The participants in this session all reinforced the need for using innovative approaches to address global health issues. In describing the problem of rising cancer incidence in developing countries, Sofia Merajver quoted the gospel of Matthew, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” She pointed out that the vast burden of cancer deaths is borne by low and middle-income countries, which have the fewest resources to deal with cancer and other chronic diseases. Recognizing that strategies for addressing cancer deaths in high income countries are not appropriate for low income countries, her team developed local cancer registries, which allowed them to better understand the types of breast cancer affecting women in North Africa and the Middle East. This in turn led to dramatic reductions in stage 4 breast cancer.
In a similar way, Pamela Andreatta and colleagues were able to use cell phone technology to show that use of bimanual uterine compression can reduce deaths from post-partum hemorrhage. Her team trained illiterate traditional birth attendants in rural Ghana to collect data and report it via SMS messaging. A spinoff of this research was the growing sense of empowerment of the traditional birth attendants.
Woutrina Miller provided another example of ways in which technology can be borrowed from one arena and used to meet global health challenges. She described an innovative and cost-effective way of detecting water-borne pathogens which uses the principles of hemodialysis technology to concentrate pathogens from large water sources.
Two of the panelists reported on efforts to address chronic diseases in Brazil. Beatriz Carlini spoke about a study on the impact of telephone counseling for those wishing to quit smoking in Brazil, and James Macinko presented some work showing that Brazil’s roll-out of a strong, universal primary health system was associated with a dramatic reduction in hospitalization rates.
Finally, Erika Arteaga, from the People’s Health Movement, gave some provocative comments on how policy decisions based on the principle of economic growth can actually lead to worsening health, and gave the example of the 3-fold increase in cancer incidence among indigenous people impacted by the Texaco Oil Spill in the Amazon. She alluded to the need for stronger advocacy for the rights of vulnerable populations, and promoted a political ecology framework for looking at global health issues.
Prepared by David Roesel