Tropical Diseases and the World Health Assembly 73rd Meeting

If it were not difficult enough to guide global health during a pandemic, some world leaders are trying to deflect attention from the real dangers at hand to score on their petty political concerns. In the meantime, we need to focus on what tropical health and disease issues may actually be coming under consideration at the virtual WHA 73.

Agenda item 3 (A73/CONF./1 Rev.1) or “COVID-19 response Draft resolution” directly addresses the concerns of many that other major deadly diseases and essential services should not be further neglected. The large group of resolution proponents urge countries and organizations to,

“Maintain the continued functioning of the health system in all relevant aspects, in accordance with national context and priorities, necessary for an effective public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other ongoing epidemics, and the uninterrupted and safe provision of population and individual level services, for, among others, communicable diseases, including by undisrupted vaccination programmes, neglected tropical diseases, noncommunicable diseases, mental health, mother and child health and sexual and reproductive health and promote improved nutrition for women and children, recognizing in this regard the importance of increased domestic financing and development assistance where needed in the context of achieving UHC.”

In Provisional agenda item 23 (A73/32) “Progress reports by the Director-General” we find updates on guinea worm eradication and the burden of snakebite envenoming. The report notes the situation in 2019, which is a far cry from the millions of cases in the 1980d when the dracunculiasis eradication effort was launched. “In 2019, three countries reported a total of 53 human indigenous cases of dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), namely, Angola (one case), Chad (48 cases) and South Sudan (four cases), from a total of 28 villages. Cameroon reported one human case, probably imported from Chad.”

It is important to note that, “The global dracunculiasis eradication campaign is based on both community and country-focused interventions,” where community members play an important role in surveillance and notification. This includes at-risk and border areas, as is being done in Cameroon. The challenge of human Dracunculus medinensis infection in dogs continues and points to the importance of One Health in the control and elimination of NTDs. Surveillance is not cheap, and the report stresses that funds are still needed so that international partners can continue to ensure that the last case of guinea worm is detected and contained.

Moving from the smaller serpent to the larger variety, the report recalls the May 2018 World Health Assembly resolution WHA71.5 on addressing the burden of snakebite envenoming. A global strategy, “Snakebite envenoming: a strategy for prevention and control” was launched in  in May 2019. The WHO Secretariat has “fostered international efforts to improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of safe and effective antivenoms for all, through assessments of antivenom manufacturing, training programs and stockpile procedures.

Finally, provisional agenda item 11.8 (A73/8) addresses a “Draft road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030.” This builds on resolution WHA66.12 (2013) on WHO’s earlier road map for accelerating work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases (2012–2020). The proposed interventions build on important principles including:

  1. Tackling neglected tropical diseases through support of the vision of universal health coverage
  2. Adopting grassroots approaches that enable access to some of the world’s poorest, hard-to reach communities and people affected by complex emergencies
  3. Monitoring progress against neglected tropical diseases as a litmus test of progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage

The report notes that “40 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease,” most notably dracunculiasis (as mentioned above, lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. Although “substantive progress has been made since 2012, it is evident that not all of the 2020 targets will be met.” Hence, a new draft road map for neglected tropical diseases for 2021–2030 is required. The three pillars supporting the new roadmap are outlined in the attached figure.

It is good to know that the 73rd World Health Assembly will not be completely overshadowed by COVID-19 and politics. Efforts to sustain and improve NTD control and elimination must not be jeopardized.

African Children and COVID-19

Until recently it was thought that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was less severe in children. Now as more cases can be studied, that prognosis is less likely to be true. The number of cases overall in Africa is still lower than the rest of the world, with 36,857 cases reported by the Africa CDC as of 29 April 2020, compared to over 3 million globally. One assumes out of this that the number of child cases would also be lower, but there is worry about other indirect effects of the pandemic on children.

Initial beliefs that the young would be less impacted by COVID-19 may have led to complacency. For example, the Atlantic reports that, “Africa will enjoy the advantage of youth. COVID-19 kills mostly the old, and Africans are relatively young, with a median age of 18.9. (The median age in the United States and China is 38.) That means, in effect, that about half of Africans who get COVID-19 will have a low risk of death.” The reality is turning out much different.

First from the medical standpoint, VOA reports that, “Doctors in Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain are exploring a possible link between a severe inflammatory disease in children and the coronavirus. A growing number of children of various ages in several European countries have been admitted to hospitals with high fever and heart issues. Some also have suffered from gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea.” There is not enough information disaggregated by age to tell us how coronavirus is affecting children in Africa.

