The Weekly Tropical Health News 2019-06-29

Below we highlight some of the news we have shared on our Facebook Tropical Health Group page during the past week.

Polio Persists

If all it took to eradicate a disease was a well proven drug, vaccine or technology, we would not be still reporting on polio, measles and guinea worm, to name a few. In the past week Afghanistan reported 2 wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases, and Pakistan had 3 WPV1 cases. Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) was reported in Nigeria (1), DRC (4) and Ethiopia (3) from healthy community contacts.

Continued Ebola Challenges

In the seven days from Saturday to Friday (June 28) there were 71 newly confirmed Ebola Cases and 56 deaths reported by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health. As Ebola cases continue to pile up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with 12 more confirmed Thursday and 7 more Friday, a USAID official said four major donors have jump-started a new strategic plan for coordinating response efforts. To underscore the heavy toll the outbreak has caused, among its 2,284 cases, as noted on the World Health Organization Ebola dashboard today, are 125 infected healthcare workers, including 2 new ones, DRC officials said.

Pacific Standard explained the differences in Ebola outbreaks between DRC today and the West Africa outbreak of 2014-16. On the positive side are new drugs used in organized trials for the current outbreak. The most important factor is safe, effective vaccine that has been tested in 2014-16, but is now a standard intervention in the DRC. While both Liberia and Sierra Leone had health systems and political weaknesses as post-conflict countries, DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces are currently a war zone, effectively so for the past generation. Ebola treatment centers and response teams are being attacked. There are even cultural complications, a refusal to believe that Ebola exists. So even with widespread availability of improved technologies, teams may not be able to reach those in need.

To further complicate matters in the DRC, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) “highlighted ‘unprecedented’ multiple crises in the outbreak region in northeastern DRC. Ebola is coursing through a region that is also seeing the forced migration of thousands of people fleeing regional violence and is dealing with another epidemic. Moussa Ousman, MSF head of mission in the DRC, said, ‘This time we are seeing not only mass displacement due to violence but also a rapidly spreading measles outbreak and an Ebola epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down, all at the same time.’”

NIPAH and Bats

Like Ebola, NIPAH is zoonotic, and also involves bats, but the viruses differ. CDC explains that, “Nipah virus (NiV) is a member of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus. NiV was initially isolated and identified in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness among pig farmers and people with close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore. Its name originated from Sungai Nipah, a village in the Malaysian Peninsula where pig farmers became ill with encephalitis.

A recent human outbreak in southern India has been followed up with a study of local bats. In a report shared by ProMED, out of 36 Pteropus species bats tested for Nipah, 12 (33%) were found to be positive for anti-Nipah bat IgG antibodies. Unlike Ebola there are currently no experimental drugs or vaccines.

Climate Change and Dengue

Climate change is expected to heighten the threat of many neglected tropical diseases, especially arboviral infections. For example, the New York Times reports that increases in the geographical spread of dengue fever. Annually “there are 100 million cases of dengue infections severe enough to cause symptoms, which may include fever, debilitating joint pain and internal bleeding,” and an estimated 10,000 deaths. Dengue is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that also spread Zika and chikungunya. A study, published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, found that in a warming world there is a strong likelihood for significant expansion of dengue in the southeastern United States, coastal areas of China and Japan, as well as to inland regions of Australia. “Globally, the study estimated that more than two billion additional people could be at risk for dengue in 2080 compared with 2015 under a warming scenario.”

Schistosomiasis – MDA Is Not Enough, and Neither Are Supplementary Interventions

Schistosomiasis is one of the five neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are being controlled and potentially eliminated through mass drug administration (MDA) of preventive chemotherapy (PCT), in this case praziquantel. In The Lancet Knopp et al. reported that biannual MDA substantially reduced Schistosomiasis haematobium prevalence and infection intensity but was insufficient to interrupt transmission in Zanzibar. In addition, neither supplementary snail control or behaviour change activities did not significantly boost the effect of MDA. Most MDA programs focus on school aged children, and so other groups in the community who have regular water contact would not be reached. Water and sanitation activities also have limitations. This raises the question about whether control is acceptable for public health, or if there needs to be a broader intervention to reach elimination?

Trachoma on the Way to Elimination

Speaking of elimination, WHO has announced major “sustained progress” on trachoma efforts. “The number of people at risk of trachoma – the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness – has fallen from 1.5 billion in 2002 to just over 142 million in 2019, a reduction of 91%.” Trachoma is another NTD that uses the MDA strategy.

The news about NTDs from Dengue to Schistosomiasis to Trachoma is complicated and demonstrates that putting diseases together in a category does not result in an easy choice of strategies. Do we control or eliminate or simply manage illness? Can our health systems handle the needs for disease elimination? Is the public ready to get on board?

Malaria Updates

And concerning being complicated, malaria this week again shows many facets of challenges ranging from how to recognize and deal with asymptomatic infection to preventing reintroduction of the disease once elimination has been achieved. Several reports this week showed the particular needs for malaria intervention ranging from high burden areas to low transmission verging on elimination to preventing re-introduction in areas declared free from the disease.

