Archive for Millennium Development Goals

Health in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

The vast complexities of the Middle East and surrounding regions cannot be understood without bringing health into the battleground of analysis. In this context, the Global Health PhD Network organised the event “Health in the Eastern Mediterranean Region” on 28th of October, 2016 with the funding of the University of Edinburgh’s Global Health Academy. The event was framed as a series of four short conferences on diverse topics related to Health in the region, and two networking recesses at the venue’s foyer at 7 Bristo Square, where delicious kenafa was served by the University’s Middle Eastern Society.

The first speaker was Dr Runa MacKay. She studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh at a time where it was not usual for women to go this further in their studies. In 1955 after qualifying in medicine, Dr Mackay arrived at the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society Hospital in Nazareth, now in Israel, which has served the Arab population there for more than 150 years. Dr Runa Mackay spent around fifty years working across Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel for the betterment of health conditions among the Palestinian population who live within Israel, either in health policy or as a practitioner in war torn Beirut and West Bank. Today, back in Edinburgh, she has written the book “Exile in Israel”, where she tells her personal experience throughout those years which have taken her to state, as she did in the event, that she feels more Palestinian than British.

As the second speaker, Khuloud Alsaba, researcher from the Syrian Center for Policy Research and a final-year PhD candidate in International Public Health Policy talked about part of her research project: “War in Syria: Political Determinants of Health”. In a very critical and insightful way she explained how within the discourse of “The War on Terror” health facilities and health care workers have become a legitimate target. However, turning access to health into a weapon of war has brought unexpected hardships for the population. Khuloud argued that polio, once an eradicated disease, has reappeared in Syria as a consequence of a thrashed and weakened public health system. She concluded by stating that these war tactics are not only militarily and economically inefficient, but also (and most importantly) a violation of the human rights of Syrians.

After a short networking recess, the event carried on with the third talk. Via videoconferencing, Ben Clavey, a young medical student and the co-coordinator at Medact Arms and Militarisation Group, gave a concise explanation about this NGO and its work in the Middle East. Medact is an organisation where health professionals can go beyond the clinic and actively engage with the search for solutions to the most pressing global health issues. Through analysis, lobbying, and education, it aims at having an impact in policy on four main areas: peace and security, climate and ecology, economic justice, and health and human rights. Regarding the Middle East, he added that Medact’s activity in the region has been extensive. It has worked in Iraq and Palestine performing in ground analysis and campaigning for the respect of human rights and adequate health policy for the victims of armed conflict in both countries. Recently, it has worked on warning and lobbying against airstrikes by the British military in Syria and also against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, who has been involved in the destruction of Yemen’s health system and the targeting of its hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Finally, Ben invited us to become part of Medact’s effort in taking health as a human right into policy either by donating or joining the organisation. A stand with further information for those interested in participating was set on the venue’s lobby as well.

The fourth and last speaker was Parisa Mansoori, a PhD candidate at the Centre for Global Health Research at The University of Edinburgh, who presented her research project on Iranian health sciences and academic literature production. According to recent data, Iran has had a dramatic increase in the amount of health related academic publications in the past few years. This stands out as a unique situation among the emergent economies, due to the quality of the articles produced in Iran, which have found their way into high impact international journals. Moreover, Parisa pointed out that practically a large proportion of this new literature has been produced by a small group of academics in Tehran University of Medical Sciences and few other Tehran-based institutions. By providing a thorough characterisation of this phenomenon, she expects to lay ground for further progress and development of Iran’s health sciences and their contribution to the global scientific arena.

In conclusion, the event managed to assemble in a couple of hours a wide range of experiences related to health in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Just as this region has been traditionally associated with armed conflict and violent political struggle, health has also been a very pressing issue both then and now, as Dr MacKay and Khuloud Alsaba exemplified. However, as Ben Clavey from Medact and Dr MacKay let us see, there are still spaces for hope and resistance, as well as moments for empathy and sharing. Furthermore, in spite of these difficulties, the region hasn’t stopped creating new knowledge. As Parisa Mansoori portrayed, the region is home for highly qualified and capable academics who contribute to the development of science and knowledge around the world. Lastly, thanks to the networking sessions and kenafa tasting we were reminded that, as in any other place, there are people living everyday lives in this region, where the creation and recreation of very rich cultures has made of it a quite unique and special place.


Bernardo Moreno-Peniche, MSc Medical Anthropology, University of Edinburgh


Images taken by: Clàudia Serra Vinardell

The world is changing – will your PhD matter?

