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Sieren’s China: Beijing backs market-based health care reform

China has lifted the country's strict pharmaceutical price controls. This signals tough times for Western pharmaceutical companies and good times for the Chinese, says DW columnist Frank Sieren. The beginning of June marked the end of drug price caps set by the Chinese government. In the future, China, now the world's second-largest pharmaceutical market, will base its pricing policies on supply and demand. China's National Development and Reform Commission has thus implemented the changes Premier Li Keqiang announced at the National People's Congress in March. The aim is to lower the cost of medication for people in China and to decrease government spending in the health sector. In recent years, China has supplied almost half a billion citizens with health insurance coverage and now health care expenditures have reached almost 400 billion euros ($450 billion). In 2020, they are expected to surpass the trillion euro mark. The government wants all 1.4 billion Chinese to be insured by then. As a result, it is in the government's interest for the cost of medication not to continue to rise. Tough competition for multinationals This is bad news for foreign pharmaceutical corporations, like Switzerland's Novartis or the US company Pfizer, which must now sell their medication for less. They have been the leading purveyors of high-quality medication, but under the new scheme, they compete directly with Chinese producers of generic products, which are much cheaper. Beijing hopes that the new pricing system will provide China's pharmaceutical companies with incentive to invest in more in research and development and to produce more innovative drugs than their Western rivals. The pharmaceutical industry is particularly important because sales accounted for an 18.5 percent higher growth rate than that of the Chinese economy itself: in 2014, the pharmaceutical industry brought in $105 billion dollars in revenue. According to estimates made by the US consultancy firm McKinsey, the health care market in China will be worth over a trillion dollars in five years. Right now, thousands of Chinese companies are active on the market. If things go the way Beijing has planned, both public and private companies in China ought to consolidate while closing the gap between them and competitors on the international pharmaceutical market. That's also a way of securing growth. Little faith in Chinese drugs In the past, Chinese companies lacked patents, but most importantly, they lacked the trust of their own citizens, who looked to the West for quality medication and were even willing to pay a surcharge of up to 40 percent for Western products. Drastic price differences tend to be a good breeding ground for corruption, as the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline had to admit last fall. Employees of the corporation ended up behind bars after they had had bribed doctors to boost sales of their products; the corporation itself was slapped with a fine of about $500 million US dollars. Consequently, the new pricing system is a government attempt to clean up corruption among doctors and hospitals. Chinese hospitals earn nearly 40 percent of their budget by prescribing expensive medication. Hospitals themselves sell almost 70 percent of prescription drugs. The days of such monopolist market structures are numbered anyway: China's online shopping giant, Alibaba, is preparing to enter the prescription drug business. That's when prices will really drop. DW columnist Frank Sieren has been living in Beijing for 20 years.

China has lifted the country’s strict pharmaceutical price controls. This signals tough times for Western pharmaceutical companies and good times for the Chinese, says DW columnist Frank Sieren. The beginning of June marked the end of drug price caps set by the Chinese government. In the future, China, now the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical market, will base its pricing policies on ... Read More »