In South West, Nigeria Dokunmu et al. studied 535 individuals aged from 6 months were screened during the epidemiological survey evaluating asymptomatic transmission. Parasite prevalence was determined by histidine-rich protein II rapid detection kit (RDT) in healthy individuals. They found that, “malaria parasites were detected by RDT in 204 (38.1%) individuals. Asymptomatic infection was detected in 117 (57.3%) and symptomatic malaria confirmed in 87 individuals (42.6%).

Overall, detectable malaria by RDT was significantly higher in individuals with symptoms (87 of 197/44.2%), than asymptomatic persons (117 of 338/34.6%)., p = 0.02. In a sub-set of 75 isolates, 18(24%) and 14 (18.6%) individuals had Pfmdr1 86Y and 1246Y mutations. Presence of mutations on Pfmdr1 did not differ by group. It would be useful for future study to look at the effect of interventions such as bednet coverage. While Southwest Nigeria is a high burden area, the problem of asymptomatic malaria will become an even bigger challenge as prevalence reduces and elimination is in sight.

Sri Lanka provides a completely different challenge from high burden areas. There has been no local transmission of malaria in Sri Lanka for 6 years following elimination of the disease in 2012. Karunasena et al. report the first case of introduced vivax malaria in the country by diagnosing malaria based on microscopy and rapid diagnostic tests. “The imported vivax malaria case was detected in a foreign migrant followed by a Plasmodium vivax infection in a Sri Lankan national who visited the residence of the former. The link between the two cases was established by tracing the occurrence of events and by demonstrating genetic identity between the parasite isolates. Effective surveillance was conducted, and a prompt response was mounted by the Anti Malaria Campaign. No further transmission occurred as a result.”

Bangladesh has few but focused areas of malaria transmission and hopes to achieve elimination of local transmission by 2030. A particular group for targeting interventions is the population of slash and burn cultivators in the Rangamati District. Respondents in this area had general knowledge about malaria transmission and modes of prevention and treatment was good according to Saha and the other authors. “However, there were some gaps regarding knowledge about specific aspects of malaria transmission and in particular about the increased risk associated with their occupation. Despite a much-reduced incidence of malaria in the study area, the respondents perceived the disease as life-threatening and knew that it needs rapid attention from a health worker. Moreover, the specific services offered by the local community health workers for malaria diagnosis and treatment were highly appreciated. Finally, the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITN) was considered as important and this intervention was uniformly stated as the main malaria prevention method.”

Kenya offers some lessons about low transmission areas but also areas where transmission may increase due to climate change. A matched case–control study undertaken in the Western Kenya highlands. Essendi et al. recruited clinical malaria cases from health facilities and matched to asymptomatic individuals from the community who served as controls in order to identify epidemiological risk factors for clinical malaria infection in the highlands of Western Kenya.

“A greater percentage of people in the control group without malaria (64.6%) used insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) compared to the families of malaria cases (48.3%). Low income was the most important factor associated with higher malaria infections (adj. OR 4.70). Houses with open eaves was an important malaria risk factor (adj OR 1.72).” Other socio-demographic factors were examined. The authors stress the need to use local malaria epidemiology to more effectively targeted use of malaria control measures.

The key lesson arising from the forgoing studies and news is that disease control needs strong global partnerships but also local community investment and adaptation of strategies to community characteristics and culture.

The Weekly Tropical Health News Update 2019-06-22

For almost 20 years we have been maintaining an email list where current news and articles have been shared with those interested in tropical health and malaria. The listserve host we have been using is changing to a paid model. While there are still some free listserve options, these are cumbersome to produce. Since we are already maintaining this blog, we thought it best to provide a weekly summary of key news events through this medium.

Mapping Plasmodium Vivax

The Malaria Atlas Project has published in The Lancet a global burden of Plasmodium Vivax mapping study. The authors describe the contribution of this study as: “Our study highlights important spatial and temporal patterns in the clinical burden and prevalence of P vivax. Amid substantial progress worldwide, plateauing gains and areas of increased burden signal the potential for challenges that are greater than expected on the road to malaria elimination. These results support global monitoring systems and can inform the optimisation of diagnosis and treatment where P vivax has most impact.”

Ebola Spread from DRC to Uganda

Since the major ongoing outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) started nearly a year ago, there has been concern that the disease might spread to neighboring countries like Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. This fear same true recently when a family affected by Ebola crossed from DRC into Uganda to connect with relatives in Kasese District Uganda. Uganda has had many years’ experience dealing with Ebola and was able to contain the situation.

A press release this week noted that, “As of today (21 June 2019), Uganda has not registered any new confirmed Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) case in Kasese District or any other part of Uganda since the last registered case one week ago. There are no new suspect cases under admission. Currently, 110 contacts to the confirmed Ebola cases in Kagando and Bwera are being followed up daily. A total of 456 individuals have been vaccinated against EVD using the Ebola-rVSV vaccine in Kasese District, Western Uganda.”