Secondly, UNICEF tells us that, “in any crisis, the young and the most vulnerable suffer disproportionately,” as children suffer from “collateral damage.” Lockdowns reduce access to essential services such as routine immunization, nutritional supplementation and malaria treatment and prevention programs and thus increase morbidity and mortality among children.

Nature published on 7th April that measles has currently, “killed more than 6,500 children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and is still spreading through the country.” Unfortunately “23 countries have suspended measles vaccination campaigns as they cope with SARS-CoV-2.”

There are groups of children that are especially vulnerable. In Kenya. “Street children are having a rough time during the curfew. Food and water are a real problem as hotels and eating places where they would normally get food have closed down. Movement is restricted,” according to the Guardian. The article goes further to share the concern that, “the virus could drive homeless children back to families where they are at risk of abuse.” Abuse of children during stressful times goes affects many confined to homes with out-of-work parents, not just street children.

We cannot afford to lose more children to direct and collateral mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic as it spreads in Africa. We need to begin with better data to tell us about infection and effects on children. Nigeria has done some reporting on age.  We need to ensure that all countries collect data on children and COVID-19 and also maintain routine child survival services.

Zero Malaria Starts after Lockdown?

The novel 2019 coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 and SARS-COV2, is casting a heavy shadow over the 2020 World Malaria Day. People are trying to remain upbeat declaring the tagline “zero malaria starts with me,” but nothing can hide the fear that the current pandemic will both disrupt the current delivery of essential malaria preventive and treatment services, but will have longer term impacts on malaria funding and our capacity to learn new ways to reach malaria elimination goals. As we can see in the graphic to the right, accessible, lifesaving, community-based services may be especially hard hit.

Another ironic image is the indoor residual spray (IRS) team member with a face mask needed for protection from the insecticides being sprayed. When will such teams be able to go back into homes? When can household members actually pack out their belongings so that spraying can commence? When will such masks not be needed for intensive care COVID-19 case management instead?

WHO is urging “countries to move quickly to save lives from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa” because “New analysis supports the WHO call to minimize disruptions to malaria prevention and treatment services during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This will be difficult in high burden countries like Nigeria that are already on lockdown with over 1,000 coronavirus cases detected already. Modeling by WHO and partners has projected, “Severe disruptions to insecticide-treated net campaigns and in access to antimalarial medicines could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018.”

The Global Malaria Program offers guidance for tailoring malaria interventions to the present circumstances. Great concern is drawn from previous epidemic situations when observing that, “it is essential that other killer diseases, such as malaria, are not ignored. We know from the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa that a sudden increased demand on fragile health services can lead to substantial increases in morbidity and mortality from other diseases, including malaria. The COVID-19 pandemic could be devastating on its own – but this devastation will be substantially amplified if the response undermines the provision of life-saving services for other diseases.”

Specifically, GMP recommends that national malaria programs should ensure the following:

  • a focal point for malaria is a member of the National COVID-19 Incident Management Team.
  • continued engagement with all relevant national COVID-19 stakeholders and partners.
  • continued access to and use of recommended insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs)
  • continuation of planned targeted indoor residual spraying (IRS)
  • early care-seeking for fever and suspected malaria by the general population to prevent a spike in severe malaria
  • access to case management services in health facilities and communities with diagnostic confirmation through rapid diagnostic tests [RDTs]
  • treatment of confirmed malaria cases with approved protocols
  • continued delivery of planned preventive services normally provided to specific target populations (SMC, IPTi, IPTp)
  • the safety of all malaria personnel and their clients in the process of carrying out the above interventions

In editorial in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene by Yanow and Good address the damaging longer term impact of the present shutdown. “The impacts of research shutdowns will be felt long after the pandemic. Many scientists study diseases that do not share the same obvious urgency as COVID-19 and yet take a shocking toll on human life. For example, malaria infects more than 200 million people and takes the lives of nearly half a million people, mostly young children, each year.1 During laboratory closures and without clinical studies, there will be no progress toward treating and preventing malaria: no progress toward new drugs, vaccines, or diagnostics.”