US military base mistakenly ships live anthrax to labs

A military facility in the US state of Utah has accidentally shipped live anthrax samples to several US labs. Health officials say there are no known infections and that public safety is not at risk. A US military facility mistakenly shipped live anthrax bacteria to laboratories in nine US states as well as an American military base in South Korea, defense officials said Wednesday. The Pentagon said there were no suspected infections or risks to the public, but four US civilians are undergoing preventative measures that include taking a combination of the anthrax vaccine and antibiotics. Jason McDonald of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the four civilians were "doing procedures that sent the agent into the air," but face "minimal" risk. The CDC has begun an investigation into the incident. Airborne anthrax is potentially deadly if inhaled. In 2001, five people died after inhaling anthrax sent through the US mail to government and media targets. The military base from which the anthrax was shipped, Dugway Proving Grounds, regularly transfers "dead" anthrax samples, which are inactivated through radiation. But exact information about how the live Anthrax was inadvertently shipped remained unclear. "All samples involved in the investigation will be securely transferred to CDC" or affiliated labs "for further testing," said CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harden. The sample sent to South Korea was subsequently destroyed, according to the Pentagon. The anthrax was originally shipped from the Utah facility as part of an effort to develop a field test to identify biological threats. "Out of an abundance of caution, (the Defense Department) has stopped the shipment of this material from its labs pending completion of the investigation," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren. Latest lapse Biosafety experts were shocked at the lack of oversight. "These events shouldn't happen," said Stephen Morse, a former program manager for biodefense at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Last year, US government laboratories came under fire after reports of careless management of deadly bacteria. Investigators discovered anthrax stored in unlocked refrigerators and an unrestricted corridor and that dangerous materials had been transported in resealable plastic bags. US lawmakers have demanded stricter oversight of government labs.

A military facility in the US state of Utah has accidentally shipped live anthrax samples to several US labs. Health officials say there are no known infections and that public safety is not at risk. A US military facility mistakenly shipped live anthrax bacteria to laboratories in nine US states as well as an American military base in South Korea, ... Read More »

From an Ebola survivor to an Ebola fighter

It's one year since the first Ebola case was officially diagnosed in Sierra Leone. Ebola survivor Haja Kargbo has dedicated her time to protecting people from the virus. Haja Fatmata Kargbo (pictured above) quickly washes her hands without even looking at the blue bucket. A quick temperature check and she heads down the stairs towards the small huts with corrugated iron roofs, crammed together, with the blue ocean gleaming in the background. Moa Whorf is known as one of Freetown's worst slums - now it's an Ebola hotspot as well. "People in Moa Wharf are very stubborn. When we tell them not to touch each other, they do not listen to us. When we tell them not to keep their sick relatives inside of their homes, they go ahead and hide their sick relatives from us," Haja says as she navigates her way through the filthy alleys, past floods of people, goats and pigs. Street corners are stacked with garbage and a smell of urine fills the air. "Some communities are now aware of Ebola. I do not think these communities will have cases anymore." But in Moa Wharf, she insists, people are just stubborn. Haja makes her way to the slum several times a week. As a contact tracer for the Red Cross, she visits people who are kept in the closed off quarantine zones. Everybody who has been in contact with a person suffering from Ebola is put under house arrest for 21 days. This way, the government wants to stop anyone who might have contracted Ebola from spreading it. Entering the quarantine zones Despite the heat and the crowds of people pushing by, Haja and her fellow volunteers do not slow down. She comes to a halt in front of the police tape that has been put up to stop people from entering the narrow alley. A grim-faced soldier stands guard - a bottle with disinfectant looking out of his front pocket. "Good morning everyone. Did you have a good night," Haja shouts at the people behind the police. "I was told three people in this house came into contact with a corpse," she explains. "But all of them are doing fine for now." One of Haja's colleagues quickly checks the temperature of the people behind the barrier. Anyone with more than 38.5 degrees Celcius (101.3 degrees Fahrenheit) would be taken to an Ebola treatment center immediately. But nobody is showing any signs of illness. Haja reminds them again. "If you develop any symptoms, you have to go to hospital immediately," she tells the group. Life goes on for those who survive Haja means every word that she says. She does not just know what Ebola is, she knows what it feels like. She contracted the virus from her husband in August 2014. "I did not feel good, I used to cry a lot when they took me to the Ebola treatment center. I did not believe I would survive," Haja remembers. 23 members of her family died from Ebola, including her husband and her 7-month old baby."I feel happy when I am on the job, but sad when I am home," Haja says. "Every time I am alone at home and thinking about the people I lost, mostly my husband and my children, that makes me really sad". At the next house, Hassan Kargbo is already expecting the volunteers. He is standing behind the police line with a black cap and white trousers, his wife and the little daugher watching from a distance. It's the same procedure again - a quick temperature check, a few health questions, a short chat. "Haja is telling us the right thing - we have to get rid of Ebola," Hassan insists. Ramata Jalloh, a Red Cross workers, watches Haja from a distance. Sometimes a proud smile crosses her face. Ramata met Haja when she was discharged from the Ebola treatment center. "I was going to her house every two days. She was always lying down or sitting in the room alone," Ramata remembers. "Her mother told me 'She is not happy. She is not doing anything, she does not even have the money to buy soap'". Ramata asked Haja to join the Red Cross as a volunteer - a request that she happily obliged. "I felt the nurses in the Ebola treatment center had done so much for me. I wanted to give something back." Three homes and three families later, the Red Cross team is done for the day. Haja and her colleagues wash their hands again and have their temperature checked one more timeIt's 2 pm and the fresh ocean breeze does not reach the hot narrow alleys of Moa Wharf. When the Ebola crisis was at its peak, the team would sometimes take entire days to visit all the people under quarantine. Making ends meet Yet for Haja the day is far from over. Her home is just a ten minute drive from Moa Wharf. She stays here with her mother and her five year old son. As soon she get home, she opens up her shaky wooden stall in front of her house. Now that her husband can no longer provide for her she sells mangos to supplement the small amount that she earns at the Red Cross. "I am the eldest child to my mother and since I do not have any husband I have to work," explains Haja. "My mother looks up to me to fend for us. After God, I am the second most important person in the family. I am often under a lot of pressure from my family to provide for everyone." If it was up to her, she would look for a new life, far away from Freetown and her community. "My dream is to go to Europe", Haja says and bursts into laughter. "Sierra Leone has become such a difficult place to live in. There is no money in the country, so I would be very happy if someone would assist me to get to Europe."