Although many people expected that the meeting of the “International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee} for Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would finally declare the current outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) because it crossed a border, the result was noting that the challenge was still an emergency only for DRC. WHO did note that there were serious funding gaps and support from other countries for the DRC’s predicament. Ironically, such gaps make it more likely that Ebola can spread more widely.

As of 21 June 2019, the DRC reported a total of 2,211 cases since the start of the epidemic last year, of which 2,117 have been confirmed and 94 are probable. There have been 1,489 deaths. To date 139,027 persons have been vaccine with the Merck rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine.

Progress toward Eliminating Malaria – the E-2020 Countries

The process of eliminating malaria from the world needs to start in a step-by-step fashion. WHO explained that, “Creating a malaria-free world is a bold and important public health and sustainable development goal. It is also the vision of the Global technical strategy for malaria 2016-2030, which calls for the elimination of malaria in at least 10 countries by the year 2020.”

Actually, WHO identified 21 countries, spanning 5 regions, that could defeat malaria by 2020. The progress report charts the effort. During the recent World Health Assembly two countries received recognition for being certified malaria-free, Argentina and Algeria. This week WHO also announced that 5 more countries have not had malaria cases in the past year. There was also release of a downloadable report on progress toward the 2020 target for selected countries.

Reconsidering Yaws Eradication

In the 1950s and 1960s the world focused on the possibility of eradicating Yaws through screening and treatment interventions. Like the early malaria eradication programs from the same period, the Yaws effort slowed, stopped and experienced a resurgence. The Telegraph reported that, “Between 1952 and 1964, Unicef and the WHO screened some 300 million people for the illness, in a coordinated programme which treated more than 50 million cases. Yaws was on the brink of being wiped out and reports of the disease dropped by 95 per cent.” WHO continues to work on treatment strategies with azithromycin and for resistant cases, benzathine benzylpenicillin injection.

WHO noted that there were 80,472 cases reported in 2018, although this figure is likely to be much higher in actuality. The challenge of case detection exists but may be overcome, according to the Telegraph with a new molecular rapid diagnostic test which detects yaws within 30 minutes, and thus could allow on-the-spot diagnosis in remote regions.

Measles Cases Continue to Increase

The problem of measles in the DRC may not be receiving much attention because of the Ebola epidemic. Ironically, Outbreak News Today reports that, “In a follow-up on the measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UN health officials report an additional 7500 suspect cases in the past 2 weeks, bringing the total cases since the beginning of the year to 106,870. The death toll due to the measles outbreak has reached 1815 deaths (case fatality ratio 1.7%).”

Vaccine coverage challenges in the DRC result from health systems weaknesses. Unfortunately, a global study has shown that increasing cases in the Global North are not due to weak systems, but ‘vaccine hesitancy.’ The Guardian reports that a global survey has revealed the scale of the crisis of confidence in vaccines in Europe, “showing that only 59% of people in western Europe and 50% in the east think vaccines are safe, compared with 79% worldwide.” The Guardian observes that, “In spite of good healthcare and education systems, in parts of Europe there is low trust in vaccines. France has the highest levels of distrust, at 33%.”

For more news and daily updates check our other services, a closed/private Facebook Group and a Twitter feed. For those who do not use social media, please check here each weekend to find a summary of some of the stories we have shared during the week.

Refugees and Malaria

The 2019 Theme of World Refugee Day is #StepWithRefugees – Take A Step on World Refugee Day. Taking steps in solidarity with refugees ensures that one recognizes that refugees experience several health problems, with malaria being especially devastating. Refugees may come from a malaria endemic area and move to one where there is no malaria and health workers may not recognize and treat it correctly. In contrast they may move from a non-endemic area into one with malaria transmission. Even if refugees move from one malarious area to another, the conditions of the camps where they shelter may lead to increased malaria morbidity and mortality.

In fact, Jamie Anderson and colleagues observe that, “Almost two-thirds of refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and other persons affected by humanitarian emergencies live in malaria endemic regions. Malaria remains a significant threat to the health of these populations.” They found that, “an average of 1.18 million refugees resided in 60 refugee sites within nine countries with at least 50 cases of malaria per 1000 refugees during the study period 2008-2009,” a major disease burden. According to the authors, groups like UNHCR and the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets aim to increase LLIN coverage of vulnerable groups in emergency situations.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance to health staff in the United States who may encounter refugees coming from a malaria endemic country. These guidelines look at appropriate treatment regimens for either pre-travel or on arrival presumptive treatment. They address the challenges of sub-clinical disease, as well as testing and treatment for people with symptoms. Likewise, the Refugee Technical Assistance Center stresses the need for, “All refugees from malaria endemic areas, including those who have been presumptively treated for P. falciparum, should be tested for malaria if they develop clinical signs or symptoms of the disease.” Stefan Collinet-Adler et al. found that “Overseas presumptive therapy has greater cost-benefits than U.S. based screening and treatment strategies.”

