First Malaria Vaccine Rolls Out in Malawi

It is heartening to see progress in the fight against malaria. Over the past thirty years and with hundreds of millions of dollars invested thus far, the RTS,S malaria vaccine was officially rolled out yesterday in Malawi. In 2017, I wrote about the vaccine trials that began in 2009 and the announcement of the three countries that had been chosen for the vaccine rollout: Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria. Now two years later the vaccine is officially in use to curb the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of African children under the age of five. The Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program will continue through 2022.

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January Is Birth Defects Prevention Month: Are Local Health Departments Ready?

Q&A with NACCHO Board Member Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MPH
Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health

A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth defects are defined as any structural changes present at birth that affect how the body looks, works, or both, and they can vary from mild to severe. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are concrete steps pregnant mothers can take to increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.  In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the CDC released a resource guide providing pregnant moms tips for preventing birth defects.

In addition to guidance provided by CDC, many local public health departments provide prenatal care for expectant moms. Below is Q&A with National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Board Member Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health in Georgia.  NACCHO represents the nation’s 3,000 local health departments.

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Can Fitbit Help Kids Gain Steps and Lose Weight?

Around 17 percent of American children from age 2 to 19 are classed as “obese”. That’s a level that has remained fairly steady over the last decade. And it’s growing.

Obesity is measured in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure that can be used to compare children in terms of their weight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. For children and teens, BMI is so age- and gender-specific that it is referred to as BMI-for-age. BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same age and gender. Every child is different and that makes it difficult to generalize on something like this.

heart-rate-monitoring-device-1903997_1280Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender.

To give an illustration, a 10-year-old boy of average height (56 inches) who weighs 102 pounds would have a BMI of 22.9 kg/m2. He would be considered obese because this calculation puts him in the 95th percentile for BMI-for-age. His BMI is greater than the BMI of 95% of 10-year-old boys in his “reference population”.

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How World Vision Promotes Breastfeeding in the Philippines

I am always happy when World Breastfeeding Week rolls around each year. It gives me a chance to hear about the latest programs that are working around the world to increase breastfeeding rates. This year I learned about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in the Philippines through its 7-11 Core Intervention Framework which includes 7 interventions for women and 11 for children 0 – 24 months of age.

The way in which we discuss breastfeeding is different depending on the country and the context. While in the United States we talk a lot about infant feeding choices, in other countries, especially those that have thousands upon thousands of yearly infant deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, infections, and sub-optimal feeding, the context changes. In these cases, it is nearly always critical that mothers breastfeed their children up to two years of age.

In the Philippines, parents spend $240 million on breast milk substitutes and multinational formula feeding companies spend $100 million on marketing in the Philippines alone. Those numbers account for the fact that only 34% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. While providing the best start in life for infants, many mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often times women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.

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How a Breastfeeding Initiative in Rural Kenya Changed Attitudes

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Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age.
Alissa Everett/Reuters

Judith Kimiywe, Kenyatta University and Elizabeth Kimani-Murage, Brown University

There’s a growing global recognition of proper infant nutrition in the child’s first 1000 days of life. This can be monitored through encouraging proper nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life for optimal growth, health and survival.

Poor breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are some of the common causes of malnutrition in the first two years of life. Breastfeeding confers both short-term and long-term benefits to the child like reducing the risk of infections and diseases like asthma, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Mothers who breastfeed also lower their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, weak bones, obesity and heart diseases.

For countries to reap the benefits of breastfeeding they need to achieve a baby friendly status. Kenya began promoting the baby friendly hospital initiative approach in 2002. It ensures that health facilities where mothers give birth encourage immediate initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Unfortunately, this programme was only accessible to women who delivered in the health facilities, leaving out those who give birth at home.

We conducted a two year study involving 800 pregnant women and their respective children in a rural area in Kenya. The study involved testing feasibility and potential effectiveness of the baby friendly community initiative (BFCI), whereby women in the intervention arm were given home-based counselling on optimal breastfeeding alongside health facility based counselling. These mother-child pairs were followed until the child was at least six months.

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Why 20 Million People Are on the Brink of Starvation and How You Can Help

It’s difficult to fathom that 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Sub-Sharan Africa and the Middle East, but the statistic is true. In fact, the region is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in over seventy years and if no help is provided 1.4 million children are at risk of death. Not only is weather to blame for the lack of crops, … Continue reading Why 20 Million People Are on the Brink of Starvation and How You Can Help

[Featured Video] Simple Birth Kit for Mothers in Developing World

Women in low-and-middle-income countries need clean birth kits in order to stave off deadly infections in themselves and their newborns. This is the case not only during home births with midwives but also in institutionalized settings. Zubaida Bai, founder of Ayzh, a social enterprise that creates clean, safe birthing kits for women as well as reproductive, newborn and adolescent kits, discusses how she included women’s voices in … Continue reading [Featured Video] Simple Birth Kit for Mothers in Developing World

Three African Countries Chosen for First Malaria Vaccine Trials

For decades, there has been consistent chatter, research, and hope for a potential malaria vaccine. Now, all three are finally coming to fruition to roll out the world’s first clinical malaria vaccine trials. The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) announced today that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been chosen for the WHO-coordinated pilot implementation program that will make the world’s first malaria vaccine … Continue reading Three African Countries Chosen for First Malaria Vaccine Trials

