-led refugee camps, whilst others squat in abandoned buildings in the suburbs of Athens. This undoubtedly leads to much heterogeneity in terms of both their access to and quality of healthcare. Much of the healthcare that refugees living in official camps receive is provided by large, international NGOs such as Doctors without Borders (MSF) or the Red Cross. These organisations provide high-standard medical and nursing care, including psychological support in many cases, and also organise public health services such as child immunisations. As priority for official camp accommodation is usually given to families with children or vulnerable people with either chronic diseases or disabilities, providing comprehensive healthcare services to these populations is even more imperative. What this means however, is that resources are stretched thin and those refugees who are either in transit or living in unofficial areas often receive a lower quality or even a complete lack of healthcare.

The legal status of a refugee can also be a barrier to seeking healthcare, particularly in the few chaotic months after arrival in Europe. Many do not fully understand their legal rights or how to access healthcare in host countries; this is particularly problematic for those who are not settled immediately into official camps, instead attempting to cross international borders or avoid registration for fear of the barriers this may pose to freedom of movement (2). This means many do not receive their healthcare entitlements and depend on the ad-hoc and inconsistent presence of healthcare-providing groups often from outside any official aid delivery process.

The ‘unofficial’ refugee population is in fact where the grassroots organisations have trumped more established humanitarian groups. Countless groups have been set up in recent years by concerned citizens across Europe and have provided the in-the-field manpower that many official partners have failed to do. Groups such as Drop in the Ocean, Care 4 Calais, Help Refugees and many others have integrated into the ‘official’ aid delivery system and have in many cases outpaced those organisations who are often restricted by mandates or internal bureaucracy.  These groups offer assistance that is not always recorded on health surveillance statistics or official reports but in fact they are in many cases acting as primary carers. As healthcare itself is not the only way of keeping refugees healthy, these groups who attend to other needs such as shelter and food provision, hygiene, childcare and education may actually be having a significant impact on the refugee population’s health (3).

What about the Supranationals?

Red Cross Measles Vaccination Campaign, Scaramangas Camp, Athens. Photo credit: Victoria Stanford

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees should enjoy access to health services equivalent to the host population, and institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are tasked with upholding these rights under the UN Charter (4). It is increasingly clear that Europe is struggling to deal with the crisis and the UN has put pressure on European governance bodies to establish a comprehensive, mutually-agreed response plan to address the health needs of the refugee populations. This has achieved some success particularly in communicable disease control with large-scale vaccination programmes used in camps and non-camp settings alike (5) (see photo).

 However, the long-term nature of this crisis will require more of a focus on capacity-building of existing healthcare structures in host countries. For this reason, the WHO has performed a number of Assessment missions in countries receiving the most footfall of refugee movement including Cyprus, Greece, Italy and others, providing countries with context-specific information and guidance on responding to the health needs of refugees either temporarily or permanently settling in these countries (6). These analyses of the current preparedness of national health structures have helped to pinpoint where increased funding or skills are needed to boost local response; the European Commission have subsequently invested over 5 million euros on projects with the aim of “supporting member states under particular migratory pressure in their response to health-related challenges” (7). Crucially, these projects integrate NGOs with national structures, bridging the gap between short and long-term response, and focus on fostering comprehensive access to all aspects of the health system, not only emergency care. One of these projects also places a particular focus on the health needs of pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and young children, highlighting a concern for the most vulnerable populations in this crisis (7). However, whilst these projects are theoretical problem-solvers, there is a gap between plan and action. Many projects will take years to see results and whilst they do, countries such as Greece are reliant on existing health care systems, which have been struggling for years to cope with both the steady influx of refugees over many years and domestic austerity policies (8).

The bottom line is that funded and elected institutions such as the UN are mandated to protect the rights of refugees and these include access to healthcare. This situation sees the heavily bureaucratised system overloaded and rendered flimsy by the sheer volume of refugees depending on it, not only in Europe. This has meant that other humanitarian partners and grassroots movements have stepped in and provided invaluable assistance on the ground. The provision of healthcare to refugees in Europe largely depends on capacity and it is clear that there must be far-reaching plans made to build on both national and international health system structures. Whether these plans will materialise into effective action that both prevents ill health and treats disease remains to be seen as the crisis, without long-term solutions, inevitably continues. 

 

References:

(1)   MSF (2016) Bulgaria: providing healthcare to Syrian refugees [Online] Available at: http://www.msf.org.uk/article/bulgaria-providing-healthcare-syrian-refugees [Accessed August 2016)

(2)   Global Health Watch (2015) Migrants and asylum seekers; the healthcare sector, London, Page 63.

(3)   Kuepper, M (2016) Does Germany need to rethink its policies on refugees? Researchgate.net [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/does-germany-need-to-rethink-its-policies-on-healthcare-for-refugees [Accessed August 2016]

(4)   UNHCR; Health (2016) [Online] Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/uk/health.html [Accessed August 2016]

(5)   UN News Centre (2015) UN seeks common European strategy on healthcare for refugee and migrant influx [Online] Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52630#.V7DT6_krK01 [Accessed August 2016]

(6)   WHO (2015) Stepping up action on migrant and refugee health [Online] Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/greece/news/news/2015/06/stepping-up-action-on-migrant-and-refugee-health [Accessed August 2016]

(7)   European Commission Health Programme (2015) Health projects to support member states, Geneva.

(8)   Chrisafis, A (2015) Greek debt crisis: of all the damage, healthcare has been hit the worst, The Guardian, 9 July 2015 [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/09/greek-debt-crisis-damage-healthcare-hospital-austerity [Accessed August 2016]

Disease Outbreak, Health Systems, Healthcare Workforce, Infectious Diseases, International Aid, Research, Vaccination

Lessons Learned from Ebola

~Written by Kelly Ann Hanzlik (Contact: kelly_hanzlik@hotmail.com)

According to the World Health Organization, 28,616 people contracted Ebola and 11,310 lives were lost during the Ebola epidemic. After so many lives lost and the hopeful, but understandably tentative countdown of Ebola free days continues once again in West Africa, it is imperative that we take a moment to consider what we learned from the devastating and tragic epidemic.

