Low-Cost Antimalarial Pill Available!

March 2, 2007

A child finds out he got Malaria

God, finally some good news to cheer my day up!

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

Needless to say, this is a very good thing, and a team effort as well:

“This is a good thing,” said Dr. Arata Kochi, chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program, who has publicly demanded that drug companies stop making pills that contain artemisinin alone because they will lead to resistant strains of malaria. “They’re responding to the kind of drug profile we’ve been promoting.”

[…]Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

See, ain’t that the way to do things? Major disagreements, but communication is still open, and compromise. I know a government or two that could apply these principles into practice.


Global Warming to Hit Poor Worst

February 6, 2007

From PlanetArk:

NAIROBI – The world’s poor, who are the least responsible for global warming, will suffer the most from climate change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told environment ministers from around the world on Monday.

“The degradation of the global environment continues unabated … and the effects of climate change are being felt across the globe,” Ban said in a statement after last week’s toughest warning yet mankind is to blame for global warming.

In comments read on his behalf at the start of a major week-long gathering in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Ban said all countries would feel the adverse impact of climate change.

“But it is the poor, in Africa and developing small island states and elsewhere, who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming.”

Why Africa will be one of the most affected is not secret:

Experts say Africa is the lowest emitter of the greenhouse gases blamed for rising temperatures, but due to its poverty, under-development and geography, has the most to lose under dire predictions of wrenching change in weather patterns.

The entire article is pasted below. Read the rest of this entry »

Disasters & Climate Change – You do the math

February 2, 2007

From Reuters AlertNet:

New statistics out today show disasters killed 21,342 people worldwide in 2006, compared with 82,061 the year before. Economic losses caused by natural hazards also fell, to just $19 billion in 2006, compared with $210 billion the year before.

These heartening figures, released by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), are a reflection of what didn’t happen in 2006. No massive temblors like the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 that killed 73,338. And certainly nothing like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which left 230,000 dead or missing. Nor were there hurricanes to rival Katrina, Wilma or Rita that together racked up $166 billion in damages in the United States.

That’s the good news – and news that confirms a trend observed since 2000.

“The number of people killed by disasters has been decreasing, if we do not take into account the two mega events: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the earthquake in Pakistan,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir from CRED.

The bad news is that even as disasters are claiming fewer lives, the number of people affected by them remains staggeringly high at 134.5 million in 2006. That’s down a bit from 158 million in 2005 (again, a number inflated by the Kashmir quake) but far higher than in decades past.

So what you might say? So the magnitude of disasters come and go. But it is not just as simple as watching the weather forecasts. We need to connect the dots between natural disasters, global warming, poverty, and health & human rights.

Thankfully, the article made them for me!

That said, it’s still people in Africa and Asia who bear the brunt of disasters due to an intrinsic link between poverty and vulnerability to risk – a link that explains why an earthquake that hits Los Angeles, say, is likely to kill far fewer people than a quake of similar magnitude that hits Java or Bam.

That’s because poor countries often lack the resources to mitigate against hazards, whether by setting up early warning systems, protecting livelihoods or building risk-reduction strategies into their development plans. Again the figures bear this out.

Last year the United States was hit by more natural disasters than any country except China (26, compared with China’s 35). But if you rank countries by the number of people killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants, the U.S. hardly even figures.

By this count, Malawi tops the list with 34,331 per 100,000 people, followed by Burundi (26,778) and Kenya (11,935).

That these three nations are among the poorest countries in the world – and thus among the least able to take the impact of climate change in their stride – is surely no coincidence.

Courtesy of CRED (and from the same article), here’s a breakdown of the world’s 10 deadliest disasters in 2006, followed by a list of countries most hit by disasters and numbers killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants:

Disaster Country Toll
Earthquake (May) Indonesia 5,778
Typhoon Durian (Dec) Philippines 1,399
Landslide (Feb) Philippines 1,112
Heat wave (July) Netherlands 1,000
Heat wave (July) Belgium 940
Typhoon Bilis (July) China 820
Tsunami (July) Indonesia 802
Cold wave (Jan) Ukraine 801
Flash flood (Aug) Ethiopia 498
Typhoon Samoai (Aug) China 373

Natural disasters per country – 2006

China 35
United States 26
Indonesia, Philippines 20
India 17
Afghanistan 13
Vietnam 10
Australia, Burundi, Pakistan 8
Ethiopia, Mexico, Romania 7
Germany 6

Victims (killed or affected) of natural disasters per 100,000 people – 2006

Malawi 34,331
Burundi 26,778
Kenya 11,935
Philippines 9,097
Afghanistan 7,194
China 6,753
Somalia 5,490
Thailand 5,040
Guyana 4,562
Vietnam 3,969

Borat vs Bill Gates – let the showdown begin!

