FT Health: New year, same old problems
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Feel free to forward this email to others, who can sign up here.
New Year optimism was swiftly stifled this week with concerns for the world's most vulnerable communities. The UN/World Food Programme said conflict was driving a resurgence in world hunger after decades of decline, at the last count affecting 815m people, up from 777m the previous year. Yemen, with 60 per cent of the population facing crisis levels, South Sudan and Syria are the most affected.
Unicef made its biggest ever appeal for $3.6bn for humanitarian assistance to help 48m children across 51 countries. "Crises are threatening the immediate survival and long-term future of children and young people on a catastrophic scale," the charity said. Previously safe countries such as Venezuela are also reporting malnutrition. The World Bank's "Changing Wealth of Nations" brought some positive news but revealed stark inequalities and declines in poorer countries with a rising death toll from air pollution.
For humanitarian and health campaigners alike, the problem of financing — and donor fatigue — is significant. “One of the fears is that, with the number of crises we have at the moment, people might become inured to it," warned Unicef. (The Guardian).
Last chance! The FT is supporting Alzheimer's Research UK for our seasonal appeal. Give by February 10 to have your donation matched by our partners Goldman Sachs.
Taming the tapeworm Amazon's venture with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway aims to help the trio's 1m employees with what Warren Buffett called the "hungry tapeworm” of soaring US health costs. Speculation over Amazon's plans for "disrupting" the industry has hit share prices of drugmakers, drugstores and insurers alike, although many experts are sceptical. (FT, Stat)
'Modicare' is born India announced the world's biggest health insurance scheme to cover 100m poor and vulnerable families in the final budget of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government before next year's general election. It will operate cashlessly rather than through reimbursement but some question whether the country can afford it. (FT, Times of India, Washington Post)
Superbug struggle The WHO's first report on global antibiotic resistance found suspected bacterial infections across 22 countries. The organisation is helping poorer states set up surveillance systems to feed back into its global database while Wellcome plans to help track and share data. Ending non-essential use of antimicrobials in animals is an important part of the fight. (WHO, Wellcome, BMJ)
Where there's smoke The Centers for Disease Control's Brenda Fitzgerald — the top US public health official — quit after revelations she bought shares in a tobacco company. The UK came under fire for championing British tobacco companies abroad despite supporting anti-smoking campaigns. (Politico, Guardian)
Critics froth at beer link The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria was criticised for its tie-up with Heineken, the brewing giant, to fight disease in Africa. The Fund says public-private partnerships are essential to accelerate progress, but critics such as the NCD Alliance said this ignored the aim of the company to attract users to a “group-one carcinogen”. (Heineken, @ncdalliance)
The US and global health Despite pullbacks from the Trump administration, a majority of Americans still sees the country with a leading role in global health development. At home, a Kaiser investigation found nearly 340 congressional aides now working for drug companies or their lobbyists. (NL Times, Kaiser Health)
World health priorities Here's a summary of the key decisions from last week's meeting of world health leaders in Geneva including WHO's work programme and governance; polio planning; climate change; cholera; snakebites; and — more contentiously — access to medicines. The WHO is the first UN agency to have a female majority in its top ranks. (Devex, Lancet)
Comparing EU health An annual review of healthcare across Europe finds steadily improving results but often inefficient delivery. The Netherlands leads the table and also scores highly in the value-for-money ranking. Lessons for improvement can be found in smaller countries such as Finland and Slovakia. (Health Consumer Powerhouse)
Financing African health A World Bank study on health financing in Africa showed how user fees established during the 1980s and 1990s have gradually been reduced or abolished. All 46 countries examined now offer a free basic health package, prioritising communicable diseases and maternal and child care. (World Bank)
Action on NTDs African officials committed to measure progress against neglected tropical diseases. Malaria however remains the continent's key concern: for the first time in more than a decade, progress across Africa, which accounts for almost 90% of the global malaria burden, has stalled. (Uniting to combat NTDs, ReliefWeb)
Climate change and public health Researchers have already acknowledged that the effects of climate change on health are worse than previously understood but recent natural disasters have made matters worse. China announced a new initiative to tackle smog while London reached its legal air pollution limit for 2018 — just one month into the new year. (The Conversation, London Evening Standard, South China Morning Post).
Legislating for abortion Ireland will hold a referendum on its ban on abortion in May. Irish women generally have to travel abroad for the procedure or take illegal abortion pills. In the US, the Senate narrowly blocked proposals for a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks. This map summarises laws around the world. (Irish Times, Washington Post, Center for Reproductive Rights)
Wellbeing waste? Although workplace wellness schemes have grown from a $1bn industry in 2011 to $6.8bn in 2016, a new study suggests they fail to improve employees' health — or lower their employers' healthcare costs. Take-up is usually from healthier individuals and companies with the highest healthcare costs are the least likely to participate. (Bloomberg)
Transformative tech A round-up of key trends in health and medicine technology from the Consumer Electronics Show. But could medtech developments make the rich healthier and the poor sicker? (PLoS, Forbes)
Measuring marijuana An analysis of US states where marijuana is legal says the situation has had a positive effect on public health. Road safety has been unaffected; opioid deaths are down; the industry employs up to 230,000 jobs; and tax revenues are being used for social good. (Drugpolicy.org)
Best from the Journals
Reproductive and child health An update on the Countdown to 2030 initiative on universal coverage for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health finds the situation in many countries still patchy, slow to improve, and hampered by weak health systems as well as conflict situations. (The Lancet)
Combating cancer The largest study of cancer survival trends finds large disparities, particularly for some childhood cancers. For most cancers, five-year survival rates are highest in North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Nordic countries. A UN study says premature deaths from cancer are costing emerging countries tens of billions of dollars a year. (The Lancet, Cancer Epidemiology)
Essential medicines Many of the drugs on the WHO's Essential Medicines List can be manufactured at very low cost. This should be used by governments in price negotiations to encourage competition from drugmakers. (BMJ)
Action on sugar Big supermarkets should start competing on health rather than price. This could entail changes in layouts to reflect dietary guidelines — and end the practice of placing sweeties at the end of the aisle. (BMJ)
Podcast of the week
Fighting flu A century after the great outbreak of 1918, fears of a flu pandemic are still with us. Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London talks about the way viruses behave and why they are so difficult to outwit. (Global Health Now, BBC Life Scientific, 28m)
Join the debate
FT Health is free to read — please forward and encourage others to sign up at www.ft.com/health
Previous edition: New benchmarks in superbug struggle
Shop till you drop? There’s one modern addiction that has yet to grab many headlines: compulsive shopping. Up to 14 per cent of adults in developed countries have some form of the condition which could lead to serious financial and relationship problems. Is it time for health professionals to step in? (The Conversation)