I spoke with Dr. Ali S. Khan, former senior administrator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, former Assistant Surgeon General, and current Dean of the University Of Nebraska College Of Public Health. He noted initially, that there is always the risk of importation of cases; that is how it started he reminds us. He elaborated further that the epidemic “changed the response from the WHO and caused a change in political focus by the nations involved that will affect future outbreaks and ensure native capabilities, as well as link them to the global response.” He also noted that new medical counter measures, such as vaccines and related therapeutics, were also the result of the Ebola impact. When asked about what we learned, he did not hesitate. “The first thing was a new vaccine that permits a novel prevention strategy using ring vaccination to prevent spread and new cases. The second is the new monoclonals and antivirals for treatment.” He also noted the better understanding of the viral progression and clinical diseases that will influence options for acute treatment and follow up of convalescents.

Ebola has provided us with a virtual plethora of opportunities to learn about the disease, its treatment and control, as well as the control of other infectious illnesses through our attempts to prevent its spread as well as through our failures, and successes. We gained valuable treatment modalities and tactics that will likely be used in future outbreaks of Ebola, as well as many other infectious diseases.

Ebola taught us other things too. It has been some time since global health has taken center stage. Ebola changed that. During the epidemic, one could not watch the news or go through a day without hearing an update on the latest development in the Ebola crisis. Although other infectious diseases like Plague, Polio, AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Cholera, and now Zika have captured the world’s attention, few diseases have made such an intense impact, nor caused the uproar and fervor that Ebola elicited. Ebola reminded us that global health is public health and affects us all, and as such, deserves to be a priority for national and international focus and funding for everything from vaccine development and research, to capacity for response locally, nationally, and internationally. Global health has teetered on the edge of public awareness, and remained a quiet player in the competition of priorities in national budgets. Today, it is abundantly clear how vital this sector is to each nation’s, as well as the world’s health, safety, success and even its survival.

Another effect from the Ebola crisis was the opportunity to educate people about public health and the transmission of infectious disease. Through education, public health officials were able to promote behaviors that ensured the safety and health of the public. It is stunning that in this day and age, we persist in so many behaviors that put us and those we interact with at risk. The discrepancy in what we say we will do, and what we are actually willing to commit to and take action on, looms large. Persisting low vaccination rates and the prevalence of infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted diseases, measles, pertussis and influenza show this. Ebola offers yet another opportunity to demonstrate the connection between our behaviors and our risks and disease.

Ebola also showed us that many nations continue to lack sufficient financing, infrastructure, facilities, support and medical staff to treat their own populations. Endemic conditions like malaria, and neglected tropical diseases like Guinea worm disease, Yaws, Leishmaniasis, Filariasis, and Helminths, as well as other conditions continue to affect millions globally.  Maternal and childhood morbidity and mortality rates remain deplorable as well. And millions of children around the world continue to suffer and die of malnutrition and disease before they reach the age of five. This is unacceptable, especially because proper treatment and cures for these conditions exist. Ebola also highlighted the need for treatments for chronic non-infectious conditions as well.

Moreover, Ebola clearly demonstrated the enormous need that remains for sufficiently trained medical professionals and healthcare staff to provide adequate care for many populations throughout the world. The loss of so many extraordinary and heroic staff that dedicated their lives to helping others in need under the most daunting and challenging of circumstances was devastating to those whom they served, and must not be in vain.


Additionally, Ebola provided us with yet another chance to relearn lessons about the role of safety in giving aid to others in need. We learned that we cannot just rush in with aid, but must recall the basics that every first responder and medical student must learn:  Ensure scene safety before giving care, and first do no harm. Ebola showed us the necessity to strategize and prepare to give care by utilizing personal protective equipment. It also reminded us very quickly that we could indeed do harm, and worsen the epidemic when we acted without first assessing the situation and ensuring proper protection and preparation.

So, it remains to be seen just how much we will learn from Ebola. Will we learn from our mistakes? Will we take the global view in the future, or the narrow one? Will we truly live by the motto of the Three Musketeers and be "one for all and all for one", or persist in "it's all about me"? Only time will tell. 

Children, Infectious Diseases, Vaccination, International Aid

Is Measles Eradication Possible when the World is Still Trying to Eradicate Polio?

~Written by Theresa Majeski (Contact: theresa.majeski@gmail.com)

Also published on Global Contagions

Humanity has only truly conquered one human infectious disease, smallpox. Smallpox was successfully eradicated in 1977 after causing between 100 and 300 million deaths in the 20th century. Strides are being made to make polio the second eradicated infectious disease. Polio eradication efforts have been ongoing for almost 30 years, costing nearly 11 billion dollars. The World Health Organization (WHO) set a goal for polio eradication by 2000 but, 16 years later, that goal has yet to be achieved for reasons such as oral polio vaccine (OPV) effectiveness, armed conflict, and myths about vaccine dangers. The global public health community has been “burned” by the polio eradication campaign and may not have the money or energy for another global eradication campaign, especially since the polio campaign is still ongoing. Even if the global health community is burnt out on polio eradication efforts, is it time to turn our attention toward measles eradication?

Measles, along with smallpox and polio, is one of the very few diseases that meets the criteria necessary for eradication. Measles cases can be easily diagnosed due to the characteristic rash, the vaccine is incredibly effective, and there is no animal host where the virus can hide. Perhaps most importantly, measles transmission has been eliminated in large geographic areas, demonstrating that eradication may be feasible.

 

Number of reported measles cases from April 2015 to September 2015 (6 months); Photo Credit: World Health Organization

Measles is a deadly disease. In 2013, measles killed an estimated 145,000 people, mostly children in Africa, while leaving countless others deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled. To prevent measles individuals need to receive two vaccinations, which are 99% effective at preventing measles. While the number of children receiving measles vaccinations has risen over the past decade, there are still a handful of countries where children aren’t receiving vaccines (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan). Even places like the United States and some countries in Europe, which have eliminated measles locally, are seeing outbreaks due to imported cases. Until measles is eradicated, imported cases will continue to pop-up in countries without local transmission.