The challenge of refugees moving from one endemic country, such as Burundi, to another was highlighted by MSF staff in Tanzania. Saschveen Singh reported that she, “was well versed in the emergency management of these cases from my previous training and from reading all the MSF clinical guidelines. But it was quite overwhelming to see how many admissions we had on the wards, and to see the outpatient area absolutely overflowing with patients with malarious fevers, and the number of our Burundian staff succumbing to the disease. With malaria, the worst of the worst cases are sadly always children.”

A few years ago, the US President’s Malaria Initiative in Kenya contributed to indoor residual spraying at a refugee camp. “Malaria has also been a recurrent problem in Kakuma Refugee Camp, particularly following large-scale population influxes from South Sudan, where malaria is endemic. Both ITNs and IRS have been used historically for malaria prevention in the camp along with prompt, effective case management for persons diagnosed with malaria. With the pyrethroid donation from PMI-Kenya, NRC implemented a successful IRS program,” covering an estimated 143,000 people.

It is encouraging to note that many agencies, international and domestic, and not just those specializing in refugee needs, lend a hand guaranteeing that refugees have a right to basic malaria prevention and treatment.

Malaria – an old disease attacking the young population of Kenya

Wambui Waruingi recently described her experiences working on malaria in Kenya on the site, “Social, Cultural & Behavioral Issues in PHC & Global Health.” Her thoughts and lessons are found below.

Malaria is an old disease, and not unfamiliar to the people of Lwala, Migori county, Nyanza province, situated in Kenya, East Africa. The most vulnerable are pregnant women and young children.The Lwala Community Alliance have reduced the rate of under 5 mortality to 20% of what it was 10 years ago, and about 30% of what it is in Migori county (reported 29 deaths/ 1000 in 2018) https://lwala.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Lwala-2018-Annual-Report.pdf

Of the scourges that remain, malaria is one of them.

Malaria is caused by a protozoal species called Plasmodium spp; the most severe is Plasmodium falciparum, the predominant type in the region.It’s life cycle exemplifies evolution at it’s most sophisticated, albeit vulnerable, needing two hosts of different species to complete it’s life cycle, the mosquito, and mammalian species in stages of asexual then asexual reproduction respectively. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/malaria/symptoms-causes/syc-20351184https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/index.html

The mosquito types responsible for malaria in the area are A. gambiae spp and A. arabiensis spp. To complete it’s life cycle, the mosquito requires water, or an aquatic environment to develop it’s larvae. This insect therefore seeks to lay it’s eggs in pools of fresh water, abundant in the area due to Lake Victoria, and important source of the local staple fish, and areas of underdeveloped grassland surrounding the lake and village. https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2875-9-62

WHO reported 219 million cases of malaria world wide, with 435,000 deaths in the same year. In this day and age, malaria remains burdensome in 11 countries, 10 of them being in Africa. WHO recommends a focused response. https:// who.int/malaria/en/. I advocate a focus on prevention by eradicating mosquitoes and episodes of mosquito bites in the region. WHO vector control guidelines run along the idea of chemical and biological larvicides, topical repellents,and personal protective measures, such as bed nets, wearing long sleeves and pants (hard to do in the heat of Migori), bug spray and insecticide treated nets. These are effective.

In the area, mosquitoes capitalize on both daytime and nighttime feeding. Lwala benefits from a mosquito net distribution program so there is at least 1 net/ per household and a coverage of about 95%, https://lwala.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Lwala-2018-Annual-Report.pdf, but there is an average of 5.5 individuals per household,
file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/Migori%20County.pdf , so it conceivable that not all children under 5 currently sleep under a net.

Let’s start by making sure they do by scaling up this program, so that the number of nets corresponds with the number of individuals per household.

Lwala is an active community, and while use of nets will eliminate night feeders such as A. gambiae , little children will be susceptible to mosquito bites given that they are outdoors nearly daily helping with activities such as fishing, goat herding, fetching water and so forth. That is why active programs for mosquito eradication make so much sense in the region. While promoting personal prevention measures such as the use of “bugspray” containing effective substances such as DEET, efforts by the Bill and Melissa gates foundation, through the Malaria R&D (research and development) active since 2004, have devoted over $323 million dollars, about 20% ($50.4 million) of which has gone to the Innovative Vector Control Consortium, (IVCC) led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The aim is to fast track improved insecticides, both biological and chemical, and other measures of vector control. I suggest that partnership with the IVCC be scaled up in the area, allowing Lwala to be first line in any benefits thereof. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2010/11/IVCC-Develops-New-Public-Health-Insecticides, https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2005/10/Gates-Foundation-Commits-2583-Million-for-Malaria-Research

Finally, it’s official. Research endorses use of nets and indoor residual spraying as an effective way to reduce malaria density. https://malariajournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12936-016-1214-9. This should be coupled with house improvement, since much of traditional and poverty-maintained materials, allow environments in which the mosquito can hide, to come out later to feed, and even breed. In Migori county, 72% of the homes have earth floors, 76% have corrugated roofs, and 21% have grass-thatched roofs. file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/Migori%20County.pdf

All these promote a healthy habitat for the mosquito during the rainy season, and easy entry and hiding places all year round. Funding to improve house types so that locally-sourced but sturdy, water-proof homes can be built, will eliminate opportunities for the mosquito to access and bite young children.

