Tono, a rural village in Japan that lacks an obstetrician, has adopted a creative strategy for helping pregnant women: using cellphones to transmit real-time data to doctors some 40 miles away. When the doctors determine that the woman is ready to deliver, the woman leaves for the nearest city with a maternity ward. But cellphones aren't just helping high-tech Japan with its critical shortage of obstetricians, they're also set to fundamentally transform medical access in the developing world.
In February, the U.S. government and a number of companies in the mobile phone industry launched Phones-for-Health, a $10 million initiative to improve health systems in the developing world. The public-private partnership aims to harness the impressive cellphone penetration rates in developing countries to bolster health initiatives. Health workers in the field will carry cellphones containing an application that lets them enter health data on patients, which they then send to a central database. There, it can be analyzed and mapped by the system and made immediately available to health officials on the Internet. As Paul Meyer, chairman of Voxiva, the company that has designed the underlying software, explains,
Health workers will also be able to use the system to order medicine, send alerts, download treatment guidelines, training materials and access other appropriate information ... Managers at the regional and national level can access information in real-time via a Web-based database."
Eventually, cellphones could even be used to store individuals' medical records, including x-rays and 3-D medical scan graphics. This technology is just coming to the United States, but hopefully it will only be a matter of time before people in poorer areas can use it to access, record and clarify their own medical histories where hospitals and clinics do not.
Margaret Chan, the president of the World Health Organization, declared yesterday that the world is in need of at least 4 million health workers. "Some powerful countries have gone to Third World countries to recruit their doctors and nurses," she said, leaving developing countries scrambling to provide adequate healthcare. The staffing problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, she noted.
But according to a new working paper by Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, "brain drain" isn't necessarily the culprit. Clemens argues that other factors, notably geographic constraints, performance incentives, and the stress of primary care over disease prevention, are to blame for Africa's generally low staffing levels and poor health conditions.
FP (with the CGD) also reported last year that most doctors and nurses in Mozambique, for instance, are unwilling to work in villages and slums where diseases are rife. And terrible working conditions and low pay in public hospitals lead health care workers to opt for private clinics. In Kenya, 3,000 nurses have left to work abroad—but more than 6,000 qualified nurses aren't working in the country. So while developing countries may need millions more health professionals, they also need to create better infrastructure and incentives for the health professionals who are there already.
The Pentagon produces an impressive array of media these days. Its websites are practically bursting with photos, video, and audio. In most cases, it's clear that the U.S. military is trying to put a positive spin, often deservedly so, on the situation in Iraq. But I was surprised when one of the recent lead items on the Pentagon's own news network was that U.S. troops are handing over mortuary duties to the Iraqi army. Not exactly your typical feel-good story, and the anti-sexual harassment message that runs after the report seems a bit off message.
According to the report, most military, civilian, and enemy dead had previously been handled by U.S. mortuary affairs personnel. (What about all those stories about the overburdened Baghdad morgue?) But soon, six mortuary affairs collection points will be opened across Iraq, funded by the United States.
Here's the latest example of Passport's obsession with organ donation stories. Der Spiegel reports on an unexpected consequence of China cutting back on executions as part of its image-polishing efforts for the 2008 Beijing Olympics:
According to a report last week in the daily Chosun Ilbo, the already long list of South Koreans waiting for organs is getting longer -- with the number expected to top 10,000 by the beginning of the month -- and their chances of getting a transplant are getting slimmer with China having decided to ban organ exports. In addition, executions in China have dropped sharply since the Chinese New Year in February, meaning that one of the primary sources for exported organs has dried up, organ brokers told the Korea Times.
Because South Koreans traditionally shy away from donating their organs, the situation for the seriously ill in the country looks grim. Furthermore, prices for organs have skyrocketed, with kidneys now going for $37,000 whereas prior to China stiffening organ export rules a kidney could have been had for $27,000. China has likewise elected to no longer give foreigners priority when it comes to organ transplant waiting lists.
It's an odd and meaningless coincidence that around 10,000 South Koreans need organs, while China executes more than 10,000 people each year (according to Human Rights Watch). But—and perhaps I'm just suffering from brain damage and have therefore lost my moral moorings—one thought that popped into my head while reading the above story was: Is there an actual policy dilemma here?
Of course, explicitly taking one life to save another is reprehensible. Once you start down that road, all kinds of perverse outcomes can result. China executes more than its fair share of innocent victims, and doles out the death penalty in many cases that don't fit the crime. Still, it's an interesting thought experiment to imagine what the optimal Chinese execution rate would be in an abstract utilitarian universe. I suspect that someone else out there has taken the idea quite seriously, however—and that's a disturbing thought.