While measles meets the criteria for eradication efforts, there are still challenges to achieving that goal. One major challenge is that measles is incredibly contagious; infectious droplets can linger in the air for up to two hours, infecting unsuspecting people. To interrupt measles transmission, over 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated, compared to only 80% for smallpox and polio. The measles vaccine is also harder to deliver than the OPV, which is administered via a few drops in a child’s mouth. The measles vaccine must be given via injection, thus trained staff is necessary, and the vaccine has to be reconstituted in the field (liquid added to the powder vaccine to make the complete vaccine). Once reconstituted, the vaccine is only viable for six hours, which isn’t much of an issue for large vaccination campaigns but becomes problematic when only one or two children need to be vaccinated.

As with many global public health campaigns, governments and non-governmental organizations donate money to help high-risk countries control the spread of measles. In 2009, the global recession hit and measles eradication efforts lost significant funding. Mass vaccination campaigns were canceled or reduced and routine vaccination programs suffered. Following the reduction in vaccinations the number of measles cases exploded in southern African countries, going from 170,000 in 2008 to 200,000 in 2011. Added to these challenges is the perception of measles in high-income countries. Even though measles is a deadly disease, many in high income countries view measles as a minor illness with  a rash and fever; certainly not something worth spending billions of dollars on over the course of many years.

Source: Butler D (2015). Measles by the numbers: A race to eradication. Nature 518 (7538): 148-149. doi: 10.1038/518148a.

Measles eradication is feasible. Measles meets the criteria necessary for eradication; it is easily diagnosed, it has an effective vaccine, and humans are the only host. It has been successfully eliminated in large areas of the world (for example, all 35 countries of the Americas eliminated measles in 2002), demonstrating that it is possible to at least end local transmission. However, significant challenges do exist. While the global health world may be hesitant to embark on another “eradication” campaign after the continued struggle with eradicating polio, perhaps it’s best to start eradicating measles without labeling it an “eradication” campaign. Avoiding the “eradication” label may help prevent critics who are hesitant about taking on another potentially long and expensive eradication campaign, especially as the polio eradication campaign is still ongoing. Regardless of the use of the word “eradication” in the efforts to rid the world of measles, without measles in the world, lives will be saved. Let’s ensure measles is added to the very short list of human diseases we’ve eradicated.

 

International Aid, Traffic Accidents

Coups and Contrecoups

~Written by Sarah Khalid Khan (Contact: sk_scarab@yahoo.com)

Back while I was doing my house job, what most people would call a clinical internship, I worked for six months in the surgical ward of a government hospital in Lahore. Working in the surgical emergency meant witnessing, receiving, and managing patients with surgical injuries, ranging from minor wounds, to firearm injuries (FAI) and road traffic accidents (RTAs) besides other conditions requiring a clinical diagnosis. Indeed studies indicate that most of the cases presented in the emergency department are due to RTAs (Khalid et al., 2015).

Some of the worst cases I remember seeing were RTAs. Most of these patients ended up in neurosurgery as a consequence of head trauma. If one were to take a tour of the neurosurgery ward and go through case files or talk to the attendants, one would discover that most of the cases have a history of RTA. If you were on call and were awakened during the night by women crying, you would speculate that it is probably a life lost on the neurosurgery floor. Patients often stayed in the ward for long periods with an uncertain prognosis.

With urbanization of an exploding population and motorization, the world has also witnessed an increase in RTAs (Atubi, 2012). In Pakistan, the number of motor vehicles on the roads is high and the implementation of traffic rules is low. Road safety is not a prevalent concept and in some places it appears to be completely non-existent. Road injuries rank 9th among the top Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) per 100,000 in Pakistan. Since men are the primary bread-winners, the proportion of male to female casualties is disproportionate; more males suffer disability and death than females (Abdul & Tehreem, 2012). Therefore disability, hospital bills, death and funeral expenses often leave families in bankruptcy.

The situation of road traffic injuries is not very hopeful worldwide either. According to WHO 1.25 million people lose their lives as a result of road injuries and most of these casualties are in low and middle-income countries. Sufficient to say that road traffic injuries are a rather neglected area of global health. Recently there have been efforts to rectify this oversight as RTAs have now been identified as a major cause of death and disability besides communicable and non-communicable diseases. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented in September 2015 show an advance towards recognition of the dilemma of RTAs and aims to decrease the number of deaths by 2020 (Cossio et al., 2015). Steps will hopefully be taken towards creating policies that make roads and vehicles safer for people across the world. One can hope that these policies will ultimately rub off in low and middle-income countries where the most lives are lost due to RTAs.

References:

Abdul, M. K., & Tehreem, A. (2012). Causes of Road Accidents in Pakistan. J. Asian Dev. Stud, 1(1), 22–29. Retrieved from ISSN 2304-375X

Atubi, A. (2012). Determinants of Road Traffic Accident Occurrences in Lagos State : Some Lessons for Nigeria. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(6), 252–259

Cossio, M. L. T., Giesen, L. F., Araya, G., Pérez-Cotapos, M. L. S., VERGARA, R. L., Manca, M., … Héritier, F. (2015). Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015. World Health Organization (Vol. XXXIII). doi:10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2

Khalid, S., Bhatti, A. A., & Burhanulhuq. (2015). Audit of surgical emergency at Lahore General Hospital. Journal of Ayub Medical College, Abbottabad : JAMC, 27(1), 74–7. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26182742

Global Health Conferences, Government Policy, Healthcare Workforce, International Aid

Humanitarian Congress: A Workforce Self-Evaluates

~Written by Victoria Stanford (Contact: vstanford@hotmail.co.uk)

Humanitarian Congress, Berlin. Photo Credit: Victoria Stanford

The 17th Humanitarian Congress - ‘Understanding Failure, Adjusting Practice’ - took place in early October this year. The stimulating two-day event in Berlin, Germany could not have occurred at a more appropriate moment for the international humanitarian movement, its workers and its supporters. Just six days previously on October 3rd, an MSF (Doctors without Borders) trauma centre in Kunduz, Afghanistan was bombed, killing over 30 people including 10 patients and 13 staff, and injuring over 30 (more are missing and/or unidentifiable; MSF).  The Conference began with a poignant moment of silence for the victims of this tragedy. Inevitably however, the agenda was overwhelmingly full of lectures and seminars shedding light on numerous serious, devastating, and urgent crises that call upon the attention of the humanitarian community; the ongoing instability in the Central African Republic and protracted crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the war in Syria and its subsequent refugee crisis, to name a few.

