Posts Tagged ‘World Health Organization’

World Water Day Spotlights Need for Increased R&D

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

World Water Day, held annually on March 22, brings renewed attention to the importance of clean water to everyday life and the necessity of global water conservation, especially given the scarcity of natural freshwater resources and increasing global demand.  Even in the United States, not traditionally considered a water-scarce country, one out of every three U.S. counties is predicted to face a greater risk of water shortage by 2050.

World Water Day 2012, coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, highlights the link between water and food security.  While significant progress has been made towards increasing access to safe drinking water, much work remains.  The World Health Organization recently announced that the world has already met the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to water by 2015. However, 1 billion people worldwide–1 out of every 7 individuals–live in chronic hunger, partially due to water shortages.

The connection between hunger and water shortage may not be immediately obvious, but most of the water that people “drink” each day is actually in the food that they eat.  Food production accounts for 70% of all water use, and as the world population continues to grow, so will the demand for freshwater resources.  The world population is expected to increase by over 2 billion by 2050; if water resources cannot produce enough food to support the current population of 7 billion, how will we feed over 9 billion people with even less water in 2050?

Experts believe that the answer to this question lies in reduced food waste and increased agricultural research and development (R&D) to be able to produce more high-quality food with less water.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the leading government agencies working to improve food security by supporting innovative agricultural research.

Access to safe drinking water could help reduce the 1.5 million deaths that occur in children every year due to diarrheal diseases.  Photo credit: Flickr photo by waterdotorg, 2011

In addition, USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are supporting global health R&D efforts to address water, sanitation and hygiene challenges which cause a heavy burden of diseases in many developing countries and impede social and economic development.  One example of a highly cost-effective intervention developed by the CDC which is saving lives worldwide is the safe water system (SWS).  The SWS, which can reduce rates of diarrheal diseases by 30-50% in high-risk communities, is based on the simple technology of adding an inexpensive chlorine bleach solution to household drinking water to disinfect it before use. It also includes education on safe storage of treated water and best hygiene and sanitation practices.

While great progress has been made in increasing access to safe water, there is still more work to do, and the global community is lagging behind in efforts to improve food security, hygiene and sanitation.  Increased investment is needed in R&D that aims to find cost-effective ways to improve these basic conditions. Eighty-eight percent of deaths from diarrheal diseases worldwide can be attributed to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene – the development and usage of health technologies can prevent these diseases and save lives.

Ending NTDs by 2020: Increased investment for R&D required

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Today in London, some of the biggest players in global health committed a renewed and intensified focus on neglected tropical diseases, a group of diseases affecting the world’s poorest people. One in six people, or 1.4 billion people around the world, have an NTD and one in three people are at risk. Though NTDs don’t always kill, they cause disabilities, making it difficult or impossible for children to attend school and for adults to work and support their families.

The international, cross-sector meeting marked collaboration between governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical companies, and global health NGOs. It is also an historic pledge that brings new promise and hope to those affected and advances science and health for all. Sir Andrew Witty, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline noted that the variety of different commitments across sectors demonstrates these collaborations want to “travel far” to end NTDs. “If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel as a group,” he said, quoting an African proverb.

Making best use of existing tools to combat diseases will only get us part of the way. The 2020 goals are achievable only with new tools—including drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. Nine of the ten targeted NTDs required new investment in research and development.

To take just one example, visceral leishmaniasis is almost always fatal if untreated, and there are approximately 500,000 cases each year, largely in South Asia and the horn of Africa. The cost of treatment plus loss of income due to one case of VL represents at least 50% of the average spent per family member per year. What’s worse, more than half of people who seek treatment must do so more than once to cure the disease. Available therapies are sometimes toxic or ineffective. New, more effective medicines are needed, at a lower cost, and with fewer side effects.

A consortium project led by Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, in partnership with California-based OneWorld Health and TDR, WHO’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, aims to establishing and implementing new treatment modalities as successful tools to control and support the elimination of VL in most endemic regions of South Asia. California-based pharmaceutical company Gilead is investing in further research to reduce the cost of treatment.

In addition to narrowing funding gaps, new licensing or collaboration agreements have opened up “libraries” of scientific knowledge and research compounds. As a result, one pharmaceutical company recently shared 300 compounds with a lab in Argentina to conduct research on Chagas, an NTD common in rural parts of Central and South America, and sometimes found in poor parts of the United States.