At the dawn of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which ushers in 17 new goals in a global agenda to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”, most countries will be realigning their national development goals to be in tune with these global goals to realize specific targets over the next 15 years. As a researcher, one thing will soon become obvious in the midst of this global effort to bring about change – that is future research grants will be awarded primarily around these 17 SDG goals. An important question – “how your research fits in this global agenda?” arises for you and other PhD researchers who will soon be applying for these grants to drive your respective fields forward with whatever piece of the bigger science puzzle you will be solving.

It will not be an easy task to find one’s footing in the fast changing terrain of global goals and priorities, and Dr Liz Grant of the Global Health Academy at Edinburgh University is not shy to point this out. But, thankfully, not without some pointers to a way forward. Dr Grant has had extensive research experience at the level of Global Health with her many years of research in palliative care around the globe. In her talk on the ‘Impact of PhD Researchers on Global Health’ which she delivered at the Global Health PhD Network event in October 2015, she had a lot to share.

In a talk that was neatly supplemented with real life examples of her own research, Dr Grant carefully led the thoughts of the PhD researchers in the room on a number of issues, which in her opinion will soon become important in their researching career in the light of the new SDGs.

Top of her list was the need for PhD researchers to start thinking of where to find other pieces of evidence for their research. “What matters in your PhD”, she said, “is pulling materials from connected disciplines and connected areas and making sure you draw them in – use the materials out there…network pieces of information together”. In truth, that is how science works in our day through extensive bridge building across multiple disciplines and you probably have come across this a number of times already in your field. The rewards of this approach is long term and may not be immediate which in the little time space of a PhD makes it appear impractical. But in Dr Grant’s view, your research questions are still questions because there have not been enough conversations around them for others before you to have answered them. This is a brilliant way to look at things because in a way it challenges you to start expanding the discourse around your research to span more than just the area of your interest, to generate interest in other relevant fields.

But what good might all that knowledge you obtain as a result be, if not for the good of mankind. “Knowledge for knowledge sake is wonderful”, she says, “but knowledge to make a difference is why you are here and why I am here and why the university is here”. The message here is pretty simple – don’t let your PhD be only just another addition to the vast collection of information sitting on shelves around the world and only collecting dust. But it should be one that works and makes a difference. And she thinks you can achieve this by starting to think about your PhD research in terms of who the constituents are (i.e. those directly affected by what you are doing), how you will engage the public on important issues like the burden of the problem you are dealing with or trying to help solve, and also the economics involved and equally importantly why your research needs to be prioritised in the face of other competing research.

Huge task, but is it beyond you? Of course not. A big step forward in making any of the impact that would make your PhD research matter is through advocacy. Because the impact is kind of often seen through advocacy, she said, in doing things like, writing blogs, getting local workshops, and communicating what you are studying to people who have the connections to make things work. “People built systems and people can take it down,” she says in reference to the perpetual ‘brick walls’ of resistance that bureaucracies will mount on your path. Keep talking to as many people as possible and never ever underestimate the power of networking because you can change things in partnerships.

In bringing all this home, Dr Grant urges PhD researchers to think once again about their PhD and ask themselves what are the core components of what they are doing. For instance in her own research in palliative care then this would be about the core components of a health care system. Ask yourself if your research is around the core components. If not, what can you do to create the conditions necessary for change? Are you getting the right materials at the right time to create these conditions? And will these conditions support a sustainable system? Also what is the national architecture like in your country that will mean your piece of research can fit in. Answers to these questions and a lot more which couldn’t fit in this piece are what in Dr Grant’s expert opinion would make your PhD make an impact.

“Never forget why we research, you and I – it’s our communities, it’s our families, it’s people.” Dr Liz Grant

Dr Grant’s talk was preceded by a lively PhD poster session that saw four PhD students from the University of Edinburgh present their research work from four different regions around the globe. The first poster by Sara Valencia looked at vaccine trials in Southern and Central America (Colombia, Brazil and Mexico). A second poster that looked at the prevalence of Non-communicable Diseases and the entitlement to and the use of health services in the Gaza strip was presented by Majdi Ashour. Mkululi Wami presented the findings of a research work he carried out in Sub Saharan Africa in Zimbabwe which used antibody responses based on parasite egg counts to estimate infection prevalence of schistosomiasis in young children. The last poster was presented by Ai Oishi on a research that sort to identify patients for palliative care approach in primary care settings in Japan.

The Global Health PhD Network started, in October 2014, as a student-driven interest group within the Global Health Society, University of Edinburgh, with the express aim of bringing together like-minded postgraduate researchers from the three colleges in the university for research sharing, knowledge and skills exchange, networking and shared global health career development. The Network has hosted a series of events during the past year to bring together PhD researchers in the university to listen to and to share thoughts on important issues surrounding global health. And their most recent event (the one I just described) was yet another opportunity for the Network to reiterate its vision of creating an environment that supports and promotes cross-disciplinary networking by inviting PhD poster presenters from all three colleges of the university.