The demand on the humanitarian system is ever-growing and events such as the Congress facilitate a reflection of its principles, priorities, objectives and effectiveness. The focus on ‘failure’, albeit with its negative connotations, helpfully directed discussions towards ideas for improvement. Importantly, this approach avoided blame and finger-pointing and instead flagged problems that applied to many agencies, in many situations. For example, speakers from the Treatment Action Campaign suggested that international agencies often use local agencies as subcontractors, outsourcing risk to those whose protection is less internationally observed. It was argued that this can often mean that the local workforce, and those directly involved in the crisis are not placed at the centre of decision-making processes. Instead, beneficiaries or those workers who are part of the vulnerable community are treated as “victims” without autonomy, who blindly receive assistance rather than self-remediate. This idea of working with communities rather than for them, expanded to a conference-wide discussion of responsibility. Questions like, whose role is it to alleviate suffering, who should provide the funding and resources, and who should decide policy and provide care for vulnerable people in crisis situations were discussed.

 Whilst the conference facilitated stimulating intellectual discussion on the ideas and concepts of today’s humanitarianism, it also showed the reality of human need. An engineer from Syria who came to Germany as a refugee, risking his safety along the highly publicised journey across the Mediterranean, spoke about his experiences. He spoke of the boat that took him across the sea slowly sinking while other passengers panicked, treading water for hours until an eventual coastguard rescue. A story such as his reminded all at the Conference that the jargonised political discussions about the refugee crisis create a rhetoric that often overlooks the human experience. Speakers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia also provided the weekend’s event with a more individualised, personalised view of the concepts and themes we were discussing; reminding us of the human aspect of an increasingly intellectualised and politicised field. 

The Congress also served as a pre-dialogue to the Humanitarian Summit, a novel event announced by the UN Secretary-General to be held in Istanbul in early 2016. The purpose is to discuss current challenges and decide on an agenda for future humanitarian action (ICVA, 2015). Many of the regional consultations which will contribute to the Summit have already taken place, and many of the speakers in Berlin commented on the predictability of the points which have been brought up thus far. For example, it was mentioned by many that staff security and safety in the field is likely to ignite serious discussion and debate, as is the issue of agency co-ordination and leadership. The example of the Ebola Crisis in West Africa provided an astute example of this need for a decision on establishing leadership and accountability in humanitarian action; the general rhetoric was that the WHO did not do enough, early enough, and NGOs such as MSF found themselves to be the principal driving force behind the response efforts.  

Increasingly complex humanitarian crises which involve both more agencies and beneficiaries than ever before, must be met with an efficient workforce that can respond to the challenges the humanitarian sector faces. The Conference seemed to bring about an understanding of the fact that the extent to which the sector can be successful may depend on how far the actors are willing to innovate and adapt, introduce creativity, and collaborate with non-traditional allies.  Humanitarianism is no longer a subjective theory with ad-hoc projects run by the adventurous few, it is a rapidly-expanding multidisciplinary system which should be based on rigorous evidence and carried out by legitimate actors who show consistent adherence to mutual humanitarian principles. If and how this will come about will rely on the humanitarian sector continuing to self-evaluate, a feat which will be facilitated by the upcoming Summit in 2016, which we all eagerly anticipate.

References:

MSF (2015) Afghanistan: Death toll from the MSF hospital attack in Kunduz still rising, www.msf.org, 23rd October 2015 [Online] Available at: http://www.msf.org/article/aghanistan-death-toll-msf-hospital-attack-kunduz-still-rising [Accessed 24 October 2015]

ICVA (International Council of Voluntary Agencies) (2015) World Humanitarian Summit 2016 [Online] Available at: https://icvanetwork.org/world-humanitarian-summit-0 [Accessed 09 November 2015] 

Economic Development, Government Policy, Inequality, International Aid, Political Instability, Poverty

Aid Dependency: The Damage of Donation

~Written by Victoria Stanford, University of Edinburgh (Contact: vstanford@hotmail.co.uk)

  "The Culture of Aid Dependency Need to Change," David Sengeh, Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: www.engineeringforchange.org

"The Culture of Aid Dependency Need to Change," David Sengeh, Sierra Leone. Photo Credit: www.engineeringforchange.org

Aid has long been the response of richer countries to the imbalance of economic development seen across the globe. In the last two decades however, relatively non-intrusive in-kind giving has been re-branded and intensified to the point where aid today is arguably used as a strategic force in increasingly interventionist global development policy. The aid industry has seen a rapid expansion, characterised by an increase in the number of organisations, amounts of funding and geographical reach (Collinson and Duffied, 2013). The question of aid dependence is an important one; many argue that international assistance paradoxically poses a barrier to recipient country development and sustainable economic growth (Moyo, 2009).

Recent rhetoric surrounding aid dependency is clear- it is an unwelcome and unfortunate side effect of aid and its diminishment is high on the aid policy agenda (Thomas et al., 2011). What is becoming increasingly clear however is that there is an emerging type of aid-related dependency that does not refer to economic or financial factors, but political. Cases of corruption in recipient country governments have been met with the development of more complex modes of donation, including direct programme funding, conditionalities, tied aid, and grants, which give donors more control over the direction and ultimate use of their funds. This often means that those providing aid are increasingly entwined in political processes. This combined with aid uncertainty, questionable sustainability, and a tendency of top-down approaches to political involvement, create a situation where countries in need of aid are dependent upon foreign agendas.

