All posts by Bill Brieger

The Forest through the Trees: Themes in Social Production of Health

Recently Professor Ayodele S Jegede of the Faculty of Social Sciences, delivered the 419th Inaugural Lecture at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, during the 2016/2017 academic session.  Below Prof. Jegede shares an abstract of his lecture.

Prof Ayodele S Jegede

Knowledge of individual actor’s behaviour is a reflection of the society as tree to the forest. As forest produces large quantities of oxygen and takes in carbon dioxide, society produces the needed resources for human beings to survive through culture. This inter-dependence between man and the environment is summarised by the Yoruba adage which says: “irorun igi ni irorun eye” (meaning: a bird’s peace depends on the peace enjoyed by the tree which harbours it).

Nigeria, a country with a population of about 187 million and a life expectancy of 53 years, 54% of the populace are living below the poverty line with limited access to health care services physically and economically. Although universal health coverage is vital to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cultural perception of disease aside from loss of economic and low purchasing power makes people to attribute their illnesses to spiritual cause and therefore seek alternative health care services. This influences resistance to public health interventions in some African communities resulting in suspicion and distrust between health educators and the public.

Strengthening Health Information Systems

For instance, response to childhood immunizable diseases, mental illness, malaria and HIV/AIDS reported in this lecture was driven by how people define the diseases. Their response did result in delay in seeking modern health care until alternative care sources proved ineffective. This confirms W.I. Thomas (1929: 572) postulation that, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”.

Our stakeholders’ engagement interventions strategies strengthened by knowledge of how people construct their life, socially and culturally, proved to be a potent vaccine for preventing strain relationship between health workers and clients. Since society consists of individuals who constitute the stakeholders conducting health researches as well as management of epidemics and treatment during epidemics and disease episodes require appropriate ethical behaviours.

This suggests that adequate knowledge of the society is inevitable since a tree does not make a forest which confirms Marx Weber’s Action Theory postulation that an act does not become social unless it involves two or more persons. It is, therefore, that government should establish National Disease Observatory System (NDOS) to document diseases by type, location and related local practices for training health care professionals, clinical practice and emergencies preparedness.

Note also that the lecture was featured in the New Nigerian Newspaper with an emphasis on establishing a national disease observatory.  The Nigerian Tribune also featured the lecture stressing the importance of disease emergency preparedness.

Asymptomatic and Sub-Microscopic Malaria: a Challenge to Elimination Efforts

WHO says that, “In settings where malaria is actively being eliminated or has been eliminated, a “case” is the occurrence of any confirmed malaria infection with or without symptoms.” Several recent studies describe the importance of paying attention to asymptomatic infections.

In the Bagamoyo District of Tanzania Sumari and colleagues collected blood samples and examined them for Plasmodium falciparum prevalence using rapid diagnostic test (RDT), light microscopy (LM) and reverse transcription quantitative PCR. While overall prevalence was higher in symptomatic children using all three methods, asymptomatic children had a higher prevalence of gametocytes using light microscopy and PCR.  They concluded that, “The higher gametocytemia observed in asymptomatic children indicates the reservoir infections and points to the need for detection and treatment of both asymptomatic and symptomatic malaria.”

The health effects of asymptomatic plasmodial infections (API) on children were documented in Rwanda. These included “Plasmodium infection was associated with anaemia, fever, underweight, clinically assessed malnutrition and histories of fever, tiredness, weakness, poor appetite, abdominal pain, and vomiting” and were generally more common with submicroscopic infection.

Besides children other groups are at risk from API.  Malaria during pregnancy is a life and health threat to both the pregnant woman and the unborn child. Thirty-seven percent of asymptomatic pregnant women who had just delivered in Colombia were found to have parasitemia. Using microscopy only 8% were identified, such that without PCR the true extent of the problem would not have been identified. Thus, there is also concern for submicroscopic malaria and well as API generally. Asymptomatic and submicroscopic infections in areas co-endemic for P. falciparum and P. vivax are major contributors to anemia, not only in children but also in adults.

Working along the China-Myanmar border area, Zhao et al. explained that, “Sensitive methods for detecting asymptomatic malaria infections are essential for identifying potential transmission reservoirs and obtaining an accurate assessment of malaria epidemiology in low-endemicity areas aiming to eliminate malaria.” Thus they tried three molecular detection methods side-by-side, namely nested PCR targeting the rRNA genes, nested RT-PCR to detect parasite rRNA, and CLIP-PCR to detect parasite rRNA.