Again, looking back at some of the key points in Liz’s talk on the importance of networking and advocacy for PhD researchers, you realise that the Global Health PhD Network has its priorities well placed, doing things right as it should be and is already on the right bus into the future.

Richard F Oppong, Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh

Unhealthy investments

I have been involved with the fossil fuel divestment movement over the past year, both with the University and through Healthy Planet UK, after coming to terms with the enormity of climate change and the need for urgent action. As a medical student I am compelled by a similar duty of care towards our ecosystem, on which our health depends, and am called to respond to its current symptoms of distress. Divestment offers a way to treat one of the root causes of these symptoms – the continued burning of fossil fuels – through moving investments away from the fossil fuel industry whose business model relies upon burning reserves which currently hold over five times that which is safe to burn if we are to stay below the 2 degrees celsius limit of global warming[1] Akin to the health sector leading divestment from the tobacco industry, there is a similar narrative in the response to the health threat of climate change further weighted by tactics utilised by the fossil fuel industry to thwart climate mitigation policy and mar public perception of the reality of climate science[2]. UK universities hold around £5.2 billion worth of investments through their endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry[3]. However, divestment is not simply a matter of money, most divestment decisions have been driven by a moral case. It rests on a simple principle -if it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. For the medical tradition investing in fossil fuels can be seen to contradict the fundamental principle to “first do no harm”. So far 21 universities, 35 cities, 65 religious organisations and numerous other organisations from around the world including the British Medical Association have committed to divesting from fossil fuels[4].


Medical institutions and the health community have a unique awareness of climate change through its current and future impacts on human health, but also through the potential immense health co-benefits of tackling climate change such as reducing the disease burden of air pollution, which has been attributed to 2000 premature deaths annually in Scotland[5], and encouraging active travel through reducing our reliance on fossil fuel guzzling cars. This gives an important dimension to the divestment dialogue and the engagement of medical schools and health organisations is sure to be very valuable. On the 3rd February, Healthy Planet are publishing their report “Unhealthy Investments”, co-authored with MedAct, The Climate and Health Council, Medsin and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. This will be a crucial step towards further engagement on fossil fuel divestment from the health sector. It will involve a panel of expert speakers to discuss the question of whether organisations which work to improve health should continue to invest in fossil fuel extraction and production companies. Should the health sector be taking more of a lead in this issue? There is certainly great potential in engaging with the process and evaluating how best our pension and endowment funds can be invested towards a healthier and more sustainable future.


More information on the report launch can be found here:










Eleanor Dow – Medical student at the University of Edinburgh and coordinator of Healthy Planet UK, a network of students raising awareness of the links between climate change and health.


Reflections from the HIV, Human Rights and Development (HHRD) Network on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2014

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) (2014) Report “Fast-Track: Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030” provides more than a beacon of hope on World AIDS Day 2014.

It states boldly that “The world is embarking on a Fast-Track strategy to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030”.

It envisages that if the world scales up its HIV prevention and treatment programmes and reaches certain fast-track targets or goals, it will manage to prevent almost 28 million new infections and more crucially “end the AIDS epidemic as a global health threat by 2030”.

The report points to a number of “fast-track targets” that need to be achieved in the next five years by 2020. These optimistic targets include: attaining a 90-90-90 target, i.e. 90 percent of people with HIV knowing their status, 90 percent of those who know their status being on treatment, and then 90 percent of those on treatment suppressing the virus. For the year 2030, this goal goes up to 95-95-95. New infections will be reduced by 75 percent to 500,000 by the year 2020, and then to 200,000 by 2030. And, it points to the overarching goal of zero discrimination and zero tolerance for both years—2020 and 2030.

However, to achieve this monumental, yet attainable goal, the report cautions that “countries will need to use the powerful tools available, hold one another accountable for results and make sure that no one is left behind”.

We at the HHRD Network believe that the commitment to human rights will provide the bedrock of the AIDS response, and that human rights will need to remain in the fore front of all efforts. Moreover, that there is a need for a sustained and continued investment to build and promote the capacity of health systems all over the world, but particularly in the context of developing countries and forced migration. We need to consider on how best we can attain the theme of World AIDS Day 2014 to “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free generation – to highlight the need to for governments and health officials, NGOs and individuals to address AIDS prevention and treatment”. And, finally, the “fast-track targets” need to be held closely by all players across the globe if we are to not just bend the epidemic trajectory, but to break it irreversibly”.