Over the weekend, a video game system became the heart of the most powerful supercomputer on earth. As I write this, Playstation 3 game consoles all over the world are working together to power through 493 trillion calculations per second in a group effort to find cures for Alzheimer's, Huntington's Disease, Mad Cow Disease, and several forms of cancer. To put that into perspective, IBM’s Blue Gene, considered to be the fastest unclassified supercomputer, reportedly maxes out at 367 trillion calculations per second. And the Playstation 3 cluster is still growing.
The game consoles' owners have volunteered to run a special software package developed at Stanford by a group called Folding@home. Their task is to simulate protein folding, the process whereby the human body produces new proteins. Alzheimer's and other diseases appear when human proteins become malformed. Exactly how normal protein production goes bad and eventually leads to these diseases is unknown, because the processes are extremely complicated, and they happen in milliseconds.
So scientists have begun simulating these complex processes via software—but it's no light-weight task. Most protein folding requires banks of powerful computers and days, if not months, of processing time to simulate just a few seconds of biological reaction. The "distributed computing" approach to tackling big problems isn't new. Several other projects are working to cure AIDS, study global warming, and even scan the cosmos for extraterrestrial life by dishing their software out over huge networks of computers. But Folding@home is the first to tap the power of the Playstation 3, which, it turns out, is a computational powerhouse.
Stocked with seven processors, all tuned to perform heavy number crunching, the Playstation 3 puts the average single-processor PC to shame. (All that computing power is also using quite a bit of energy, but that's another story.)
The Playstation 3's formidable numbers are surely being noticed by the other distributed computing projects, so pretty soon video game consoles could also be predicting the weather, simulating nuclear explosions, or unlocking the origins of the universe. To follow the progress of the Folding@home project, be sure to check in on the regular updates published on their website.
Watch a video of the Playstation 3 Folding@home software at work:
If you live in the midwestern U.S. state of Kansas, some "breast milk" rice could be blowing your way soon.
Ventria Bioscience has received preliminary government approval to grow rice plants containing genes involved in producing human breast milk. The plants could one day be used for the noble purpose of developing drugs that would treat diarrhea and dehydration in babies. If final approval is given in April, Ventria would begin planting the rice over 3,000 acres of Kansas farmland sometime in April or May.
The plan, of course, has its critics. Some worry that high winds or human error could cause the experimental plants to enter the human food supply. In 2002, genetically modified corn from the United States somehow got into Mexican fields and began spreading naturally by cross-pollination.
Let's hope that no Kansans start erupting in spontaneous lactation.
While the world watches stock markets from Shanghai to Chicago cautiously rebound from Tuesday’s deep losses, public health officials have their eyes on a new futures market: the Avian Influenza Prediction Market, or "bird flu index," run by the Iowa Electronic Markets project at the University of Iowa.
It works like this: A select group of public health officials and pandemic experts are given about $100 a year to place bets on the likelihood of bird flu's projected path. (Fortunately for those of us who aren't steeped in epidemiology, people who might otherwise profit from the sale of, say, flu vaccines or masks aren't invited to participate.) The bets are simple and specific. One current market asks "traders" to bet on the likelihood that the dreaded H5N1 strain will infect a human in Hong Kong by July 1. Right now, a share in a "yes" vote is running at 43 cents, which indicates that the market sees a 43 percent likelihood of infection. By contrast, the chances of the flu infecting a human in North or South America are running at 5 cents.
Though the project is not without controversy, it's garnered far less outcry than the terrorism futures market that the Pentagon briefly introduced a few years ago. Which might mean the American public has more faith in the collective predictions of the public heath sector than the DoD. More likely, though, it could mean that, after years of hearing dire warnings about the threat of bird flu, people just want the medical community to put its money where its mouth is.
In the West, we worry about obesity, but "hidden hunger"—a lack of access to essential vitamins and minerals in the diet—may be a more serious problem. Around the world, more than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and half of all deaths among children under the age of five can be attributed to malnutrition.
How can the world solve this problem? The good news is that tackling malnutrition is second only to control of HIV/AIDS in terms of development effectiveness and value for money, according to the venerable economists of the Copenhagen Consensus. The challenge has been to get governments, donors, and, crucially, the private sector to pay attention.