Interestingly the presence of fever is no guarantee that malaria parasites will be found. A study in Gabon demonstrated that among febrile patients only 1% had parasites found through microscopy compared to 32% through molecular testing. These studies have demonstrated the need for a better understanding of malaria transmission across different zones and strata in a country in the light of asymptomatic and submicroscopic malaria, especially gametocytemia. This should lead to better targeting of case detection, improved treatment and better compliance with preventive measures.

Health for All at the International Institute for Primary Health Care, Ethiopia

The time is ripe for a revitalization of the primary health care (PHC) movement. “Health for All through Primary Health Care” (HFA) was first envisioned at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care (World Health Organization and UNICEF), and was enshrined in the Declaration of Alma-Ata. The HFA goal of bringing essential, affordable, scientifically sound, socially acceptable  health care provided by health workers who are trained to work as a health team and who are responsive to the health needs of the community, guided by strong community engagement by the year 2000 but has not been fully met. Fortunately the vision of Alma-Ata has taken root, sprouted and flourished in a number of locations.

Thanks to the vision and intellectual and political leadership of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the then Minister of Health of Ethiopia and recently elected Director General of the World Health Organization, Ethiopia is an outstanding example of the Alma-Ata legacy. Access to PHC services was greatly expanded through the training of 40,000 Health Extension Workers (women from the local area with one year of training, each of whom serve 2,500 people and receive a government salary), recruitment of 3 million community female health volunteers (called the Health Development Army), and engagement with communities to enable them to take responsibility for improving their health.

This expansion of PHC enabled Ethiopia to achieve its health-related MDGs. Child mortality (those younger than 5 years of age) declined from 166 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 67 in 2016 (MDG 4). Significant progress was achieved in reducing levels of childhood malnutrition (MDG 1). MDG 5 was almost reached, with a decline in maternal morality of 72%, versus the goal of 75%, and the percentage of mothers obtaining a delivery by a skilled provider increased 6-fold between 1995 and 2016. The prevalence rate of modern contraceptive use increased from 6% in 2000 to 35% in 2016. MDG 6 (for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis) was also reached. The number of new HIV infections declined by 90%, and the number of AIDS-related deaths by 53%. Between 1990 and 2015, the tuberculosis incidence and mortality rate declined by 48% and 72%, respectively. The malaria incidence rate declined by 50% and malaria mortality by 60%. Ethiopia’s PHC system is acknowledged as the major factor leading to these impressive health gains.

Representatives from more than half of sub-Saharan Africa countries have come to Ethiopia to see its PHC system in action. Because of this interest, in 2016 the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia established the International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia, with seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and technical support from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our goal is for the Institute to become a global center of excellence for training, knowledge dissemination and research in primary health care, supported by multiple donors.

The Institute has begun to provide formalized short-term training to high-level policy makers and officials, program planners and managers, as well as to those engaged in service delivery, to see first-hand how an effective national PHC system functions. Trainees come from within Ethiopia and around the world. Trainees also visit communities, meet their leaders, and observe primary health care providers at work. Trainees will return to their home country with renewed energy and new vision and skills to revitalize their own primary health care system.

The Institute will also conduct and support research that yields evidence to guide ongoing strengthening of the Health Extension Program, and will rapidly disseminate open access information about recent advances in PHC. The Institute marks a significant step forward on the road to achieving the Alma-Ata vision of Health for All.

A website for IIfPHC-E is being built to provide further information about these programs and will be available at: www.iifphc.org.

This posting was prepared by: Kesetebirhan Admasu1, Michael J. Klag2, Yifru Berhan Mitke3, Amir Aman4, Mengesha Admassu5, Solomon Zewdu6, Jose Rimon7, Henry B. Perry8

1Chief Executive Officer, Rollback Malaria Partnership, Geneva, Switzerland and Chair, Advisory Board, International Institute for Primary Health Care — Ethiopia

2Dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

3Minister, Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

4State Minister, Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Co-Chair, Advisory Board, International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia

5Executive Director, International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

6Health and Nutrition Development Lead – Ethiopia, Integrated Programs, Global Policy & Advocacy – Global Development, Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

7Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

8Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University Support of the International Institute for Primary  Health Care – Ethiopia, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

Population Health: Malaria, Monkeys and Mosquitoes

On World Population Day (July 11) one often thinks of family planning. A wider view was proposed by resolution 45/216 of December 1990, of the United Nations General Assembly which encouraged observance of “World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relations to the environment and development.”