Dr George Palattiyil and Dr Dina Sidhva

Joint Convenors, HIV, Human Rights and Development Network

What are the long-term consequences of deworming programmes?

Dr Francisca Mutapi, University of Edinburgh

What happens afterwards? This apocalyptic question is one that is integral to all forms of intervention in human and animal diseases. This is particularly important in cases where the intervention occurs at a national scale. My research group has been asking this question in relation to the current global efforts to control worm (helminth) infections which significantly impact on the health and development of children. Specifically, we work on bilharzia (urinary schistosomiasis) an important, but neglected infectious disease caused by the blood fluke Schistosoma haematobium. Although we hear occasional reports of tourists infected during visits to resorts in endemic areas, bilharzia is typically a disease of poverty due its association with poor sanitation and unsafe water. People become infected when they come into contact with the infective stage in freshwater after it has been released by freshwater snail- hence the other name of the disease- snail fever. The disease affects over 100 million people, mainly in Africa.  Children carry the heaviest burden of infection; as a result, they experience bladder and kidney disorders, stunted growth and poor development.

Current global initiatives from Partners of Parasite Control including the World Health Organization (WHO), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, Schistosome Control Initiative and the World Bank are advocating regular school-based de-worming interventions to reduce the development of morbidity, promote school-child health and improve cognitive potential of the children. Children are treated with the antihelminthic drug praziquantel. Over the past decade, there has been a concerted global effort to control bilharzia, galvanised initially by the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6 to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015 and the World Health Assembly resolution 54.19 to treat at least 75% of all school-age children at risk of schistosomiasis by 2010. The most recent schistosomiasis resolution, World Health Assembly resolution WHA65.21 passed in 2012 is advocating for the elimination of schistosome transmission and the WHO Schistosomiasis Strategic Plan 2012-–2020 sets out its vision of for a world free from schistosomiasis. This represents a real drive at the global scale not previously seen, to control this important disease of childhood.

Millions of school children in Africa are currently being treated with this drug resulting in significant health improvements. In several countries where the control programmes are currently being implemented, they are typically running for 5 years. The questions we are asking is what will happen to 1) the children who have been treated, 2) the rest of the population that has not been treated and 3) the parasites? The overall, long-term outcome of these treatment programmes for human health is believed to be good- but what evidence do we have for this? In my research group, we are interested in the long-term consequences of praziquantel treatment. Our studies and those of others have shown that the effects of praziquantel treatment go beyond the transient reduction of infection intensity and morbidity. Treatment with the antihelminthic also reduces future pathology and induces immune responses protective against re-infection by the parasites. What will be the effect of the 5-year treatment programmes on the host immune system and overall health?  Experimental studies of the regulation of the immune system suggest that treatment of helminth infection results in susceptibility/worsening of immune disorders (explained through the hygiene hypothesis). What is the relevance of these studies to human helminth infection? What are the long-term health implications in children treated through these national treatment programmes? Similar to malaria, people exposed to schistosome parasites develop natural acquired immunity to the parasites following repeated infection with the parasites. What is the consequence of praziquantel treatment on schistosome immunity and disease, decades after cessation of the control programmes? Providing answers to these questions is critical for informing strategic planning for ministries of health and prioritisation of resources as well as formulating /directing global health policy.

These really interesting scientific questions and the potential impact of the findings for human health are the drivers of research for Dr Francisca Mutapi and her group, the Parasite Immuno-epidemiology Group, at the University of Edinburgh.



Shining a light on neglected tropical diseases

The publication of the second report on Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases entitled “delivering on promised and driving progress” marks remarkable progress that has been achieved in the last two years in this field.  In January 2012, the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases marked commitment from a wide range of organisations and industry to achieving the goals of the WHO roadmap to control, eliminate or eradicate ten of the NTDs.

To mark the launch of the report, on the 2nd April 2014 global leaders convened in Paris to discuss the progress that has been achieved so far.  In this “conversation on progress”, Director-General of the WHO Margaret Chan thanked endemic countries, organisations and industries for their commitment to this cause, and commented that these diseases are no longer neglected as they are “shining a light” on these diseases which shackle over 1.6 billion people worldwide.  Control of NTDs must be a priority in order to achieve the targets of the Millennium Development Goals as they affect the world’s poorest populations.  Since the establishment of the NTD department in the WHO in 2005, effective advocacy has increased the profile of these ancient diseases, and they have been described as a “rags to riches story”.

