January Update

Lots has been happening with us and with measles.  Adam and Miranda are back in the United States now, after an amazing stay in Ghana and then a whirlwind week in Nigeria.  We’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to UNICEF Nigeria, to Ghana Red Cross Society, to Ghana Health Services, and to all of our amazing new friends and colleagues in Ghana and Nigeria.

You may have heard something about the controversy surrounding MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations and a possible link to autism.  This story came to prominence after a 1998 article appeared in The Lancet (a prestigious medical journal in Britain).  In the time since then the article has been retracted by the journal, and the doctor involved in authoring it has lost his license.  Now that some of the details of his license revocation have become public it is now clear that his study wasn’t just bad science, but outright fraud.  “Normal” test results were falsified, three (of the 12 total) children in the study didn’t have autism at all, and the [now: former] doctor who authored the study stood to financially gain from its findings.  You can read about those and other aspects of the fraud at the Telegraph.  In short, the link is completely unfounded, and every credibly subsequent study that has controlled for MMR vaccination while looking for a link to autism has found that no link exists.

In 1996 the worst recorded epidemic of meningitis hit Nigeria, with more than 100,000 recorded cases.  Measles and cholera outbreaks soon followed.  Amidst all of this, Pfizer flew in a teams of doctors to test an experimental drug called Trovan.  The Guardian has a pretty good write-up on what occurred, and the descriptions of Kano State are dead accurate.  Another article goes into detail on the Ministry of Health granting the exemption for the drug to be used (the special assistant in the MoH making this request without knowing what the drug was used for), and Pfizer making campaign contributions to officials in the Kano State a week after the trial was approved.  As if surreptitiously testing an experimental drug (meant for Europe and America) on sick children in Africa wasn’t bad enough, it seems that when families tried to sue Pfizer, the company reacted by blackmailing the Nigerian Attorney General.  A Wikileaks cable has revealed “Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to federal attorney general Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases,” and the $6BN suit against Pfizer was withdrawn by the attorney general, in return for a $75M settlement, with $35M going to the families of the children who died.

On a brighter note, Ghana has had nine months without transmission of Guinea Worm; three years without transmission are required for Guinea Worm to be certified eliminated.  Ghana is one of only four countries where Guinea Worm hasn’t been eliminated.  Among parasites this is one of the most painful, and we’re very excited for Ghana’s progress — down from 242 cases in 2009.

Here’s a new study confirming what we already knew, that giving Vitamin A to children precipitates a drastic lessening of mortality.  The study found a 24% reduction in mortality from “any cause.”  What’s interesting is that a senior reviewer of the study is quoted as saying that Vit A is actually reducing the incidence of measles, not just the mortality.  So that is great news!  Currently WHO/UNICEF measles vaccination programs (like the ones we filmed in Ghana and Nigeria) give Vit A capsules in addition to vaccination.

The government of Japan is known for supporting humanitarian aid, and has just given a $10M grant to Nigeria to combat vaccine preventable diseases.In other Nigeria news, here’s a sad article about goldmining killing kids in the north.

A sad article from the ICRC talking about child mortality from measles and other preventable causes in Afghanistan.

Lastly, here’s an interesting article from the New York Times that details the progress of Gates Foundation grants.  Amongst the grant recipients was Dr. Sievers inhalable measles vaccine, which we’ve covered here previously.

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