Something as ambitious as this takes commitment from the public, private and philanthropic sectors, but the public must become increasingly engaged as well. The names of diseases like visceral leishmaniasis don’t exactly roll off the tongue of those of us in developed countries, and fewer people could tell you why the condition is so devastating. To increase public awareness and advocacy of NTDs, the Sabin Vaccine Institute-based Global Network’s new END7 campaign aims to end seven of the most common NTDs by 2020. It’s going to take an increased effort on all our parts to make NTDs a thing of the past.

TDR-TB Highlights Need for Better TB Vaccine & Drugs

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Just as India celebrates its one-year anniversary of being polio-free, news of  “totally drug resistant tuberculosis” (TDR-TB)  in Mumbai has emerged. Previous cases of TDR-TB were first reported in 2007 and again in 2009. Although not a term formally recognized by the World Health Organization, TDR-TB is described as a form of TB that has mutated beyond multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) and extremely drug resistant (XDR-TB) TB and fails to respond to existing first- and second-line treatments. The result of incomplete adherence to tough drug regimens and improper prescribing, the rise of TDR-TB is worrying, as no drugs currently exist to combat this new strain.

Aeras, a Maryland-based TB vaccine product development organization, recently partnered with China’s top vaccine maker China National Biotech Group (CNBG), to pursue the development, manufacturing, and global distribution of an effective and long-lasting TB vaccine. Aeras and CNBG hope to create an affordable vaccine that may protect against drug-resistant strains of TB. This international partnership reflects the global problem of TB; as an infectious disease that infects a third of the global population, killed 1.45 million people worldwide in 2010, and newly infected over 11,100 Americans in 2010, TB is a major global health threat.

TB’s contagiousness lies in its ability to travel through the air, thus resulting in a multiplying effect of person-to-person transmission. The infectious nature of TB was spotlighted in the 2007 case of the Atlanta man infected with XDR-TB who traveled overseas despite warnings from health officials. Estimates at that time figured that he had, over the course of two trans-Atlantic flights, put upwards of 80 people at risk for TB transmission.

The prevalence and infectious nature of TB underscores the need for the development of an effective and cost-friendly vaccine to prevent, and drugs to treat, existing TB infections. Ninety years have passed since the development of the current (and only somewhat effective) BCG vaccine and nearly fifty years since the last drugs to treat TB were developed. Lowering the cost of treatment is another concern, as, for example, second-line MDR-TB treatment can be “literally thousands of times as expensive as that of regular treatment in some regions,” according to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development.

While challenges remain, encouraging progress continues in the fight against TB. For example, in November of this past year, an international collaboration between California-based Next Dimension Technologies and India’s International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology yielded the creation of a hand-held TB detector. Called the “Electronic Nose,” this device can help diagnose within minutes TB-infection based on altered molecules present in an individual’s breath, a dramatic improvement from traditional tests’ diagnosis span of weeks. Early identification will help infected persons begin treatment earlier and thus also reduce the likelihood of TB transmission to others. Funding for the development of this device comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada.

A similar quick-detection device called the GenXpert MTB/RIF was developed in late 2010 by Switzerland’s Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), California-company Cepheid Inc., and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to diagnosis TB, MDR-TB, and co-infections of TB-HIV/AIDS. Funding for its test demonstration study was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Prevention-wise, the good news is that more than ten TB vaccine candidates are currently in the pipeline, with some starting participation in human safety trials. Aeras president and chief executive Jim Connolly estimates that it will take a minimum of 7-10 years to create a TB vaccine in China.

World AIDS Day 2011: A Reminder of the Challenges Ahead

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

As we commemorate World AIDS Day today, the global health community recognizes remarkable progress in treatment and prevention in the past three years while acknowledging the challenges that remain in the fight against AIDS. For example, although the rates of newly infected people have declined over the past decade and access to treatment rates has increased, the former still greatly outpaces the latter. For those the World Health Organization have deemed sick enough to require urgent treatment, only about half actually receive care. Still, UNAIDS reports that the “unparalleled global response of the past decade has already forced the epidemic into decline,” with a decrease in AIDS-related deaths amid “unprecedented funding” for HIV programs.

