Living in a Post-SARS World: What happens when another outbreak occurs?

September 27, 2010

In this day and age of global travel, you can get anywhere in the world during the incubation period of a new pathogen.  In the case of SARS, it took 61 days for a global pandemic.

Timothy Brewer of McGill University in Canada, speaking on the panel: “One Health: Detection and Control of Emerging and Endemic  Zoonotic Pathogens” noted that in the Guandong Province in China, people were walking around with masks, hospitals were shut down, and people were buying white vinegar to disinfect their homes long before most of the world knew what was happening.  He said the outbreak became widely known in November 2002, but it wasn’t until March 2003 that the Chinese government acknowledged it.

In 2005, WHO passed the Revised International Health Regulations, which requires mandatory reporting of outbreaks on international concern. The regulations went into effect June 15, 2007, and although there is no police force backing the regulations, Brewer said it adds more pressure to countries to come forward.

So has outbreak recognition improved over time?

In an analysis of the 398 reported outbreaks by WHO between 1996-2009, Brewer said there has been a slow improvement in outbreak discovery and reporting.

“SARS was the real impetus for outbreak discovery,” he said.

Panelist Jonna Mazet of University of California, Davis, an expert on surveillance, said researchers now have a cell phone network in place in many communities with an application to notify people when people see a sick animal.

But the gaps in zoonotic surveillance are still pretty big.

“Detecting a new respiratory pathogen is tricky unless you get lucky,” Brewer said.  Many of the new pathogens like H1N1 look like other  infections, so unless a pathogen creates unusual symptoms, he said it will be hard to detect especially with a lack of lab capacity.

“Even in 2010, you cannot access the WHO database unless you are with the Ministry of Health,” he said.

Panelist Hector Garcia with the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia Institute of Neurological Sciences in Lima and an expert on cysticercosis (a disease from pigs) and Mazet of University of California, Davis,  said capacity building is a huge need.

Garcia said capacity building needs to happen with organizations and among collaborations. And Mazet said there is a huge need to fix the brain drain and to create a proactive approach. Her experience has been that when hunters in the Congo died of hemorraghic fever and the lab determined the pathogen wasn’t ebola, no one was interested in doing more investigation.

All three of these panelists also discussed the political pressure to keep outbreaks quiet because of the enormous economic consequences. 

For example, Garcia said during a continent-wide cholera outbreak in Peru in 1991 when many people got sick after eating fish, the health minister announced it was unsafe to eat ceviche but Peruvian President Fujimori, fearing a huge impact to the seafood industry, went to the media and said it was OK to eat ceviche.

Prepared by Bobbi Nodell,  Communications Specialist, University of Washington


Managing Emergencies in a Global Context

September 24, 2010

The session on Enabling Systems addressed the legal, regulatory and administrative infrastructure to support global health.   This session was of importance because recent world events have shown us, there are times when it is not easy to evaluate the impact of world events on various locations where university students, faculty and staff are living, working and/or studying. Many colleges and universities are developing guidelines to assess these situations, whether they occur before individuals associated with their universities leave the United States and after they arrive at their intended destinations.

During this session participants discussed the steps their universities are taking to assure the safety of students, faculty and staff traveling abroad such as hiring travel and safety managers or creating workshops that provide information on a comprehensive approach to managing emergencies in a global context.  Some key elements of managing emergencies in a global context include travel and security information, cross-cultural training, creating travel registries, expanding the scope of current training programs, emergency evacuation insurance plans and developing international travel committees.

These are important steps to take because these precautions can help universities and various programs within universities to assess global situations, whether they occur before personnel leave for international travel or while they are at their destinations of choice.  Likewise, all participants involved in this session makes it clear that safety and security are their top priority for all university personnel when traveling and while abroad.