A relationship still exists between family planning and malaria via preventing pregnancies in malaria endemic areas where the disease leads to anemia, death, low birth weight and stillbirth. Other population issues such as migration/mobility, border movement, and conflict/displacement influence exposure of populations to malaria, NTDs and their risks. Environmental concerns such as land/forest degradation, occupational exposure, population expansion (even into areas where populations of monkeys, bats or other sources of zoonotic disease transmission live), and climate warming in areas without prior malaria transmission expose more populations to mosquitoes and malaria.

Ultimately the goal of eliminating malaria needs a population based focus. The recent WHO malaria elimination strategic guidance encourages examination of factors in defined population units that influence transmission or control.

Today public health advocates are using the term population health more. The University of Wisconsin Department of Population Health Sciences in its blog explained that “Population health is defined as the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” World Population Day is a good time to consider how the transmission or prevention of malaria, or even neglected tropical diseases, is distributed in our countries, and which groups and communities within that population are most vulnerable.

World Population Day has room to consider many issues related to the health of populations whether it be reproductive health, communicable diseases or chronic diseases as well as the services to address these concerns.

Liberia’s Fight against Malaria Continues

Liberia was making steady progress against malaria in the years after the civil war. Despite the devastation of Ebola, the health authorities have continued to push against malaria. The DHS Program has released key findings from the 2016 Malaria Information Survey. We have compared those against the 2011 MIS, and while there is progress, much work needs to be done in this highly endemic area – not just in fighting malaria, but in rebuilding health systems damaged by war and Ebola.

Targets for Intermittent Preventive Treatment in pregnancy of malaria have risen from at least 2 doses in 2011 to three or more when the 2016 data were collected. While the IPTp2+ doses have increased by a little less than 5%, the challenge of IPTp3 and greater has become quite evident. It is interesting that coverage of IPTp is slightly better in rural areas, but there is still a long way to go to protect pregnant Liberian women.

The situation with access to and use of insecticide treated nets has also improved over the 5-year period, but still remains well below the targets of universal coverage. Even though nearly two-thirds of households have at least one ITN, only a quarter have enough nets to reach the goal of one net for every two people. Net use by children below the age of 5 years is better than that of pregnant women, though in both cases less that half of these vulnerable populations are covered. Nets are particularly important for pregnant women who cannot take IPTp in the first trimester.

Care for febrile children also has improved, but questions remain about appropriate care due to the nature of the questioning processes in the MIS.  Seeking advice increased by 20% as did getting blood tests (RDT or microscopy) once care is sought.  Double the number of febrile children received artemisinin-based combination therapy in 2016 compared to 2011, but since the rate of testing is low, we do not know if they were being appropriately treated – given ACT only is tests were positive.

Liberia does receive support from donors such as the Global Fund and the US President’s Malaria Initiative. These and other partners need to strategize with the Liberian Ministry of Health and other local partners (NGOs, Businesses, etc.) in order to mobilize the support to put Liberia more squarely on the road to malaria elimination.

Enhancing Civilian-Military Cooperation to Accelerate Malaria Elimination in Southeast Asia

Our colleague Sara Canavati attended the recent meeting on civilian and military collaboration to eli8minate malaria in Southeast Asia. Herein she shares some of the highlights of the meeting. Sara is affiliated with both the Centre for Biomedical Research, Burnet Institute, Melbourne, Australia and the Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Heads of State from ASEAN member nations stated their commitment to an “Asia Pacific free of Malaria by 2030” at the 9th East Asia Summit. This mandate for a malaria-free Asia Pacific creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen ties between civilian and military health systems and regional militaries.

On 26-28 June 2017, the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science (AFRIMS) organized a meeting titled: “Enhancing Civilian-Military Cooperation to Accelerate Malaria Elimination in Southeast Asia” in Bangkok, Thailand. The meeting brought together Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Health malaria officials from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and the United States.

Since malaria is a common problem in the military, and since malaria does not know borders, regional collaborations involving all affected populations are important to achieve malaria elimination. The meeting was instrumental for reviewing existing military and civilian national malaria collaborations, identifying and prioritize key areas of mutual military-civilian interest, and discussing ways in which regional militaries can assist national malaria elimination goals.

Three action points on how the civilian and military sectors can more effectively collaborate to achieve elimination in four areas of mutual interest (Case Detection and Management and Disease Prevention; Surveillance, Monitoring and Evaluation; Operational Research/Training and Advocacy) were identified and documented by meeting attendees through a breakout team format.