UNAIDS, the United Nations agency devoted to providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, reported over Thanksgiving that rates of new HIV infection have been steady over the past five years, with approximately 2.7 million newly infected people each year. In 33 countries, rates of new infection have declined; it is hoped that future rates of infection may be even lower, as a breakthrough study this year found that treatment reduced transmission from an infected person to their non-infected partner by as much as 96%. In Central Asia and Eastern Europe, however, the number of people living with HIV rose 250% during 2001-2010, and death rates continue to rise there even as they stabilize in other regions.

Progress continues to be made in the search for an HIV vaccine. The discovery of 17 unique antibodies with rare protective abilities against HIV by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its partners earlier this year is one such success story, as scientists believe that this finding will be instrumental in creating an HIV vaccine.

While these developments are promising, sustained funding for HIV treatment may be adversely affected by the struggling global economy. For example, three days after the release of the UNAIDS annual report, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that it would not be funding new grant programs until 2014.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech on creating an “AIDS-free generation” earlier this month at the National Institutes of Health, setting such an ambitious goal may have been “unimaginable” in the past. But the knowledge and technologies we have today have given us the “route we need to take” to seize this historical opportunity in the fight against AIDS.

With an estimated 34 million people worldwide living with HIV, this year’s commemoration of World AIDS Day – 30 years since the discovery of HIV – reminds us of the scope and impact this pandemic has had on countless lives, the hope for new preventive measures and ultimately a cure, and the hard challenges that lie ahead to provide adequate prevention and treatment to all who require it.

For a CNN slideshow on “30 Years of AIDS Moments to Remember,” click here.

How GAVI’s Advance Market Commitments are Changing Vaccine Distribution

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

This past Saturday was World Pneumonia Day. As the No. 1 killer of children under the age of 5 worldwide, pneumonia is a major global health concern. Although pneumonia is treatable and easily preventable, poor infrastructure and issues of cost and accessibility to health care in developing countries often stand in the way of vaccine access.

GAVI is working to change this through a pilot funding mechanism called the pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment (AMC). The AMC works to incentivize the production of low-cost vaccines and guarantees a market for them in developing countries that would otherwise be unable to purchase them.

Here’s how the AMC works:

Donors pledge funding to guarantee vaccine prices that act as an incentive for manufacturers to engage in R&D to produce affordable vaccines for developing countries. GAVI and UNICEF determine how much supply will be necessary. Donors, such as countries and philanthropic organizations, provide monetary support through the World Bank, which manages the funds. GAVI purchases the vaccines with these funds, including a fee paid by the countries receiving the vaccines. Manufacturers, meanwhile, will be subjected to clearances from both the World Health Organization and a committee of the AMC. Once a manufacturer is determined eligible and a particular product is deemed suitable, production begins. GAVI is then responsible for ensuring that the vaccines reach their intended destination.

Because 98% of pneumonia cases occur in the developing world, GAVI’s work in attaining a 90% price decrease per dose of pneumococcal vaccine has been crucial to increasing the vaccine’s accessibility. Also, because the AMC ensures that low-cost vaccines will be readily available and in adequate quantities, recipient country governments are then able to prepare for immunization programs.

For an illustration of the AMC process, go here.

World Polio Day: A Reminder of the Challenges Posed by the Remaining 1%

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Polio has nearly been eliminated worldwide. Since 1988, polio cases have dropped by 99%, with the remaining 1% occurring in four polio-endemic countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. The drastic decline of polio speaks to the global concerted effort to eradicate the virus through the use of immunization and surveillance systems.

But polio cases still exist – and the outbreak of polio in China earlier this year is a grim reminder that the fight against polio isn’t over yet. Polio-free for 11 years, China’s outbreak occurred in Xinjiang province, an area with spotty immunization coverage due to poor access to the appropriate health services. The World Health Organization traced the origins of China’s outbreak back to bordering Pakistan, a finding that “underscores the ongoing risk that endemic transmission continues to pose everywhere,” WHO polio press officer Oliver Rosenbauer said.

A highly contagious viral disease, polio continues to pose a genuine danger to children worldwide and undermines the progress that has already been made. In 2009-2010, reports of polio re-infection in 23 countries provide further evidence of the difficulty of eliminating polio for good.

Still, the odds are in our favor. A recent update reports that India has been polio-free for nine months so far, a significant step in the right direction, as a three-year threshold is required for a country to be recognized as polio-free. India’s success is attributed to its persistent efforts to immunize vulnerable populations and persons in high-risk areas.