In the two years following the London Declaration, which was endorsed by thirteen pharmaceutical companies, the drug donation pledges made by these companies have been fulfilled and in some cases surpassed.  These donations allow countries to fulfil and increase the demand for treatment, and have resulted in the scaling up of control interventions as drug supply has been removed as a barrier to the control of a number of the NTDs.  Seventy four countries, representing around two thirds of all NTD endemic countries have now developed national plans for the control of NTDs.  This country ownership is an important factor in the increased commitment to control, eliminating and eradicating these diseases.  Coupled with capacity building and political commitment NTD control can be a success.  The adoption of a World Health Assembly resolution on all seventeen NTDs in May 2013 has been described as a “landmark” in NTD control.  Not only does this resolution confirm country commitment to NTDs, but it marks a change in the way the world is approaching NTD control.  Throughout the history of the WHO, there have been many resolutions adopted which focus on one or more of the NTDs, but the adoption of the 2013 resolution highlights the change to integrated approaches to NTD control.  When we consider the NTDs collectively, they represent an enormous burden on human health, and many opportunities exist to control several of these diseases in combination.

New funding was also announced in conjunction with the report representing increased commitment from a range of partners representing a new collaboration to control soil-transmitted helminths.  This collaboration and funding highlights how multi-partner and multi-sector collaboration is becoming increasingly important in NTD control.

The report highlights that commitment to NTDs has gained momentum since the London Declaration.  In addition, the 2013 resolution on NTDs marks a global pledge by Member States to the control of these diseases that in turn can leverage even more commitment.  In the last two years, the light has begun to shine brightly on these diseases that afflict the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.  The control and elimination of NTDs is now recognised as one of the best investments in development.  As the report states “much has been achieved, but much more work lies ahead”.  We must continue to increase commitments and activities to control NTDs.  The report highlights the success and fulfilment of commitments to the ten NTDs included in the London Declaration, but there remain seven of the defined NTDs without such multi-partner pledges of drug donations and increased funding.

World Health Day on the 7th April this year focusses on Vector Borne Diseases. This includes a number the NTDs such as leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.  We must build on these recent success and increased momentum and continue to combat these ancient diseases while the light continues to shine.








Ms Hayley Mableson is in the final stages of completing a PhD from the University of Edinburgh.  Her research to date has focussed on global health advocacy and its application, with particular emphasis on the neglected tropical and zoonotic diseases. 

Thinking about the post-MDG era

In 2015, the current eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire. Results will be mixed, some will be met and some will not. What is clear, however, is that the MDGs have shaped the way we think about development, and our priorities and approaches to alleviating poverty.

The MDGs gave new prominence to the health issues affecting the poor; although their focus was restricted and derived from a top-down process of deliberation, rather than informed by inclusive analysis and a thorough prioritisation of development needs. Subsequently, the narrowly focused and largely sector-specific MDGs left gaps in coverage and failed to realise synergies between the foci covered by the goals (education, health, poverty, and gender). MDG 6 in particular—“combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases”—sidelined many of the communicable and non-communicable diseases that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in developing countries. And yet, the very act of naming HIV/AIDS and malaria raised the profile of these diseases immeasurably, stimulating increased funding, focused policy and dedicated institutions and programmes.

In response to the narrowness and specificity of the MDGs networks, alliances and lobby groups have emerged to argue for other priorities, perspectives and approaches. One of the most vocal examples – and the focus of the article – is the alliance arguing for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), a cluster of diseases of the bottom billion that are underserved with regards to research, treatment and control, to be included in the set of Goals that will replace the MDGs after 2015. At the moment it is looking increasingly likely that NTDs will be name-checked and specifically included in the “new” MDGs. This will be no mean feat.

The case for including NTDs in the post-2015 agenda has been building since their omission from MDG 6, which served as a call to arms for a group of concerned stakeholders, who have since contributed to a series of landmark initiatives that have placed NTDs firmly on the international agenda.

One “advantage” that the NTDs may have in a more enlightened and nuanced post-MDG era (with regards to development as well as to health), is that, by their very nature, they “undermine healthy lives” and cut across and threaten to undermine multiple silos of MDGs. This suggests a potentially fruitful bifurcated approach where focusing on NTDs can help make concrete inroads into reaffirmed or tweaked post-2015 MDGs, or NTDs can be used to articulate a set of goals that do not represent silos as targets to be met, but rather represent the strengthening of the institutions we need to manage the complex social, economic, environmental, and health systems that interact to shape future development.

Controlling NTDs in a post MDG era

MDGs and NTDs: Reshaping the Global Health Agenda

INZI Project (Investigating Networks of Zoonosis Innovation)


James Smith

Professor James Smith, Director, Global Development Academy, University of Edinburgh

Emma Michelle Taylor

Dr Emma Michelle Taylor, Research Fellow, INZI Project, Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh