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HarvestPlus Uses Bio-fortification to Combat Malnutrition

This guest post was provided by GHC member, HarvestPlus

In 2015, HarvestPlus and partners produced and delivered over 200 metric tons of zinc rice seed to more than 40,000 farming households in Bangladesh. This rice, which can provide consumers with up to 60% of their daily zinc needs, reached an additional 120,000 farming families through farmer-to-farmer distribution networks. (Photo credit: B.A. Sujan/HarvestPlus)

In 2015, HarvestPlus and partners produced and delivered over 200 metric tons of zinc rice seed to more than 40,000 farming households in Bangladesh. This rice, which can provide consumers with up to 60% of their daily zinc needs, reached an additional 120,000 farming families through farmer-to-farmer distribution networks. (Photo credit: B.A. Sujan/HarvestPlus)

Every year, the World Food Prize – also known as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture” – recognizes breakthrough achievements in feeding and nourishing the world. This year, four laureates from Africa and the U.S. share this award in recognition of their work to combat malnutrition through a process known as biofortification – using conventional crop breeding techniques to naturally enrich staple food crops with critical vitamins and minerals.  Their work embodies a quote attributed to Hippocrates more than 2,000 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine.” The founder and director of HarvestPlus, Dr. Howarth Bouis, is one of this year’s honorees.

More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition – a “hidden hunger” that leaves young children and women of childbearing age more vulnerable to disability, disease, and even death.  Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness and undermines the immune system.  Children who are stunted from a lack of zinc are not only short for their age, but suffer from impaired cognition.  Iron deficiency also undermines children’s ability to learn, and contributes to maternal deaths during childbirth.  Combatting hidden hunger will be key to achieving many of the Strategic Development Goals.

The ideal solution would be widespread access to diverse, nourishing diets and to important nutritional interventions like commercially fortified foods and micronutrient supplements.  HarvestPlus, working with many partners worldwide, has developed new tool that complements these other approaches.  This non-profit research program targets smallholder farming families who subsist on inexpensive but not very nutritious staple foods for much of their diet, such as corn, rice, wheat, cassava, and beans.  HarvestPlus and its partners have developed new, more nutritious varieties of foods that most rural families in developing countries eat every day. They ensure that these new varieties contain higher amounts of vitamin A, iron, or zinc, the three micronutrients identified by the World Health Organization as most lacking in diets globally. These crops are also high yielding, and resistant to threats such as pests, diseases, and drought.

A young farmer in Bazpur (Uttarakhand), India is happy to see that her zinc wheat crop stood its ground after a massive storm.  In addition to the nutritional benefits—providing consumers with up to 50% of their daily zinc needs—farmers love the endurance of biofortified zinc wheat. (Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson/HarvestPlus)

A young farmer in Bazpur (Uttarakhand), India is happy to see that her zinc wheat crop stood its ground after a massive storm. In addition to the nutritional benefits—providing consumers with up to 50% of their daily zinc needs—farmers love the endurance of biofortified zinc wheat. (Photo credit: Joslin Isaacson/HarvestPlus)

When this idea was first proposed 25 years ago, agronomists were skeptical.  They predicted that the yield per acre would go down because the plants would have to work harder to incorporate the micronutrients.  Others were concerned that farmers would be reluctant to grow these new crops, and that consumers would be resistant to eating them – especially the foods that turn orange or yellow from extra beta carotene, such as sweet potato, corn and cassava. The good news is that farming families were eager to embrace biofortification, particularly after seeing first-hand the nutritional and health benefits for their children.  Today, almost 20 million people are growing and eating these healthier crops.  More than 100 varieties of 12 micronutrient-enriched crops are available in 30 countries, and are being tested in an additional 25 countries.  Peer-reviewed clinical trial data demonstrate that high-iron pearl millet and high-iron beans reverse iron deficiency, and vitamin A sweet potato dramatically reduces the incidence and duration of diarrhea in young children.

Biofortification is also cost-effective.  Economists have estimated the benefit-to-cost ratio of these nutritious crops at $17 of benefits for every $1 invested. Farmers can save the seeds or cuttings to replant, and share them freely with their neighbors.  Implementing partners like World Vision are incorporating biofortification into their programs in countries in Africa and Asia, and the World Bank has begun to fund countries directly to accelerate access to these more nutritious crops.

With additional investment and the engagement of policymakers, the private sector, and civil society, millions more can be reached – and that, says HarvestPlus director Bouis, will be the greatest prize of all.

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Accelerating the start of appropriate TB treatment in Odesa

 This member spotlight story was provided by ChemonicsChemonics

Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast (region) has one of the highest tuberculosis (TB) and TB/HIV co-infection burden in the country. The situation is complicated by the spread of drug resistance. In 2014 alone, 674 new multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) cases were detected in the oblast. The molecular diagnostic technique GeneXpert provides rapid and reliable detection of these difficult cases. The availability of this technology is especially crucial for people living with HIV (PLHIV), whose lives can often only be saved with a timely diagnosis.

Prior to 2014, the only GeneXpert machine in the oblast could not cope with growing diagnostic volume. In addition, local health providers often had low awareness of early TB symptoms, which contributed to an average treatment delay of 125 days.

So Odesa officials looked to the USAID Strengthening Tuberculosis Control in Ukraine project, implemented by Chemonics, for help. The project purchased an additional GeneXpert machine for the region and simultaneously worked with healthcare providers to streamline the patient pathways for PLHIV. With USAID support, the oblast TB facility organized screening processes for TB symptoms and rapid HIV testing at the primary healthcare center to accelerate referrals for TB diagnosis and treatment.