Let’s get stakeholders vested in this effective, yet economical way to address malaria deaths in the youngest children. Starting now, funding should be diverted from costly treatments with ever mounting resistance patterns, to causing extinction of the Anopheles mosquito in Migori county. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”http://drjarodhalldpt.blogspot.com/2018/02/an-ounce-of-prevention-is-worth-pound.html

Will the Malaria vaccine be a game changer? Too early to call in Malawi

Erin Fleming has recently posted a perspective on the new malaria vaccine intervention testing at “Social, Cultural & Behavioral Issues in PHC & Global Health.” See her observations below. Malaria is one of the world’s deadliest diseases. In Malawi, it is endemic across 95 percent of the country and is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality across all ages, and has a disproportionate impact on children under 5. In collaboration with many international partners such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Malawian Ministry of Health’s Malaria Control Program has been combating malaria for years by scaling up distribution of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women (IPTp) using sulfoxide-pyrimethamine (SP), and insecticide-treated net (ITNs) based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) malaria guidelines and national level policies. But now, they may potentially have another tool to add to their existing package of services, a malaria vaccine!
Moms waiting for the malaria vaccine for their children in Malawi.
On April 23, 2019, Malawi, 1 of 3 countries selected for the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) pilot rolled out RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) – also known as Mosquirix , as part of their routine immunization for children under 5. It has been met with great excitement, as early speculation is that the vaccine could be a gamechanger in the fight against malaria. But there is still a way to go, four years to be exact after the completion of the pilot and research, before we know for sure. IF the pilot findings present positive results, i.e. higher levels of efficacy and effectiveness, does not have any severe adverse health effects, and can be incorporated into national immunization programs, then yes, we may have on our hands a new control to help reduce severe malaria morbidity and mortality in children under 5 in a significant way. Now, despite my excitement regarding the potential impact RTS,S could have on malaria on childhood morbidity and mortality, it is too soon to tell. I am supportive of the vaccine pilot and the potential inclusion into policies and see the life changing benefits for patients, but with reservations. And, perhaps I am taking a more conservative stance based on my experience working and living in sub-Saharan Africa, seeing firsthand some of the systemic issues (i.e. lack of human resources, funding, poor infrastructure – in particular supply chain management, and government commitment) that continue to plague the efforts being made to improve health service delivery – all of which directly impacts routine immunization programs. That said, I’m eager to see what the pilot results yield, in particular as it relates to the economic and operational feasibility of implementation in low-income countries who are the hardest hit by malaria. But while we wait, we must not lose track of continuing to implement existing prevention approaches and enforcing adherence to treatment guidelines, especially as we know malaria is on the rise again in Malawi, and around the world. There still needs to be significant increases of support and investment from cooperating governments and international stakeholders in improved surveillance systems and research on some of the challenges we’re encountering with existing methodologies, i.e. increased insecticide and anti-malarial drug resistance, and the biggest “unknown” of them all, how climate change will impact the mosquito burden and potentially increase the reach of this deadly disease globally.

A Mothers’ Day Wish: Lifesaving Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Supplies

Eyelachew Desta shares thoughts as a guest blogger in time for Mothers’ Day. Concern is expressed  about ensuring increased access for low cost essential lifesaving Maternal newborn and child health supplies in Ethiopia. This posting appeared originally at Social & Cultural Basis for Community and Primary Health Programs. Can you imagine? At this time of Mother’s Day celebration, there are thousands of  women living in low income country , unlucky to be a mother to enjoy the celebration of mother’s day because of preventable  birth complications due to lack of  accesses to  essential   low cost medicines and  commodities necessary for maternal, Child and New born Health. One of these low-income countries is Ethiopia where maternal and child mortality is still high. According to an analysis published by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC), a quarter of all deaths between 2009 and 2013  occurred in Ethiopia are maternal mortality. This study indicated  “postpartum hemorrhage (PPH)— uncontrolled bleeding after childbirth—and preeclampsia/eclampsia (PP/E)- a condition which causes high blood pressure and seizures during pregnancy”, among others, are the two leading causes of maternal deaths in Ethiopia ,could be treated by low cost and effective  medicines, Oxytocin and Misoprostol.
See Photo Credit for UNICEF
The availability of accessible, reliable and low cost essential maternal health commodities is indispensable to address maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia. However according to an assessment  study conducted in Ethiopia, there are gaps in the supply chain management of commodities for maternal, neonatal, and child health. According to this study one of these gaps is  “The supply chain system for MNCH commodities is inconsistent and has not been integrated into the Integrated Pharmaceutical Logistics System (IPLS)” of Ethiopia. Further the study indicated that family planning, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria have been included in this IPLS, but not MNCH commodities. This study also identified that  there is a lack of common understanding at lower level of the health system about the national policy and protocols  as well as its implementation to provide MNCH services and commodities free of charge at primary health care units. To address these gaps, there is a need of immediate actions as well as strong commitment among all stakeholders involved and engaged in the funding, monitoring, regulating and administering the logistic supply of MNCH commodities in Ethiopia. The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) should develop a strategy to provide continues education and training at all levels of the health system about its policy of provision of MNCH services and commodities free of charge at primary health care units , ensure policy protocols are implemented properly. In addition to these the FMOH should strengthen its monitoring system to identify gaps in the implementation of the MNCH services and commodities policy and take measures to narrow those gaps. The Ethiopia Pharmaceuticals Fund and Supply Agency should revise its Integrated Pharmaceutical Logistics System (IPLS) to insure MNCH commodities are integrated in the system by 2020. Ultimately international donors like USAID needs to continue and strengthen their financial and technical support to the overall MNCH program of Ethiopia .