It’s one year since the first Ebola case was officially diagnosed in Sierra Leone. Ebola survivor Haja Kargbo has dedicated her time to protecting people from the virus. Haja Fatmata Kargbo (pictured above) quickly washes her hands without even looking at the blue bucket. A quick temperature check and she heads down the stairs towards the small huts with corrugated ... Read More »

Liberia free of Ebola, says World Health Organization

The WHO has declared Liberia free of Ebola after no new cases were reported for 42 days. However, officials have said they will be cautious about celebrating as the virus is not yet gone from the region. The World Heath Organization (WHO) has released a report on Saturday calling Liberia free of the Ebola disease, after twice the virus' incubation period passed without any new cases. The last Ebola patient in Liberia died on March 27, the organization said in a statement. WHO recorded more than 4,700 Ebola deaths in Liberia, and over 10,500 infections. While the number of infections was lower than in neighboring Sierra Leone, Liberia lost more patients to the disease; it was hard-hit by the outbreak due to a lack of health services. Officials and survivors said they are cautious about openly celebrating the end of Ebola in Liberia, as the virus is yet not out of the region. "We're proud of what we collectively managed to do but we need to remain vigilant," said Peter Jan Graaff, head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. Elsewhere in West Africa, however, new cases were reported this week in Sierra Leone and in Guinea, the other two countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak. According to WHO's latest situation report, each country recorded nine cases for the week ending May 3. #link:18313100:Some 11,020 people have died since the Ebola outbreak began in December 2013, while more than 26,000 have been infected.

The WHO has declared Liberia free of Ebola after no new cases were reported for 42 days. However, officials have said they will be cautious about celebrating as the virus is not yet gone from the region. The World Heath Organization (WHO) has released a report on Saturday calling Liberia free of the Ebola disease, after twice the virus’ incubation ... Read More »