How has aid caused dependency?

Aid dependency refers to the proportion of government spending that is given by foreign donors. Since 2000 this has in fact decreased by one third in the world’s poorest countries, exemplified by Ghana and Mozambique where aid dependency decreased from 47% to 27% and 74% to 58% respectively (3). Aid is not intrinsically linked to dependency; studies have shown that dependency is influenced by many factors, mostly length and intensity of the donation period, and 15-20% has been identified as the tipping point where aid begins to have negative effects (Clemens et al., 2012). What causes dependency is when aid is used, intentionally or not, as a long-term strategy that consequently inhibits development, progress, or reform. Food aid is particularly criticised for this; increasing dependency on aid imports disincentivises local food production by reducing market demand. This is compounded when declining aid is replaced with commercial imports rather than locally-sourced food, either because of cheaper prices or a lack of recipient country food production capacity because of long-term aid causing agricultural stagnation (Shah, 2012). This is exemplified in the situation of Haiti, which is dependent on cheap US imports for over 80% of grain stocks even in a post-aid era, or countries such as the Philippines where aid dependency has forced an over-reliance on cash crops. Dependency relates not only to commodities but also technical expertise and skills which donors often bring to specific aid schemes and projects, which when not appropriately coupled with education create an over-reliance on donors (Thomas et al., 2011).

A more concerning type of dependency

The nature of aid almost intrinsically causes what is increasingly known as ‘political dependency’ by encouraging donor intervention in political processes. Donors need to satisfy the interests, values and incentives of the home country, whilst also providing them with expected results in order to maintain the cash flow. This has resulted in donors either bypassing and therefore destabilising government service provision processes to establish donor projects, a strategy often favoured by USAID and the World Bank (Bräuntigam and Knack, 2004), or intervening directly in policy-making and implementation (Bräutigam, 2000).

The involvement of donors, either foreign governments or international agencies, in recipient country political processes has been shown to reduce the quality of governance (Knack, 2001). It reduces leader accountability; the government is “playing to two audiences simultaneously”- the donors and the public (Hayman, 2008). This means the direction of accountability is between government and donor rather than the public, risking government legitimacy and delaying the progress of political reform and development (Bräutigam, 2000). This is particularly damaging in countries where the need for aid stems from political upheaval or civil unrest such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Zimbabwe, which have a lengthy history of aid dependence (Moss et al., 2006). The risk here is that donors have political leverage, thus decisions and planning become reliant on donor involvement whose motivation and values may not necessarily align with those of the public or government.

Furthermore, ‘earmarking’ is a strategy favoured by many international donors who fear corruption in recipient governments, therefore ‘earmark’ direct sector or programme funding rather than general government budget support (Foster and Leavy, 2001). This not only shifts the agenda-making power to donors who have the authority to set priorities and direct funds accordingly, but also creates patchy and unsustainable development where some sectors outperform others.

An additional significant problem of dependency upon international agenda-making for countries receiving aid is that globally recommended ‘best practice’ policies often lack appropriate contextualisation to cultural, religious, or social values. A top-down, uniform approach to policy implementation by donors also has logistical barriers whereby local infrastructure is incapable of carrying out donor projects effectively and producing satisfactory results. A good example of this is the widely-disseminated policy encouraging syndromic management of sexually transmitted diseases, which was coercively incorporated into aid channels in Mozambique, despite the clear lack of the technical expertise and human resource capacity that such a robust policy requires (Cliff et al., 2004). This then perpetuates aid dependency because donors do not receive satisfactory project results and may consequently reduce funding without actually solving the problem, thus the poverty cycle continues and aid is required once again.

Demolishing aid dependency

Ending or preventing aid dependency will be contingent on affirmative action from both donors and recipients. Botswana is a key example of recipient-led aid policy that effectively resulted in rapidly reducing aid and therefore dependency. Botswana began receiving aid shortly after gaining independence in 1966 (Bräutigam and Botchwey, 1999). Of primary importance here is that Botswana largely decided the direction and use of funding; areas of priority were identified and donors were matched accordingly, thus avoiding reliance on donor ideas and agendas. Only projects that the predicted government capacity could absorb once aid was reduced in the long-term were undertaken, which ensured sustainability. In contrast, the relative ‘success story’ of Taiwan can be explained by donor-led project planning. Taiwan received much aid from the US in the early 1960’s which focused mainly on building infrastructural capacity-docks, railways, factories-with the aim to increase trading systems and boost the economy. In fact, this scheme was so effective that the US eventually withdrew aid for fear of creating competition (Chang, 1965).

It seems evident that recipient-led schemes and projects are more effective and reduce the risk of dependency. Technically speaking, some argue that aid should only ever be in the form of general government budget support rather than selective sector or project aid because it reduces donor involvement in political processes. It is also less bureaucratic, is less influenced by donor missions who need to produce and report results, and avoids the risk of uneven service provision (Moss et al., 2006). Ideologically speaking, the aid industry today is at risk of forming a novel kind of colonialism where ‘Western’ ideas of development and progress are used to influence and hold power over governments of countries receiving aid.

Concluding thoughts

The aid industry must respond to the problem of economic and political dependence. Coordinated efforts to more effectively monitor donor-recipient relationships, using a widely implemented human rights-based legal and moral framework for aid policy should be the ultimate, collective goal (Ooms and Hammonds, 2008). The reality is however that with increasingly complex humanitarian disasters and the destructive forces of climate change looming, the aid industry will be called upon to increase capacity and intensity which may perhaps re-direct focus from implementing ideological change. Nevertheless, the opportunity to ‘get things right’ in aid policy and practice persists, and it is a moral imperative that the industry and its participants make the attempt.


