Dear Colleagues,

We don’t know about you, but as far as we are concerned the TV-interview with Google executive Wael Ghonim was the media highlight of this week. The young Egyptian couldn’t control his tears when confronted with the pictures of the victims, while saying that the people who cling to power were the ones to blame.  People all over the world instantly empathized with the devastated young man. Even if things can no doubt still go horribly wrong – as many pundits were quick to point out – the Egyptians are writing history these days, and have managed to capture the attention of the whole world.  And yes, by now that includes the Chinese ( although their authoritarian regime still looks a lot more resilient than many Arabic regimes).  However, if the so called ‘clash of civilizations’ is proven wrong in Egypt, and universal human rights and democracy turn out once again irresistible in the coming months, there might very well be a 4th wave of democratization. Let’s just hope the West plays a constructive role this time. Geopolitical interests and stability are no doubt important concerns, but they shouldn’t trump the Egyptians’ hopes for real democracy, equity and good governance.

Unsurprisingly, the chaos in Egypt has already sparked some blunt discussion in foreign policy & aid circles, especially in the US. As for the UK, the Guardian ‘Poverty matters’ blog had an article about foreign aid’s “dirty little secret”, and ODI  featured an interesting blog post on what Egypt tells us that development discourse doesn’t.

Elsewhere in Africa, in Dakar, the World Social Forum is about to end. This year, Belgian mainstream newspapers paid a lot less attention to the event than in the past (and definitely a lot less than to the Davos counterpart). We don’t really know why – true, it looks pretty chaotic over there, and sometimes ideas that are being raised can feel a tad too utopian, like the voices pleading for eco-socialism or a post-capitalist society (we have a hunch Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck won’t like the sound of ‘eco-socialism’). Yet, you cannot deny that some of the dreams and hopes aired at the WSF are getting mainstream, with the Financial Transactions Tax being one of them. Some people are already saying this will be a decisive year for the FTT, one way or another. Latin-American leaders still love the event – with visits from Lula and Morales  for example this year – but some analysts say their presence also evidences growing Latin-American geopolitical interest in Africa.

Our Emerging Voices also dream of a different world, one without health inequity between and within countries. This week we feature a blog post (published on the Health Affairs website) written by some of them, on the casino-dinner in Montreux last year. The weird event reminded them somehow of the classic novel ‘Lords of Poverty’. Has anything changed for all those years, they wonder.  So do we, sometimes. 

Enjoy your reading.

David Hercot, Kristof Decoster, Josefien Van Olmen, Basile Keugong & Wim Van Damme

Global Health Policy & Financing

Sarah Boseley – Big Pharma shows willingness to pool HIV/Aids drug patents

The patent pool for AIDS drugs announced that it is in negotiations or preparing to enter negotiations with F. Hoffman-La Roche, Gilead Sciences, Sequoia Pharmaceuticals, and ViiV Healthcare (a joint venture of GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer). The big surprise for the sceptics is Viiv, Boseley notes.

South Centre – The Right to Health and Medicines: The Case of Recent Negotiations on the Global Strategy on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property

German Velasquez; ;

In this research paper, Velasquez reviews the ongoing negotiation process on issues such as intellectual property right and access to medicine. This process has been going on at WHO headquarters since 2006. He concludes that some steps forward have been taken but that WHO should now make use of article 19 of its constitution to impose a treaty on intellectual property rights for medicines. Usually WHO is not very fond of doing so.

STC UK blog – A step towards aid effectiveness

Simon Wright;

Simon Wright reports from a meeting in Geneva where people from GAVI, GFATM and the World Bank discussed – with civil society representatives – ways to set up the joint health system funding platform. Although this is one of the most promising initiatives to move the alignment of multilateral agencies forward with regard to health systems strengthening, progress has been slow so far.

BMJ – Reduction of childhood mortality through millennium development goal 4 Will not be maximised unless injury prevention is integrated into the overall plan

Adnan A Hyder,  Jeffrey Lunnen;         

Hyder and Lunnen rightly emphasize the contribution of child injuries to the overall child death toll. They argue that we urgently need to address this issue if we want to boost our chances of achieving MDG4.


