Category Archives: Global Development

When the Right to Health Becomes a Battle for Recognition & Dignity



The following post is an opinion piece from Jeanne Chauffour, a student at the University of Chicago*

Health is a human right. This phrase is clearly stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), along with a long list of other highly-held treaties and conventions. For countries having ratified these treaties, the right to health should be strongly defended. Unfortunately, health is still a commodity or unattainable luxury for millions of people around the world – both in developed and developing nations.

Longstanding efforts certainly exist to remedy the great health inequalities of our time; millions of dollars a year are donated to large organizations, agencies, and bodies who strive to improve health and wellbeing in the most impoverished settings across the world. And for the most part, they have done good work – we have reduced maternal mortality rates, and the AIDS-free generation is a tangible reality. Yet, one health issue that continues to be underfunded and underprioritzed is neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs.

Health is a human right. And NTDs are a serious health concern. There are seventeen NTDs that currently plague our planet –, seven of which represent 90 percent of the global burden. NTDs are the most common affliction among the world’s poorest people, but they are often ignored because they mostly infect those living in rural poverty. The individuals infected with NTDs are rarely the focus of media attention.

NTDs have been referred to as “the forgotten disease of the forgotten people,” causing disfigurement (swollen abdomens and limbs), rashes, and inverted eyelashes, and fueling stigma — making it harder for those affected to break the cycle of poverty. NTDs can also lead to long-term disabilities and other health issues such as blindness. In many cultures, the condition of those suffering from NTDs is perceived to be a curse or a sin, and the stigma can affect an entire family. I cannot even come close to imagining the life and mental health conditions of the millions of people worldwide living with NTDs.

NTDs can also cause stunted growth and malnutrition. In addition, NTDs are directly correlated to the first six Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, that have guided our international development efforts over the past fourteen years. Our failure to adequately address the NTD burden may have contributed to our failure to reach many of the MDGs, which will be replaced by new UN goals later this year.

The unfortunate truth is that some diseases that affect western communities (such as cancer, diabetes or HIV/AIDS) are propelled to the forefront of research, while other treatable diseases not found in the developed world receive less attention and funding. NTDs have been around for hundreds of years, and some of their treatments are decades old, yet they lag behind other conditions in the attention they receive from the global community.

Luckily, a solution exists, and recent efforts have raised the visibility of NTDs on the global health agenda. On January 30, 2012, the London Declaration on NTDs was signed by the WHO, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, thirteen pharmaceutical companies, and leaders from the US, UK and UAE. These stakeholders committed to ensuring the resources necessary to end the public health threat of ten of the most common NTDs by 2020, and progress since has been impressive.

Even more, some countries have been successful in eradicating or eliminating NTDs over the past few years: Oman has eliminated trachoma, Colombia has eliminated onchocerciasis, and Nigeria eradicated guinea worm disease. In all, over 70 countries have developed multi-year integrated NTD plans, and the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a landmark resolution on all 17 NTDs in May 2013.

The London Declaration has been a huge step forward in solidifying the commitment of pharmaceutical companies to donate the medicine needed to protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for one whole year. National governments coordinate the distribution of the medicine with local health workers who administer the medicine during annual mass drug administrations (MDAs). But a large funding gap persists that limits our efforts to scale up treatment to everyone who needs it.

Health is a human right. And so are many other things: free speech, choice of religion, participation in civic and political life and education. Yet, health is and should be perceived as one of the fundamental rights humans have, without which the exercise of their other rights and freedoms is limited or nonexistent. Health more than any other factor determines livelihood and the capacity to improve one’s own condition.

Health is the driving mechanism to generate wealth, access, and success in many other types of activities – being able to vote, being able to go to school, contributing to the progress and growth of your country’s economy, being able to choose a respectful partner and have healthy children of your own.

Health is a human right, and any phrase related to health with the word “neglected” in its title must find justice, especially when we are equipped with all the tools that we need to succeed. It is only when these basic health inequities will be solved that our world will truly be able to pull the most and the best from individuals’ potential. Health is a human right.