WHO: Europe to grow quite obese by 2030

Obesity will hit Europeans hard in the coming years, according to the World Health Organization. Only one EU country is getting skinnier. The European Union country worst affected by obesity will be Ireland, where nine out of 10 men will be overweight by 2030, with Irish women coming in just behind, at 85 percent, according to the WHO report released Wednesday. Obesity will affect nearly half of Irish men and more than half of women by 2030. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. More concretely: A six-foot-tall man (1.82 meters) is obese at 221 pounds (100 kilograms), while a 5'6'' woman (1.68 meters) is obese at 186 pounds (84 kilograms). In Greece, the number obese people will double by 2030 to 40 percent, and the same will hold true for men in Spain. In the Czech Republic, where the WHO presented its projections at a European Congress on Obesity in Prague, 36 percent of men and 37 percent of women will be obese in 15 years. In a emailed clarification to DW, the WHO offered a caveat from Dr. Joao Breda, its program manager for nutrition, obesity and physical activity at the agency's Office for Europe, saying: "The study should be used with some caution as it was relatively small and was based on nationally available data that may not reflect the latest WHO estimates which are under further development." The 2030 modeling projections compiled by the WHO and UK Health Forum. Even Sweden - long known for slender frames - will see nearly one in four of its men and women obese by 2030. In Britain, every third woman will suffer from obesity by 2030. No data was available on Germany. The only good news came from the Netherlands, which is projected see drops in obesity levels over the next 15 years: Just 8 percent of men and 9 percent of women will be dangerously overweight. Obesity reduces life expectancy, lowers the quality of life and leads to various diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. The WHO's Breda wants EU countries to heed his organization's health-related clarion call and prevent an obesity crisis. "Action taken today can prevent these predictions from becoming reality and in some European countries the trend is already flattening off thanks to preventive measures including successes, for example, in the area of childhood obesity."

Obesity will hit Europeans hard in the coming years, according to the World Health Organization. Only one EU country is getting skinnier. The European Union country worst affected by obesity will be Ireland, where nine out of 10 men will be overweight by 2030, with Irish women coming in just behind, at 85 percent, according to the WHO report released ... Read More »

German measles eradicated from Americas

Rubella, also known as German measles, has been eradicated from the Americas, health officials say. It is the third infectious disease after polio and smallpox to be eliminated from the two continents. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attributed the breakthrough to successful vaccine campaigns in North, Central and South America. "This historic achievement culminates a 15-year elimination effort," the director of PAHO/WHO, Carissa Etienne, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. German measles is a mild illness spread through coughing or sneezing that causes a rash and low-grade fever. However, in pregnant women, the virus poses a serious threat to the fetus, causing stillbirths, mental defects and physical deformities. Etienne noted on Wednesday that the American continents had "become the world's first region to be declared free of endemic transmission of rubella virus." The last case of German measles was reported in Argentina in 2009, making the Americas free of the virus for five years. Europe is slated to be declared rubella-free this year, followed by southeast Asia, according to PAHO. The only other infectious diseases to have previously been eradicated from North and South America are smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

Rubella, also known as German measles, has been eradicated from the Americas, health officials say. It is the third infectious disease after polio and smallpox to be eliminated from the two continents. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) attributed the breakthrough to successful vaccine campaigns in North, Central and South America. “This historic achievement ... Read More »

Doubts plague new malaria vaccine

Final results of a study show that the world's leading malaria vaccine candidate appears to be a disappointment. The study showed that it doesn't work very well and that initial protection fades over time. Despite the poor results - it protects about one-third of children vaccinated - developers are moving ahead to get it approved because it could still help protect some children from getting the mosquito-spread disease. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the vaccine, with additional backing from the non-profit group PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The vaccine is likely to be the world's first licensed shot for malaria. A decision from the European Medicines Agency is expected later this year. The World Health Organization had set a target of 2015 for having a malaria vaccine that was at least 50 percent effective with protection lasting longer than a year. According to a study published Friday in the British journal The Lancet, those goals have been missed with the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, although scientists say the shot isn't a complete waste. "Everyone accepts that this is not the perfect or the last malaria vaccine," said Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study's lead author. "It's not good enough to stop transmission but it will cut the huge burden of disease." Seven African countries involved in study The vaccine study involved about 15,500 babies and toddlers in seven African countries. One group got three doses; a second group also got a booster shot and a third group got dummy shots. All of the children used a mosquito bed net and they were followed for up to four years. Overall, the vaccine was about 30 percent effective in those who got three doses and a booster shot but the protection waned over time. The WHO said it expects to make a recommendation about the vaccine in October if the European Medicines Agency has issued its assessment by then.

