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Our meeting with the PM


Last week I met with the Australian PM Julia Gillard, to discuss the Global Poverty Project's call to make the eradication of polio a priority issue at the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) being held in Perth this year.

I handed the Prime Minister a letter signed by over 700  Australians, outlining 10 reasons Australia should step up their efforts to eradicate this debilitating disease.

This meeting is the first of many taking place this year around the country (and the world) focused on the eradication of polio – a cause which has been making considerable progress since Australian Rotarians commenced their global eradication push in 1979.

Since then, we have seen incidences of the disease reduced by 99%, and the number of polio-endemic countries reduced to just 4 countries worldwide. We are now in a position where we could see this disease eliminated entirely by 2014. As I discussed with the Prime Minister last week; arguments in favour of eradication have never been more compelling. While the cost of health and vaccination investments needed to eliminate polio is estimated at $710 million, the cost of maintaining polio cases at current levels for the next 20 years is predicted to be $10 billion. Moreover, according to the World Health Organisation, if the goal of eradication were to be abandoned and replaced with that of containment, the number of cases of polio recorded could increase from 1,300 to as many as 250,000 per year.

An Australian commitment to eradication would be significant for a number of reasons. not only will it protect future generations from the paralysis, disability and death caused by this preventable disease, but it would also demonstrate  the investment value of foreign aid – highlighting the life-changing impact aid dollars have and emphasising the importance of our foreign aid program.

This was something that particularly hit a chord with the Prime Minister. Reflecting on a conversation she had recently with Melinda Gates, and recent media coverage - the Prime Minister agreed that it was important to highlight the positive impact of our foreign aid investment. With many leaders from developing countries expected to be present at this October’s CHOGM meeting, the Prime Minister said she was interested in CHOGM having a clear development focus, and said she would consider  including  polio eradication as an agenda item to be considered by  Commonwealth leaders at the meeting. It is my belief that with focused efforts and continued public attention on this important issue, we can build on the incredible efforts of Australian Rotarians since 1979, and create the momentum and public pressure needed for world leaders to make a commitment to eradicate polio from our world within 3 years.

As Bono once said “we can’t blame the politicians because we have to give them permission to spend what is in the end our money.”

This is why the Global Poverty Project, in partnership with countless Rotary clubs and districts around Australia, are embarking on an education and advocacy campaign in the lead up to this October’s CHOGM meeting, to raise public awareness about the unprecedented opportunity we have to see an End to Polio.

Globally, we stand on the cusp of a historic event. If eradicated, polio would be only the second disease to be eradicated from our world in the history of humanity. We now have the chance to finish what Australian Rotarians started in 1979 – and we look to leadership by the Commonwealth in bringing this about.

To join the Global Poverty Project’s campaign to End Polio, sign up below. Michael Sheldrick is the Australian Campaign Manager for the Global Poverty Project, an education and advocacy organisation  focused on ensuring both the public and private sectors in OECD nations take action to contribute to the end of extreme poverty.

Posted by Michael Sheldrick - Polio Campaign Manager in Poverty, Global Health, Aid for column Action Stories on Apr 5th 2011, 21:14

Join the Oxfam Pramble


A group of inspirational Oxfam volunteers invite you to join them on a journey to make a noise about healthcare for mums around the world. They are revving up their prams for a relay walk from Manchester to London because they think the fact 1000 women die needlessly everyday in childbirth due to a lack of access to adequate healthcare is a tragedy.

The Oxfam Pramble is a fun, free relay style pram walk winding its way down from Manchester to London from 19th March until 2nd April. Every day there are two different ten mile walking sections that people can walk as well as some fun parties and events to celebrate the journey.

This event is free to join. We’ll provide the route, the prams, a pregnant paper mache giant, and will even chuck in a cup of tea at the end. It’s a chance to explore England in a totally new way!

Now all we need is for you to get involved!

Harriet Roberts (expectant mum): "I feel so lucky to live in the UK where I can access some of the best healthcare in the world for free. I love the idea of the pramble and will definitely come along to show my support for mums across the world."