Companies have a huge role to play in combating malnutrition, and they have real incentives to add vitamins and minerals to their food products. Recent research led by the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard has better outlined the business case for corporate action:
Fortified foods provide new opportunities to add value, and economies of scale will lower prices and reach new customers. In addition, raising product quality will stimulate competition and trade.
The countries whose children are worst affected by malnutrition include many of the biggest emerging markets for private sector investment, such as India, China, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Vietnam, so the incentive is there. Multinational firms are starting to take notice, and the topic featured on the program at Davos this January.
The South Pacific has been declared the world's fattest region, the BBC reports. And the tiny country of Nauru, the smallest republic in the world, topped the list of the world's ten most overweight countries. Almost everyone in Nauru—around 94 percent of its estimated adult population of 13,287—is considered overweight or obese.
Eight out of ten of the most obese countries are located in South Pacific (the exceptions, the United States and Kuwait, came in at numbers nine and ten respectively). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 90 percent of men and women in the South Pacific fall into the overweight/obese category.
Urbanization, the rise in western-style junk food consumption, and lack of exercise are to blame for rising obesity in the South Pacific, along with cultural factors like the positive association of beauty with weight. Moreover, "obesity has become a problem of poverty," according to Daniel Epstein, a WHO official. As FP reported in 2003:
Obesity now threatens more people in poor countries than undernourishment. Over 115 million adults in the developing world suffer from obesity-related problems, and these numbers are rising more rapidly than those of the 170 million undernourished, according to the World Health Organization. Many developing countries—including China, Mexico, Brazil, and Togo—suffer from higher rates of obesity than undernourishment.
The WHO estimates that over the next 10 years, the number of obese adults in the world will rise by 40 percent, bringing the total to a whopping 2.24 billion.
A government survey has found that over 40 percent of women in India have never heard of AIDS. In a country where 5.7 million people live with HIV/AIDS, according to the United Nations, that's bad news. Activists blame poor awareness for the spread of the disease, particularly among women.
Perhaps there is some good news about AIDS in India, though. A recent study in the Guntar district of Andhra Pradesh, the state with the highest HIV rate in India, found that the government's estimation of the number of HIV-infected people was highly inflated. The researchers found that the real figure was less than half of what the government believed. However, the U.N. has warned against drawing "hasty conclusions" and generalizing the findings to the entire country. Either way, it doesn't help women to be in the dark about HIV/AIDS, especially with the growing "feminization" of the disease in India. Women now account for almost 40 percent of those infected with the disease in India. Sadly, this new survey on women's awareness of AIDS also highlights that not only is wealth in the country failing to trickle down, so is information that can save lives.
An "epidemic" of counterfeit life-saving drugs has been spreading in Asia and Africa, according to world health experts. At least 200,000 people may die each year from these fakes, which are particularly problematic in malaria cases. The World Health Organization estimates that one fifth of the one million annual malaria deaths around the world would be prevented if medicines were genuine and administered properly. In a recent sampling in Southeast Asia, over half the anti-malarials bought were fakes, and the WHO estimates that one in four drug packets sold in the streets of developing countries is fake. Most of the counterfeit drugs originate in China, and they're often incredibly difficult to identify as fakes, since some of the drugs even bear the tiny hologram found on the genuine drug packaging to prevent forgery.
The Chinese government is apparently cracking down on counterfeiters and is currently investigating whether the former chief of China's Food and Drug Administration had taken bribes to approve drugs. Yet there seems to be a long way to go. According to David Fernyhough, a counterfeiting expert based in Hong Kong, the drug distribution networks mirror the old Southeast Asian heroin networks and "[t]he problem is simply so massive that no amount of enforcement is going to stop it." Moreover, the money being poured into developing regions for tackling malaria creates more incentives for producers of fakes, especially since most of these countries lack the capacity to detect sophisticated counterfeits. To make matters worse, often the penalties for forging consumer goods are harsher than the penalties for faking medicines, despite greater real-world consequences for the latter.
Indonesia, the country with the highest number of human bird flu victims, has decided to share samples of its H5N1 virus with drug manufacturer Baxter International instead of the World Health Organization. In return, Indonesia will gain full access to any vaccine Baxter develops, according to the agreement. The move comes as the WHO is striving to extend international sharing arrangements for seasonal flu strains and potential pandemics, so the global health body is very concerned about the deal.
Baxter has made it clear, though, that Indonesia's decision not to share with the WHO has nothing to do with its agreement. So why is Indonesia refusing to collaborate now? Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari explains:
[Specimens sent to the WHO] have been forwarded to their collaborating centre. There they have been used for various reasons such as vaccine development or research.