The case for continuing malaria services to save hundreds of thousands of lives is not difficult to make. The actual implementation during lockdowns and quarantines is a management challenge. The importance of malaria testing to provide patients with appropriate care for the right disease is crucial. The question is whether in resource strapped endemic countries these decisions and management arrangements can be made in a timely fashion and for the long term whether the next generation of research can proceed with much needed new medicines and technologies.

A look at Botswana from WHO’s E-2020 country brief

Botswana is one of a handful of countries in Southern Africa that are nearing malaria elimination targets. The information below is extracted from WHO’s Elimination 2020 program site and shared verbatim.

“Botswana has made impressive progress in reducing indigenous malaria transmission, from a reported 71 000 cases in 2000 to 533 in 2018. Despite significant variation from year to year – with a higher number of malaria cases in 2014, 2016 and 2017 – the country has continued to report an overall decline in both cases and deaths since 2000.

“Challenges faced by Botswana’s national malaria control programme include the perception, in some communities, that malaria is a low priority disease, which can lead to people not protecting themselves with insecticide-treated nets and other WHO-recommended prevention measures. Added to this, some residents do not accept vector control activities such as insecticide spraying inside homes. However, the government’s commitment to eliminate malaria remains strong.

“WHO lists the following Successes in Botswana and the accompanying graph confirms the overall drop, despite some increases:

  • 69% decrease in number of reported malaria cases following outbreaks in 2014, 2016 and 2017;
  • all districts using District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2) for real-time malaria reporting
  • mapping of all malaria cases at household level and stratification at village level
  • adoption of the Community Acting Together to Eliminate Malaria (CATTEM) approach
    enhanced community monitoring in malarious districts by malaria surveillance agents”

Hopefully with geographical and epidemiological targeting and attention to early warnings about climate change, Botswana can be among the next group of countries achieving malaria elimination.

COVID19 Challenges for African Researchers

Not surprisingly COVID-19 related travel restrictions and bans now occur throughout the world, and for African researchers, this means inability to travel for research related collaborations, planning meetings and conferences. Thus, it becomes necessary to ask, “What can we do here at home,” especially considering increasing restrictions on local movement and gatherings.

In the very short time since COVID-19 was finally and officially recognized in China, many research articles have been published. Although these obviously focus on China, they raise possible research questions that need to be addressed in Africa, especially those countries still at the early stages of the epidemic.

Obviously, studies on the clinical management are needed, and one group of Chinese researchers are examining “biological products have broadly applied in the prevention and treatment of severe epidemic diseases, they are promising in blocking novel coronavirus infection,” especially based on reports from previous coronavirus experiences like SARS and MERS.[1] Other studies have examined the role of managing blood glucose levels[2], anticoagulant treatment[3] and the potential of antiviral treatment,[4] among others. What aspects of clinical management will become important to African patients’ survival?

In the process of requesting adequate diagnostic, monitoring and treatment supplies and equipment generally for the country, the tertiary and research hospitals need to ensure they have made requests for the equipment and supplies that are needed not just to provide life-saving treatment, but also to test appropriate approaches in the local setting. Each setting is different and must be studied because already there are anecdotal reports of younger age groups being affected by severe disease in the USA compared to earlier reports from China.

Taking a lesson from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, there is need to study how COVID-19 will affect the delivery of health care, especially malaria services. Patrick Walker and colleagues[5] modeled the effects of health systems disruption on malaria including challenges in receiving based treatment when clinics were overwhelmed, seen as possible sources of disease and finally shut down as health workers themselves died. Outreach services like insecticide-treated net distribution were also stopped, and the efforts of community health workers were curtailed. To what extent is that happening with COVID-19?

Until there are proven drugs and vaccines, it is extremely important to learn about local epidemiology[6] in order to develop appropriate strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This effort should involve researchers from many disciplines such as public health specialists, anthropologists, sociologists, educationists, and psychologists.

While the medical research mentioned above is carried out in hospitals and clinics, people conducting social and epidemiological studies ideally should be in the community where we can observe people washing their hands or not, gathering in groups or not, and finding out why they do these things. We need formative research to help develop health education, and at the same time ensure social and educational scientists can gather information to evaluate whether the health education as appropriate and worked.

Likewise, research is needed on health systems[7] and must involve political scientists, economists, public administrators, and of course public health specialists, also. A great danger exists for people who cannot keep a social distance from themselves such as those incarcerated in prison and living in camps for refugees and internally displaced people,[8] a common problem throughout the continent. They too need to get into the organizations and systems that provide care and learn what the policy makers and decision makers are thinking.