Final results of a study show that the world’s leading malaria vaccine candidate appears to be a disappointment. The study showed that it doesn’t work very well and that initial protection fades over time. Despite the poor results – it protects about one-third of children vaccinated – developers are moving ahead to get it approved because it could still help ... Read More »

Pesticides likely behind ‘mysterious killer disease’ in Nigeria

Eighteen people died under mysterious circumstances in southwest Nigeria this week, sparking fears of a new infectious disease outbreak. Weed killer was the likely cause, the World Health Organization has now said. When over a dozen men in the village of Ode Irele in southwestern Ondo state who complained of similar symptoms all died within a day, alarm bells began to ring. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no reason to suspect any outbreak of infectious disease, such as Ebola, which has claimed over 10,000 lives in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The "current hypothesis is herbicides," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said on Sunday, adding: "Tests done so far are negative for viral and bacterial infection." The victims began showing symptoms between April 13 and 15, including blurred vision and loss of consciousness, and Ondo spokesman Kayode Akinmade said it was due to a "mysterious killer disease." The Ondo state health commissioner, Dayo Adeyanju, said on Saturday that a total of 23 people had been affected. The state government of Ondo State set up an emergency response task team aimed at containing the spread of the illness. The team was tracing all people who had come into contact with the dead and monitoring them in case of infection, Adeyanju said in a statement. State spokesman Akinmade said health officials and experts from the government and aid agencies, as well as WHO epidemiologists, had arrived in Ode Irele to investigate the deaths. All of the tests were carried out at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, the WHO said.

Eighteen people died under mysterious circumstances in southwest Nigeria this week, sparking fears of a new infectious disease outbreak. Weed killer was the likely cause, the World Health Organization has now said. When over a dozen men in the village of Ode Irele in southwestern Ondo state who complained of similar symptoms all died within a day, alarm bells began ... Read More »

UNICEF: reopening of schools in Sierra Leone ‘a huge undertaking’