References:

Bräutigam D and Botchwey K (1999) The institutional impact of aid dependence on recipients in Africa. Chr. Michelsen Institute;Working Paper 1.

Bräutigam, D. (2000). Aid dependence and governance, Almqvist & Wiksell International;Stockholm pp.14.

Bräuntigam D and Knack S (2004) Foreign aid, institutions and governance in Sub-Saharan Africa, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol 52;2, pp.255-285.

Chang D (1965) US Aid and Economic progress in Taiwan, Asian Survey, Vol 5;3, pp.152-160.

Clemens MA, Radelet S and Bhavnani R (2012) Counting Chickens when they Hatch: Timing and the Effects of Aid on Growth, The Economic Journal, 122(561), 590-617.

Cliff J, Walt G and Nhatave, I (2004) What's in a Name? Policy transfer in Mozambique: DOTS for tuberculosis and syndromic management for sexually transmitted infections. Journal of Public Health Policy, 25;1, p.38-55

Collinson S and Duffied M (2013) Paradoxes of Presence:Risk Management and aid culture in challenging environments, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute [Online] Available at: http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/8428.pdf [Accessed 02 January 2015].

Foster M and Leavy J (2001) The choice of financial aid instruments. London: Overseas Development Institute, pp.4.

Hayman R (2008) Rwanda: milking the cow. Creating policy space in spite of aid dependence. The Politics of Aid, 156.

Knack S (2001) Aid dependence and the quality of governance: cross-country empirical tests, Southern Economic Journal, 310-329.

Moss T, Pettersson G andVan de Walle, N (2006) An aid-institutions paradox? A review essay on aid dependency and state building in sub-Saharan Africa, Centre for Global Development; Working paper No. 74.

Moyo D (2009) Dead Aid, Penguin; London, pp.12

Ooms G and Hammonds R (2008) Correcting globalisation in health: transnational entitlements versus the ethical imperative of reducing aid-dependency. Public Health Ethics, 1(2), 154-170.

Shah A (2012) Food aid, Global Issues [Online] Available at: URL: http://www. globalissues. org/article/748/food-aid [Accessed January 02 2015]

Thomas A, Viciani L and Tench J et al (2011) Ending Aid Dependency, Action Aid; London.

Government Policy, Health Systems, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Program Science: Improving Public Health Interventions

~Written by Theresa Majeski (Contact: theresa.majeski@gmail.com

Program science is a relatively new term being used to describe the application of scientific knowledge to improve the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. Evidence-based interventions are becoming more mainstream in public health but there is still work to do to ensure that public health concepts work the way we hope they will. That’s where program science can help.

Program science extends beyond looking at the implementation of a program, which is the logistics of developing and implementing evidence-based interventions, and focuses on the bigger picture. Program science looks at entire programs, which may include more than one intervention, for a particular population in a specific context. For example, program science may look at efforts to decrease HIV rates in youth of color in a specific borough of NYC. There are probably many interventions working on this issue, targeting different populations of youth via different methods. Program science would look at how all of these interventions work together to achieve the overarching goal of decreasing HIV rates in youth of color in that specific borough of NYC.

Program science focuses on questions like, "Who should be targeted and for how long?," "What is the best combination of interventions to achieve our goal?." " How can we sustain the program?," and "What quality improvement processes exist?" Program science helps to bring together researchers, policy makers, program planners, frontline workers, and communities for an ongoing engagement to help the program succeed.

Source: Sevgi O. Aral, 2012. Program Science: A New Initiative; A New Approach to STD Prevention Programs. 2012 National STD Prevention Conference

Program science is popular in HIV/STI work right now because such work involves long-term complex population-level behavioral interventions. For HIV/STI work, program science can be especially useful in determining why some interventions aren’t as effective as they were in the past and why some disease incidence rates are leveling out (or increasing) instead of continuing to decrease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on program science at their 2012 National STD Conference. In the US, HIV/STI program science can be used to strengthen public health initiatives in a time when public health funding is decreasing and funders want to see substantial impact. Program science can ensure that money is allocated to the most effective interventions that will have the greatest impact on the population.  HIV related program science can be useful on a global scale to ensure that we fully understand the epidemic, who is impacted, and to ensure that the “money follows the epidemic and the interventions follow the evidence”.  Because each HIV affected population of the world has different characteristics it is important to not just apply one intervention to everyone but to really understand how each population is affected and what interventions would work best for each population.  

Program science is a logical progression from a focus on developing evidence-based interventions and rolling them out to a target population, to a more comprehensive focus on how various interventions are impacting the target population. this progression into a "big picture" way of looking at things will hopefully create more effective and efficient programs that contain targeted interventions to increase health of the target population. As program science continues to gain traction in public health, I believe we will see a shift to "big picture" thinking for all sorts of public health activities currently operating without this broad focus.

Government Policy, Poverty, Economic Burden, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Sustaining the Fight against Malaria

~ Written by Randall Kramer, PhD, M.E. (Professor of Environmental Economics and Global Health, Duke University) & Leonard Mboera, PhD, MSc (Chief Scientist, Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research)

*Also published on the Duke Global Health Institute Website 

On World Malaria Day, April 25, there’s much to celebrate and acknowledge when it comes to the fight against malaria. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen a huge ramp-up of international funding, and the latest statistics show impressive progress—a 46% decrease in malaria infections among children in sub-Saharan Africa and an estimated 4.3 million deaths averted globally over time.

One of the most effective malaria control measures has been the free distribution of several hundred million insecticide-treated mosquito nets that protect people from mosquitoes while sleeping. In 2004, only 3% of at-risk people in sub-Saharan Africa had an insecticide-treated mosquito net available to them, compared to 49% in 2014 after an international campaign.

The U.S. government is among the major funders of malaria control, and it’s one of the few international assistance programs that has garnered bipartisan support through the Bush and Obama terms. But despite the upsurge in spending and the laudable success of these programs, malaria remains one of the leading causes of death in poorer and tropical parts of the world.