Read more about the Strengthening Tuberculosis Control in Ukraine project’s efforts to accelerate the start of TB treatment in Odesa.


Founded in 1975, Chemonics is an international development consulting firm. In 70 countries around the globe, our network of 4,100 local professionals share a simple belief: those who have the least deserve our best.

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Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Process Is Underway

Although the timeline for the budget process for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) is pushed back due to the elections, GHC, in coordination with the global health advocacy community, this week submitted its recommendations for key global health accounts to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In a non-election year, OMB would begin crafting the President’s budget in the early fall, but this year the process will not begin until after the election, and it is expected that the President’s budget will not be released until April.

Overall, GHC recommends relative flat funding or modest increases for most of the global health accounts – $10.421 billion, an increase of around $2 billion over FY16 enacted levels. However, increases were recommended for nutrition ($250 million), tuberculosis ($500 million) and malaria ($874 million). Other recommendations include: $1.2 billion for family planning and reproductive health (including $78 million for UNFPA); $900 million for maternal and child health (including $290 million to meet the U.S.’ pledge to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance); and $132.5 million for UNICEF.  In addition, GHC recommends that NCD-related objectives are integrated in existing U.S. global health programs.

Recommendations for key global health accounts contained in the budgets for National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were also put forward, but GHC will continue to refine these recommendations based on community input.

FY17 Appropriations Update (July 29, 2016)

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Organizations Make WASH a Top Priority

By Andrew Cooney, Global Health Council 

In the wake of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), great strides were made in the area of improved access to clean water. However, this success did not, unfortunately, translate when it came to sanitation and hygiene.[i] As a result, last year when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed, a heavier emphasis was placed on the need for rapid improvement to sanitation facilities and overall hygiene in the some of the world’s poorest nations, primarily Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Three organizations – WaterAid, Management Sciences for Health, and IMA World Health – in particular, are leading this charge and committing themselves to tackle what is an extremely urgent problem plaguing many nations. A staggering 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, underscoring just how significant this problem is.[ii]

WaterAid conducts its programs in many of the same states that struggled to meet the sanitation target in the MDGs including Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Papua New Guinea. Empowerment of local community members is a huge part of WaterAid’s work on the ground. The organization encourages and works with local partners to plan, build, and manage water supplies and improved sanitation facilities. Additionally, WaterAid advocates for and calls upon governments and international governing bodies to take firm steps towards improved water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in health care facilities. The organization encourages partnerships between governments and local organizations in order to ensure long lasting positive change. In the spring of 2015, WaterAid launched Healthy Start, a four year initiative that outlines the importance of WASH in the development and well-being of both newborns and children. Having a safe and healthy environment is critical to infants and children as it significantly cuts down on infant mortality rates. Sixteen thousand children die every day, mostly from diseases that are preventable or easily treatable. A number of these are from water-borne diseases such as Cholera and Diarrhea.[iii] A major part of this campaign includes advocating to ensure that WASH is implemented into health policy. Additionally, it is important that WASH is delivered locally and nationally by state governments.[iv]

While Management Sciences for Health (MSH) does work across different areas, including HIV/AIDS, chronic diseases, and reproductive health, they also focus on clean water and the importance of having clean, safe sanitation facilities. According to MSH’s website, the organization “implements evidence-based programs to improve nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene practices in developing countries.”[v] One of the organization’s major WASH projects is in Madagascar, a country struggling to catch up in terms of sanitation and hygiene. Thanks, in part, to the USAID Mikolo project, roughly 9,000 people gained access to an improved sanitation facility and over 800 villages are now free from the practice of open defecation. MSH has other nutrition and WASH projects underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Afghanistan.[vi]

IMA World Health (IMA) tackles many of the same health issues as MSH, utilizing its network of faith-based organizations to accomplish a broad array of health initiatives and projects spanning five continents. From HIV/AIDS, to community development and non-communicable diseases, IMA has an impact on those people who suffer the most from underdevelopment and a lack of medical facilities and infrastructure. IMA works with Community Health Workers (CHWs) to convey accurate WASH messages, such as promoting correct hand washing techniques, in most of its programs. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, IMA manages a program, which aids the Ministry of Health in integrating improved WASH techniques and practices into five provinces. Additionally, 200 health facilities are being rehabilitated and 200 more facilities will be built in the near future. These health facilities will be important in ensuring that people in need do not have to travel too far to seek medical attention. These new medical centers will also allow IMA to place qualified, WASH-conscious, medical professionals in key positions.[vii]

There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done in the area of water, sanitation, and hygiene, which is why the diverse organizations such as the ones described above, while different in their focus and function, are so important. Changing the attitudes of governments and international governing bodies will not take place overnight, but with continued and growing support to the immediacy of WASH issues, it is only a matter of time before positive policy change occurs both within nations, and around the world.


[i] Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. March 6, 2012.(http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp2012/en/).

[ii] World Health Organization. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs392/en/)

[iii] Introduction to UNICEF’s work on statistics and monitoring. “UNICEF”. (http://www.unicef.org/statistics/)

[iv] WaterAid.org. (http://www.wateraid.org/policy-practice-and-advocacy/healthy-start)

[v] Nutrition and WASH. Management Sciences for Health. (http://www.msh.org/our-work/health-area/nutrition-and-wash)

[vi] Management Sciences for Health. (http://www.msh.org/our-work/health-area/nutrition-and-wash)

[vii] IMA World Health. (http://imaworldhealth.org/water-sanitation-and-hygiene/)

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