World Health Day - ‘depression, let’s talk’

WORLD Health Day, celebrated on 7 April every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organisation (WHO), provides an unique opportunity to mobilise action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.

The theme of 2017 World Health Day campaign is “depression - let's talk”.

Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and impacts on people's ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-old people.

Yet, depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of what depression is, and how it can be prevented and treated, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help.

Living with someone with depression can be difficult. Here are some tips on what to do to help someone you live with who is depressed, while taking care of yourself at the same time.

What you should know

  • Depression is an illness and not a character weakness.
  • Depression can be treated. What treatment is best and how long the depression lasts depend on the severity of the depression.
  • The support of carers, friends and family facilitates recovery from depression. Patience and perseverance is needed, as recovery can take time.
  • Stress can make depression worse.

What you can do for people who are depressed:

  • Make it clear that you want to help, listen without judgement, and offer support.
  • Find out more about depression.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help when available. Offer to accompany them to appointments.
  • If medication is prescribed, help them to take it as prescribed. Be patient; it usually takes a few weeks to feel better.
  • Help them with everyday tasks and to have regular eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Encourage regular exercise and social activities.
  • Encourage them to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.
  • If they are thinking about self-harm, or have already intentionally harmed themselves, do not leave them alone. Seek further help from the emergency services or a health-care professional. In the meantime, remove items such as medications, sharp objects and firearms.
  • Take care of yourself too. Try to find ways to relax and continue doing things you enjoy.

Life changes which come with aging can lead to depression - to prevent and treat the elderly:

  • Depression is an illness characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks.
  • In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Depression among older people is often associated with physical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic pain; difficult life events, such as losing a partner; and a reduced ability to do things that were possible when younger.
  • Depression is treatable, with talking therapies or antidepressant medication or a combination of these.


Measles outbreak spreads across Europe as parents shun vaccinations, World Health Organisation warns

Major measles outbreaks are spreading across Europe despite the availability of a safe, effective vaccine, the World Health Organisation has warned.

Anti-vaccine movements are believed to have contributed to low rates of immunisation against the highly contagious disease in countries such as Italy and Romania, which have both seen a recent spike in infections.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said it was “of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe” when they had been dropping for years.

Preliminary data for February indicate a sharp rise in measles cases, up from the 559 reported across the continent in January, said the WHO.

“Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus,” said Dr Jakab. ”Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”

In Italy, an alarming resurgence of the disease has been blamed on the anti-vaccination stance of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), which took a quarter of the vote in the country’s 2013 general election, reported The Guardian.

More than 700 cases of measles have been registered so far this year, according to the Italian health ministry, compared to 220 in the same period last year.

Measles is six times more contagious than the flu and complications arise in one in five cases including ear infections, pneumonia, deafness and even death.

In 1998 the British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a controversial and since-discredited study in The Lancet, which purported to show a link between the MMR vaccine – for measles, mumps and rubella – and autism in children.

Exhaustive scientific research, including a comprehensive 2014 review using data from more than 1.2 million children, have since concluded that no relationship between vaccination and autism.

Dr Wakefield was struck off the medical register after his report was found to be fraudulent.

However, many parents still choose not to vaccinate their children, with around 24,000 children in England each year at risk of measles, mumps and rubella because they have not been immunised against the diseases, according to Public Health England.

It is recommended that at least 95 per cent of the population is vaccinated against measles to ensure good protection against outbreaks of the disease.

But coverage is estimated to be lower than this in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Just 85.3 per cent of Italian two-year-olds were given measles vaccinations in 2015, down from 88 per cent in 2013, according to The Guardian.

Isabelle Sahinovic, the WHO’s Vaccine Safety Net co-ordinator, has said that “dangerous” misinformation about vaccines continues to spread online.

“Every day, misinformation about vaccines continues to proliferate on the internet,“ she said. ”This is dangerous.

“We need to make sure that all parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals can easily access accurate and trustworthy information about vaccines.“


HIV-TB infections on the rise, European health officials find

The number of people developing and dying from tuberculosis (TB) is falling in Europe, but among the most vulnerable — including migrants, prisoners and people who are HIV positive — there have been worrying increases, data showed on Monday.

Figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Europe regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO) showed new TB cases and deaths in the 53 countries of the WHO's European region fell each year by 4.3 and 8.5 per cent respectively between 2011 and 2015.

But new co-infections with TB and HIV together increased by 40 per cent from 2011 to 2015, showing that efforts to control the disease need to be far more focused on high risk groups.

"The general downward trend in reported TB cases is encouraging," the ECDC's acting director, Andrea Ammon, said in a statement. "But some groups are not benefiting from this trend and we need to target our efforts better if we want to end the TB epidemic."

She said providing testing to all TB patients for HIV, and vice versa, followed by counselling and rapid treatment, could reverse the negative co-infection trend.

Global figures released last year by the WHO showed that in 2015, some 1.8 million people died from TB. Of them, 400,000 were co-infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

People with HIV are more vulnerable to TB because their immune systems are weakened. Experts estimate the risk of developing TB is between 26 and 31 times greater in HIV patients than in HIV negative people.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's European regional director, said the flare-up of TB/HIV co-infections, coupled with persistently high rates of drug-resistant TB, were a serious threat to international efforts to control the disease.



WHO Lists 12 Bacteria Families That Threaten Human Health

For the first time ever, the World Health Organization has published a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.

The move is part of the agency’s efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

According to UN Radio, Christian Lindmeier, the WHO spokesperson says the list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics; from critical to high and medium priority.

The WHO list highlights in particular the threat of the so-called gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Health experts from the world’s 20 major economies, also known as the G20, are meeting in the German capital of Berlin this week to draw attention to this problem.



WHO calls for national framework to address health issues in India

New Delhi: Health issues in India are a highly debatable topic and one that needs urgent attention, primarily because of the way the problem is eating its way into the system.

The threat to health in India, in general, is devastating. Especially after the country has made such game-changing advancements in technology, it's a blow to see it go down in the health department.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) seems to have observed the downward trend too as it has emphasized the need to establish a national framework defining roles of the Centre and the states to address health issues and ensure convergence and portability.

This will also give the states the flexibility and freedom to choose their own path and progress at their own trajectory, says WHO Representative Dr Henk Bekedam.

"Diversity and equity are the two most crucial aspects of large economies like India. It is important to recognise diversity and also different health needs necessitate different approaches. Health is a state subject in India. As the Centre and states are at varying levels of development, there is a need to be cognisant of this reality," Bekedam told PTI.

"It will therefore be important to agree on a vision for the health sector and develop a national framework that defines roles of the Centre and the states. The agreed framework will help ensure convergence and portability. This will also give the states the flexibility and freedom to choose their own path and progress at their own trajectory," he elaborates.

Praising the Centre's role in adopting several policies such as the Draft National Health Policy 2016, the National Health Mission among others, the WHO official said it should focus on positioning health higher on its agenda with a greater investment in the public health sector.

The country should also accelerate effective financial protection, protection from diseases, fast-tracking the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) agenda and a strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system, Bekedam, who took charge as the UN body's representative to India in 2015, said.

On whether the objectives of the National Health Mission pertaining to the Universal Access to Equitable, Affordable and Quality Healthcare Services was achievable or not, he sounded positive reiterating on the need a framework for it.

"The objectives are achievable but what is needed is a clear framework of accountability and programmatic adjustment based on progress made. The vision to achieve 'health for all' is possible - but for this, the process needs to be owned and led by the country."

On the WHO's role in helping India implement the Universal Health Coverage (UHC), Bekedam says, "UHC is an overarching umbrella and key to achievement of all SDG-3 targets and intrinsically linked to reducing poverty and inequities. We are working closely with the government in this area and will continue to share global best practices and lessons learnt from other countries."

He hails India's attainment of polio-free status as one of the biggest achievements in the annals of public health.

"While retaining the essential polio functions of surveillance, outbreak response and containment, we will, in consultation with the government, provide support to address new and emerging public health priorities," Bekedam says.

