Dear Colleagues,

As this newsletter is sent out, the World Cup football prepares to kick off. In the coming weeks, we’ll have to divide our attention between global health and even more important issues.  The Belgian team hasn’t qualified – we only manage to qualify for the Eurovision song contest these days. Across Africa, the hope is probably that one of the six African teams will win the final.

In a number of European countries, it’s election time these weeks. After the British elections and the Dutch, the Belgians are expected to go to the polls (on Sunday). Who knows, maybe for the last time. It’s not exactly a prominent election campaign theme, but development aid does not escape the budget cuts in many Western countries. The Canadian government already announced a freeze of development aid in March, and now the Dutch contemplate a similar or even worse move (halving development aid?). In Belgium, the situation is better, but probably the most encouraging message comes from the new UK government. Austerity, yes, but not at the expense of good aid.  Tony Blair does not disagree.

Finally, at this very moment in Brussels, the European Commission is wrapping up a two-day High Level Global Health event. The new EU role in Global health has been extensively discussed by a large panel of officials, civil society representatives and academics from Europe and beyond. In this morning’s opening session, Margaret Chan praised the communication, which comes as no surprise if you have read the document: in it, the WHO is seen as a central piece of global health governance. In another speech, Bience Gawanas, the African Union commissioner for social affairs (who opted for Brussels instead of the South African stage) insisted today that the African Health Strategy exists and that the rest of the world should listen to African leaders when they speak about Africa’s health development.

Enjoy your reading.

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


1. BMJ – Preventing iatrogenic pandemics of panic. Do it in a NICE way

Luc Bonneux, Wim Van Damme;

As expected, the BMJ investigative report has not gone unnoticed. The report by Paul Flynn (for the Council of Europe) on the handling of the H1N1 pandemic added to the controversy. Against this backdrop, the EU Commission launches its consultation on “Strengthening European Union Preparedness on Pandemic Influenza”.

BMJ features a few follow-up viewpoints on “flu-gate”.

Luc Bonneux and Wim Van Damme try to draw lessons from the WHO response to the avian flu and swine flu pandemics. WHO should look at the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for some inspiration on how to come to sound and rational health policy decisions, they suggest.

2. BMJ – The price of poor pandemic communication

Thomas Abraham;

In another viewpoint, Thomas Abraham says the main failure was the fact that instead of using the tools and principles of risk communication to create public understanding of the risks posed by the pandemic, instead, experts and policy makers resorted to advocacy, an entirely different form of communication.

3. Chan’s letter to BMJ editors:

Margaret Chan;

Probably a bit grumpy, Margaret Chan wrote a letter to the BMJ editors, in which she denied that commercial interests had entered WHO decision-making. 

4. Scientific American – Flu experts rebut conflict claims

Declan Butler;

An article in the Scientific American also questions some of the conclusions of the BMJ report.

Women deliver conference

5. IPS – Keeping the Pressure on to Invest in Women’s Health

Matthew O. Berger;

This week, the Women Deliver conference took place in Washington. Needless to say, at a pivotal time. IPS gives an overview of the main message and outcomes. The new 1.5 billion investment by the Gates Foundation in maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition was one of the key announcements. Ban Ki Moon also told the world that the ‘Joint Action Plan’ is gathering momentum.

6. Women Deliver 2010: A Second Chance for the World to Deliver for Women

Nandini Oomman and Katherine Douglas;

Oomman and Douglas comment on the event, and wonder whether this time will be different from the enthusiasm 15 years ago (in Cairo and Beijing). They suggest what needs to be done if we want to seize the opportunity this time.


And as we reckon it’s always good to “Know thy enemy”, this criticism of the Women Deliver conference is maybe also worth a read, in the Washington Times. 

Non Communicable Diseases

7. TMIH – Tunnel vision in Tropical Medicine research?

Stephan Ehrhardt;

In an editorial in ‘Tropical Medicine and International Health’, Ehrhardt reckons that the emphasis put by most Tropical Medicine research on infectious and parasitic diseases is one-sided. Research should also concentrate increasingly on non-communicable diseases.

8. Lancet – Moving cancer up the global health agenda

Now that new estimates of cancer incidence and mortality are available, the Lancet argues in an editorial for moving cancer up the global health agenda. Although cancer control and care have remained a low priority in developing countries and on global health agendas so far, there is hope for improved resources for non-communicable diseases, including cancer.

Aid effectiveness

9. Aidwatchers – The World Bank’s “horizontal” approach to health falls horizontal?

William Easterly;

This week, an ACTION report found little evidence of the impact of the WB’s Sector-wide approach on TB health outcomes. The report was funded by the Gates Foundation. Easterly comments.

10.    McKinsey – Making the most of Chinese aid to Africa

Steve Davis and Jonathan Woetzel ;

A McKinsey article says it’s about time to go beyond the current sterile ‘China versus the West’ debate. Instead the debate should focus on the following more pragmatic question: how to make sure that China’s involvement leads to the greatest benefit for both Africans and Chinese? African and Chinese leaders should focus on three opportunities.

11. Owen: why does the development system need governance

Owen Barder; (not available at the time we packed this letter) check this PDF instead (572 Kb)

In a blogpost, Owen elaborates on the need for governance for development cooperation. He identifies nine reasons why development cooperation needs some kind of governance.


12. Guardian blog – Triumph and tribulations in the battle for cheap Aids drugs

Sarah Boseley;

UNITAID finally got its deal, the Patent Pool Foundation. Negotiations with pharmaceutical industries will now start on the pooling of some patents for ARV drugs. This may be just one step in a process, but nevertheless, it is likely to be a milestone for improving access to ARVs for the poorest. In the meantime, and more worryingly, the production of didanosine, a vital ARV for many HIV+ children, is suspended for some time. Running a business does not always seem to match with patients’needs.

13.    TMIH – Review of multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant TB: global perspectives with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa

Giovanni Battista Migliori, Keertan Dheda, Rosella Centis et al.

The authors review the latest evidence on drug-resistant TB in HIV-infected and uninfected populations, with focus on Africa. Drawing on this updated evidence base, they claim that existing interventions, public health systems and TB and HIV programmes need to be strengthened significantly. Political and funder commitment will be crucial to curb the spread of drug-resistant TB.

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