Later they sold the discovery to us… This is not fair. We are the ones who got sick, they took the sample through WHO and with WHO consent and they tried to produce it for their own use.”
The WHO fears that everyone will lose out if other countries follow suit. Drugs would likely become more expensive for those countries not party to a private deal with a drug company. Ironically, through its arrangement with Baxter, Indonesia could actually be making its problems worse in the long run.
A couple years ago, the French officially bid adieu to the 35-hour workweek. Now it appears that those extra hours of work are taking their toll. This week, the Gallic government launched a $9 million public awareness campaign about sleeping problems.
Not surprisingly, 56 percent of the population has said that lack of quality sleep has made them less productive at work. In an interview on Monday, French health minister Xavier Bertrand said, "Why not nap at work? It can't be taboo." He said he would promote the idea of on-the-job slumber, if studies show that it's effective. But who needs research? If you snooze, you don't necessarily lose—JFK, Churchill, da Vinci, Clinton, and Einstein were all nappers, and they did just fine.
Last year, the 29-year-old Youse had a freezer full of excess breast milk from nursing her newborn daughter. She thought it would be a waste to pour it down the drain. And so she did a little research, and found that if every baby in the world were exclusively breastfed for the first two months of life, 1.3 million lives would be saved every year. She looked into donating her milk to an orphan clinic in Durban, South Africa, rounded up some donations from companies that helped her with the shipping and the processing, and now, nine months later, there are hundreds of women around the U.S. who want to donate, too. And it won't cost them a thing. Take a look at the interview here, and learn how you can help.
A side note: Youse has only ever left the U.S. once in her entire life, and it was for a two-week trip more than a decade ago. So, she's never been to Africa, and has never visited the orphans who've benefited from her hard work. As she said during the interview, "I've heard that there are 2-for-1 specials on airfares to Africa through February, but I'm not sure if I can make it." So if there's anyone out there who wants to help (Angelina, I'm talking to you!), give us a holler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American. So goes the old joke. But now you can say that monolingual people are likelier to experience mental deterioration at a younger age.
Scientists from the Rotman Research Institute, at Canada's Baycrest Research Centre for Aging and the Brain, found that people who used two languages throughout their lives were able to delay the onset of dementia by four years.
The researchers determined that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years. This difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as influencers in the results.
So does this mean I would have started deteriorating at age 18 instead of 22, had my parents not inculcated me as a child? In all seriousness, the Canadian study is another reason why more Americans need to learn foreign languages.
Getting nipped and tucked at one of Cairo's rapidly-proliferating "bargain" plastic surgery clinics is probably a bad idea, despite rock-bottom prices ("arm or thigh liposuction for LE 1,500 ($260) only!") and aggressive marketing practices:
Upon visiting one such center in central Cairo, an AFP reporter was immediately offered a 'Nefertiti nose' for a few hundred dollars by a doctor without a diploma."
There's little recourse in the event that the procedure goes seriously awry, says Dr. Mohammed Kadry of the Egyptian Society of Reconstructive and Plastic Surgeons:
They maintain a high turnover ... That way if a problem arises, these centers can always say 'Sorry this doctor doesn't work for us anymore'," he explains.
And they do go awry:
[R]ecurring accounts of freakish mishaps by bogus surgeons and even the much publicized deaths of two women in September 2003 from complications after liposuction have failed to dissuade patients from flocking to bargain centers.
The people of Denmark have reported higher levels of happiness than citizens of other Western countries for the past 30 years. Now scientists think they know why: Danes just have low expectations.
In surveys, Danes repeatedly report little enthusiasm for the coming year, relative to other nationalities. In a humorous study published recently in the British Medical Journal, scientists conclude that this culture of low expectations is the secret to Danes' high levels of life satisfaction, writing:
Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.
Thousands of Hindu holy men are threatening to boycott the Hindu festival of Purna Kumbh Mela on the grounds that the Ganges, India's holiest river, is too polluted to wash away the sins of the millions of pilgrims who visit during the celebration. The seven-week festival is expected to draw 70 million people to the banks of the Ganges. Indian government officials, under pressure from the holy men, are offering to pump in fresh water.
Some German women are desparately trying to delay giving birth—and thus make themselves eligible for a new cash bonus for childrearing:
Parents of babies born on or after 1 January will be entitled to up to 25,200 euros (£16,911, $33,300) to ease the financial burden of parenthood. But those born even a minute earlier will not be covered by the scheme. The cash subsidies are part of a government initiative to boost Germany's dwindling birth rate.