Africa's new continent-wide public health agency already faces funding crunch

Dakar — Africa’s new continent-wide public health agency — the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) — could help prevent a repeat of the disastrous ebola epidemic by monitoring diseases across country borders and deploying a rapid task force at the first signs of an outbreak, health experts say.

The African Union (AU) launched Africa CDC on January 31 at its headquarters in Ethiopia. Epidemiologists began disease surveillance work there this month. The agency will have regional centres equipped for lab testing in Egypt, Nigeria, Gabon, Zambia and Kenya, and will expand an emergency volunteer corps, created during the Ebola epidemic, to thousands of health workers across the continent.

"What the Africa CDC can truly contribute is to bring [international disease] response closer to the countries," said incoming director John Nkengasong, a virologist and senior official at the US CDC. The agency will focus on strengthening national health systems through its regional networks, Nkengasong said, making countries less reliant on overseas medical aid, staff and equipment during outbreaks.

Although the AU first proposed the idea for an African health agency in 2013, the ebola epidemic in 2014-2015 highlighted its urgency and accelerated the planning, according to people involved. International agencies, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), were widely criticised for taking too long to respond to the ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa.

Creating a response mechanism within Africa was a logical next step, experts said. The director of disease control and prevention in Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit hardest by Ebola, said he thought the most important aspect of Africa CDC would be collaboration with other countries’ health agencies. "I think it’s a very good idea so we can share information and work together," Foday Dafae told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the biggest challenge would likely be co-ordination.

International backing

Other health experts also praised the move, but said Africa CDC’s effectiveness could hinge on funding. "The AU initiative is evidence that countries have taken stock of the ebola crisis," said Mads Oyen, West and Central Africa emergency adviser for Unicef. "However, in order for Africa CDC to be a strong organisation, it will require long-term political will and financial commitment by national governments, as well as strong support from donor institutions."

The AU has allocated about 0.5% of its operating budget to Africa CDC; other funding will come from member states, partner countries and the private sector. The US and China are among those supporting the initiative.

The US CDC has advised the agency throughout its creation and will send two long-term advisors to the AU headquarters and support 10 African epidemiologists in the regional centres. The WHO has also provided technical assistance and will work closely with Africa CDC, said WHO Africa emergencies director Ibrahima Soce Fall, calling it a "very important step for the African region".

Experts said the agency’s relationship with the WHO will be critical to avoid being perceived as competition. Africa CDC will launch a five-year strategic plan in Addis Ababa at the end of March, and after that will build its staff. "There will be challenges," said director Nkengasong, "but the public health opportunities are huge."



Health Costs in Asia Expected to Rise

Asian countries are expected to face higher health care costs over the next 10 years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says improvements in Asia’s economies have caused much lower levels of poverty. But this progress has caused changes in societies, lifestyles and the kind of food people eat. It has also caused an increase in urban pollution.

Conditions such as cancer, stroke and dementia are predicted to cause health care costs in the area to increase sharply.

The WHO says late treatment of cancer causes 1.3 million deaths a year in Southeast Asia. The UN organization says two thirds of the 8.8 million people who die of cancer worldwide each year are in Africa and Asia.

The WHO says cancers, diabetes, heart diseases and lung diseases caused 40 million deaths in 2015.

Cancer seen as a major health care cost in Asia

Costs to treat these diseases are increasing even as they become more common. In 2015, the cost of cancer drugs rose by 11.5 percent to $107 billion worldwide. Experts believe that will rise to $150 billion by 2020. They say the increase is mostly because of the cost of new drugs.

In a recent report, The Boston Consulting Group, a research organization, said the “cancer burden in developing countries is reaching pandemic proportions.” It notes that 2.5 million people die of cancer in India every year. It says the number of people with cancer in India could increase 500 percent by the year 2025.

China reported four million new cancer cases in 2016. The report noted that costs to care for people with cancer in China may increase 400 percent by 2025, to $1.84 trillion.

Gregory Winter is a professor at Cambridge University. He leads a team of researchers examining different ways to treat diseases like cancer. He reports some progress, but says the cost of treatment is too high for most people to pay.