 *Jeanne Chauffour is a rising fourth year undergraduate student at The University of Chicago where she studies in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HIPSS) and Human Rights departments. Jeanne is the 2014-2015 Internal Co-President at GlobeMed at the University of Chicago, a student global health non-profit organization she has been a part of since her freshman year. Jeanne is also involved in community health with Students for Health Equity, the Student Health Advisory Board, the University of Chicago Center for Global Health, and Ci3. In October 2014, Jeanne will be a delegate at the Millennium Campus Conference.

LwL: A Life Worth Living



This post was originally published on the Aspen Idea Blog.

What makes a life worth living? For many of us, it’s our relationships with our families and loved ones, the ability to follow our passions, excel at work, and improve opportunities for ourselves and future generations.

While tremendous efforts are underway to prevent deaths worldwide, guaranteeing survival is not enough. We must also strive to ensure that every human lives a life of quality.

Nearly half the world’s population is robbed of the minimum requirements that allow them to reach their full potential. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), parasitic and infectious diseases affecting 1.4 billion people worldwide, debilitate entire families and communities. They cause anemia and malnutrition, and can lead to blindness, school absenteeism, disfiguration and the loss of livelihoods. NTDs drastically weaken a person’s health and cause unnecessary suffering.

At the basic level, access to adequate nutrition, the opportunity to be educated, the ability to enjoy human interaction, and the right to prosper and contribute to society all make a life worth living. Yet NTDs rob the billion and a half people living in poverty of these basic needs and undermine other development challenges like maternal and child health. In order to flourish, these needs must be met.

Life isn’t just about the number of days we live, but the quality of those days. Every human, no matter where they were born, has the right to a fulfilled life and the right to determine their own future.

By fighting NTDs, we can help protect the health of the world’s poor and vastly improve their quality of life, increasing opportunity and equality. And it’s inexpensive and easy to do so. For less than 50 cents per person per year, we can control and eliminate NTDs altogether within the decade. 

Solving this global health challenge will require collective action. In an e-world where communication is often reduced to three letter acronyms, LwL – Life worth Living is a way of thinking about and raising awareness of the social, psychological and developmental impacts of NTDs. LwL has universal appeal as self-examination for “haves” and “have-nots” in a broader understanding and value of life. As a concerned global community, we can work together to ensure all people have the tools they need to live their life worth living.

LwL is a symbol that reminds us to be mindful as we go about our daily lives and reflect on what constitutes a life worth living – not only for us in the healthy or developed world, but for those suffering from poor health and poverty as well. If we as a community can reflect on LwL, we can help ensure a healthier and happier life for all.

Health Care Workforce Shortage=Failure to Meet MDGs


Health workers in Honduras

Health workers in Honduras. Photo by Olivier Asselin

Did you know 83 countries do not have enough health workers to meet the World Health Organization’s minimum standard to provide basic health services (No Health Without a Workforce, 2013)? The importance of the health workforce cannot be overstated and without concrete efforts from the international community to strengthen the frontline community of health workers, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and those health goals being outlined for the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda, will not be met.

Congressional Briefing Highlight

 Recently, I attended a congressional briefing led by International Medical Corps (IMC) and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in cooperation with Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dibba F. Edwads and Representative Kristi Noem and Doris O. Matsui. The briefing, titled,“Saving Women’s and Children’s Lives; Strengthening the Health Workforce in Fragile Countries” discussed the needs of the frontline health workers today and highlighted a few examples of programs addressing these gaps successfully.

Saving Mothers, Giving Life, was one program highlighted as a model of best practice.  The program is currently operating in Uganda (a fragile state) and Zambia, and is focused on maternal and child health.  Saving Mothers, Giving Life pays special attention to the needs of individual health care providers by offering training and mentoring services to improve contact with patients and grow the workforce of community health workers in these cities.  The program also focused on the health facilities themselves, working to improve access to health services overall.  By focusing on the health workforce and the health workplace, this program has seen a 30% reduction in maternal mortality in both countries. The multitude of public and private partnerships involved has also been an innovative piece to the model of this program design worth noting.  A few other “best practice models” were highlighted at this briefing, including examples from other fragile states (ie: Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan), but the resounding message from all examples was clear: the importance of individual health workers’ needs and the need for infrastructure to support their endeavors improves health outcomes for the community.