January 30, 2007

Borat vs Bill Gates - let the showdown begin!

My country send me to United States to make movie-film. Please, come and see my film. And once you see movie, go save Darfur.

Ok, so the title of this post is a bit misleading – so sue me!

Actually, this is from an interview Larry Charles, the director of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) with Tim Ryan for Rotten Tomatoes, the movie rating website.

So what was so interesting about it that Truly Equal decided to write about it in a supposedly human rights blog? Larry Charles made an excellent point about Borat and some other movies and TV shows (emphasis is mine):

RT: You’ve worked with Borat, and before that, Bob Dylan in “Masked and Anonymous.” Both of them, in their own strange way, are sort of spokesmen, revealing some weird truths about America.

LC: Absolutely. The question I ask myself before I get involved in anything, be it TV or movies, is, “Does this need to be made? Does this need to be out there?” There’s so much s— out there that I can’t understand why people would spend tens of millions of dollars to make something that’s not going to come out good. So I ask myself, “Do we need this movie? Do we need this TV show? Will this somehow expand the dialogue, expand the discourse about the way we live and what’s important to us in out lives?” I felt in both the Bob Dylan movie and the Borat movie that these were urgent ideas and provocative ideas that might create interesting dialogue about ourselves, and about our world, about our lives, about philosophies, our beliefs. Also, they were low-budget movies, and I’m a big believer that we shouldn’t need to spend $100 million to make a great movie. If you have $100 million, you should probably be saving an African country. But for $4 million or $5 million or $10 million, you can make a great movie, and politically, you’re making a statement by making a low budget movie like that as well. On all those levels, it appeals to me.

Exactamente. Well said. Bravo Zulu.

We don’t need to see $100 million plus movies, regardless of how fantastic the idea or series is – Lord of the Rings fans, ya’ hear me? There are more important things in the world that need our attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies just like anyone else, and sometimes leave the theater in disbelief (which reminds me, more people need to see Children of Men), but you know how many lives we can help with $100 million? That’s 8 fucking zeros! You don’t need to be as rich as Bill Gates or as influential as Bill Clinton to help the world. But you do need to have some fucking common sense!

My only wish is that Borat would say so himself – maybe George W. Bush will listen to him instead.

When cutting part of your wiener counts as vaccination…

January 15, 2007


I have commented about this issue previously. By now you may have heard that researchers have found that circumcised men end up getting the HIV virus half as often as uncircumcised men.

Now comes this article in the New York Times:

Last month, scientists invented the AIDS vaccine. Missed it? Perhaps that’s because you were still seeking the vaccine fantasy: the magic bullet, the impenetrable shield that finally pitches this disease into the trash bin, the shot that will end not only the AIDS epidemic but our anxiety about the AIDS epidemic as well.

[…]The vaccine that arrived last month was not actually a vaccine. It was, instead, a confirmation of what scientists had long suspected: circumcision helps protect men from AIDS infection. For years, AIDS researchers have observed that many African tribes that circumcise boys or young men had lower AIDS rates than those that don’t, and that Africa’s Muslim nations, where circumcision is near universal, had far fewer AIDS cases than predominantly Christian ones. The first research proof came in 2005, when a study in South Africa was stopped early in the face of evidence that the men who had been randomly assigned to be circumcised were getting 60 percent fewer H.I.V. infections than the men assigned to the control group. Last month, ethics boards halted two similar studies, in Uganda and Kenya, when they found similar results. In both, the circumcised men caught the AIDS virus half as often as the uncircumcised control group.

I don’t have a problem with the results of the research itself, besides the obvious ethical questions, such as letting men have unprotected sex with HIV-positive women: if it is no biggie, then why didn’t the researchers try this little experiment somewhere in the U.S.? Ethics rule #1: if an Institutional Review Board (IRB, the one that regulates all research in every institution) would object to a certain experiment in your country, it is probably unethical to do so in another country as well. In layman’s terms, such research would never be allowed in the U.S.

