A Pakistani woman receives free rice at a food distribution point at Bari Imam shrine on World Food Day, in Islamabad, Pakistan Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. World Food Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the 1945 founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash) (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
A woman receives free rice at a food distribution point on World Food Day in Islamabad, Pakistan © AP

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One in nine of the world’s population — or 821m people — suffer from chronic hunger while 1.9bn are overweight, including 672m obese adults. Both problems were addressed by reports marking World Food Day and highlighting the difficulty in meeting the UN’s goal of ending global hunger by 2030. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation focused on the challenges from migration, while The World Food Programme documented spiralling food prices in countries affected by conflict or instability. Another report showed how a lack of funding is holding back progress on the multinational nutrition for growth initiative. 

Developed countries are grappling with a different set of problems. A WHO report called for stronger rules on marketing unhealthy foods to children while a study from Cancer Research UK cautioned that every hour that children spend online increases their chances of buying junk food by a fifth. (Brookings, FAO, WFP, WHO, Telegraph)

Three questions

John Nkengasong, founding director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, launched last year.

What persuaded you to lead Africa CDC?

I was born in Cameroon, and left after undergraduate studies for Antwerp and then the US. After 29 years in HIV research, it was time to invest in my country and give back to my continent. I saw it as an opportunity to contribute. I shared the vision of a continental agency to complement World Health Organization work given the major challenges: endemic diseases; emerging diseases occurring almost weekly; and antimicrobial resistance.

What’s distinctive about Africa CDC?

It has a franchise value: the ability to tap into what already exists in the African Union with heads of state, ministers of finance and others: on peace and security, early warning systems for rapid deployment in health emergencies, around the interface of human and animal health. With growing free trade and movement of people, there is a huge economic opportunity but also a huge potential risk for disease spread.

What is your current greatest concern?

We need a coherent message around disease outbreaks, health and economic security. We have to move from a reactive approach to each country having built-in systems that can sustain and appropriately respond to public health issues. What we’ve seen in DRC around Ebola is a good example. We, the WHO and others have put all our collective efforts there but if there was another outbreak, say in west Africa, our bandwidth to respond would be very limited.


Politics and Big PharmaPharma Cash to Congress” is a new database from Kaiser Health tracking US political donations. The graphic shows spending in the 2018 election cycle, where healthcare is the biggest single issue. Regulators this week said drugmakers must put list prices in TV ads, which could fundamentally alter their marketing strategies. Here is a list of the “fifty most influential people in US healthcare”. (NYT, KHN, Time).

News round-up

Health leadership German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the World Health Summit in Berlin urged greater international action against disease and epidemics, backed by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom who said “fragmentation, duplication and inefficiency” were undermining progress. Health and development organisations agreed to step up co-operation. 

The summit's start-up award was won by an “intelligent glove” that helps users read printed text without the need for Braille. (Guardian, Gavi, WHS)

Reproductive rights The UN's World Population Report said countries must strengthen women's reproductive rights if progress was to continue on cutting family size and improving fertility problems Global population is set to grow another 2.2bn by 2050. (Devex, UNFPA)

Tracking disease IDseq is a new tool to detect infectious diseases before they become epidemics. Unlike existing disease trackers, the open-source platform was built not by academics but by engineers and security experts as “industrial strength” software. (The Atlantic)

Child deaths Infant mortality in England rose for the first time in 100 years in 2015 and 2016 and will be 140 per cent higher than in other European countries by 2030. This graphic shows causes of death for 5-14 year olds in 15 EU states for non-communicable diseases (blue), communicable diseases (red) and injuries (green). (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health)

Social prescribing Cookery classes and art groups are among the treatments suggested to combat loneliness and isolation in the UK. Prime Minister Theresa May described the strategy as “a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes”. (Guardian)

Biosimilar breakthrough? Rivals are circulating to take on AbbVie's Humira, the world's best-selling drug — which treats a range of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease — as its European patent expires. The race for the $20bn market could be a key moment in the rise of biosimilars or copycat drugs. (FT)

New approaches to childbirth FT Health helped judge the inaugural Health Systems Global Media Fellow Award. Winner Irene Rodriguez-Salas reports on how a remote Costa Rican hospital is incorporating the traditional birthing practices of indigenous Ngobe women. (HSG)

Tanzanian tracking Electronic record-keeping is transforming immunisation programmes in Tanzania, where those living in remote or nomadic communities have been traditionally difficult to reach. Many children miss out on healthcare because often there is no formal record of their existence. (Gavi)

Moving medicine A new tool from Public Health England helps healthcare professionals prescribe physical activity for a range of conditions. The WHO launched a toolkit to help countries reach the target of reducing physical inactivity by 10 per cent by 2025. (PHE, WHO)

Best from the journals

Health 2040 New forecasts show overall improvements in global health but warn of the need for firmer action against non-communicable diseases. Top causes for premature death are high blood pressure, high body-mass index, high blood sugar, tobacco use, alcohol use, and air pollution. By 2040, 59 countries will have life expectancy of at least 80, led by Spain at 85.8, leapfrogging Japan to top spot. Lifespan in Lesotho will be just 57.3. (The Lancet)

Viral misinformation The undermining of trust in vaccines on social media should be recognised as a global public-health threat. Educational campaigns can address perceptions and engage with sceptics. (Nature)

Facebook as depression monitor  Analysing social media data, and in particular the language used on Facebook, could be used to screen for depression months before symptoms emerge. Markers include references to symptoms such as sadness, loneliness, hostility and rumination. (PNAS)

Sniffing out malaria Early tests suggest sniffer dogs may be able to detect odours from malaria parasites. (Eureka)

Hidden dangers Harmful pharmaceuticals continue to be found in over-the-counter dietary supplements, especially those for sexual enhancement or weight loss, even after warnings from US regulators. More than 50 per cent of US adults use supplements, fuelling a $35bn industry. (Jama)

Grieving and empathy A doctor experiencing her first patient death writes on the tension between emotional concerns and the need for professional detachment. (BMJ)

Podcast of the week

Medical history needn't be boring. Here's a fun look at two prominent female pioneers: Marie Curie and Anna Fischer-Dückelmann, whose best-selling 1901 book taught women about contraception, vegetarian diets and the importance of a healthy sex life. (Dead Ladies Show 416Podcast)

FT Health event

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Final thought

Workers under stress An FT columnist offers a response to the growing number of workplace initiatives to deal with stress and anxiety. “Overworking your employees and then suggesting they meditate is a little like breaking their legs and then inviting them to a lunchtime class on how to make splints.” Fair comment or too harsh?

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