As Bronwyn Bruton has observed,[9] “Some 40 percent of Africans live in water-stressed environments in which obtaining access to clean water—let alone soap—is an insurmountable daily hurdle, and for those populations, even simple measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as frequent handwashing, will be out of reach.” In addition he asks difficult questions about what happens to children who are home and cannot go to school, the vast numbers of people in the informal economy who cannot rely on a salary, if they stay home, and the many people in conflict zones. These are questions that urgently need to be studied in Africa.

Answers to our COVID-19 research questions are needed urgently, probably much sooner than funding can be found to support such research.  The question for our African research colleagues is what can be done now with resources at hand in an environment where movement is restricted? We will definitely need speedy responses from our Institutional Ethics Review Boards and be creative in our use of research methods.

Roxana Elliott[10] reports that data collection in the diverse African region “is difficult, especially when measuring statistics such as mobile penetration, which require face-to-face data collection in order to include those who cannot be reached via mobile. Language barriers, lack of infrastructure, and the sheer number of people throughout Sub-Saharan Africa make collecting face-to-face data nearly impossible due to cost and time constraints, especially in rural areas.” She, therefore, suggests that mobile-based surveying methodologies can alleviate these issues. She also recommends a country-by-country approach, and hence we see that in 2017 an estimate of 32% of the population had a smartphone 48% a basic phone, and 20% no phone.

How can social and health researchers design studies using this mobile resource to answer vital COVID-19 questions in the nearest future? If our students are now at home, can they, for example, be contacted to observe, at a safe distance, the human health related actions in their communities? Can they interview family members to learn why people practice prevention or not? Can they relate family experiences seeking health services for suspected respiratory illness?  Can they report on the water supply situation in the rural and urban areas where they are staying?

There are the questions which African colleagues can debate at a proper social distance (via phone, zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, and others), and come up with creative ways to find answers to prevent a worsening epidemic in Africa.

References

[1] Yan CX, Li J, Shen X, Luo L, Li Y, Li MY. [Biological Product Development Strategies for Prevention and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019. Article in Chinese] Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2020 Mar;51(2):139-145. doi: 10.12182/20200360506. (English abstract in PubMed).

[2] Ma WX, Ran XW. [The Management of Blood Glucose Should be Emphasized in the Treatment of COVID-19. Article in Chinese]. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2020 Mar;51(2):146-150. doi: 10.12182/20200360606.

[3] Tang N, Bai H, Chen X, Gong J, Li D, Sun Z.Anticoagulant treatment is associated with decreased mortality in severe coronavirus disease 2019 patients with coagulopathy. J Thromb Haemost. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1111/jth.14817. [Epub ahead of print]

[4] Wu J, Li W, Shi X, Chen Z, Jiang B, Liu J, Wang D, Liu C, Meng Y, Cui L, Yu J, Cao H, Li L. Early antiviral treatment contributes to alleviate the severity and improve the prognosis of patients with novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).J Intern Med. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1111/joim.13063. [Epub ahead of print]

[5] Patrick G T Walker, Michael T White, Jamie T Griffin, Alison Reynolds, Neil M Ferguson, Azra C Ghani. Malaria morbidity and mortality in Ebola-affected countries caused by decreased health-care capacity, and the potential effect of mitigation strategies: a modelling analysis. www.thelancet.com/infection Published online April 24, 2015 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(15)70124-6

[6] Luan RS, Wang X, Sun X, Chen XS, Zhou T, Liu QH, Lü X, Wu XP, Gu DQ, Tang MS, Cui HJ, Shan XF, Ouyang J, Zhang B, Zhang W, Sichuan University Covid-ERG.[Epidemiology, Treatment, and Epidemic Prevention and Control of the Coronavirus Disease 2019: a Review. Article in Chinese]. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2020 Mar;51(2):131-138. doi: 10.12182/20200360505.