Advocacy for malaria elimination was the theme that military attendees found most challenging due to the hierarchical structure of the military.  Among several presentations, East Africa Malaria Task Force and Experiences from African Military Medical Departments were shared to serve as an example of military-advocacy. Financing was another key barrier identified. The chair of the regional steering committee (RSC) for the Global Fund, Prof Arjen Dondorp and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFTAM) Geneva assured their support and commitment to finance military operations for malaria elimination in South East Asia. This was a historical achievement as this will be the first time ever the GFTAM finances the military for malaria elimination.

One significant outcome of the meeting is that the military will now be represented in the RSC for the Global Fund “Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative 2 Elimination (RAI2E)” malaria grant.

Links to some of Sara’s recent malaria publications:

Burundi: when will citizens see real protection from malaria?

Preliminary findings from Burundi’s 2015-16 DHS have been made available. The country has a long way to go to meet targets for basic control of malaria.

LLIN availability by household is an overall disappointing 32%. Ironically there is greater coverage of households in in urban areas (50%) than rural (30%). There is also great variation among the provinces with 52% coverage in Bujumbura metropolitan but only 19% in Canzuko. The overall average is less than one treated net per household.

A major concern is equity. The chart above shows a steep gradation from 19% coverage among the lowest fifth of the wealth quintile, up to 48% in the highest. Even in households that have at least one net, only 17% of of people slept under a net the night before the survey.

In terms of use by those traditionally defined as vulnerable, the DHS shows only 40% of children below 5 years of age overall slept under a treated net the night prior to the survey. Even in households that own at least one net, 78% of these children slept under one.

A similar pattern is seen for treated net use by pregnant women. Overall 44% slept under a treated net, and 84% did so in households that owned at least one treated net. The internal household dynamics of net use where one is available does appear to favor these two groups.

Overall coverage of Intermittent Preventive Treatment for pregnant women is very low. Less than 30% of pregnant women received even the first dose of SP. This decreased to 21% for two doses and 13% for three. In contrast to net coverage, more rural women (31%) received the first dose of IPTp than urban ones (19%).

Nearly 40% of children below five years of age were found to have had a fever in the two weeks preceding the survey. Among those care was sought for only two-thirds. Eleven percent of those with fever received an artemisinin-based combination therapy drug. The report did not mention whether these children had received any testing prior to treatment, so appropriateness of treatment cannot be judged. Prevalence testing of the children in the sample found 38% with parasitemia. Therefore one might assume that more children should have received ACTs.

Burundi still faces major political and social challenges. Even so Burundi is the recipient of malaria support from the Global Fund. For example 18 million LLINs were distributed in 2015 and 19 million in 2016.

Much work is needed to bring Burundi even close to universal coverage of malaria interventions. In today’s climate of questionable donor commitment, it is hoped that regional partners may play a role since malaria knows no boundaries.

Refugees and Malaria

June 20th is World Refugee Day.  The United Nations explains that, “Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them.” This protection includes the right to public relief and assistance, and in that context the UN High Commission for Refugees aims to provide refugees with “clinics, schools and water wells for shelter inhabitants and gives them access to health care and psychosocial support during their exile.” Major physical health problems and symptoms of internally displaced persons in Sub-Saharan Africa included were fever/malaria among 85% of children and 48% of adults.

Many of today’s refugees are located in malaria endemic areas of the world, and movement from familiar areas to uncertainly increases refugees’ exposure to malaria. As the Roll Back Malaria Partnership noted, “exposure to malaria is significantly increased when moving from low- to high- transmission areas, because they have no acquired immunity and frequently little knowledge of malaria prevention or treatment.”

Efforts to prevent malaria among refugees who came from South Sudan in in Northern Uganda is crucial as they experience malaria as one of their major health problems. This led to the provision of intermittent preventive treatment for malaria (IPTc) in two refugee camps among children aged 6 months to 14 years through help from Médecins Sans Frontières.

In Australia guidelines for assessing needs for services for refugees include an emphasis on person-centred care and risk-based rather than universal screening for hepatitis C virus, malaria, schistosomiasis and sexually transmissible infections.” Based on country of origin “refugees and asylum seekers to Australia and includes country-specific recommendations for screening for malaria, schistosomiasis and hepatitis C.” This includes use of malaria Rapid Diagnostic tests.