FP readers may recall that former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew predicted that just such aggressive moves would be necessary to avert Europe's coming population meltdown. The notion that national governments can take a laissez-faire attitude toward the citizenry's procreation, he said, was dangerously outdated. Germany appears to agree.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) warns that Asia's greenhouse gas emissions will triple over the next 25 years.
According to a report entitled Energy Efficiency and Climate Change: Considerations for On-Road Transport in Asia, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles are set to rise 3.4 times for China and 5.8 times for India, primarily due to development and growing urban populations. According to the World Health Organization, this could led to "as many as 537,000 premature deaths each year, as well as a rise in cardiopulmonary and respiratory illnesses."
With the amount of growth and development taking place in Asia, the region will struggle to cope with air quality and climate change. Conferences such as the Better Air Quality Conference highlight the efforts that are taking place in toughening up on emissions, but Asian countries will need to translate talk into action. As Lew Fulton, a transport expert with the UN Environment Programme, explained to conferees, the challenge is immense:
We're not only seeing increases in pollutant emissions. We're seeing huge increases in fuel consumption which is coupled tightly with [carbon dioxide] emissions... It's costing cities and countries ever increasing amounts of foreign exchange with the high oil proces that we've got.
A study conducted in three African countries has shown that circumcision can considerably reduce the chances of HIV infection. The risk of infection was reduced by 53%, 48% and 60% in the countries tested, implying that male circumcision could potentially avert about six million HIV infections and three million deaths in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.
This may lead circumcised men to think they are protected, however. They're not. According to Dr. Kevin De Cock (yes, that's his real name), director of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organization:
This is an intervention that must be embedded with all the other interventions and precautions we have. Men must not consider themselves protected. It's a very important intervention to add to our prevention armamentarium.
What do camels, llamas and sharks have in common, aside from their notoriously bad tempers?
Well, according to a recent study published by the American Chemical Society, the blood of all three animals contains a rare antibody that is ideal for detecting biological agents. This antibody is more resilient than those that are currently used for biosensors, making it a potential low-maintenance substitute that is easier to produce.
I'm just glad the animal kingdom is finally stepping up to its responsibilities in the fight against WMD proliferation.
Diamond industry execs are bracing themselves for the Friday release of the movie Blood Diamond, which promises to remind consumers just before the holiday buying season of the horrors of the industry. Yet while consumers have known about conflict diamonds for years, they may be unwittingly bankrolling warlords, environmental degradation, and child labor when they purchase other common household items. In this week’s List, FP spotlights some of the world’s lesser-known killer products that you didn't know you should feel guilty about buying.
The EU recently released fertility statistics for the EU-25, and the new numbers point to an increasing number of Europeans choosing to have children out of wedlock (32.2%) vs. inside marriage (67.8%). The leaders of this trend, as the map from EUROSTAT at right shows, are the Scandinavian countries. In Denmark, for example, 60% of firstborns have unmarried parents. That figure hits 80% in certain districts of Norway.
While the United States still has more children being born out of wedlock (37%) than Europe as a whole, the profile of unmarried couples differs sharply. In the U.S., births out of wedlock are still associated with teenage pregnancies and poverty. In European countries like France, they have no such stigma. Ségolène Royal, who just won the Socialist Party nomination for France's presidential election next year, has been living with Francois Hollande, the party's leader, for 25 years. They have four children and remain unmarried. And they're hardly the only prominent French couple to prefer l'amour without marriage.
A closer look at the map reveals another interesting correlation. The countries in which birth rates are increasing are the same countries that have a larger percentage of children out of wedlock. It looks as though the current generation of childbearers is thoroughly rewriting their parents' family model.
For a continent that is usually associated with hunger and malnourishment, it may surprise you to learn that Africa is falling victim to a condition that has typically been a Western concern - obesity. According to the World Health Organization, more than one-third of African women and a quarter of African men are estimated to be overweight, and both statistics are set to rise to 41 percent and 30 percent, respectively, over the next decade. South Africa faces the worst problem, with 56 percent of adult women classified as overweight or obese. There is concern that, with impoverished African health services already strained with the task of treating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, weight-related illnesses may prove to be a burden too many. As Michael Birt contends in FP's September/November issue,
...economic growth and development is hastening the arrival of rich-world diseases before poor countries' health systems can prepare."
