2015 will be an interesting year in global health primarily because this is the year when the Millennium Development Goals should ideally be reached. Global health experts admit that many of the goals, for example MDG5, will not be reached globally even though some of them have already been reached on a country level.
Ethiopia effectively reached MDG4 along with Bangladesh, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, and Tanzania according to a 2013 report in the Guardian and UN data. Globally, the proportion of people having access to safe drinking water was reached in 2012. That is cause for celebration.
The overarching theme this year will be how the global health community will save more lives in low and middle-income countries in the best ways possible. This does not necessarily mean substantive goals, target dates, and data measurements will be scaled back. Rather, improved approaches to global health will be devised to streamline processes and programs.
While there are many global health stories that deserve following in great detail here are our top five picks for 2015.
1. The Effect of Ebola on Maternal Health: While Ebola is being fought in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia there must also be an enhanced emphasis on women who are pregnant and need to deliver their babies in a hospital setting. As it is, with low resources and crippled health systems in these three countries, women still need to be afforded quality care during pregnancy and delivery while health workers also care for those stricken with Ebola.
As the year goes on it is probable that key data will emerge from lessons learned during the Ebola response. According to Scientific American, the WHO, UNICEF, and Save the Children have already devised best practices and protocols for safe delivery.
2. Global Immunizations: This year we will watch the increase in rotavirus vaccine roll-outs across poor countries. Why? Diarrhea is one of the top three leading causes of deaths for children under five, and yet the rotavirus vaccine isn’t accessible in the volume of some the other vaccines. That said, rotavirus roll-outs have increased substantially since 2011. There is more good news. With increased GAVI funding, the rotavirus vaccine will be introduced in 30 countries this year.
We will also look at the progress of the Ebola vaccine. GAVI has announced that it is ready to purchase a million doses of the vaccine as soon as the World Health Organization approves its use. Today, Johnson & Johnson announced that they have already begun clinical Ebola vaccine trials with volunteers in Africa.
3. Country Commitments to the Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP): Last year saw the official adoption of the plan during last year’s World Health Assembly and the launch of the Every Newborn Action Plan in Johannesburg during the Partners Forum. Upon its launch there were already 40 commitments (PDF) to save more newborns globally. That said, this year we will also look for increased commitments, particularly country commitments, to the ENAP especially since 2.9 million newborns die every year due to largely preventable causes.
4. Scaling Up of Frontline Health Workers: Did you know there is a global shortage of 7.2 million frontline health workers? That key data has been widely shown by the lack of health workers in Ebola stricken countries. It’s the lack of health workers that has made fighting Ebola harder than it should be and why many health workers outside of Africa have had to pick up the slack.
Scaling up health workers is a large expense, but it bears repeating that in order for countries to provide quality health care to their citizens there must first be enough health workers. Ethiopia is touted time and again as an excellent example of a poor country that effectively scaled health worker coverage across the country through a government-led effort. Other countries’ health ministers have traveled to Ethiopia to see best practices for scaling up their own frontline health force. The second step after key learnings, however, is making sure actions are taken besides pure lip service. In 2015 we will look at evidence from other low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, that will introduce better national health worker programs.
5. Food Security in Conflict Areas: At the end of 2014, the World Food Programme said that it had suspended food aid to 1.7 million refugees in Syria due to a lack of donor funding. And previous to that, the WFP split vouchers in half to stretch funds according to the New York Times. Even though the World Food Programme received an emergency influx of funds after their voucher suspension announcement last month, it is never a good sign to see that there are not enough donor dollars to feed the world especially those who are living in conflict areas. Food security in not only conflict zones, but also in West Africa will be on our must-follow list this year.
Which global health stories are you following this year?
UN Photo/Martine Perret