[7] Philip Obaji, Kim Hjelmgaard and Chris Erasmus Coronavirus infections in Africa are rapidly rising. Its weak health systems may buckle. USA Today. Updated 27 March 2020, Accessed 29 March 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/27/coronavirus-africa-preparedness-rising-covid-19-infections/5076620002/

[8] Nick Turse. In West African Coronavirus Hotspot, War Has Left 700,000 Homeless and Exposed. The Intercept. March 26 2020, 5:33 p.m. https://theintercept.com/2020/03/26/burkina-faso-africa-coronavirus/

[9] Bronwyn Bruton. What does the coronavirus mean for Africa?. Atlantic Council. Tue, Mar 24, 2020. https://atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/africasource/what-does-the-coronavirus-mean-for-africa/

[10] Roxana Elliott. Mobile Phone Penetration Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. GeoPoll (In Market Research, Tech & Innovation). Posted July 8, 2019 https://www.geopoll.com/blog/mobile-phone-penetration-africa/

Leading the Final Push to Polio Eradication

Sophia Shea and Sophia Winchester have shared their thoughts about what  may hopefully be the final stages of the polio eradication effort. Their original blog appears on the website for Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health care.

Polio eradication has been on the world’s agenda for decades, and we are finally at the last push to eradicating the disease.  However, Afghanistan and Pakistan remain on the frontlines of battling polio with added political tensions and suspicion against vaccination efforts.

Image result for polio vaccination afghanistan
Child getting vaccinated from a polio mass vaccination campaign worker. Source

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced political strife surrounding the involvement of the Taliban.  While the Taliban supports polio eradication, they continue to battle with the WHO on how best to vaccinate the respective populations. In the past, Osama bin Landen was captured using spies in a door-to-door vaccine effort, which contributed to distrust among the community. The Taliban is strongly against door-to-door vaccination given this distrust; however, the WHO considers door-to-door to be bet practice and most effective.

There are religious leaders who also say that vaccination goes against Muslim law. Due to the increased religious pressure against vaccination, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has released religious fatwas in support of vaccination and hopefully will promote vaccination in mosques.

Despite issues in governance between the Afghanistan/Pakistan governments and the Taliban, organizations involved in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, such as UNICEFRotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been actively campaigning for mass vaccination efforts.  In order to adequately support this initiative, it is critical that there be clear leadership and fully supported funding streams to direct this final push for eradication.  Strict leadership by a governmentally neutral organization like the WHO will allow actors involved in this initiative to focus on their respective operations.  Finally, polio eradication is estimated to cost nearly $4 billion over the next few years, and the financial requirements of this effort should not create a barrier to achieving the overall goal of eradicating polio.

Call to Action:

We are very close to eradicating polio from the world – Pakistan and Afghanistan two of the last few countries to have polio. Turmoil among the governments and the Taliban’s presence make it challenging to vaccinate children in these areas. In order to succeed in eradicating polio, we need to increase funding available for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and its member organizations to increase their vaccination capacity. Your donation can make a difference. The end is near! We need to make sure there is not donor fatigue and that current efforts are supported.

Young boys and girls raise their hands to show marks of vaccination against polio, in Afghanistan
Children showing their stamped fingers indicating they have been vaccinated. Source

Lessons Learned from Ebola Management in Sierra Leone

Figure #1: Image of a Village Health Worker in Sierra Leone Preparing Chlorinated Water

Lessons can still be learned from the Ebola experience in West Africa. Daniel Ehrenpreis and Masahiro Katahira as members of the class, Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care, have posted a blog on the importance of financing at the local government level to ensure better disease control efforts. Their thoughts are posted below.

In 2015, Sierra Leone experienced the height of the Ebola epidemic, where there were over 13,000 confirmed cases; 29% of which were fatal. The prolific nature of this disease made controlling the spread difficult to manage. The government of Sierra Leone initially coordinated the Ebola mitigation efforts by allocating funding to centralized approaches . This method quickly became ineffective as the virus rapidly proliferated and mortality skyrocketed. Different Ebola response efforts were needed to curb the spread of this infectious disease.

While many international organizations were funneling funding into national response measures, localized infection control interventions were being undermined. This created uncoordinated Ebola control measures that exacerbated the virus’ mortality rate. Furthermore, localized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were disproportionately underfunded and thus did not have the resources to implement effective Ebola mitigation techniques.

Figure #2: National vs. Localized Ebola Response

The National Ebola Response Center (NERC) consisted of the army of Sierra Leone and England, including international agencies such as, UNMEER, WHO, and CDC. All 14 districts of Sierra Leone had a District Ebola Response Center (DERC). (See Figure #2)

The DERC had localized roles, such as surveillance, alerts, burials, community mobilization & education, and quarantine. Low capacity of district health infrastructure and insufficient funding challenged DERCs and local NGOs. With a lack of medical resources including protective clothes due to their poor logistics system, reduced communication between staff in the NERC due to no electricity, distrust from community members, and an inadequate number of staff, there were many barriers preventing the success of localized Ebola response. Also, since every DERC had to meet the needs of different communities, the DERCs did not always act in alignment with the NERC’s plan. It was clear that more funding and resources were needed in the DERCs.