Multi-Talented Workforce Easily Overworked

Health workers are a huge asset to improving population health and they often are trained to care for a multitude of ailments (ie: maternal child health care workers can offer services for nutrition needs, routine immunizations, malaria, HIV/AIDs, TB, and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and NTD health workers distributing mass drug administration pills can also distribute malaria nets and vitamin A supplements).  While this integration of health services provided by the health workforce is ideal, often times the health workforce becomes overburdened, or worse, burnt-out. A contributing factor to the overburdening of the health workforce is the chronic health workers shortage. It will be no surprise when the MDGs are not met given the current health workforce shortage, an estimated 4.2 million health workers, with 1.5 million needed in Africa alone. However, looking ahead to the UN Post-Development Agenda, increasing the health workforce significantly will be imperative to success.

Health workers are the backbone of a healthy society and without them, health goals of the international community will not be reached.  While World Health Workers Week has come and gone acknowledging the backbone of a health society should be a constant effort.

Follow #healthworkerscount @MSHHealthImpact @IMC_Worldwide and @USAIDGH for more on this topic.

New Support for NTDs to Drive Progress Forward


photo 1NTDs

This afternoon, global health leaders convened in Paris to discuss progress made in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The event, titled Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Conversation on Progress, coincided with the release of a new report highlighting gains over the past two years.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization; Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and several other expert panelists including Chris Viehbacher, CEO of Sanofi;  Dr. Onésime Ndayishimiye, National Director of Burundi’s Neglected Tropical Disease & Blindness Control Program; and French Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Hon. Marisol Touraine, announced deepened commitments for efforts to control and eliminate the most common NTDs by 2020 — including a $120 million pledge from the World Bank, a new collaboration to combat soil-transmitted helminthes (STH) and accelerated research and development efforts lead by pharmaceutical companies in conjunction with nonprofits.

The broad reach and attention of today’s event signals the fact that controlling and eliminating NTDs is embraced by a global community of national leaders, policy makers and donors. In addition, there is broad recognition that addressing NTDs is a crucial component of eliminating poverty and achieving development goals.

Echoing this fact, Dr. Tim Evans, World Bank Director of Health, Nutrition and Population stated during the event that NTDs are major constraints to development and addressing them will boost shared prosperity.

As detailed in the Uniting to Combat NTDs report and score card, progress on NTDs has accelerated quickly over the past two years. Pharmaceutical companies are now meeting 100 percent of requests for drugs, and endemic countries taking ownership of NTD programs. To date, 74 countries – roughly two-thirds of all NTD-endemic countries – have now developed national plans to help guide their control and elimination efforts.

Of particular note, Nigeria and Ethiopia, two countries with high NTD burdens, made national commitments to end NTDs. Nigeria launched its master NTD plan in February with the goal of providing treatment to more than 60 million people annually over the next five years. Ethiopia, the country with the highest trachoma burden, launched its national plan in June 2013. Success in Nigeria and Ethiopia would significantly decrease the global burden of NTDs worldwide.

Pages from NTD Report Final (sm)These positive gains are cause for optimism, but challenges still remain. While the chart to the left (click to view larger) shows a steady increase in drug donation and delivery, only 36 percent of people in need received all the drugs they needed in 2012. Mobilizing more financial resources to support program implementation, doing more to leverage the value of donated drugs and increasing collaboration across sectors are just a few ways the global community can further accelerate progress.

While donors, pharmaceuticals and NGOs are an integral part of the solution, endemic countries will drive progress forward by continuing to develop, own and implement their programs in a sustainable way.

“I always believe in country ownership,” Dr. Margaret Chan said. “We’re here to support your efforts.”

We applaud the work done by endemic countries, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, multilateral organizations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and look forward to the path towards 2020.

Click to view the event video and full report.