Today’s observance of World Polio Day reminds us that the opportunity to eradicate polio completely is within our reach. The global health community is calling for renewed global commitment to polio elimination, one that will spur us on to finally get the job done.

“The last 1% is the hardest percent, and we have to do even more than we’ve already done if we hope to finish the job on polio,” Bill Gates writes in his blog, The Gates Notes. “The day the world is declared polio free is the day we can really begin celebrating.”

Watch the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s inspiring World Polio Day short video below:

Experimental Malaria Vaccine Shown to be Effective

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Researchers have announced the results of a successful experimental malaria vaccine trial. The vaccine, named RTS,S, was developed through a partnership between global health nonprofit PATH and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other public and private partners. Trial findings were revealed at the Gates Foundation Malaria Forum in coordination with publication in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Study results demonstrated that a three-dose vaccination halved the risk of malarial infection and decreased the chances of becoming life-threateningly ill by 47%. The trial involved 15,000 children in 11 sites across sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysis of the vaccine’s capabilities suggests that the vaccine is 35% effective after 2 years, or partially protective. Researchers argue, however, that having a moderately effective malaria vaccine is better than no vaccine at all, especially given the prevalence and severity of malaria infection worldwide; a malaria vaccine of that effectiveness could still prevent malaria infections in tens of thousands of children each year and save many lives. Although a full investigation of the vaccine’s ability to provide long-term protective effects will not be completed until the end of 2014, these initial findings are very promising.

Vasee Moorthy, MD, PhD, of the World Health Organization called these findings a “major scientific achievement” that “if licensed … would be the very first human vaccine against a parasitic disease.”

The success of PATH and GSK’s work also speaks to the strength of product development partnerships as an innovative public-private sector business model that deserves more attention as an effective vehicle to combat global health threats.

“This trial represents a powerful example of the high-quality science that is moving us toward controlling and someday even eradicating malaria,” said PATH President and CEO Christopher Elias, MD, MPH.

GSK will sell the vaccine at 5% over its production cost, with all proceeds going to fund additional research for a second-generation malaria vaccine. The vaccine could be available as early as 2015.

Product Development Partnerships for Global Health: An Infographic

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Product development partnerships (PDPs) use a novel, nonprofit business model that capitalizes on the unique strengths of the public, private, academic and philanthropic sectors to develop technologies for global health.

PDPs pave the way for new research on infectious diseases and accelerate the development of safe and effective vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for the most vulnerable populations as quickly and cheaply as possible. They are forging new ground to achieve R&D successes in a time of extreme economic constraint. We are seeing biotech and pharmaceutical company product developers working with university researchers and inventors on a wide array of new discoveries, with federal and philanthropic support.

Research!America’s infographic, below, illustrates two PDP research and development pipelines:

  • Aeras: A PDP focused on developing an improved and affordable tuberculosis vaccines for use worldwide
PDP Infographic: Aeras

PDP Infographic: Aeras

  • Meningitis Vaccine Project: A partnership between the World Health Organization and PATH to create an inexpensive and widely distributed meningitis vaccine suitable to tackle reoccurring meningitis epidemics in 25 countries in Africa’s ‘meningitis belt.’
PDP Infographic: Meningitis Vaccine Project

PDP Infographic: Meningitis Vaccine Project

To use this infographic for your own advocacy efforts, download the PDF version here. To learn more about PDPs and Research!America’s global health R&D advocacy efforts, see our PDP page.

TB Infection and Death Rates Fall

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The World Health Organization announced today that worldwide rates of people with active tuberculosis have declined for the first time in history and that TB death rates have also fallen to their lowest level in a decade.

In its 2011 Global Tuberculosis Control Report, the WHO reports that 8.8 million people developed TB and 1.4 million died from the disease in 2010, down from peak levels of 9 million in 2005 and 1.8 million in 2003 respectively. Rates declined most significantly in Kenya, Tanzania, China and Brazil. The report also suggests that worldwide, 1990 TB mortality rates – with the exception of those in Africa – can be halved by 2015.

Is this news cause for celebration? Absolutely – as long as we keep in mind the challenges that still lie ahead of us.