Also, check out our "Battle of the Bulge" Prime Numbers piece for a closer look at obesity on a global level.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Litvinenko assassination and investigation is why the killers would have used such a bizarre and dramatic method. If this story is correct—and I don't know that it is—investigators have already traced the substance back to a particular Russian reactor. Surely whoever initiated the plot knew that the material would be traced. Two explanations seem most likely. First, someone is trying to frame Vladimir Putin by ensuring both that the killing was as dramatic as possible and that it gets quickly linked to the Russian state apparatus. The second and far more chilling possibility is that Putin or his associates ordered the hit and wanted everyone to know it was them. Some experts have pooh-poohed the idea of a Kremlin connection.
There was no benefit to Putin or Russian intelligence services to have a highly publicised operation like this."
But was there really no motive? Aside from the benefit of removing a nettlesome critic, can't a demonstration of ruthlessness itself be useful to a politician? The Kremlin might have calculated that the fear and awe generated by the killing would outweigh the opprobrium. It's better to be feared than loved, after all.
On the day that UNAIDS comes out with new - and depressing - figures on the number of people living with HIV around the world, it's either good news or, again, depressing, to hear that the Vatican has just concluded an internal study on the use of condoms to fight AIDS. The results of the study aren't available yet - they still have to go through the pope - but those involved say the report looks at both the "scientific and moral points" of using condoms. Last year, Benedict XVI, speaking to African bishops, went on the record saying he rejects the use of condoms to fight AIDS, asserting that they lead to a moral breakdown in society. So, I'm not holding my breath imagining that anything imaginative might emerge from Vatican City when it comes to fighting HIV. But I do hope that the authors of the Vatican report take a moment today to consider the update from UNAIDS about how AIDS continues to devastate every region of the world. Infections are up everywhere this year.
If you've been fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling around the world, chances are you've found yourself in a situation that didn't afford you, shall we say, "access to sanitation." And perhaps you returned home and were more than a little grateful every time the water tap turned on and the toilet flushed, but the access soon returned to being routine. If such luxuries are surely taken for granted by most in the developed world, a new report from the U.N. drives home the effects of 2.6 billion people around the world lacking access to a decent bathroom. More than two million children die each year of illnesses caused by contaminated water.
In Kibera, the sprawling slum in Nairobi, Kenya, people defecate in plastic bags that they dump in ditches or toss into the street — a practice known as "the flying toilet." In Dharavi, the vast slum in Mumbai, India, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people — and during the monsoon rains, flooded lanes run with human excrement.
The problem, according to the author of the report, is that bureaucrats and politicians often don't want to talk about toilets. Such topics are often just taboo. He told the NYT that "issues dealing with human excrement tend not to figure prominently...[on] the agendas of governments." So, despite U.N. estimates that it would cost $10 billion a year (think about that in terms of most countries' military expenditures) to cut in half the percentage of people needing clean water and a latrine, little at the government level is ever accomplished.
Still, at least one water NGO had criticisms today not for developing country governments, but for the United Nations. A spokesperson for WaterAid told VOA News that, with nearly two dozen U.N. agencies dealing with water issues, not one U.N. department actually monitors and evaluates whether recommendations are being put in place. "[T]here is no United Nations body there standing up and naming and shaming governments, donors and recipients who are not performing on water and sanitation," he said. With so many lives at stake, it's time to get past the taboo.
A Chinese bird flu expert may soon head the World Health Organization (WHO). If Margaret Chan's nomination goes through, she'll be the first Chinese to head a major U.N. agency She managed to avoid being tarred in the China SARS scandal and won accolades during her time as health director in Hong Kong.
Chan was Hong Kong's health director during the SARS outbreak in 2003. She joined WHO later that year and took over as the agency's influenza pandemic chief in 2005. As an assistant director-general, she has led WHO's efforts to fight communicable diseases and most immediately to prepare for a possible pandemic should the bird flu virus mutate into a strain easily transmitted among humans.
It's a milestone for China, which has become increasingly active in U.N. affairs. Let's not forget that China now contributes more U.N. peacekeeping troops than any other permanent member of the Security Council. The days when China saw the U.N. as little more than a cabal of Western powers may be ending.
In an effort to tackle its country's spiraling HIV/AIDS epidemic, a South African company this week launched Pronto condoms, a product its designers hope will encourage South Africans to more frequently practice safe sex. The condom apparently takes just one second to put on, and it targets those who find regular condoms to be time-guzzling mood killers. Pronto condoms will be available in South Africa this week, with plans to go global in the future. Those curious can even view a demo of the 'prontoness' of the Pronto condom on its website. With its slogan 'the best way to get it on,' let's hope that Pronto condoms will be the best way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in a country with 5.5 million already infected.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.