Friday Think: snails, prawns, and a “super-cool” solution

A man holds a large bag containing water and river prawns.

The river prawn has been elevated to disease-fighting hero in a recent study of schistosomiasis, a potentially deadly parasitic disease that infects upwards of 230 million people. Photo: The Upstream Alliance/Susanne Sokolow.

“The thing I like about this story—and what I find super-cool—is that it reexamines a health problem and expands the solution set,” says PATH’s Katharine Kreis.

Katharine is referring to an article about a freshwater prawn that not only battles an insidious disease by eating the carrier (a snail that harbors parasitic flatworms that cause anemia, stunted growth, infertility, liver failure, bladder cancer, and cognitive impairment), but also has the potential to clean up an environmental mess while providing a source of animal protein in communities where it is often lacking. Continue reading »

What does it take to eradicate a deadly disease?

A woman holds an infant while a nurse administers an oral vaccine.

Africa is on the cusp of being polio-free after news that Nigeria—a country that has persistently battled the poliovirus—has gone one year without recording a single case of polio. Photo: PATH/Wendy Stone.

On an October night in 1977, Ali Maow Maalin didn’t feel well. He soon developed a fever that wouldn’t go away and a few days later his skin broke out in a rash. Concerned, Ali went to the hospital only to be sent home, misdiagnosed with a case of chickenpox.

At the time, Ali didn’t know that he was the last person on Earth to catch naturally occurring smallpox. He survived, but here’s the truly good news: after he was properly diagnosed, a search revealed no smallpox cases in Somalia on the local and city levels. A subsequent regional and country-level search confirmed that the virus stopped at Ali. In 1980, after the World Health Organization certified that smallpox had been eradicated, routine vaccination was discontinued around the world.

Smallpox showed us we could win the fight against a global disease.

It’s only a matter of time before a “last person on Earth” story can be told about polio. Continue reading »

Friday Think: are condoms that detect STIs and change color a good idea?

An assortment of colorful condoms.

Photo: Creative Commons/Anina Mumm.

It takes more than a really cool idea to get an innovative solution to market.

Case in point: would you use a condom that changes color when it identifies a sexually transmitted infection? On paper, it may be a great idea, and we certainly applaud the concept and encourage young innovators (a team of UK teens won a TeenTech Award with this concept, and an invitation to Buckingham Palace).

So why does Martha Kempner make the argument that the S.T.EYE condom may not be a concept worth exploring? Continue reading »

Delivering “paper doll petitions” to save lives

Images of US senators cut out and pasted onto paper doll chains.

These “paper doll petitions” were presented to policymakers on Capitol Hill by global health advocates and their children in support of the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. Photo: PATH/Allie Mooney.

Earlier this week, I took my daughters—Cleo, who is 4 years old, and Lily, who is 18 months—to Capitol Hill to meet with US senators. Although they enjoyed running up and down the sidewalk and long hallways (my girls, not the senators), we weren’t there just for fun.

We were part of a group of mothers and children who stormed the Hill to deliver “paper doll petitions” encouraging US policymakers to support an important new piece of legislation aimed at saving the lives of women and children around the world.

Heather Ignatius and her children walking to Capitol Hill.

Heather Ignatius and her daughters, along with other moms and children, stormed Capitol Hill to advocate for the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. Photo: PATH/Allie Mooney.

Continue reading »

Breastfeeding: giving a boost to babies’ best food

Women hold their infants at a clinic.

Women hold their babies at a clinic as they learn about community-based infant feeding activities. Photos: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

“I learned not to feed the babies [solids] straight after giving birth to them.”

Even though she’d had four previous children, it was the first time this new mother had received postnatal support, and she was pleased to share what she had learned from the community health workers. “They teach us about expressing milk, breastfeeding, and the danger signs of the baby, and that you must exclusively breastfeed until 6 months.” Continue reading »

A first: European regulators give thumbs up to malaria candidate vaccine

Group of women holding infants.

If licensed, the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate, when used with other malaria prevention tools such as bednets, could help prevent millions of cases of malaria each year. Photo: PATH/Doune Porter.

A partnership with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and research centers across Africa has achieved a significant scientific milestone in the quest to develop a malaria vaccine. GSK’s RTS,S (Mosquirix™) has received a positive scientific opinion from European regulators, bringing it one critical step closer to possible implementation.

