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Five trending topics in global health

December 2, 2019 by PATH

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A child is given oral rehydration solution with a spoon at a health center in Cambodia. Photo Credit: PATH/Heng Chivoan

PATH just returned from the 68th meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), a large global health conference held each year. Here are some of our takeaways.

Human-centered approaches continue to result in greater impact

PATH attended the opening keynote of ASTMH where Abhay Bang, MD, MPH, and Rani Bang, MD, MPH—Founders of the Society for Education, Action and Research on Community Health—emphasized the need to listen to, and center, the priorities of communities when conducting research and implementing health programs. Whether this means putting women’s health directly in their hands and empowering them to make decisions about their own health needs, or giving health workers and parents the data they need to make informed decisions about vaccinations for their children, focusing on people and users—not designers or researchers—can result in systems, products, and approaches that improve lives around the world.

We can eradicate malaria—but not without renewed focus and increased investment

Over the past two decades, the global community, including PATH, has helped reduced malaria mortality rates by 60 percent. And a number of countries, like Zambia, have declared their ambitious intentions of eliminating the disease from within their borders by scaling up the use of proven interventions like bed nets, indoor residual spraying, drugs, and by ensuring they are appropriately targeted through use of accurate surveillance data. New insight from the World Health Organization indicates that while eradicating malaria is feasible, it will require universal access to health services and existing tools, greater investment into research and development of new tools, better surveillance systems, tailored intervention strategies, and robust community engagement. We must focus on reducing morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and get back on track towards our goal of eradication.

Low quality drugs may contribute to antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) develops when microorganisms present in our bodies or in animals change over time after being frequently exposed to antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics. This resistance has become a global health concern. An agency within the United Nations has determined drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050. The direct impacts of AMR on health are severe, with increased morbidity and mortality in countries of all income levels. Over the years, experts have largely associated AMR with drug overuse and low adherence to treatment, however, new evidence has emerged illustrating the potential role of low-quality drugs in driving resistance. Low quality drugs can result from a range of issues including improper dosage, or unsafe storage or manufacturing processes. More evidence is needed to further understand the role of low-quality drugs, but with more evidence additional funding opportunities will arise to address the global issue.

“ In Nigeria, poor quality antimalarial drugs were responsible for 12,300 deaths annually ”
— Dr. Sachiko Ozamwa, University Of North. Carolina

A hidden gut infection is gaining attention

The Diarrhea Innovations Group (DIG), of which PATH is a co-convener, hosted the first-ever symposium solely dedicated to environmental enteric dysfunction (EED). EED is the manifestation of structural gut damage and impaired intestinal function that results from persistent enteric infections in early childhood. Frequent gut infections at this age can impede the ability to absorb critical nutrients from food, often leading to malnutrition or stunted growth. Fortunately, due to the efforts of DIG, UK Aid, and others, WHO has added the co-packaging of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc sulfate to its Essential Medicines List. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of childhood diarrheal deaths could be prevented with full coverage of ORS and zinc alongside other community interventions. Scaling the use of co-packaged ORS and zinc will allow for children around the world to live more nourished and full lives.

Climate change is influencing human health

Global temperatures are rising, and we must understand the associated risk to public health. Disease-carrying organisms, like mosquitos, will access new geographies, altering the current distribution of disease around the world; severe weather events, like Cyclone Idai, will occur more frequently, requiring new approaches to ensure disease prevention is at the fore of our response; and increased risk of heat- or dehydration-related illnesses, like chronic kidney disease of unknown origin, should galvanize us to integrate health into climate-focused programming.

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