“This is major progress. But it is no cause for complacency,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “Too many millions still develop TB each year, and too many die. I urge serious and sustained support for TB prevention and care, especially for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Continued vigilance on the TB front is especially important, given that:

  1. Treatment for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is significantly underfunded.
  2. Every second, another person becomes infected with TB. Currently, a third of the world’s population carries latent TB bacteria.
  3. Co-infections of TB and HIV are on the rise – a pairing that often spurs latent TB into active mode. Aeras, a Maryland-based nonprofit product development partnership focused on the development of improved TB vaccines, is at the forefront of this fight. With six vaccines currently in its R&D pipeline, Aeras is an excellent example of how product development partnerships are changing the face of global health quickly, cost-effectively and safely.

In short, global efforts to combat TB are having a positive impact, but the fight is not over yet. We must continue to invest both in the diagnostics and treatments available today and the research needed to eradicate TB in the future.

Vaccines: Best Buy in Global Health

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Everyone deserves a shot at life – sometimes quite literally! Studies show that vaccines reduce childhood morbidity and mortality while simultaneously being cost-effective. Many vaccines for children only cost a few cents: measles vaccines cost a meager 23 cents, polio just 13 cents and meningitis only 50.

In addition to saving lives, vaccines are also a great return on investment. In a 2004 study, David Bloom, PhD, and colleagues found that for every year of increased life expectancy, countries achieve a 4% increase in GDP per capita on average. While health research is a long-term process, investments in life-saving vaccines and other global health research have yielded effective partnerships and major success stories.

Today, many innovative partnerships are working together to pool expertise and address the research and accessibility challenges associated with vaccine and other global health efforts. One of today’s greatest success stories is a private-public partnership called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations Initiative (GAVI). Using innovative financing mechanisms to bolster support for vaccines in the developing world, GAVI distributed routine immunizations like measles, tetanus, polio, hepatitis, and pertussis in over 70 countries. The World Health Organization and UNICEF cited that GAVI’s efforts have prevented the deaths of 5 million children to date.

We must continue to support organizations like GAVI that represent the future of global health research and innovation – tapping into the skills of the global health community all over the world. The GAVI Pledging Conference for Immunisation is next week in London. As we approach this remarkable event, we need to remember that vaccines are a life-saving tool and one of the best buys we have available to bring hope and a stable future to the world’s children and communities. The time to provide others with a shot at life is now.

Global Health R&D Recap of the World Health Assembly

Friday, May 27th, 2011

As the 64th World Health Assembly came to a close last week, it is worthwhile to reflect upon important gains for global health research and development. The recent release of the annual World Health Statistics, which helps direct and clarify research efforts, was launched in tandem with the World Health Organization’s launch of its Global Health Observatory website, an interactive map depicting world health statistics. This will be an easily accessible and useful research tool for scientists and global health organizations around the world.

The 2011 Gates Award for Global Health recognized the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, known as TDR, at the Assembly. This prestigious award is the world’s largest public health prize. For 36 years, TDR has been leading effective research efforts on infectious diseases of poverty. They have co-developed 12 new drugs for neglected diseases and have played a significant role in growing research institutions in Asia, Africa and South America. Their focus on capacity building and training researchers within endemic disease countries is unparalleled. Research!America is honored to have co-hosted a Capitol Hill briefing with TDR as part of its past global health R&D advocacy efforts. We will continue to work with our global health partners to improve health for all through R&D funding and support.

Today is World Health Day

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Today, in the midst of National Public Health Week, we celebrate the 61st annual World Health Day.

World Health Day has been celebrated on April 7 every year since its inception in 1950, when it was created to mark the establishment of the World Health Organization. The day serves to draw attention to a key global public health issue.

This year, the focus of World Health Day is antimicrobial resistance, which occurs when microorganisms fail to respond to medicines that had previously been successful at curing the infections they cause. Translation: drug resistance to antibiotics.

The implications are serious: Last year, an estimated 440,000 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis were reported in nearly 60 countries. Malaria and gonorrhea are also becoming resistant to the drugs that used to cure them.

“The emergence and spread of drug-resistant pathogens has accelerated. More and more essential medicines are failing,” Margaret Chan, MD, WHO Director-General, said in a statement. “The therapeutic arsenal is shrinking. The speed with which these drugs are being lost far outpaces the development of replacement drugs. In fact, the R&D pipeline for new antimicrobials has practically run dry.”

In honor of this year’s theme, the WHO launched its “Combat Drug Resistance! No action today, no cure tomorrow” policy package, which outlines six ways to combat antimicrobial resistance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has partnered with the WHO in its efforts. Find out how you can protect yourself from a drug-resistant infection.