Children have gone back to school in Sierra Leone after a nine-month break due to Ebola. After a slow start, classrooms are now filling up again and safety precautions are in place. Children in Sierra Leone have returned to school for the first time in nine months after an enforced absence caused by the Ebola outbreak. Almost two million schoolchildren were set to return to their classrooms amidst a major health and safety operation supported by the UN's children's agency UNICEF. DW spoke to the head of UNICEF in Sierra Leone, Roeland Monash (pictured above). DW: How has the return to school been progressing? Approximately how many children were back at school on Tuesday (14.05.2015)? Roland Monash: We are still monitoring the numbers. On Tuesday morning when the schools first opened, the turnout was around 30 percent so not all children came back. This is not something to be immediately worried about. Normally, when a new academic year starts in Sierra Leone, it takes between one and two weeks before all children are back at school. I personally had thought that after such a long closure many more children would come but I think it was a combination of parents not being prepared yet, not having school uniforms and other items, and also still being concerned about Ebola and the school environment. There are reports that there were many more children in school this Wednesday. This was the first day back at school in nine months. Presumably this wasn't an ordinary school day for the children? No, definitely not. I visited one of the schools that was used as an Ebola treatment center on the outskirts of Freetown – UNICEF had a 20-bed facility there – basically the whole schoolyard was taken over by tents. Now we cleaned it all up and of course the community was very much aware about Ebola because it was right there in their own community. It was an emotional moment, the head teacher spoke words of compassion. You could see the seriousness on the faces of the children. So indeed it's not your regular opening of school year as normally experienced. Presumably your main priority at UNICEF is to stop children from catching Ebola and to stop them from spreading it. What precautionary measures do you have in place? First of all we had long discussions with public health experts, locally as well as internationally, on what is the right timing for reopening the schools. The opening was initially planned for early March but we delayed it, based on the fact that the number of Ebola cases had not come down quickly enough. But we are now having just one or two cases a day and it's really isolated in a few chiefdoms. In order to get the right measures in place, we developed a national protocol and guidelines for all schools, telling them how to open their schools safely. We trained 10,000 teachers in how to use those protocols. Together with the government and some other partners, we distributed close to 80,000 hand-washing stations, that's buckets with taps and soap, and over 55,000 thermometers around the country. So there are all these extra measures in place, also posters and brochures and radio discussion programs to make everybody aware of what they need to do to make sure the schools are safe. Every child has its temperature taken every morning. What guarantees does UNICEF have that the resources it has made available in Sierra Leone will be properly deployed by the Sierra Leonean authorities? We have monitors in the field, we have developed a rapid SMS system, and basically we have independent monitors who are going from school to school. At the moment we are visiting over a thousand schools, 96 percent of these schools have hand-washing stations in place, as well as thermometers and trained teachers. At the few schools which do not have these things in place, it's probably not because the buckets have been taken away, but basically there was not an updated list of schools. In recent years a number of schools have been added because of the population growth. Does UNICEF, as a UN organization, have the resources it needs to do this job thoroughly? It has been a huge undertaking and we are continuing to fundraise. We were fortunate that we had more than ten international donors willing to chip in to this education response, including the German government. We need more money, specifically for teaching materials and other materials, because of course children and parents need to feel confident that when the children go back to school they actually learn something. However, the basic minimum safety standards to prevent Ebola, we have that covered.

Children have gone back to school in Sierra Leone after a nine-month break due to Ebola. After a slow start, classrooms are now filling up again and safety precautions are in place. Children in Sierra Leone have returned to school for the first time in nine months after an enforced absence caused by the Ebola outbreak. Almost two million schoolchildren ... Read More »

Australia to cut benefits to parents who refuse to vaccinate

The Australian prime minister has said parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will have some benefits cut. The move comes amid a resurgent vaccination debate in several parts of the world. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday that Australians who refuse to vaccinate their children will in future be denied some government benefits such as child care subsidies and family tax benefits. "It's essentially a 'no jab, no pay' policy from this government," Abbott told reporters in the eastern city of Sydney. "It's a very important public health announcement. It's a very important measure to keep our children and our families as safe as possible," he said. "The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments," he said, adding that the new policy would go into force on January 1, 2016. The announcement comes amid a nationwide debate over immunizing children. Many vaccination objectors say they fear that a triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is behind an increase in cases of childhood autism - a theory posited in a since-retracted article in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 that has been repeatedly disproven by a number of studies. Few exemptions Currently in Australia, the some 3 percent of benefit recipients who do not have their children immunized on the basis of "conscientious objections" still have access to benefits such as child care rebates. Such parents stand to lose a reported 15,000 Australian dollars (10,880 euros; $11,500) annually per child under the new policy, which is also supported by the Labor opposition in Australia, making parliamentary approval a formality. Exemptions will be permitted only on strict medical or religious grounds, with parents who cite religion having to prove affiliation with a religious group whose objection to vaccination has received government approval. Although Australia has vaccination rates of more than 90 percent for children aged one to five, the government says more than 39,000 children under seven have not been immunized - an increase of more than 24,000 children over the past decade. The vaccination debate in and outside of Australia has been fueled by recent outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough in several parts of the world. Non-vaccinated people who contract such diseases can pose a danger to babies who have not yet been immunized or those with auto-immune conditions, who are otherwise protected by so-called "herd immunity."

The Australian prime minister has said parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will have some benefits cut. The move comes amid a resurgent vaccination debate in several parts of the world. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday that Australians who refuse to vaccinate their children will in future be denied some government benefits such as child care ... Read More »

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