How You Can Help Mothers and Babies in Syria’s Idlib Camps

War is suffocating every corner of Syria and has been for the past several years. In areas that are close to neighboring countries like Idlib province that borders Turkey, Syrians from all over the country are fleeing there for safety believing that those border regions won’t fall under severe air attack. Unfortunately, as we learned last week, that just is not the case. Chemicals, including … Continue reading How You Can Help Mothers and Babies in Syria’s Idlib Camps

Residents in Southern Haiti Receive New Access to Quality Health Care

Several vistors wait to be seen at new hospital (1)During my visit to Haiti two years ago I had the privilege of visiting two hospitals: L’Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley and L’Hôpital Sainte-Thérèse in Hinche, Haiti. Many of the patients at both hospitals, I learned, walked or took public transport over long distances for quality hospital care. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haitians need many more hospitals and health workers to care after their sick. There are currently only six health workers for every 10,000 Haitians according to USAID. And, Haiti has the highest rate of infant, child, and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. Most Haitians live on less than $1 a day and their life expectancy is only 64 compared to 74 for its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.

Quality health care in Haiti continues to be one of the country’s greatest problems. In fact, Haiti only spends 6 percent of its expenditures on health care and relies heavily on international funding.

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Double Your Donation Today By Giving to World Vision #GivingTuesday

When I travel to low-income countries I am most interested in learning about and reporting on maternal and newborn health. As a mother of two daughters it is my biggest passion. Today on Giving Tuesday I am proud to work with one of my favorite international nonprofit organizations: World Vision USA. I had the distinct opportunity to travel with them to the Philippines a few years … Continue reading Double Your Donation Today By Giving to World Vision #GivingTuesday

Maternal Malnutrition Affects Future Generations: Kenya Must Break the Cycle

By Elizabeth Echoka, Kenya Medical Research Institute and Lydia Kaduka, Kenya Medical Research Institute

Nutrition of women before and during pregnancy and when breastfeeding is critical in determining the health and survival of the mother and of her unborn baby.

Undernourished pregnant women have higher reproductive risks. They are more likely to experience obstructed labour, or to die during or after childbirth. Poor nutrition in pregnancy also results in babies growing poorly in the womb and being born underweight and susceptible to diseases. These mothers also invariably produce low quality breast milk.

Maternal malnutrition has inter-generational consequences because it is cyclical. Poor nutrition in pregnancy is linked to undernourishment in-utero which results in low birth weight, pre-maturity, and low nutrient stores in infants. These babies end up stunted and, in turn, give birth to low birth weight babies. Optimal maternal nutrition is therefore vital to break this inter-generational cycle.

In Kenya, women’s nutritional needs during pregnancy has not received much attention. This has exposed a gap in efforts to improve maternal and child health.

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Where Have 4.8 Million Syrian Refugees Gone?

Jeffrey H. Cohen, The Ohio State University

The Syrian civil war has entered its fifth year with few signs of ending.

The fighting has forced more than 13.5 million Syrians to flee their homes. Most of the displaced have not left Syria, but have simply moved around the country in an attempt to get out of the way of the fighting.

But approximately 4.8 million others have traveled beyond their nation’s borders in a search for security.

In my book Cultures of Migration, I argue that mass migrations and refugee crises don’t simply happen. They have a history and a trajectory. That work has led me to ask: Who are the Syrian refugees? What made their migration happen?

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What’s Driving sub-Saharan Africa’s Malnutrition Problem?

Jane Battersby, University of Cape Town

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest level of food insecurity in the world. An estimated 220 million people lack adequate nutrition. The nature of the problem is shifting rapidly, with overweight status and obesity emerging as new forms of food insecurity while malnutrition persists. But continental policy responses do not address this changing reality.

Food insecurity is the outcome of being too poor to grow or buy food. But it’s not just any food. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation’s definition, people need:

… sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.

Current policy focuses on alleviating undernutrition through increased production and access to food. It does not focus on the systemic issues that inform the food choices people make. This may result in worsening food insecurity in the region.

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Fighting the Anti-Vaccine Rhetoric with Science

In the interest of promoting more robust discourse around the importance of regular vaccinations for serious but preventable contagious conditions, MHA@GW is hosting a guest post series in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). During the month of August,they’re featuring blogs from thought leaders and advocates who were asked to answer the question, “Why immunize in 2015?” You can read an excerpt of Violent Metaphors‘ Jennifer Raff here, and be sure to read on to explore more posts. MHA@GW is the online master of health administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

“It’s critical that we continue to talk about immunization, because vaccine opponents are relentless — see the comments on my piece here for many examples of the bad science and provocative rhetoric they employ.

Speaking up is the most important step, letting parents know that their decision to vaccinate is the safest and most common way people protect their children. The anti-vaccine minority is disproportionately loud, partly because vaccines are so safe, so effective and so ubiquitous that they become part of the background landscape of parenting. Fortunately, in reaction to harmful pseudoscientific scaremongering and events like the Disneyland outbreak, people are motivated to speak out in favor of vaccines.

It matters how we talk about vaccines, too. Here is where there is the most room for improvement in 2015. Writers want the discussion to be dramatic and too often try to paint “anti-vaxxers” as demonic or vile. Or they try to use the vaccine debate as a weapon in the larger culture wars. This leads to the media (and many well-meaning science writers) giving too much weight to vaccine opponents, creating the false perception that there is a “growing movement.” Another problem is that the default images associated with stories on vaccinations are often distressed children and menacing needles. These approaches can have the unfortunate effect of recruiting more people to the anti-vaccine community, as Dan Kahan has pointed out in his piece in Science Magazine and on his blog.

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