HPV Vaccine in South Africa – Don’t Forget the Private Schools

Ramatsobane Johanna Ledwaba provides us with a guest blog to address the need to reach more school aged girls with vaccines for human papilloma (HPV) virus in South Africa and in the process prevent cervical cancer. Her blog originally appeared in Social, Cultural & Behavioral Issues in PHC & Global Health. Cervical cancer is the first most common cancer in women and the first leading cancer related-deaths among South African women, aged 15-44 years. More that 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, of which 5,500 die from cancer— age-specific incidence rate (15-44 years) of 41.8 per 100,000 women per year and age-specific mortality rate (15-44 years) of 11,7 per 100,000 women per year. Reasons for such a high mortality rate include, low screening coverage of 19.3%, and late presentation with an advanced stage compounded by the high HIV epidemic. The World Health Organization recommends a 2-dose HPV vaccination among girls of 9-13 years. In 2014, the South African National Department of Health introduced a school-based HPV vaccination policy— using 2-dose Cervarix vaccine, as prevention for cervical cancer among girls aged 9 and above in grade 4 attending public schools. The policy aimed to vaccinate 500, 000 young girls from 18,000 public schools before their sexual debut.
HPV vaccine campaign poster distributed by the Department of Health. Source: Government Communication and Information System
Preliminary data showed that 91% of schools were reached and 87% age eligible grade 4 girls were vaccinated, however there is a high dropout rate in the second dose. Although the programme seems a success thus far, there is a need for expanded coverage of the vaccine to include higher grades that could potentially house girls of ages 11-13 years. In addition, the vaccine must be widely available at public health facilities for girls who were missed at school because they changed schools or dropped out. Girls attending private schools are presumed to access HPV vaccine through the private health sector, however the HPV vaccine coverage in the private health sector remains low due to high costs and lack of awareness— which suggest that there is low coverage in private schools. Therefore, the vaccine must be expanded to include private schools. This gap may lead to poor coverage of HPV vaccination and may also increase perceptions or hesitancy against the vaccine because it is not widely available for all girls of targeted age. No girl must be left behind.

Zero Malaria Starts with Universal Coverage: Part 3 Innovations and New Interventions

Newer malaria interventions are coming on board, and whether these will be used of a large scale or targeted to certain epidemiological contexts remains to be seen. In each case, one will need to examine if in each context one can measure whether the intervention is universally accessible to and used by the intended population or subgroup.

After 30 years of research and testing, a malaria vaccine is ready to go through implementation testing in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya. This pilot of the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age with the Malawi launching first during the week of World Malaria Day.

WHO explains that, “The malaria vaccine pilot aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries. Ministries of health will determine where the vaccine will be given; they will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact.” There will be a strong monitoring component to identify coverage levels as well as any implementation challenges and adverse effects that may only become visible in a larger scale intervention that the typical efficacy trials. Implementation is occurring in areas with a relatively strong existing malaria control effort, with an intent to learn how a vaccine can complement a total control package.

Mass Drug Administration (MDA, also known as preventive chemotherapy) has been a successful strategy for controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases with special reference to onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, soil transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis. MDA use in malaria has been limited due to a number of financial and logistical challenges, not the least of which is the need to achieve high coverage over several periods of distribution. This is why WHO recommends, “Use of MDA for the elimination of P. falciparum malaria can be considered in areas approaching interruption of transmission where there is good access to treatment, effective implementation of vector control and surveillance, and a minimal risk of re-introduction of infection.”

Another link with MDA for a different disease, onchocerciasis, has pointed to a potential new malaria intervention. Around ten years ago it was observed that after ivermectin treatment for onchocerciasis in Senegal survivorship of malaria vectors was reduced. Subsequently the potential effect of ivermectin has been intentionally researched with the outcome that, “Frequently repeated mass administrations of ivermectin during the malaria transmission season can reduce malaria episodes among children without significantly increasing harms in the populace.” Mathematical models for onchocerciasis control have predicted the need to achieve annual coverage targets below what could be called universal levels. Using ivermectin for mosquito control would require more frequent dosing and higher coverage.