Prepared by Catherine Claiborne


The Wellcome Trust Approach to Capacity Building

September 22, 2010

Val Snewin opened the session describing The Wellcome Trust, a global charity based in the UK dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health, and how they fund different programs around the world to help build up health services workers, especially researchers. The Wellcome Trust funded seven consortia involving 70 institutes, of which the session highlighted funded work that impacts India, Kenya and Africa. Speakers from each country explained about how their programs are structured and their learnings – the speakers all agreed that the consortia need to focus on the long-term success like career paths in order to establish the right supporting programs, especially mentorship, that ultimately build up capacity and maintain it.

Andrew Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the priorities of the consortia in Africa are developing mentorship, MSc training, supporting PhD students, professional development and career planning, and establishing research support centers in the region. They face many challenges though in making the consortia successful – money, Internet bandwidth, expectations and the government’s visa restrictions are all hurdles. Haines said there is no real financial reward for the staff’s time in research from universities so they actually have a net loss. With limited bandwidth in Africa, it makes distance learning a serious problem. They’ve implemented several approaches to try to address the challenges including sharing resources like research methods add staff development in region, they are doing more courses taught by LSHTM staff based in the country, and they are licensing distance learning courses.

For India, Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India, spoke about the foundation’s focus on improving health outcomes through education;  research, policy and advocacy; training; and public health practice. PHFI is in partnership with the Wellcome Trust for capacity building – they began doing annual meetings in 2007, in which seven institutions participated – these groups had never previously collaborated. In 2008, that number has grown to 12. Its proposal to the Wellcome Trust is nurturing young faculty, fostering research, and active sharing of resources.

 Sam Kinyanjui of the Kenya Medical Research Institute walked through how they’ve managed to implement a program that has shown a strong track record of its students in the program going on to get PhDs or to Masters tracks – many of those in the Masters tracks have even submitted and were chosen for fellowships from the Wellcome Trust. The KEMRI does demographic and epidemiological surveillance for 240,000 people, clinical surveillance and investigation, and utilizes high quality labs and data centers. Kinyanjui showed a startling image of the KEMRI first research facility, a dilapidated small shed where they squeezed 20 members in, located in the middle of overgrown grass. Now, 20 years later, the research capacity is s large, high quality building with multiple spaces for training and which houses 750 staff.

 Prepared by Erika Bitzer


The Know-Do Gap: We know what needs to happen, but now we need to scale up and do something

September 22, 2010

The Know-Do gap was a recurring theme in this afternoon’s session, Health Systems and Implementation Science, focused on universities and researchers going beyond identifying the issues in global heath to implementing solutions which can scale and be sustained. Getting from knowing what to do, to actually doing it is a tough challenge facing health systems worldwide.

Dr. David Peters, the director of the Health Systems Program at John Hopkins University, approached the challenge by outlining a system that programs can follow along with the principles that need to be followed for it to be successful. His guidance on the principles were to focus on the purpose of the system, build on interventions that have already proved to be successful, scrap the blueprint, engage the key stakeholders, incorporate incentives, and use data for systematic learning. He also noted there can be unintended consequences.

Later in the session, Dr. James Blanchard, director if the Center for Global Public Health at the University of Manitoba spoke, and reiterated the concern of unintended consequences which is an oversight on the lack of complexity these “systems” have.

A student from the audience who had just returned from Zambia wondered if government programs or NGO run programs were more effective at implementing systems. Dr. Peters answered saying it depends. “ Both can be successful, but in many ways both can fail,” said Dr. Peters. He explained that sometimes NGOs can deal with things governments may not want to deal with, but there are other things those NGOs are weaker at. More than any which type of organization doing the work, he said it’s important to “Do it, measure it, show it, revise it.”

Dr. Rashad Massoud, the director of USAID Health Care Improvement Project, talked about applying improvement science to strengthen health systems. He reminded the group of the adage that if we continue to do what we are doing, we’ll keep getting the results we are getting; if we want something different, we must do something different. “Change must happen, but you don’t necessarily need to change everything,” explained Dr. Massoud.

