News Briefs: February 19, 2015

The Torch’s weekly news briefs are both a compilation of important and relevant current events in the domestic and global health sphere, as well as a list of must-read think pieces and articles that pertain to a domestic and global health discipline.

Pakistan Keeps On Vaccinating Despite Tough Terrain and Terror Threat

Health workers in Pakistan have gone to extraordinary lengths to deliver vaccinations to children scattered across the nation-state. The country’s mountainous terrain in the north and harsh deserts in the south, as well as persistent and fatal attacks executed by the Taliban, have made the endeavor even riskier. Nevertheless, in 2013, Pakistan saw an immunization coverage of between 60 to 85 percent against diseases like measles, polio, tuberculosis, and meningitis. In 1980, when immunizations were introduced, the immunization rate was almost zero.

Since 2012, the Taliban in Pakistan has shot down about 60 health workers and policemen who have been attempting to deliver vaccinations. Regions such as North Waziristan have been completely closed off from aid workers due to the Taliban’s activities, producing a breeding ground for disease and illnesses to proliferate.

To find out more, please check out this article published by NPR, which features a brief Q&A with Dr. Dure Akram, a former a professor of pediatrics at the Dow Medical University in Karachi who now serves as the honorary chairman of the Health Education and Literacy in Pakistan. Here, he discusses challenges to vaccination and explores how vaccinations have changed the landscape of disease in Pakistan.

Measles Outbreak in the US and the Controversy Around Vaccines

As of February 9, 2015, there are 121 reported cases of measles in the US, with an additional 19 cases confirmed in the last week. The outbreak is believed to have broken out in Disneyland in California mid-December. Measles have been reported in seventeen states and Washington DC–Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of people who contracted measles were unvaccinated.

Since then, culture wars surrounding vaccinations have surfaced into public discourse. Those who are anti-vaccinations claim that vaccinations lead to autism and may not actually be effective. Those who believe in vaccinations have cited the eradication of diseases such as polio and meningitis as reasons why vaccinations serve as instrumental public and preventative health mechanisms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the US has a 91 percent measles immunization coverage among 1-year olds, which is lower than many other first world nations. To look at the immunization coverages for other countries, look at this interactive map published by the WHO.

How Cigarette Labels Are Being Re-Defined

In 2012, Australia passed a law that prohibited cigarette labels to display any brand, logo, or manufacturer names. Instead, cigarette packets were draped with the same, very specific packaging. Soon, notices began appearing on the packages, which detailed the the health consequences of smoking tobacco. Graphic health warnings covered 75% of the front of the packs and 90% of the reverse. Companies feel violated and are expected to sue. Some have even confronted the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, countries such as the UK, France, and Ireland are also considering passing legislation that tampers with packaging with hopes of curbing health effects proliferated by smoking. The US, in contrast, is a part of a small group of countries that have not ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and do not force companies to print warnings on cigarette packages.

This may change the way advertising and branding come together to promote and address public health issues. However, it’s difficult to draw an association between tobacco-related health consequences and labelling as these measures have either been introduced quite recently or have been coupled with an increase in taxes. Many have contested that the images on packets are too inflammatory and graphic.

The British Broadcasting Corporation recently explored cigarette labels. If you would like more information, please reference it. Images in the article are graphic.

HPV Vaccination Does Not Spur Riskier Sex

According to a recent study, teenage girls who are vaccinated against sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) do not go on to catch more sexually transmitted diseases. Many parents have been hesitant about vaccinating their teenage daughters as they believe that it would encourage riskier sexual behaviour.

Scientists analyzed insurance data on about 200,000 teenage girls from 2005-2010. Of the girls who received a vaccination, about four for every 1,000 had an STD [of some sort]. After their vaccination, this number rose to six for every 1,000. For girls who remained unvaccinated, three of every 1,000 unvaccinated girls had contracted an infection. Five years later, this number rose to four of every 1,000 unvaccinated girls. It was concluded that there was no association between vaccination and STDs. Rather, the rise in STDs over time was associated with getting older and being exposed to riskier sexual behavior through that lens.




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