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Beep Beep, Beep Beep, NO!

The World Health Organization has rightly garnered a lot of attention from the H1N1 pandemic (which, by the way is now up to 39,620 confirmed cases and 167 deaths). But there is something even more deadly than the deadliest flu outbreak to which the WHO wants is member states to pay greater heed. Something that kills 1.3 million each year and injures 20 and 50 million others: Roadway accidents. And like HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB, roadway deaths disproportionately affect people living in lower and middle income countries (LIC's and MIC's).  To wit:



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About three hours ago the World Health Organization declared that the H1N1 Flu is now a global pandemic. And in so doing, the world is now at the beginning stages of the first global flu pandemic in 41 years.

What does this mean? First, if like me you live in a developed country, don't panic. There have been about 30,000 confirmed cases of H1N1 in 74 (mostly developed) countries resulting and 141 deaths. And while each of these deaths is tragic, this is not considered all that deadly. (Regular influenza is much worse.) Also, about two thirds of those who have succumbed to H1N1 have had other underlying medical conditions. Second, the WHO does not recommend any travel restrictions. I'm still planning on attending that wedding in Puerto Vallarta in October.

Still, there are some reasons to be concerned. So far, the virus has popped in places with decent health infrastructures. It has not - and this is only a matter of time - hit the developing world.  And this, says WHO director Margaret Chan "is of gravest concern."

We do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world. To date, the vast majority of cases have been detected and investigated in comparatively well-off countries.

Let me underscore two of many reasons for this concern. First, more than 99% of maternal deaths, which are a marker of poor quality care during pregnancy and childbirth, occurs in the developing world.

Second, around 85% of the burden of chronic diseases is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries.

Although the pandemic appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems.

Bottom line: brace yourself, global south.

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Zero Coke Zero in Venezuela

I had MSNBC on mute and glanced over to see a headline, "Coke Zero Banned in Venezuela." I couldn't resist. Yes, it's true. As the Health Minister said,  "The product should be withdrawn from circulation to preserve the health of Venezuelans."

What strikes me as odd is that they banned Coke Zero, not regular Coke.  I wouldn't say that Coke is dangerous (I don't care to tangle with Coke's lawyers), but I do recall it chewing through some nails in science class. Perhaps those corn syrup commercials are really effective in Venezuela. Or maybe it was just lost in translation, zero coke(aine)?

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South Africa seeing some progress on HIV?

Good news from the country's Human Sciences Research Council:

South Africa's HIV epidemic has levelled off at an infection rate of 10.9% for those aged two or older, according to a new study.

The survey also suggests the rate of infection in children and teenagers could be falling.

This could be partly attributed to increased use of condoms, it says.

There may be "light at the end of the tunnel," in the words of South Africa's Health Minister, but it's still an uphill climb; there are more HIV-positive people in South Africa -- 5.5 million -- than anywhere else in the world. Still, increased condom usage is a good sign, one that the country's leadership -- having shifted from Thabo Mbeki, whose infamous denial and inaction deeply exacerbated the problem, to Jacob Zuma, who, still, disturbingly once claimed that a shower after sex decreased the risk of HIV infection -- will have to actively push.

(image from flickr user World Bank Photo Collection under a Creative Commons license)