Posted by Nicola Sansom (Oxfam - Guest Blogger) in Global Health, What Can I Do? for column Action Stories on Mar 16th 2011, 08:42

Vaccines: The first step to Global Health


After first watching this short clip by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is easy to think that we found the answer for saving a large portion of the 8.1 million children under 5 who die every year from preventable and treatable diseases.

The video explains that by scaling up vaccines over the next 10 years in the 5 countries where most children die (Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria), we would save 3 million children and nearly USD$3 billion in treatment costs. Based on this information, they contend that, “vaccines are the best investment in global health.”

I'd absolutely agree - and add that we have to ensure that they're not the only investment we make. Vaccines are the best short-term solution for global health issues, but vaccines alone cannot be our only long-term solution. Taking two diseases as examples - measles and rotavirus - here's why...

Let’s take the first example of measles. Although it is treatable, every child needs to be vaccinated against measles due to its highly contagious and potentially deadly nature. In the US, we have to receive the vaccination before we’ll even be admitted to school. So it is imperative that children in developing countries get this same access to the vaccination, so they are equally protected from this rampant disease.

However, severe measles, which is what can be deadly, is more likely among poorly nourished young children, particularly those with insufficient Vitamin A or weakened immune systems from other diseases. This means that more than 95% of the 164,000+ people who die from measles each year are children living in poverty in developing countries (WHO).

So as you can see, it’s not just lack of the measles vaccination that is threatening the lives of these children. We need to tackle the issues of hunger and access to Vitamin A in developing countries so that these children’s immune systems are strong enough to fight off the disease if they haven’t been immunised. As we’ve mentioned previously, we also need to address the issue of inadequate health services and infrastructures, which is currently keeping 1 billion people from ever seeing a doctor in their entire lives, making them more likely to become infected with preventable and treatable diseases that further weaken their immune systems.

So although vaccines are important and necessary on a short-term basis to protect children from measles, long-term investments in fighting hunger and improving health services are also necessary to help us get to the root of the problem.

Another example of this situation is rotavirus, which along with E. coli is the most common cause of diarrhoea. Diarrhoeal disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in children under 5, taking the lives of over 1.5 million children every year. Although vaccinating against rotavirus will undeniably save the lives of millions of children, it is not the only answer to stop infection of this completely preventable and treatable disease.

Diarrhoea is a symptom of infections caused by faeces-contaminated water. Human faeces from sewage, septic tanks and latrines can contaminate water sources that are used for drinking, cooking and cleaning and easily spread disease.

Sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it? Not as gross as the fact that we allow 2.6 billion people in the world to go without access to adequate sanitation, which is the reason why this water is getting contaminated (WaterAid). We need to address the issue of access to safe and clean drinking water and adequate sanitation as well to get at the root of the rotavirus problem, so that we can tackle the disease on a long-term basis.

Then what should we do?
We need to start by supporting organisations like GAVI to increase the number of vaccinations distributed across developing countries. Their work has saved over 5.4 million lives in some of the poorest countries in the world through increased vaccinations.

But we need to do that while also addressing the root causes of these issues, which stem from the aspects of living in poverty. We need to fight hunger (Action Against Hunger), improve access to health services (Oxfam), and ensure that everyone has clean water and decent toilets (WaterAid).

Vaccines work, and they work even better when complemented by fighting the causes of poverty across the whole community.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Global Health for column Issue Analysis on Feb 28th 2011, 22:26

The Flow of Progress (or making sense of data)


This short clip describes how the World Bank has created a competition calling on ordinary people to create Apps for Development that will promote and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They asked for innovative designs that use World Bank data to improve peoples’ lives and end poverty, offering USD$45,000 worth of prizes for winning apps.

The application period closed a few weeks ago and after accepting submissions for 3 months, they received over 100 apps from 36 different countries. The apps cover the issues of hunger, health, education, the environment and global partnerships in a variety of exciting, interactive new ways.

One of the unique apps we found was Better World Flux, which is an interactive visualisation of information communicating the state of the world in terms of standards of living and quality of life. The focal point of the app is to see the fluctuation of life indicators throughout the world, such as universal education, the presence of HIV/AIDS, or gender equality, over the course of 50 years.

