December 22, 2016 | The Editors

5 amazing global health stories

A well-told story with a powerful narrative is hard to forget. Here are some of our favorites from 2016.

Video: The New York Times/Daphne Matziaraki.

In 2016, PATH’s media team read a lot of global health articles spanning issues from US foreign aid to Zika and more. The following five pieces stood out among this year’s coverage by revealing the personal stories—both heartbreaking and inspirational—that lie beneath the facts.

1. 4.1 Miles

Daphne Matziaraki, The New York Times, September 28, 2016

Suddenly, the crew was charged with keeping the small bit of water they patrolled from becoming a mass grave. Each day, thousands of refugees crossed the water on tiny, dangerous inflatable rafts.

In one of the most heart-wrenching stories of 2016, Greek documentary filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki follows a coast guard captain and his crew. The filming is intimate, and you feel like one of the crew members pulling people from the dangerous waters surrounding the small island of Lesbos. Since 2015, over 600,000 people have risked the 4.1 miles of rough seas between Turkey and Greece, mostly fleeing conflicts in the Middle East. Daphne shows us one day, and it’s incredibly powerful.

2. 19 children had to die before the government could even find this remote village in India 

Devjyot Ghoshal, Quartz India, August 31, 2016

A man and woman squat in front of a doorway. The woman is holding a child.
Photo: Devjyot Ghoshal.

“This is because of negligence,” alleged Pradip Pradhan, a human rights activist who was one of the first to visit Nagada soon after news of the deaths broke in local newspapers. “These people are not in the minds of policymakers, bureaucrats, or the administration,” he said. “They have been forgotten.”

This long-form piece takes us to a small village in India to illustrate broader health issues in the country, namely the role poor and inadequate nutrition can play in whether or not a child or adult succumbs to opportunistic diseases.

3. Everything you ever wanted to know about the U.S. foreign assistance budget 

Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio, The Washington Post, October 18, 2016

Don’t let the headline of The Washington Post article frighten you. The leading graphic illustrates the percentage of the 2016 federal budget devoted to foreign assistance—1 percent, far less than the 26 percent assumed by the average American. The piece goes on to break down how that money is divided, with a significant portion dedicated to security-related spending in the Middle East. Of the money spent on economic and development assistance, the largest chunk went to global health programs, suggesting that Congress recognizes how effective health spending is in improving living standards around the world.

The article also reveals how decisions to allocate assistance were dominated by strategic and security concerns, with Afghanistan and Jordan being the two largest recipients. India is conspicuously absent, despite the array of development work that remains to be done in the country, because it has become an economic competitor with the United States. Meanwhile, countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela with urgent public health issues were presumably denied aid because of political considerations. The chart included in the article thus demonstrates by omission where US federal aid programs can fall short in promoting global equity, and how nonprofits like PATH and our partners can help to fill the gaps.

4. Vietnam’s battle with tuberculosis

Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times, March 28, 2016

People lying on cots in a clinic setting.
Photo: PATH/Nguyen Ba Quang.

“This district’s cure rate averages 90 percent,” he [Dr. Bui Xuan Hiep, the head of tuberculosis control in this city’s Hoang Mai district] said. Still, Dr. Bui could see problems. Seven patients had turned up with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis; four had been cured, two had died—and one had simply disappeared.

Don McNeil sets up the worrisome backstory behind why tuberculosis has supplanted AIDS as the leading infectious cause of death around the world. There’s a likely reason the one patient disappeared: when cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are found, those unlucky patients might receive a prolonged and oftentimes isolated treatment plan that could take months, even years to administer.

Vietnam has done an excellent job of addressing and treating the obvious carriers, but now the challenge is finding those hard-to-reach patients. The only way to do that is by strengthening systems, providing affordable and appropriate diagnostics, and ensuring funding remains consistent.

5. How this self-injectable is helping Ugandan women keep their birth control secret 

Hayley MacMillen, Refinery29, October 12, 2016

A woman opens a unit of Sayana Press.
Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

“Some of [the husbands] are very bitter,” explains Rosemary Lamwaka, one of the nurses in Gulu teaching women how to self-inject Sayana Press. “They don’t want their wives to use family planning. They heard some local myths that family planning makes women barren. [Women] want Sayana Press [so they can] keep their secret very well, and they end up injecting when the man is not around.”

This piece does a fine job of illustrating why women want access to contraceptives for a variety of reasons, especially for times when family planning is associated with domestic violence. For instance, if a woman has reasons for keeping her family planning decisions to herself, she might need to safely store a contraceptive for months at a time. Sayana® Press is an all-in-one injectable contraceptive created and championed by PATH and our partners that puts women in charge of their reproductive health. It’s designed to meet their needs.

Sayana Press is a registered trademark of Pfizer Inc.

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