RTS,S is the first vaccine against the malaria parasite that has reached this far. This positive opinion is an important step in the process of developing a vaccine for use alongside existing malaria prevention tools, such as bednets, drugs, and indoor residual spraying. The opinion underscores that it is technically possible to develop malaria vaccines, although a number of steps remain before one might be available for use. It also validates the continued investment in next-generation vaccines. Continue reading »

Friday Think: why infrastructure investments matter

Man surrounded by paper records with a computer on a desk.

Standardized information systems and strong infrastructures influence national economies, but governments must be willing to invest in them. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

It’s not enough to make an app for a phone or develop a logistics management information system, you must also have the infrastructure—and the power—to support the technology. And without deliberate infrastructure investments, we risk getting stuck in the past.

To me, one of the defining characteristics of countries that are effectively using technology is the recognition by their respective government leadership that national-level infrastructure and standardized information systems matter if they want to grow their economies. It’s in this atmosphere that true creativity flourishes and local problems meet local solutions.

Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson, director of Digital Health Solutions at PATH. Photo: PATH.

In a recent article in the New York Times, reporter Norimitsu Onishi discusses the challenges faced in sub-Saharan Africa due to an aging infrastructure that is challenged daily to create a sufficient, reliable power supply.

Here’s an excerpt from the article “Weak Power Grids in Africa Stunt Economies and Fire Up Tempers.” Continue reading »

A day in the life of a global health advocate

Jenny Howell in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

A passion for policy and global health led Jenny Howell to PATH, where she advocates for US Congressional support for maternal child health, immunization, and malaria control. Photo: PATH/Allie Mooney.

This is how Jenny Howell describes what it’s like to be a global health advocate on Capitol Hill:

So, you have a population, ridden with disease. You have a vaccine that can prevent that disease or an effective drug to treat it. How do you get the support of the influential people who can direct resources and shape policies to get these tools to the people who need them most? How do you get the support of policymakers?

Howell pauses to add this caveat:

You have 20 minutes to make them care.

Jenny Howell is the face of PATH’s US congressional advocacy on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. She spends her days advocating for evidence-based policies to save the lives of women and children around the world and to stop diseases like malaria.

Supporting global health is an easier sell for some than others. Continue reading »

A very small hero and a lifesaving vaccine

Samba Sibiry and his mother.

Today, Samba Sibiry is growing up strong. In 2007, he became one of the first people to receive the MenAfriVac® vaccine. Photo: PATH.

Samba Sibiry: a hero for meningitis

In 2007, two-year-old Samba Sibiry became a hero. At the time, he had no way of knowing the significance of his role. But the part he played as a toddler was crucial in saving the lives of millions against a scourge that has plagued sub-Saharan Africa for more than 100 years.

One of the first of millions

Samba was one of the first children in the world to participate in a clinical trial of a vaccine against meningococcus type A, the strain most destructive to people living in Africa’s meningitis belt. It’s an insidious disease that can strike anyone, but primarily targets infants, adolescents, and young adults. The disease can damage their brains and spinal cords, causing deafness, mental retardation, seizures, or paralysis.

Thanks to MenAfriVac, millions of people, many of them children like Samba, will now be protected against meningitis. Watch Samba’s story. Video: PATH.

Continue reading »

Friday Think: a vaccine trial with a cosmic twist

The International Space Station.

A view of the International Space Station and Earth from the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Photo: NASA/Crew of STS-132.

Orbiting 249 miles above our terrestrial home is the International Space Station (ISS), the largest peace-time international project in human history. It’s also one of the sites of a year-long experiment involving twin astronauts, Mark and Scott Kelly.

The subject? Flu shots with a twist.

Earlier this year, both brothers received their flu vaccinations. But while Mark stayed home on terra firma, Scott Kelly took a ride up to the ISS for a year-long stint. Both brothers will continue to be studied by NASA researchers to track how extended stays in space affect human immune systems. They’ll receive a second flu shot in November, this time while Mark is on Earth and Scott is aboard the ISS.

Francesco Berlanda-Scorza, a senior technical officer in PATH’s Vaccine Development Program, is keenly aware of the challenges hard-to-reach locations can pose during vaccine trials, let alone one that is miles above the surface of Earth. He shares this perspective after reading a recent article in Time: Continue reading »