Efforts to reach refugee populations with insecticide treated bednets can be a challenge.  Studies in a displaced persons camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that there was lower access to nets by camp dwelling children than those in nearby settled villages. Considering the high burden of malaria in the area the authors recommended increased attention to net distribution for these internal refugees.

World Refugee Day is a time for people in malaria national control/elimination programs to take note of the refugee and displaced populations within their boundaries and step up efforts to protect everyone.

 

Donate Blood, Not Malaria

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day. This year’s theme stresses the importance of donating now before a disaster strikes. This requires good storage facilities (and strong systems) in countries where disasters may occur,  which may not always be the case.  We know that blood donation facilities are concerned about testing for infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. What of malaria?

Studies have found that when people return to a non-endemic setting from malaria endemic countries, “Semi-immune individuals are more likely to transmit malaria as they may be asymptomatic” and serological data, not just circumstantial epidemiological information are also needed that if transmission through blood donations are to be prevented. There is also concern about the longevity of malaria infection depending on the species of Plasmodium in different parts of the world.

In endemic countries malaria antibodies can be present in basically all of asymptomatic adult blood donors. Unfortunately currently available screening assays appear unsuitable to minimize transfusion malaria.

Researchers in Brazil reported that, “The real-time PCR with TaqMan probes enabled the identification of P. vivax in a high proportion of clinically healthy donors, highlighting the potential risk for transfusion-transmitted malaria. Additionally, this molecular diagnostic tool can be adopted as a new laboratory screening method in haemotherapy centres, especially in malaria-endemic areas.”

Knowing the seasonal prevalence of malaria among blood donors in Bamako, Kouriba et al. suggest “A prevention strategy of transfusion malaria based on the combination of selection of blood donors through the medical interview, promoting a voluntary low-risk blood donation and screening all blood bags intended to be transfused” to vulnerable groups.

So while we recognize the life saving importance of adequate blood donations and supplies for transfusion, we also stress the importance of blood safety and expand our horizons to the possibility that malaria may be one of the potential problems shared with blood.

World No Tobacco Day – except to make malaria drugs

May 31st marks World No Tobacco Day. The Theme for 2017 is “Tobacco – a threat to development.” According to WHO, “Tobacco control has been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Agenda. It is seen as one of the most effective means to help achieve SDG target 3.4 of a one-third reduction globally, by 2030, of premature deaths from  noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).” Control is also associated with positive environmental and anti-poverty outcomes.

It is ironic then that the tobacco plant itself may be modified to produce life saving anti-malarial medicines. Nature reported that because Artemisia annua produces a precursor of the compound, artemisinic acid, only in low quantities, it is expensive to grow.  Consequently, “a team led by Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm, Germany, inserted genes for artemisinic acid synthesis into tobacco plants’ chloroplasts — abundant organelles that have their own DNA. By adding ‘accessory genes’ that make artemisinic acid production more efficient, they created a line that pumps out 120 milligrams of artemisinic acid per kilogram of biomass.”

Science magazine followed up to report that although “several years ago researchers transplanted the drugmaking genes into yeast, allowing them to collect the compound from a microbial brew, the fermentation process is still relatively expensive.” Tobacco, on the other hand, is an “inexpensive, high-volume crop.” Inserting the right genes into tobacco, they noted, would enable “harvesting artemisinic acid from a plot of land 200 square kilometers—less area than a city the size of Boston—would provide enough artemisinin to meet the entire worldwide demand.”

Malhotra et al. discovered another novel approach that found that, “Partially purified extracts from the leaves of transgenic tobacco plants inhibited in vitro growth progression of Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells. Oral feeding of whole intact plant cells bioencapsulating the artemisinin reduced the parasitemia levels in challenged mice in comparison with commercial drug. Such novel synergistic approaches should facilitate low-cost production and delivery of artemisinin and other drugs through metabolic engineering of edible plants.”

Another approach looks at malaria vaccines. Beiss et al. note that malaria “transmission blocking vaccine (TBVs) need to be produced in large quantities at low cost.” They found a high level  transient expression in fresh leaves of Nicotiana benthamiana of an effective TBV candidate. Likewise Jones et al. demonstrated the potential of the new malaria vaccine candidate and also support feasibility of expressing Plasmodium antigens in Nicotiana benthamiana.

The American Cancer Society observed that most African Countries are in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic. This may be a good time to switch the production of tobacco on the continent from purveyor of cancer and NCDs to a ‘factory’ for producing malaria medicines. The sooner this can be done, the better since artemisinin  resistance is a growing threat.