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Archive for May, 2009

May 30 2009

Schistosomiasis may be targeted in new US programme

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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The US National Institutes of Health has announced it is setting up a Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program see NIH press release. It is a new move for NIH to become so directly involved in drug development.

The full list of diseases which will be targeted by the programme is not yet clear but at least one of the infectious diseases of poverty seems likely to be included. “We don’t know yet exactly which diseases this programme will take on,” Dr Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, told a press briefing. However, referring to a compound (4-phenyl-1,2,5-oxadiazole-3-carbonitrile-2-oxide) recently identified as being active against schistosomiasis, he said (according to the National Post), “This, I think, is one of the projects that we are going to put into the trend queue”.

May 30 2009

Iron supplementation does not increase malaria risk

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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The malaria parasite loves free iron. Clinicians know they must bear this in mind when treating children who have both malaria and anaemia. Giving such children iron can increase the number of parasites and the severity of their malaria.

It has been speculated that children living in malaria-endemic regions might be protected when suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia. Community programmes of iron supplementation in malaria-endemic areas might, in that case, cause harm. However, the results of a systematic review presented at the 19th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) provide strong evidence that iron supplementation should not be restricted in settings where iron deficiency and anaemia affect most children, as it does not increase the risk of malaria, other infections, or all-cause mortality.

The review was presented to the meeting by Dr Mical Paul of the Rabin Medical Centre, Israel, on behalf of the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group. The review has yet to be published on the Cochrane Library. A summary of the findings is available on docguide.com.

May 30 2009

“Total resource mobilisation”

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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A new phrase, “total resource mobilisation”, seems to have entered the aid and development dictionary.

According to a Reuters’ report, the term will be used to describe new UN campaigns which will seek to obtain donations on the internet, through credit card use, and voluntary surcharges on travel. Customers will be given the option to donate small sums when they rent cars, book hotels, or buy train tickets.The funds raised would help top up government commitments to health programmes in the world’s poorest countries.

The new strategy will add to existing measures to raise funds through air ticket sales and market-related measures like the sale of child vaccine bonds.

May 30 2009

TB screening should be more focused

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Research presented at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference 19th May has produced new estimates of the likelihood that a latent case of tuberculosis (TB) will become active. This has resulted in a roughly 50% increase over previous estimates of the number of people needed to be screened to prevent an active infection, limiting the cost effectiveness of screening.

“Screening for LTBI [latent tuberculosis infection] is an important method for eliminating the diseases,” says lead researcher Benjamin Linas of Massachusetts General Hospital. “This analysis, does not suggest we reduce screening. Indeed, if we did that, we’d likely take a step backward in TB control. The study does suggest, though, that we redirect and focus our screening efforts on those most at risk.”

For further details see report on redOrbit.

May 30 2009

Liverpool receives Gates support for filariasis research

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) is noted for its research into diseases caused by filarial worms: onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis). It has been announced that LSTM has been awarded $23 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help it further develop this work - see LabNews report.

LSTM has established a global consortium of six academic and industrial partners, called the Anti-Wolbachia Consortium, to screen and develop new combinations of potential filariasis drugs. [Wolbachia are bacteria which filarial worms need to survive.]

Researcher Mark Taylor said: “Drug resistance is making current treatment programmes less effective in areas where the disease had virtually disappeared. Ivermectin [the mainstay of efforts to control filarial disease] is a fantastic drug, but as with any control approach, it is dangerous to rely on a single tool. Unless we come up with a new treatment, it could mean that the major source of blindness in Africa will become untreatable.”

May 22 2009

The poverty fly: article on trypanosomiasis

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Trypanosomiasis, transmitted by the tsetse fly has both direct and indirect effects on human health in Africa. An article in IRIN News includes an interview with Joseph Ndung’u, head of the human African trypanosomiasis (“sleeping sickness”) programme at the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND).