For example, the image below shows the status of the spread of HIV in 1987, only a few years after the disease was first detected, and how that indicates whether we were moving towards a “Bad” or “Better World” at that time.

In contrast to the above, the below image shows the status of the spread of HIV as of 2010. Notice that according to the figures, we have moved more towards “A Bad World” over the past 20+ years instead of moving closer to “A Better World” in this aspect because of the increased spread of HIV over the years.

MDG 6 strives to halt and reverse the spread of the virus by 2015. However, the most recent data suggests that despite making great progress in increased access to medication and prevention, 1.8 million people died from HIV/AIDS and another 2.6 million were infected in 2009. That's why increased aid is urgently needed if we want to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and start to see the number of people on treatment outpace the number of people becoming infected.

But this app shows that progress on other MDGs is actually being seen. The two images below show how we’re actually moving towards “A Better World” in the area of universal education, which is MDG 2.

This first image is the access to universal education in the world in 1960 and the second image is the access as of 2010.

Better World Flux can be a great tool to see the progress we’re making and the failures we’re seeing around the world in relation to the MDGs. You can even choose specific countries and track their progress over time to get a clearer picture of where each country stands in achieving the MDGs by 2015. With only a few more years to go, we still have much to accomplish if we want to meet our goals and help end extreme poverty.

To vote for this or other World Bank Apps for Development, click here. Voting ends on 28 5pm EST.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Global Health, Education for column Perspectives on Poverty on Feb 23rd 2011, 09:43

Health Workers for Everyone, Everywhere


How many times have you been to see a doctor in the past year? For most of us in developed countries our answer will be at least once, if not much more. This short clip describes how 1 billion people in the world never see a health worker in their entire lives. Can you imagine where you would be if that were true for you?

This video was launched by the Global Health Workforce Alliance at the opening ceremony of the 2nd Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Bangkok last week. The Alliance is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is a common platform for action to address the crisis of a shortage of 4.2 million health workers currently needed in communities around the world, 1.5 million needed in Africa alone.

There is an unfortunate phenomenon of individuals from rural and poor communities receiving medical training and then being forced to seek jobs in big cities or even internationally in order to obtain better wages and career opportunities. This takes skilled health workers out of the communities that need them the most, contributing to the 57 countries currently facing extreme health worker shortages.

In order to meet Goal 4 and 5 of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, WHO estimates that 23 doctors, nurses and midwives are needed per 10,000 people in every region. Unfortunately, they have found that only 5 of the 49 countries categorised as low-income economies by the World Bank meet that minimum threshold, which leaves millions of people with inadequate access to health services.

As we have discussed previously, child and maternal health is a major aspect of extreme poverty. For those individuals living in rural or poor communities where it may take hours or even days to access a health worker, they have an increased chance of dying from preventable and treatable diseases as well as during critical times such as childbirth.

According to ONE, 8.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year from mostly preventable and treatable causes and 358,000 mothers die each year from pregnancy-related causes, 80% of which could be prevented if they had access to basic maternal and health services.

With all the statistics and disappointing information, it is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there is nothing we can do to make things better. In the case of access to health services however, it is about finding a way to distribute better and more efficient aid to support these marginalised communities and promote local health workers.

Below are just a few ways good aid could make a huge difference in creating more and better distributed health workers and links to organisations you can support who are tackling these issues.

  • Oxfam has helped countries, like Mozambique, use the resources to train and pay for many committed health workers and to build more health centers giving people access to vital services and medicines.
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports advocacy efforts to build awareness of global health challenges, develop new ways to finance health programs, and improve health data.
  • GAVI has been funding new Health System Strengthening (HSS) programmes that encourage and enable countries to identify infrastructure and resource weaknesses that are barriers to the achievement of immunisation and other public health goals.

Supporting these organisations and others like them will help us meet MDG 4 and 5 and hopefully lead us to the day when there are health workers for everyone, everywhere.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Global Health for column Issue Analysis on Feb 2nd 2011, 16:09