He told us about work done in Niger to reduce post-partum hemorrhage – they know that when a woman receives three specific elements, one of which is a drug, they are able to essentially stop the hemorrhages from occurring. The new procedure was implemented but the drug needs to be refrigerated. Well, how accessible are refrigerators in Niger? Not very. They tend to be locked after hours, when many women go into labor. So while the solution was identified, they weren’t able to implement it consistently. So the teams started brainstorming and came up with the ideas of keeping the medicine in coolers or keeping the syringes on hand and bringing them to the delivery center. This solution effectively curbed the hemorrhages.

Prepared by Erika Bitzer


Chronic Diseases, Innovations in Health Systems and Data for Decision Making

September 22, 2010

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


Journalists use stories — not reports — to tell the public about global health issues

September 21, 2010

Journalists use stories — not reports — to tell the public about global health issues.  That’s what panelists in today’s session on Journalism, New Media and Global Health were told to keep that in mind when they approach and pitch stories to reporters.

“The final issue is making the reader care,” said Joanne Silberner, a University of Washington communications department artist in residence and National Public Radio reporter, at Tuesday’s session on Journalism, New Media and Global Health.

“We have a mantra in our office: ‘It’s the readers, stupid,’ ” said Richard Kipling, managing editor of the Center for Health Reporting at the University of Southern California.

Stories about people — patients and medical workers — catch readers’ interests. “The real human being is important,” Silberner said.

The panelists said health coverage — let alone global health coverage — gets little attention among newspapers that have been drastically trimming their staffs. Health coverage is a lower priority than other types of stories.

Three of Tuesday’s panelists represented ventures trying to fill gaps in coverage of global health. 

The Center for Health Reporting is a collaboration between the California Health Care Foundation and USC’s journalism school.  That center decided that it could cover global health by collaborating with California papers — especially ones with small staffs that don’t have resources to tell such stories — to cover California’s migrant and immigrant communities.

“It struck me that global health is really also over here. … You just step out your door and you’re in the global health environment,” Kipling said.

The center has collaborated on a dozen projects in the past two years.

The University of Washington’s communications department recently offered its first-ever global health reporting class with the help of the university’s global health department.   

Jim Simon, assistant managing editor of The Seattle Times and the course’s instructor, wondered how he would teach the class until he decided to concentrate on Seattle area immigrant and refugee health issues.

His students found one of the nation’s few leprosy clinics at a local hospital; African women being shunned more in the United States for having AIDS than in their homelands where the disease is common; women from east Africa women dogging local metal health outreach efforts until it was linked in with a massage program.

The panelists told the audience that story pitches to news organizations should stress a good local story that can be linked to a global health matter — rather than the other way around.  They also said mental health — locally and abroad — is a very under-covered topic.  

People pitching stories should not be afraid of controversy, said Tom Paulson, host of Humanosphere, which is a National Public Radio and Pacific Lutheran University global health blog. 

Controversy draws readers to a global health topic, he said. “There are lots of fights, lots of arguments, lots of controversy. It’s a human endeavor,” Paulson said.

Prepared by John Stang


A System Approach to Prevention and Control of Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease

September 21, 2010

Diabetes is one of the top ten non-communicable diseases worldwide with an increased risk of death.  Current treatment systems support curative medicine but they fail to include lifestyle interventions.

To reduce the risk of death in developing countries, interventional programs must be seen as a top priority in disease management. The qualities of systems using interventional programs include data measurement; decision-making, low cost options and scalability. 

By adding prevention strategies such as blood glucose screenings, symptoms of metabolic syndrome can be diagnosed.  Early treatment of metabolic syndrome reduces the risk of diabetes and other co-morbidities associated with non-communicable diseases.  

Lifestyle interventions such as screenings by local lifestyle coach’s support healthy living, are cost effective and sustainable.  Great work in being done but more evidence is needed from developing countries about the benefits and feasibility of these programs. Universities can support the development of studies that provide additional information needed to support future investments in system infrastructure and program growth.

Prepared by Anita Beninger


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