Welcome to FT Health, our weekly newsletter for decision makers around the world. It covers global health, with insights into healthcare, medicine, science, public health and industry. Every Friday, we will provide a short original commentary or interview, and a selection of the most important stories from the FT and other news and specialist sites across the web.

This week we talk to Tom Frieden, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We highlight investment trends in disease R&D and flag up a new strain of bird flu in China. We also attended the ISNTD festival showcase in London, which highlighted innovative ways to communicate on diseases through apps, images and even comics.

Join us online or in person in Geneva on March 6 for a discussion with the three candidates for the top job at the World Health Organization. You can email us questions or send them via Twitter at #WHODGquestion. 

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Three questions

Tom Frieden @DrFrieden, former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

What do you consider your greatest achievement at CDC?

The United States is now safer and healthier than it was eight years ago. Thousands more public health staff work effectively on the front lines in the US and around the world. Laboratories have new technologies to find outbreaks faster. CDC helped stop or control health threats including Ebola, Zika, H1N1 influenza, and the epidemic of opiate use. And it worked with a global partnership of more than 70 countries to advance global health security, strengthening disease tracking and response systems in dozens of countries.

What was your greatest frustration?

I had hoped that polio would be eradicated by now. The world is closer than ever, but must make more progress in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan if we are to end polio forever. Administrative procedures in the federal government prevent rapid action, even in an emergency. That’s why it’s crucial that Congress passes legislation that would allow the creation of an emergency rapid response fund.

What is the biggest challenge for your successor?

It’s essential that the US makes more progress against antibiotic resistance and the opiate-use epidemic. Working to improve health outcomes and implement programmes that prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other leading preventable causes of death will be particularly challenging as healthcare policy changes. CDC can only protect people if it has sufficient budget and scientific independence to do so. 


Big Three dominate funding New figures on R&D investment in neglected diseases showed HIV/Aids, TB and malaria — again — taking most with $2.1bn or 71% of total funding. The top three public sources were the US, the EU and the UK. The EU significantly increased its contribution. (Policy Cures Research)

News round up

Bird flu China has again been hit by bird flu. This H7N9 virus is replicating much faster in chickens and could be more dangerous than the last one. (New Scientist)

The threat to HIV/Aids funding A scientist expresses concerns that progress in tackling HIV in Africa could be undermined by funding cuts to “Pepfar” under US President Donald Trump. (Vox) 

AMR alert Brussels says it is time to step up the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Infections caused by resistant bacteria kill about 25,000 people in the bloc every year. (European Food Safety Authority/European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control)

Airborne threats Bill Gates warned at the Munich Security conference that an airborne pathogen could kill up to 30m people in a single year. The United Nations called for action on air pollution, associated with stroke, heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases including asthma. (Forbes, UN OHCR)

Pharma developments China is introducing a “two invoice system” to crack down on corruption with the aim of cutting down the middlemen in drug distribution; the cloud is speeding up drug development; and big pharma is eyeing a potential $35bn market for treating “silent” liver disease. (FT, BBC)

Health history To put medical intervention into perspective, the OUP blog has published a timeline on the history of global health organisations, from Venice's plague quarantines of 1348 to the UN Millennium Development Goals of 2000.

The changing US landscape Repealing the Affordable Care Act is proving difficult to put into practice. Cancer patients and survivors fear its dismantlement. Vice-president Mike Pence said Republicans remained committed to ending “America’s Obamacare nightmare” — even as a new poll showed the 2010 reforms were now more popular than ever. Scientists are concerned about budget cuts and hostility to immigrants on whom US science depends under the new presidency.(Washington Post, Pew Research Center, FT)

Vaccine sceptics emboldened Donald Trump's apparent scepticism over the use of vaccines is emboldening opponents in Texas. The New York Times takes him to task in an editorial. (Washington Post, NYT)

A growing British crisis Winter emergencies in the UK’s National Health Service are nothing new but the debate has intensified as financing problems coincide with a crisis in social care. A detailed look at the data suggests the NHS is now in a state of “permanent winter”. (FT) 

Brexit blues A survey showed more than four in 10 European doctors were planning to leave the UK following the Brexit vote and fears were raised that quitting Euratom, the EU nuclear watchdog, could harm the country's access to radiotherapy for cancer patients. Meanwhile the battle to replace London as the new home of European drug regulation after Brexit is heating up. (Politico, FT, British Medical Association)

Tight links Are the connections between academics and pharma lobbyists sometimes to close? There appear to be many instances of experts lending their prestige to PR campaigns without always disclosing their corporate ties. (ProPublica)

Gene genies Gene editing is in the spotlight, following the decision of the National Academies of Science and Medicine that changing heritable aspects in human genes could be allowed under certain conditions. As the FT put it, the end of inherited diseases has moved a step closer. The Economist looks at gene editing in depth, from cloning to the ethics of designing babies. (The National Academies Press, FT, The Economist)

Life and death Humans are living longer, according to a new survey. South Korea takes the women's crown with an average life expectancy by 2030 of 90.8 years, followed by France (88.6), and Japan (88.4). The South Koreans also lead for men at 84.1 years, followed by Australia and Switzerland. (The Lancet)

Best from the journals

Rapid urbanisation in emerging countries risks creating new neglected tropical diseases as growth outstrips water, sanitation and housing capacity. (PLoS NTDs)

Research on poor post-Ebola health in Guinea highlights "the desperate need to maintain focus on rebuilding health systems in regions where epidemics receive immediate attention during disasters". (Lancet Global Health)

Mexico's Sweetened Beverage Tax Shows Results Sales of soda fell more than 7 per cent in 2014-16 — and more among the poorest — after the introduction of a 1 cent/litre tax. (Health Affairs)

Podcast of the week

New series on the effect of climate change on health: how to reduce the damage. (Harvard Public Health, 15 minutes)

You may have missed

The little yellow box A simple piece of kit that measures blood oxygen saturation has helped transform medicine in Mongolia, making thousands of operations safer. (Mosaic)

Will the war on neglected diseases hit its target? (FT)

Healthcare: six big policy areas to watch in 2017 (FT)

Coming up

New Global Fund director The replacement for Mark Dybul at the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria should be decided at a board retreat on February 27-28. The candidates are Helen Clark, Muhammad Ali Pate and Subhanu Saxena. All may draw harsh scrutiny from the US, its largest donor. (Aidspan, Devex, NYT)

FT Future of Healthcare Forum Business strategies and solutions for a shifting landscape. New York, February 28

Combating rare diseases An FT special report due out February 28

Thought for the week

The upside of shrinkflation However split the views on the impact for the post-Brexit UK economy, there is one benefit for public health. The fall in sterling has pushed snack manufacturers in the UK to combat rising costs by cutting portion sizes in order to maintain prices. That means fewer Maltesers, Angel slices and Chipolatas per packet.

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