Although not defined as ‘new’ it is important to include mention of additional vector interventions like larviciding and indoor residual spraying, as these present technical and coverage challenges. For example, larviciding interventions either chemical or biological, do not cover individuals. These focus on breeding sites in communities. This may require better use of the concept of geographical coverage as has been used in onchocerciasis control wherein the proportion of endemic villages reached is monitored.

For example, in Mali the NTD program aimed to achieve 80% program coverage of individuals eligible for preventive chemotherapy and 100% geographical coverage yearly. This means all villages should be reached. In reality, the program achieved 85% geographical coverage for lymphatic filariasis and over 90% for onchocerciasis.

In conclusion, we have seen that defining as well as achieving universal coverage of malaria interventions is a challenging prospect. For example, do we base our monitoring on households, villages, or populations? Do we have the funds and technical capacity to implement and sustain the level of coverage required to have an impact on malaria transmission and move toward elimination? Are we able to introduce new, complimentary and appropriate interventions as a country moves closer to elimination?

Zero Malaria Starts with Universal Coverage: Part 2 Preventive and Curative Treatments

April hosts several important global health days or observances. On World Health Day 2019 WHO stressed that, “Universal health coverage (UHC) is WHO’s number one goal. Key to achieving it is ensuring that everyone can obtain the care they need, when they need it, right in the heart of the community.” Nationwide monitoring through the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the Malaria Indicator Surveys (MIS) and the Multi-Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) can document the status of appropriate malaria treatment and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnant women (IPTp).

Definitions of indicators have evolved for treatment-related malaria interventions. When Intermittent Preventive Treatment for pregnant women (IPTp) began in the early 2000s, the recommended dosing was twice during pregnancy after the first trimester one month apart in high and/or stable transmission areas. Due to lessening efficacy of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP), the dosage recommendation has changed to at least three times, still a month apart from the beginning of the second trimester.

This updated policy was broadcast widely between 2012 and 2013, but it took countries some time to build capacity and scale up for the expanded coverage goals. UNICEF Data5 again show that between 2014 and 2017 coverage was far below either 80% of pregnant women, let alone reaching them universally (Figure 2). Most countries achieved 30% or less coverage. Zambia at 50% was the highest. Low coverage leaves both pregnant women and the unborn child at risk for anemia and death in the former and low birth weight, still birth or miscarriage for the latter. The World Malaria Report of 2018 estimates that three doses of IPTp were received by only 22% of pregnant women in the target countries in 2017.

The concept of IPT was investigated for infants and children during by a consortium of researchers in several African Countries. It was found that IPTi with SP could have a positive effect on preventing malaria. To operationalize this concept, the World Health Organization developed what is known as Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) that would be delivered in the Sahel region of West Africa where malaria transmission itself is seasonal and where there are some countries with very low transmission with implications for malaria elimination.

The SMC delivery process was not linked to immunization but provided by community health workers and volunteers. SP and Amodiaquine (SP-AQ) were used in combination and provided monthly, three or four times during the rainy/high transmission season. Coverage was targeted at children below school age. It is only recently that SMC has been scaled up to reach all eligible countries or states and regions within designated countries.

WHO states that SMC focuses on, “children aged 3–59 months (and) reduces the incidence of clinical attacks and severe malaria by about 75%.” In some countries the coverage is extended to primary school aged children, making comparisons and calculations of coverage (universal por otherwise) challenging.

The World Malaria Report of 2018 notes that, “In 2017, 15.7 million children in 12 countries in Africa’s Sahel subregion were protected through seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) programs. However, about 13.6 million children who could have benefited from this intervention were not covered, mainly due to a lack of funding.” This implies that 54% of eligible children were reached.  Coverage of SMC can refer to receiving any of the doses or as having received all the monthly doses offered by a nation’s malaria control program. Specifically, the World Malaria Report 2018 drew on surveys in 7 countries that provided 4 monthly doses to determine that 53% of children received all doses.

Determining coverage for malaria treatment for sick people is not as straightforward as finding out the numbers who slept under an ITN or swallowed IPTp doses, and even those are not simple. As defined, correct treatment first consists of parasitological diagnosis, which at the primary care level could be by microscopy or rapid diagnostic test (RDT). The next issue is treating only those with positive tests. Finally, the treatment must consist of age- or weight-specific doses of an approved artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) drug. Very few clinic records or surveys document whether the treatment given is ‘correct’ by these standards.

WHO addresses the need for achieving universal access to malaria diagnostic testing and notes this will not be easy. They provide a successful example of Senegal, where following the introduction of malaria RDTs in 2007, malaria diagnostic testing rates rose rapidly from 4% to 86% (by 2009). Logistics, funding, training and supportive supervision complicate implementation.

UNICEF Data report that performance of malaria diagnostics in febrile children in surveys between 2014-17 was approximately 30% on average for countries with national surveys within that time frame (Figure 3). Only 4 countries achieved 50% or better. Most surveys then go on to report the number of febrile children who received ACTs, but do not necessary indicate how many who were correctly diagnoses were given ACTs vs those who received ACT but did not receive a test or tested negative.

