global health

You wouldn't think of calling a mosquito "man's best friend." But that's the nickname that biologist Denise Valle uses for Aedes aegypti, the species that's been spreading the Zika virus in Brazil and many other countries in Latin America.

I think "man's best enemy" might be better.

The thing is, this mosquito likes to live near humans.

Chart: The alarming rise in maternal mortality in the US

Dec 21, 2015

Number 8.

That's the ranking of the US in the latest Human Development report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). But in terms of gender equality, the survey finds, the US is Number 55. And our ranking is slipping, pointing to some underlying trends that are disturbing for women.

Norway comes out as the best place to live in the world, and Niger the worst, according to factors that include life expectancy and income.

The world has made a big commitment in recent years to treat and prevent infectious diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria. But another threat to global health is on the rise: Cancer rates are going up in the developing world.

There's a place in the city of Tijuana, Mexico, called El Bordo, which has always been somewhat reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie scene. The name comes from "the border," which is where it's located: right by the fence that separates the U.S. from Mexico, among the enormous paved canals that run through Southern California like concrete veins. Hundreds of people live in those canals, often in makeshift tents, the smell of sewage made ripe by the hot Tijuana sun. It's a place where many deportees try to get by. It's also a site of heavy drug use.

A 15-year-old boy died of Ebola in Liberia on Monday night, the first person in the country to perish from the disease since July, health officials say.

After twice being declared Ebola-free, Liberia is reporting new cases of the disease.

The first case that was confirmed, according to the World Health Organization, was a 10-year-old boy in the capital, Monrovia. He fell ill on Nov. 14, was hospitalized a few days later and confirmed as having Ebola Thursday.

It's still unclear how the boy became infected, says WHO's special representative on Ebola, Bruce Aylward.

Today is World Toilet Day, a chance to think about the billions of people in the world who don't have toilets. People like me.

With 42 days having passed since the last negative blood test from an Ebola patient in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization has declared the deadly virus is no longer being transmitted in the country. Ebola killed more than 3,500 people in Sierra Leone's outbreak that began in May of 2014.

Marking the occasion Saturday, Dr. Anders Nordström of the WHO says that in Sierra Leone, "8,704 people were infected and 3,589 have died, 221 of them healthcare workers, all of whom we remember on this day."

It's one of those good news/bad news stories. A study in the medical journal The Lancet found that people around the world — in countries rich, poor and in the middle — are living longer. But here's the rub. You can't count on living those extra years in good health.

Imagine a town crier walking down the street outside shouting through his bullhorn: "All of the young people should go get the new meningitis A vaccine." And adding that it's free.

That's one of the ways that health practitioners are combating what they call "vaccine hesitancy" — refusing a vaccine when it is offered or available.

It's a topic that has made headlines this year, when an outbreak of measles focused attention on U.S. parents who'd not vaccinated their kids, fearing unproven side effects.

When an email arrived the other day promoting an "Interfaith Service Focused on Below the Belt Cancers," I was intrigued.

It turns out Thursday, June 18, is the start of the third "Globe-athon to End Women's Cancers." To kickoff this continuing campaign, there will be two days of events in New York City dedicated to making people more aware of the cancers that strike more than 1 million women a year and figuring out the best strategies for diagnosis and treatment.

In September, the U.N. will vote to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (aka SDGs). They cover issues like poverty, health and climate change. The idea is to encourage the 192 U.N. member states to establish policies that will make the world a better place over the next 15 years.

At least one SDG is turning out to be a bit controversial.

This particular goal calls for a reduction in "premature mortality" from non-communicable diseases like cancer, stroke and dementia by half in people younger than 50 and by a third among people from 50 to 69.

So what does it mean to be hungry?

That's a question that occurred to us as we read some encouraging news: The world isn't as hungry as it used to be.

A U.N. report has noted that 795 million people were hungry in the year 2014. That's a mind-boggling number. But in fact it's 200 million lower than the estimated 1 billion hungry people in 1990.

The improvement is especially impressive because the world population has gone up by around 2 billion since the '90s.

"An epidemic is one of the few catastrophes that could set the world back drastically in the next few decades," Bill Gates warns in an essay he wrote for the March 18 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

In the article, titled "The Next Epidemic — Lessons From Ebola," he says the Ebola epidemic is a "wake-up call."

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa slows and falls from the headlines, there is a temptation among many to view this outbreak as an isolated event. In fact, the opposite is true. Ebola is the tip of a global health crisis: a crisis in our collective ability to deliver the essentials of modern medicine to those who need help the most, in the most timely and efficient manner.

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