He says, “in general we will be struggling with cost problems. The cost of antibody treatment can be in the order of $15,000 - $75,000 per year and that’s a lot for anybody.”

Some reports in China note that people with cancer, and family members who care for them, must pay a lot of money for cancer-fighting drugs. The report says some families buy drugs in unofficial markets. However, it warns that some of the drugs in these markets may be ineffective or fake.

Agencies in China that approve drugs work slowly. Some drugs are not available in China for as long as 10 years after they have been approved in the United States.

Professor Winter says such delays also take place in India. He says some Asian countries should “take more risks during the drug approval process.”

Strokes and dementia linked to pollution

Asian countries also are facing increasing costs for caring for the growing number of people affected by strokes and dementia.

In 2012, the WHO reported that 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia. It predicted that would increase to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050.

The report said almost 60 percent of those with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries. That percentage is expected to increase.

The WHO wrote that the huge cost of care drives millions of families into poverty. It says dealing with the increases should be a “public health priority.”

Valery Feigin is a director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at Auckland University of Technology. In 2016, his research showed a link between air pollution and strokes.

The researchers found that the harm air pollution causes to the lungs, heart and brain has been underestimated.

Vladimir Hachinski is an expert in stroke and dementia at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada. He said a growing amount of evidence links high levels of pollution with strokes and dementia.

Hachinski said, “This is a global problem because there are currents between the continents. There are currents in the atmosphere that carry air from one continent to another, and also within continents. So what happens in Beijing matters in Bangkok because the whole atmosphere is one in the biosphere.”

A recent report by the environmental group Greenpeace said air pollution causes up to 1.2 million deaths every year in India. That is almost as many deaths as tobacco use causes.

In China, high levels of smog affect cities during the winter. Research shows the smog causes more than a million premature deaths in China each year. It reduces life expectancy by two to five years.

Hachinski said Asia must find a way to deal with the pollution.

“At the rate we are going, we cannot afford more patients having strokes, more patients having dementia -- particularly in Asia, (which has) 61 percent of the world’s population,” he said. “In some countries like China, stroke is the leading cause of death and in Japan, of course, you have an aging population (and) you have high rates of stroke and dementia.”

Hachinski said if countries in the area do not deal with pollution, they might have a sharp increase in strokes and dementia.


Cancer kills nearly 9 mln every year - World Health Organization

Oncological diseases kill about 8.8 million people around the world every year, the World Health Organization said on its website on Saturday. According to the news release timed for World Cancer Day, observed on February 4, as a rule cancer is identified at late stages.

"New WHO figures released this week indicate that each year 8.8 million people die from cancer, mostly in low-and middle-income countries. One problem is that many cancer cases are diagnosed too late," the release says.

World Health Organization specialists pay special attention to early diagnosis of cancer, because most oncological diseases are curable, if identified at early stages. Under WHO criteria cancer is regarded curable if the patient lives for more than five years after the disease has been identified. High mortality rates are usually observed among third and fourth degree cancer patients.

"By taking the steps to implement WHO’s new guidance, healthcare planners can improve early diagnosis of cancer and ensure prompt treatment, especially for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. This will result in more people surviving cancer. It will also be less expensive to treat and cure cancer patients," says Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.

Situation in Russia
Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova has said Russia has shown a considerable improvement in terms of early cancer diagnosis and one-and five-year life expectancy among cancer patients over the past few years.

"The identification of cancer at early stages has shown noticeable improvement. More than 57% of oncological diseases in Russia are exposed at early stages," Skvortsova said.

The Health Ministry has developed new rules of comprehensive medical examination, which may take effect next year. Patients of certain age groups will enjoy the benefits of oncological screening programs.

A federal anti-cancer program is being drafted. The Russian Health Ministry’s leading outsourced cancer specialist, Mikhail Davydov, says the program will be presented at an oncological conference in Bashkortostan’s capital Ufa next summer. In fact, it will consist of individual sub-programs each region will devise for itself.

Cancer is Russia’s number two killer disease, accounting for about 14-15% of all deaths in the country, Skvortsova said.