To respond effectively to future Ebola epidemics, national governments should consider allocating funding from both internal finance and international donors to decentralized health management approaches. The 2015 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone exemplified the need to strengthen local health sectors, and it is the responsibility of national policymakers to bolster the capacity of our localized health systems for effective control and response.

Policy Implications for Coronavirus

According to the World Health Organization, “Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.” The current outbreak that started in Wuhan, China may have first been detected in early December 2019, hence its name COVID-19.

From the policy perspective there are several global, regional, national and local steps and policies that must be considered. At is second meeting on the novel coronavirus, the WHO Emergencies  Coronavirus Emergency  Committee on 30 January 2020 recommended and the WHO Director General declared, “We would  have seen many more  cases outside  China  by now – and probably deaths – if  it were not for the government’s efforts and the progress they have made to protect their own people  and the people  of the world…  I’m declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus.”

The PHEIC was declared based on “the IHR, our main international health treaty.” This declaration and treaty enable WHO’s “leadership role for public health measures, holding  countries  to account concerning additional measures they may take regarding  travel, trade, quarantine or screening, research efforts, global coordination, anticipation of economic  impacts,  support to vulnerable  states,” which is where global and national policies and actions may come into concordance or conflict. Clearly some of the more draconian control measures by a few countries were perceived to be beyond the scope of these regulations, policies and treaty.

While as of this writing the spread of COVID-19 appears to slowed in China, it is picking up pace on other continents. The next policy question is whether to name the current outbreak a “pandemic.”

WHO says that, “A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.” Thus there is community level spread of the disease, not just imported cases from another country. As of today, there is still no evidence of community spread in Africa and Latin America, but a suspected community acquired case has been detected in North America.

Policy and action implications for declaring a pandemic have been spelled out in the Guardian: “a pandemic would mean travel bans would no longer be useful or make sense and would alert health authorities that they need to prepare for the next phase… This includes preparing our hospitals for a large influx of patients, stockpiling any antivirals, and advising the public that when the time comes ,they will need to think about things like staying at home if ill, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings etc.” experts said. And a big challenge for governments would be “encouraging people to change their behaviours, such as forgoing or cancelling large social events if they are sick.”

It is most likely that class members in Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care at JHSPH will address some of these policy challenges in their blogs during the coming months.

Preventing Malaria in Mozambique: the 2018 Malaria Indicator Survey Summarized

The Demographic and Health Survey Program has recently released the 2018 Malaria Indicator Survey for Mozambique. Below is a summary of some of the key findings. These focus on access and use of insecticide-treated nets, intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy and case management

While “82% of Mozambican households have at least one ITN, and half have at least one ITN for each two people,” these achievements do not reach universal coverage targets. That said, the ownership of at least one net by a household did increase from 51% in 2011 to the recent 82%. Likewise 23% of households met the universal coverage target of one net per two people in a household in 2011 compared to 51% in 2018. The pace of progress may appear good, but this must be seen in light of lack of growth in donor funding and greater calls for countries to assume more financial responsibility for disease control.

Of interest is the fact that net ownership is spread somewhat evenly over the economic class quintiles. Ideally we would want to see better ownership figures for the lower quintiles.

Households obtained their nets from three major sources. “Most ITNs (87%) were obtained in mass distribution campaigns, 4% in prenatal consultations (PNC) and 6% are purchased in stores or markets.” While the proportion getting their nets through PNC may roughly reflect the proportion of the population who are pregnant at a given time, the survey is not specifically a snapshot of this population in real time. Thus, one could question whether distribution of ITNs through routine health services is fully functioning.

Since it was noted that only half of households have the ideal number of ITNs to reach universal coverage of their members, it is not surprising that only, “69% of the population of households’ family members have access to an ITN. This means that 7 in every 10 people could sleep under an ITN if each ITN in a household were used by a maximum of two people.” On the positive side, this represents an approximate doubling of use of ITNs since 2011.

The survey further notes that those segments of the population traditionally viewed as “vulnerable” fared a bit better: “73% of children under 5 years and 76% of pregnant women slept under an ITN the night before investigation.” This too, represents a doubling from 2011. There is also geographical variation where it appears that the more rural provinces have higher rates of use.