But I digress. I don’t have a problem with the results of the studies. My problem is that because of these results, some people think that cutting part of their wiener is all it takes to fight AIDS. Thankfully, the New York Times article does tackle those issues, such as:

1) Will knowledge of circumcision’s protective status increase dangerous and ill-informed sexual behavior in men?
2) Does this protective status extend to the women circumcised men have sex with?
3) Will it increase or decrease research efforts for an AIDS vaccine?
4) How on Earth are we going to mass circumcise men in Africa? (really, what the hell do people think circumcision is?)
5) Who will train the medical personal?

You have to keep in mind that Africa’s health systems are very delicate – sometimes there is no sterilized equipment, or no autoclave machine, or surgical kits, or for that matter, very few medical personnel – and just cutting wieners left and right is not going to help in fighting AIDS.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure, however, and in the hands of traditional ritual circumcisers, it has a high rate of infection and mishap. The solution is to train these circumcisers and give them decent tools, and at the same time encourage men to come to clinics. Since men in studies say that cost is the biggest reason they are not circumcised, the operation must be free. Countries will also have to equip these clinics and train counselors and medical circumcisers, who don’t have to be doctors.

As you can gather, I oppose circumcision. It is a barbaric practice of ancient times, and you won’t see many docs offering circumcisions (unless you are Jewish). Here is another question for you: are we going to mass circumcise African children now? I really, really don’t want a religious crackpot to dictate that all those poor African children must be circumcised to prevent HIV.

You can read the rest of the article here. The article compares circumcision to a vaccine, and even though it is clear to make the distinctions, I don’t like it one bit. The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is through education. Education, education, education! Not prayer, certainly not wishful thinking – education.

Either you don’t have sex (you’re not going to last long in this group), you use condoms and protect yourself and your partner, or are faithful to your partner (once you have an honest dialogue, both are faithful to each other, and of course none of them have HIV). That’s the foolproof method. You need to be educated about your own body, and respectful of your partner(s).

Of course, the biggest question to me is that while circumcision is protective only 50%, perhaps 60%, of HIV in each sexual encounter the individual has, you are out of luck the other half of the time. You really are going to take your chances? Who is going to protect you the other 50% of the time? It’s basic statistics – in this case, almost like a coin toss. And it’s also common sense – a condom, or a circumcision? Thanks but no thanks Mohel, you can keep your Metzitzah b’peh to yourself. You can cut part of your wiener, but if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS, trust me, you will eventually get HIV.

And more on microbicides…

January 3, 2007

Here is another article about microbicide testing in Africa:

The Setshaba Research Centre is one of three sites in South Africa where a microbicide gel named Carraguard is being tested in phase 3 clinical trials, the last phase of drug testing on humans before approval for marketing.

More than 5,000 women are trying out the vaginal gel to determine if it really protects against HIV; most of them are from poor, neighboring areas.

“Studies done in the laboratory show that this agent might help in preventing HIV transmission,” Dr. Khatija Ahmed, principal investigator at the research center, told Women’s eNews. “It lines the vaginal mucosa so that the HIV virus cannot penetrate the mucosa and get into the human cell.”

If you want to learn more about microbicides, your best bet is to visit the Global Campaign for Microbicides webpage.

Climate Change Clash in Africa

December 27, 2006

This is an intriguing article linking conflict, the arms trade, poverty, disease and climate change all into one. Think this is far-fetched? Welcome to the real world, where everything is interconnected. The title, “Climate Change Clash in Africa” is not just change in the environment:

It’s been a bloody first half of the dry season in Uganda’s Karamoja region. October to February is the time when grass turns brittle, mud dries and cracks, and competition for scarce resources increases. More than 40 people have died in recent weeks in fighting between Karimojong warriors and the Ugandan Army in the arid northeast of the country.

The semi-nomadic Karimojong are pastoralists who protect their cows, violently if necessary. The warriors are well-armed, and this has put them on a collision course with Uganda’s government. But the recent clashes are a symptom of more universal problems.

As elsewhere in Africa, the population in eastern Uganda continues to grow as the environment deteriorates, putting more and more pressure on a land that grows ever drier. At a United Nations conference on climate change held in neighboring Kenya last month, environmentalists warned that Africa would bear the brunt of global warming.

With more people forced to share fewer resources, experts warn that conflict will increase. “Climate change will hit pastoral communities very hard,” says Grace Akumu, executive director of environmental pressure group Climate Network Africa. “The conflict is already getting out of hand and we are going to see an increase in this insecurity.”