Dr Ndung’u says: “Whereas the impact [of our work] on humans may not be so obvious, the link to Africa’s agriculture is what makes tsetse flies so important. With oxen to pull ploughs, you can produce 10 times more, feed yourself and your children and have enough to sell at the market.” However, he believes that the apparent drop in the number of humans affected by trypanosomiasis – from an estimated half-million a decade ago to 75,000 in 2007 according to WHO – has reduced funding for tsetse fly research, surveillance and disease control.

IRIN also spoke to Jorge Hendrichs, the head of a joint FAO and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) project which seeks to control tsetse flies by releasing males sterilised by irradiation. He describes tsetse as “the poverty fly”.

“Why,” asks Jorge Hendrichs, “are there lush green areas with very hungry poor people? Look closer and you will notice women working the land with their bare hands. There are simply no animals in the poorest rural areas of Africa. Tsetse have killed the cattle that would have pulled plough sin the fields or transported food to the market.”

May 22 2009

Cholera: some good news from Angola

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Southern Africa has been seriously hit by cholera this year, with Zimbabwe the worst afflicted nation. It is therefore encouraging to read, in an AFP report, that one country in the region (Angola) has seen a decline in case numbers.

In the first five months of 2008, WHO detected 7,740 cases of cholera with 198 fatalities in Angola. But in the same period this year,there have been only 681 recorded cases and three deaths. Only five of Angola’s 18 provinces have been affected.

WHO has credited the fall in cholera incidence to community education and improved sanitation.

May 22 2009

Leprosy apology

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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TropIKA.net has offered featured instances of stigma and discrimination of people with leprosy. In a remarkable development in South Korea, the Prime Minister has made an official apology to a group of people with the condition for the treatment they have received over the years.

The Korea Times reports the words of Prime Minister Han Seung-soo at a ceremony to mark the Day for Leprosy Patients at Sorok Hospital. Leprosy patients on Sorok Island, says the Times, “have maintained an isolated and repressive life for decades.”

The PM said, “It took so long for the nation’s prime minister to meet people with leprosy. On behalf of the government, I offer deep apologies and condolences to the patients and their families who had unspeakable suffering amid social discrimination and prejudice.” He went on to promise that the government would now take “substantial action” to protect the rights and welfare of people with leprosy.

May 20 2009

Boost for malaria control in Nigeria

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Nigeria’s National Programme Officer on Malaria Control for the World Health Organisation in Nigeria, Dr Bayo Fatunmbi, says that arrangements have already been concluded between Nigeria and WHO to sign a Memorandum of Understanding which will result in the country receiving $500 million over the next five years to boost malaria control efforts. Dr Fatunmbi said that one third of the world’s malaria deaths were in Nigeria. (Source: Nigeria Best Forum.)

Recent reports have also indicated that Nigeria has secured $300m for malaria control from the World Bank - see WaltaInfo.

As the most populous country in Africa and the eighth most populous country in the world, Nigeria’s malaria control activities must be carried out on a huge scale. The new funding for these efforts represents the international recognition that the next few years will be crucial for efforts to eliminate the disease - see TropIKA.net news story.

May 20 2009

Health staff need protection against drug-resistant TB

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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A study, presented at the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society, has highlighted the risks to health workers of developing extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB). The retrospective study, from South Africa, is claimed to be the first to focus on healthcare workers who have contracted XDR-TB in a non-outbreak setting.

The study was based on a chart review of 270 patients in South Africa with passively detected XDR-TB, including 11 healthcare workers. Of the 11, eight were working in district hospitals, 10 had been treated for TB at least once previously and eight were negative for HIV. At the time these workers were diagnosed with XDR-TB, there were no standard infection control measures in place at the facilities where they were employed.

The researchers say the results underscore the urgent need for stringent TB screening policies among healthcare workers in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the research team, Dr Keertan Dheda, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Cape Town in South Africa said: “The emergence and progression of XDR-TB is threatening to destabilize global tuberculosis control. The negative impact of XDR-TB is further exacerbated by a global shortage of healthcare workers, a shortage which has reached crisis levels in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Implementation of infection control measures and rapid diagnostic testing for all healthcare workers suspected of TB needs to be undertaken urgently to minimize the risk of drug-resistant TB.”

Further details are available from The Medical News.