The need for continued support is critical; it’s estimated that eliminating malaria as a major global disease threat would require double the current $3 billion invested annually in malaria control. But in the face of so many other pressing needs, why should we continue to invest in malaria?

In the last year, nearly 200 million people suffered from malaria, and its death toll—more than 500,000—was 50 times greater than that of the widely publicized outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. And malaria takes a particularly devastating toll on the young. More than 80% of the deaths from malaria are in children under five, and those who manage to survive the illness often suffer lasting effects on development, school performance and lifetime earnings.

Because malaria is such a resilient killer, we can expect to see these malaria losses continue and potentially rise in the absence of continued financial support. In fact, with temperatures steadily increasing throughout the world as a result of global warming, malaria-transmitting mosquitoes have begun to take residence in new regions, raising the specter of malaria spreading far beyond its current boundaries.

In addition to the physical suffering malaria causes, the disease stunts national economic progress.

Studies by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs suggest that, if not for malaria keeping children out of school and agricultural workers out of the fields, the rate of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa would have been much higher in the past few decades.

And lastly, we can’t underestimate the goodwill generated by our investments in mosquito nets and other malaria-defeating approaches in recipient countries. As one community member told our research team in rural Tanzania, “Mosquito nets have been a great help to us. The day when mosquito nets were distributed, people were very happy, because many people in our community could not afford to buy the mosquito nets.”

The malaria parasite, a resilient and opportunistic pest, has successfully co-inhabited with humans for thousands of years, and it continues to adapt and evolve, damaging populations and economies across the globe. We now have the knowledge, technology and health systems to significantly reduce its devastating human impacts. But putting these assets into action will require renewed political will and financial commitment from rich and poor countries around the globe—including the U.S.

Poverty, Government Policy, Health Systems, Disease Outbreak, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Keeping the Spotlight on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDS)

-Written by Adenike Onagoruwa, PhD (Contact: adenike.onagoruwa@gmail.com)

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of diseases with different causative pathogens that largely affect poor and marginalized populations in low-resource settings and have profound, intergenerational effects on human health and socioeconomic development. The WHO has prioritized 17 NTDs that are endemic in 149 countries, of which some such as dengue, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis are epidemic-prone.

NTDs can impede physical and cognitive development, prevent children from pursuing education, frequently contribute to maternal and child morbidity and mortality, and are a cause of physical disabilities and stigma that can make it difficult to earn a livelihood. Largely eliminated in developed, high-resource countries and frequently neglected in favor of better-known global public-health issues, these preventable and relatively inexpensive to treat diseases put at peril the lives of more than a billion people worldwide, including half a billion children. Several reasons have been postulated to explain the neglect of these diseases; an underestimation of their contribution to mortality due to the asymptomatism and lengthy incubation period that is characteristic of many of the diseases, a greater focus on HIV, malaria and TB because of their higher mortality, and a lack of interest in developing (non-profitable) treatments by pharmaceutical companies.

Progress has been made in recent times in combating these diseases and several international measures have been taken. Resolution WHA66.12 adopted at the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in May 2013 highlighted strategies necessary to accelerate the work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases. Previously in January 2012 at the “London Declaration”, representatives of governments, pharmaceutical companies and donor organizations convened to make commitments to control or eliminate at least 10 of these diseases by 2020. They proposed a public-private collaboration to ensure the supply of necessary drugs, improve drug access, advance R&D, provide endemic countries with funding and to continue identifying remaining gaps.

So far, the coalition has made progress with delivering on their promises:

Pharmaceutical Companies - In 2013, drug companies met 100% of drug requests, donating more than 1billion treatments. On the R&D front, clinical trials for some NTDs have been started. In addition, several drug companies have enabled access to their compound libraries.

Governments - Compared to 37 in 2011, 55 countries requested drug donations at the end of 2012. Also, over 70 countries have developed national NTD plans. Within a year of the Declaration, Oman went from endemic trachoma to elimination and by 2014, Colombia eliminated onchocerciasis.

Donors - NTDs have become more visible on the development and aid agenda, especially with the £245 million earmarked in 2012 by DFID for NTD programs. Other donors have since followed suit.

However, despite these strides, challenges remain as treatments are not reaching everyone in need. Although 700 million people received mass drug administration (MDA) for one or more NTDs in 2012, only 36% of people in need worldwide received all the drugs they needed. There’s also the anticipated challenge of environmental and climate change on NTDs; with dengue being identified as a disease of the future due to increased urbanization and changes in temperature, rainfall and humidity.

The spotlight needs to remain on NTDs and their contributions to ill-health and poverty for efforts to be sustained. 

To sustain these efforts, greater advocacy has to be made for integrating NTD control into other community and even national level programming, without losing them in the crowd. Some anthelminthic drugs for preventive chemotherapy are on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines and their distribution has been effective and economical. However, to succeed at NTD elimination, we have to look beyond mass drug administration to the removal of the primary risk factors for NTDs (poverty and exposure) by ensuring access to clean water and basic sanitation, improving vector control, integrating NTDs into poverty reduction schemes and vice versa, and building stronger, equitable health systems in endemic areas. There needs to be a consensus as to how to ensure this. At present, it seems there is a gap between elimination objectives and how to incorporate them into other health and development initiatives such as water and sanitation, nutrition and education programs. It has long been established that helminth parasite infection contributes to anemia and malnutrition in children. The presence of other protozoan, bacterial and viral diseases also contribute to school absenteeism. Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) can be recurrent when there is no access to safe drinking water.

There is also a need to maintain a surveillance and information system for NTDs in light of increasing migration and displacements. Another way to ensure that the spotlight is kept on NTDs is research that provides evidence of interactions and co-infections with other diseases. For example, epidemiological studies from sub-Saharan Africa have shown that genital infection with Schistosoma haematobium may increase the risk for HIV infection in young women (Mbah et al, 2013). Understanding that neglected diseases can make the “big three” diseases (malaria, HIV and tuberculosis) more deadly and can undermine the gains that have been made in health, nutrition and education is important (Hotez et al, 2006).

Erroneous overstating of the progress made in controlling and eliminating NTDs can have a detrimental effect on funding and public perceptions of their importance. Thus, there is a need for increased synergy between stakeholders. Achievements in polio eradication do not equal achievements in human African trypanosomiasis eradication. While some NTDs can be managed with specific drugs, some such as dengue do not have a specific drug. Therefore, while keeping the spotlight on NTDs collectively, it is important to emphasize their diversity and to also keep in mind the subgroup of NTDs categorized as emerging or reemerging infectious diseases, which are deemed a serious threat and have not been adequately examined in terms of their unique risk characteristics (Mockey et al, 2014).

Lastly, it is important to keep the heat on NTDs in the UN’s post-2015 sustainable development agenda by advocating that proposed goals support efforts to monitor, control and eliminate NTDs. As highlighted by the Ebola crisis, strengthening health systems is paramount. Nevertheless, the future looks optimistic regarding NTDs. Encouraging is the inclusion of neglected and poverty-related diseases on the agenda of the 2015 G7 Summit, which will be held in Germany in June.

References:

World Health Organization. Neglected tropical diseases: becoming less neglected [editorial]. The Lancet. 2014; 383: 1269

Holmes, Peter. "Neglected tropical diseases in the post-2015 health agenda." The Lancet 383.9931 (2014): 1803.

Feasey, Nick, et al. "Neglected tropical diseases." British medical bulletin 93.1 (2010): 179-200.

World Health Organization. Neglected tropical diseases. http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/diseases/en/                              

Fenwick, Alan OBE. “The Politics of Expanding Control of NTDs.”  A Global Village Issue 7. http://www.aglobalvillage.org/journal/issue7/globalhealth/ntds/

Mbah, Martial L. Ndeffo, et al. "Cost-effectiveness of a community-based intervention for reducing the transmission of Schistosoma haematobium and HIV in Africa." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.19 (2013): 7952-7957.

Hotez, Peter J., et al. "Incorporating a rapid-impact package for neglected tropical diseases with programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria." PLoS medicine 3.5 (2006): e102.

Mackey, Tim K., et al. "Emerging and Reemerging Neglected Tropical Diseases: a Review of Key Characteristics, Risk Factors, and the Policy and Innovation Environment." Clinical microbiology reviews 27.4 (2014): 949-979.

G7 Summit Agenda. http://www.g7germany.de/Webs/G7/EN/G7-Gipfel_en/Agenda_en/agenda_node.html

World Health Organization. Investing to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases: third WHO report on neglected diseases 2015. 

Non-Communicable Diseases, Poverty, Government Policy, International Aid

Managing the Global Burden of Chronic Illnesses

-Written by Mike Emmerich, Specialist Emergency Med & ERT Africa consultant (contact: mike@nexusmedical.co.za)

https://twitter.com/MikeEmmerich_

An article on an EMS blog caught my eye in the past week:

"COPD was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2011 and is expected to become the third-leading cause of death worldwide by 2020." (Source: Hoyert DL, Xu JQ. Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. Natl Vital Stat Rep, 2012; 61(6): 1–65. Lopez AD, Shibuya K. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: current burden and future projections. Eur Respir J, 2006; 27(2): 397)

This caused me to dig up a presentation I did in 2006 at a Fitness Seminar, wherein I was discussing chronic medical conditions, which are caused by poor lifestyle choices and I noted then:

" In 1999 CVD contributed to a third of global deaths. " In 1999, low and middle income countries contributed to 78% of CVD deaths. " By 2010 CVD is estimated to be the leading cause of death in developing countries. " Heart disease has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries.

I further stated: Chronic illness have overtaken communicable disease as a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Chronic diseases, including such noncommunicable conditions as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease, are now the major cause of death and disability, not only in developed countries, but also worldwide. The greatest total numbers of chronic disease deaths and illnesses now occur in developing countries.

I then dug deeper to see how this has changed since 2006, and the outlook has become even more bleak!

More than 75% of all deaths worldwide are due to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCD deaths worldwide now exceed all communicable, maternal and perinatal nutrition-related deaths combined and represent an emerging global health threat. Every year, NCDs kill 9 million people under 60 years of age. The socio-economic impact is staggering. These NCD-related deaths are caused by chronic diseases, injuries, and environmental health factors. Important risk factors for chronic diseases include tobacco, excessive use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.

The world now suffers from a global epidemic of poor lifestyle choices! Medically we call them chronic illnesses or NCD's, but the issue at hand is that they can be avoided, reversed and prevented; with smarter lifestyle choices. The why and the how of these lifestyle choices is a debate for another blog, but poor socioeconomic conditions, poverty, malnourishment and diets deficient in basic nutritional building blocks all form part of this dynamic.

These poor lifestyle choices and the death, illness, and disability they cause will soon dominate health care costs and should be causing public health officials, governments and multinational institutions to rethink how they approach this growing global challenge. To exacerbate the matter; the deaths, illnesses and disability are spiralling at even faster rates in the developing world, where the infrastructure is even weaker than in the developed world.

It is estimated that by 2020 the number of people who die from ischemic heart disease will increase by approximately 50% in countries with established market economies and formerly socialist economies, and by over 100% in low- and middle-income countries. Similar increases will also be found in cerebrovascular disease (Stroke) by 2020!

This is indeed a frightening prospect; NCDs are expected to account for 7 of every 10 deaths in the world! The overextended healthcare systems in Africa and Asia will battle to cope with these spiralling patient numbers.

A (positive) point to ponder as we consider this bleak outlook; the principal known causes of premature death from NCDs are tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and harmful alcohol consumption – all of these are preventable and manageable; as they relate to personal choices. Therefore we need to focus on creating a environment where these same individuals can make the correct choices which will have a positive impact on their lives. This is where governments, aid agencies and multi-nationals should focus their energies, and the approach should be more carrot than stick, which is not the case at present.

References:

http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/128038/1/9789241507509_eng.pdf