It would appear that IRS is not a major component of malaria control. Household coverage with indoor residual spray “decreased from 19% in 2011 to 11% in 2015, and then increased to 16% in 2018.” Urban coverage (23%) of IRS in the twelve months prior to the survey is twice as high as the percentage in rural areas (12%).

Although still not meeting targets, Mozambique has seen major progress in providing IPTp for pregnant women. Over the period from 2011 to 2018 the proportion of pregnant women receiving even one dose rose from 37% to 85%. Since WHO has set targets for at least 3 monthly doses from the 13th week of pregnancy, Mozambique’s coverage of the third dose increased from 10% to 41% with wide variation among provinces.

UNICEF shared data from 2015 to show that 51% of pregnant women in Mozambique attended 4 PNC/ANC visits, implying that there are missed opportunities for achieving at least 3 doses of IPTp. Also, since more women are now getting the first dose of IPTp, hopefully more can also get an ITN at PNC.

These national surveys (MIS, DHS) are invaluable for assessing progress and planning what interventions need to be strengthened where and among whom. They also show that progress is slow, reinforcing global concerns that malaria elimination will still be a challenge by 2050.

Viruses and bacteria are spread by floodwater – evidence from the 2011–2012 La Niña floods in Peru

A flooded street in Santa Clara de Nanay, April 2, 2012 (courtesy of Asociación Benéfica Prisma)

Josh Colston of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, presented his findings on the connection between floods and enteric pathogens in Peru at the 2019 meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Below he has shared us with a summary of his work and findings. A link to the recently published work is also provided.

Climate change represents an impending global public health threat since extreme weather events like floods can cause injury and drowning, toxic exposure, and the spread of infectious diseases. Poor people living in unplanned settlements with inadequate infrastructure are most vulnerable to these impacts. Outbreaks of gastroenteritis often occur following floods and can be particularly serious for young children. But there are many different bugs that can cause this illness and it’s not yet known which of them are most prone to contaminating floodwater. However, a newly published paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health may shed some light thanks to a small piece of serendipity in an otherwise devastating natural disaster.

Location of the study site

The 2010-2012 La Niña event (the colder counterpart of El Niño) caused huge disruption to weather patterns over several continents. The Amazonian region of Peru around the city of Iquitos was particularly badly hit by heavy rains. It’s a low-lying area particularly prone to flooding since it’s situated at the confluence of several Amazon tributaries. Waterways are the main transport routes in the region, so most of the population lives close to the banks of the rivers. Following months of heavy rainfall in late 2011 and early 2012, three of the rivers – the Ucayali, Marañón, and Nanay – burst their banks, causing widespread flooding and forcing many locals to abandon their homes and evacuate to drier areas. By the end of the disaster, an estimated 50,000 people had been made homeless.

It just so happened that, in a quiet fishing town on the outskirts of Iquitos called Santa Clara de Nanay, an epidemiologic surveillance study was being carried out. Around 300 babies had been recruited and field workers were taking regular measurements and biological samples to see how they were growing and what bugs they were catching. Using a special epidemiologic method known as ‘causal inference’ researchers were able to compare the samples of the infants’ poop before, during and after the flood to see how the rates of infection changed.

Estimated prevalence rates of four viruses and three bacteria before, during and after the flood

Interestingly, two viruses showed substantial upticks during the flood. Rates of rotavirus were 5 times, and sapovirus 2.5 times the normal level for that time of year. What’s more, the rotavirus cases seemed to be caused by unusual virus strains that were not common in the area and which are less preventable by vaccine. Meanwhile, three bacteria – Campylobacter, Shigella and a type of E. coli called ST-ETEC – showed smaller increases. It’s common to catch Campylobacter from poultry and, since a lot of households in Santa Clara keep chickens in their yards, it’s possible that the mini-outbreak was cause by floodwater washing chicken droppings out of the coops and into the wider environment.

What’s clear from this and other recent studies, is that we need to start thinking bigger when it comes to drainage and sanitation solutions. Traditional low-cost, household-level improvements to water sources and sanitation facilities may not be up to the task in the face of climate events that may suddenly and unexpectedly expose entire communities to large amounts of untreated sewage. Investments in more ambitious, municipal-level water, wastewater, and drainage infrastructure – the kind that historically brought about massive, society-wide child health improvements in high income countries – may be the only sure route to climate resilience.