Cost effectiveness and resource allocation – The cost-effectiveness of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in low- and middle-income countries: systematic review

Mira Johri and Denis Ako-Arrey;

This article presents a synthesis of the evidence on the costs, effects and cost-effectiveness of HIV MTCT strategies for LMICs from the published literature and evaluates their implications for policy and future research. The authors conclude that the discussion is no more about ‘whether to include it or not’ but rather on ways to implement it.

PLOS (Policy Forum) –A Surprising Prevention Success: Why Did the HIV Epidemic Decline in Zimbabwe?


Daniel T. Halperin et al.;

In a Plos Policy Forum, Halperin et al. analyze what could explain the positive HIV prevention results noticed in Zimbabwe. Some prevention lessons are drawn for regions with generalized HIV epidemics.

Chronic Diseases

Lancet (editorial)  – Tobacco companies expand their epidemic of death

This Lancet editorial is in no diplomatic mood this week: “For companies like Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco—selling, addicting, and killing, surely the most cruel and corrupt business model human beings could have invented—it is not surprising that they see “many opportunities for us to develop our business” in vulnerable low-income and middle-income countries.”

In related news, check out also the Global health council report on the burden of cancer in developing countries. (PDF ,15 MB)


Lancet (editorial) – An epidemic of risk factors for cardiovascular disease

In this week’s issue, the Lancet published three articles written by the Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors of Chronic Diseases Collaborating Group. The authors analyse trends over the past generation in body-mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, and serum total cholesterol. Their findings show that we will face an epidemic of cardiovascular diseases in the coming years, and particularly in low and middle income countries, if we don’t act swiftly. As these are all preventable diseases we should act now! As the US situation shows, this is easier said than done though. The editorial is interesting as it sketches the looming challenges in various parts of the world.

Development & Aid

Owen Barder – Does the public care about development?

This week, Owen Barder asks the one billion dollar question: does the public actually care about development? We wouldn’t know, but his answer is positive. However, citizens need to be convinced that aid works.

In another interesting blog post, he refers to a podcast on the key global development challenges for the 21st century.

ODI (briefing paper) – Security, humanitarian action and development

Marta Foresti, Lisa Denney and Victoria Metcalfe;

An ODI briefing paper outlines the risks and benefits of greater coordination between humanitarian, development and security agendas in approaches to building stability in fragile states.

Guardian – Military aims distorting aid priorities

Richard Norton-Taylor;

International aid is being diverted from the most needy to fulfil short-term military objectives, Oxfam warns in a new report

KFF – African Leaders Meet In Rwanda To Discuss Capacity Building

At a two-day summit of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in Kigali, African leaders called for stronger efforts in building capacity that goes beyond achieving the MDG targets of 2015.

The Hill – Let’s be smart about foreign aid in the debates ahead

Larry Nowels;

Smartly (or perhaps anticipating the mayhem that was coming towards them), some among the Obama foreign assistance team have been scrutinizing their agency budgets for some time and identifying where cuts can be made. 

In related news, see also what ‘Science Speaks’ says on possible TB funding cuts. 

Emerging voices

Health Affairs (blog) –  …. And then the dessert arrived – Global Health dichotomies

Meena Daivadanam, Kristof Decoster, Asmat Malik, & Prashanth NS;

As we mentioned in the introduction, most of the Emerging Voices didn’t appreciate the casino dinner / moving speech / party atmosphere at the WHO symposium on health systems research in Montreux last year. Neither did we. Something felt wrong that evening. Nevertheless, we don’t want to single out WHO for criticism – it’s still all too common, and WHO is by no means the worst in this respect.

On the bright side, at least the atmosphere at the Symposium was not as decadent as the one colourfully depicted in a ‘Tales on the Hood’ blog post : ‘Curse, drink, shag’.  Health systems researchers and NGO humanitarian expats might have many things in common, but apparently there remain differences.

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