The Nigeria 2015 Malaria Indicator Survey Illustrates this dilemma. Among 2600 children who reported having a fever in the two weeks preceding the survey, 66.1% sought advice (or care). Overall, 12.6% of febrile children received a diagnostic test as defined in the question as to whether the child was stuck on the finger or heel to obtain blood. Among the febrile children 37.6% reportedly were given some type of antimalarial drug. Overall 15.5% of febrile children were given an ACT. Even if ACTs were given only to tested children, not all tests would have been positive.

The overall implication of measuring treatment without a link to testing is that if more children receive any, let alone the correct drugs, is that evidence for actual presence of disease. We have a long way to go to measure malaria treatment coverage correctly, not to mention achieving universal coverage with appropriate treatment. Different malaria treatment-related interventions with different steps and different target groups in different regions of Africa and the World make defining, no less achieving UHC, a huge challenge.

Zero Malaria Starts with Universal Coverage: Part 1 Nets

WHO says, “Malaria elimination and universal health coverage go hand in hand,” at a special event during the 72st World Health Assembly. To achieve zero malaria, the goal of involving everyone from the policy maker to the community member must have a focus on achieving universal health coverage (UHC) of all malaria interventions ranging from insecticide treated bednets (ITNs) to appropriate provision of malaria diagnostics and medicines. Many of the studies to date have focused on ITNs, which include long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs), but nationwide monitoring through the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the Malaria Indicator Surveys (MIS) and the Multi-Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS).

UNICEF’s website provides a data repository that includes the most recent DHS, MIS and MICS survey data per country between 2014 and 2017. For the indicator of one ITN per to people in a household, shows Angola at only 13%, most countries for which recent data are available reached between 40-50%. Only two achieved above 60% on a point-in-time survey, Uganda at 62% and Sao Tome and Principe at 95%. The website shows information that where there were multiple surveys in a country during the period, there were variations, sometimes quite wide, over the years. Aside from the fact that the surveys may have had slightly different procedures, the problem remains of achieving and sustaining UHC for ITNs.

Another factor that affects maintaining UHC for ITNs, assuming the target can be met is the durability of nets. The physical integrity as well as the insecticide efficacy can decline over time. Intact nets may lose their insecticide through improper washing and drying, yet still prevent mosquito bites to the individual sleeping under them. Nets with holes may still maintain a minimal level of effective insecticide and may not fully prevent bites but ultimately kill the mosquito that flies through. Researchers in Senegal have been grappling with these challenges.

Program managers must themselves grapple with whether such compromised nets count toward universal coverage as well as how often to conduct net replacement campaigns. A report from community surveys in Uganda during 2017 found that, “Long-lasting insecticidal net ownership and coverage have reduced markedly in Uganda since the last net distribution campaign in 2013/14.” UHC for ITNs is always a moving target.

A frequently unaddressed issue in seeking to improve ITN coverage is whether it makes a difference in malaria disease. A study in Malawi reported that although ITNs per household increased from 1.1 in 2012 to 1.4 in 2014, the prevalence of malaria in children increased over the period from 28% to 32%. The authors surmised that factors such as insecticide resistance, irregular ITN use and inadequate coordinated use of other malaria control interventions may have influenced the results. This shows that UHC for ITNs cannot be viewed in isolation.

This brings up the issue of the role of the many different vector control measures available. Researchers in Côte d’ Ivoire examined the use of eave nets and window screening. At present eave nets are mainly deployed in research contexts but use of window and door screening and netting are a commercially available interventions that households employ on their own. One wonders then whether UHC should focus on how the household and the people therein are protected by any malaria vector intervention.

Here the discussion should focus on the question raised by colleagues in the USAID/PMI Vectorworks Project. WHO declared a goal of universal ITN coverage in 2009 using the target f one ITN/LLIN for every two household members. Vectorworks found that a decade on only one instance of a country briefly achieving 80% of this UHC net target, whereas no others reached above 60%. In fact, the bigger the household, the less chance there was of meeting the two people for one ITN target. Just because people live in a household that has the requisite number of nets, does not guarantee the actual target for sleeping under a net can be achieved because of practical or cultural realities in a household. Neither the minimal indicator of having at least one net in a household, or the ideal or ‘perfect’ indicator of UHC are satisfactory for judging population protection.

The Vectorworks team suggests that, “Population ITN access indicator is a far better indicator of ‘universal coverage’ because it is based on individual people,” and can be compared to, “The proportion of the population that used an ITN the previous night, which enables detailed analysis of specific behavioral gaps nationally as well as among population subgroups.” Population access to ITNs therefore, provides a batter basis for more realistic policies and strategies.

We have seen that defining as well as achieving universal coverage of malaria interventions is a challenging prospect. For example, do we base our monitoring on households or populations? Do we have the funds and technical capacity to implement and sustain the level of coverage required to have an impact on malaria transmission and move toward elimination? Are we able to introduce new, complimentary and appropriate interventions as a country moves closer to elimination?

A useful perspective would be determination if households and individuals even benefit from any part of the malaria package, even if everyone does not have access and utilize all components. This may be why zero malaria has to start with each person living in endemic areas.