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World Malaria Day 2013 {Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.}Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.

To me, malaria is a very personal disease.

I first came face to face with malaria during the war of my time: Vietnam. I was plucked out of residency after my first year, with only an internship under my belt, and sent as a Navy Medical Officer to war. Medical school and residency prepared me well for much of the trauma I encountered medically, but I was totally unprepared for the large-scale emotional trauma, and for the tropical diseases I had encountered only in books.

I was overwhelmed by the young children with malaria, some of whom literally died in my arms while treating them.  Yet, I also witnessed bona fide miracles: children at death’s door, comatose and unresponsive, who responded dramatically to treatments, and ultimately went home to their families.

To address malaria, I focused on promoting prevention (long-lasting insecticidal nets [LLINS] for families and intermittent preventive treatment [IPT] for pregnant women), early detection, and early treatment in the community—what is now called community case management.

That was 40 years ago.

We know what works to save the lives of children under five years old: We know which antibiotic to give for treating pneumonia, for example. Yet only 31% of children with suspected pneumonia receive antibiotics. And two million children die from pneumonia and diarrhea each year.

This week’s Lancet returns the spotlight to Option B+, an innovative strategy for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV which was first developed in Malawi with technical assistance from MSH. Four letters respond to the concern that international organizations have too quickly endorsed the Option B+ approach of providing lifelong triple antiretroviral therapy (ART), irrespective of CD4 count, to pregnant women with HIV in high-burden countries.

MSH experts Scott Kellerman, Jonathan Jay and Jonathan Quick argue that “a strong case exists for expanding research on Option B+, but not for impeding countries that pursue it on the basis of available evidence and programmatic experience:”

A Rwandese woman shows her child's community-based health insurance card. {Photo credit: C. T. Ngoc/MSH.}Photo credit: C. T. Ngoc/MSH.

Last week, the 67th United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution that emphasizes universal health coverage (UHC) in the global health and foreign policy work of the UN and Member States in the coming year.

Meet Okata and his grandmother, watch the video.Meet Okata and his grandmother, watch the video.

On this World Health Day, we invite you to meet Okata, a 3-year-old orphan living with HIV, and his grandmother, his caretaker.

World Health Day, celebrated April 7th, marks the founding of the World Health Organization. This year's theme, "Good health adds life to years," encourages the global community to rethink what it means to be "old".

Watch the video, Building a Stronger Health System in Uganda, and share Okata's story with your network of family and friends.

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The theme of this year’s Global Health Council annual conference was Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World. As populations are shifting, so are their health priorities. Increasing urbanization has led to more people living in and around cities, creating a series of problems that are new to public health professionals. Nutritional challenges, the need for improved water and sanitation infrastructure, and addressing the issue of unregulated health care providers are all problems facing governments, ministries, NGOs, donors, and populations. In addition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and mental illness, are adding a new strain to many already resource constrained health systems. Of course, immunization, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and maternal death are all still very serious challenges in many of these systems and remain key priorities.

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