A women with trachoma is examined in Galadi, Nigeria
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature

Help us improve FT Health by clicking here to answer our short questionnaire

Some of Africa’s poorest countries are doing far better than their richer neighbours in tackling debilitating diseases, according to a new analysis.

Nations including Malawi, Togo and Sierra Leone have made strong progress in tackling five neglected tropical diseases that affect 600m people across Africa. Other far wealthier ones including South Africa, Angola, Gabon and Botswana have done much less.

Uniting to Combat NTDs tracks progress towards a goal of prevention and treatment for three-quarters of the population for diseases including trachoma and intestinal worms, which can be tackled with free medicines.

The discrepancy demonstrates that drug donations by manufacturers alone are not enough. They need to be accompanied by national and local political commitments, including funding, to ensure they are efficiently stored, transported and distributed in association with education and support in local communities.

But the variation also illustrates the widely differing priorities of governments, and highlights their uneven levels of commitment — notably to poorer rural remote areas with inadequate sanitation and clean water, where the ailments are most common. Without a greater focus on the disadvantaged, many people are suffering unnecessarily and the economic potential of their countries is being undermined.

Uniting to Combat NTDs tracks progress towards a goal of prevention and treatment for three-quarters of the population for diseases including trachoma and intestinal worms, which can be tackled with free medicines.

The discrepancy demonstrates that drug donations by manufacturers alone are not enough. They need to be accompanied by national and local political commitments, including funding, to ensure they are efficiently stored, transported and distributed in association with education and support in local communities.

But the variation also illustrates the widely differing priorities of governments, and highlights their uneven levels of commitment — notably to poorer rural remote areas with inadequate sanitation and clean water, where the ailments are most common. Without a greater focus on the disadvantaged, many people are suffering unnecessarily and the economic potential of their countries is being undermined.

Register here to to receive FT Health every Friday by email


Three questions

Sarah Neville spoke to Kenji Sukeno, president of Fujifilm, the Japanese company that has harnessed its photographic expertise to build a substantial presence in life sciences and cosmetics.

When did Fujifilm move into healthcare?

Fujifilm was launched [in 1934] with two businesses. One was motion picture film and the other was X-ray film. So the healthcare business has always been with us. Eliminating tuberculosis was an important issue for Japan back then. To prevent TB, a regular check-up was very important, but the X-ray film used to be imported into Japan, which made it very expensive [and] very difficult for ordinary people. 

How did you move into medicines?

We’re trying to leverage our photography technologies to make a contribution in pharmaceuticals. To jump from existing technology to new technology with a new market is very risky. We looked at our inventory, and realised that we had nanotechnology . . . to turn things into a very fine powder. A number of pharmaceutical companies have come out with drugs . . . [but] were unable to turn them into fine powder, and it was very difficult for the body to absorb. 

What is your approach to acquisitions?

We’re interested in [deals] which mean we can combine the technology that we do not have . . . with our [own] technology to generate a new business. We are trying to climb the mountain, but if you go from the bottom . . . all the way to the peak, it’s going to take a long time. So we will charter a helicopter to take us to somewhere close to the peak.


Chartwatch

Genetic testing  More than 26m people in the US have taken DNA tests for ancestry purposes with two companies — Ancestry and 23andMe — dominating the market. The booming industry faces the same challenges as social media on the ownership and use of private data, especially in applications for health. (MIT Technology Review)


News round-ups

HIV: rhetoric and reality President Trump's promise to end HIV in the US by 2030 was attacked by critics who hit out at his policies on healthcare access, immigration, safe-injection and willingness to reverse legal protections for gay and transgender Americans. The International Aids Society's annual letter said stigma and discrimination was still rife. Fears are growing of an HIV epidemic in Russia. (Nature, NYT, IAS, The Lancet)

Health leadership Key questions about the direction of the World Health Organization remain unanswered after its recent board meeting, including its relationship with civil society, budget problems and the upcoming UN meeting on universal health coverage. (Devex) 

Smoke signals Tobacco use among US young people is increasing, driven by the use of ecigarettes, much to the chagrin of American public health bodies. Authorities need to take a leaf out of Big Tobacco's book and use social media to promote anti-smoking messages. (CDC, The Hill, Channel News Asia)

NHS tech review A report into the digital future of Britain's National Health Service examined how genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics might affect its workforce. NHS England reversed its decision to block doctor app Babylon from expanding. (Topol Review, FT) 

Supplements slapdown The US Food and Drug Administration called for stricter laws against the $40bn market in diet supplements and their spurious health claims such as curing Alzheimer's. (NYT)

Depression damage New research shows how depression accelerates the ageing of the brain and inflicts serious damage on cognitive function and memory that could lead to dementia. There are about 50m people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia while at least 300m people suffer from depression. (FT)

Taking the rap A conspiracy trial in the US was shown a rap video of salesmen from Insys Therapeutics exhorting greater sales of Subsys, an addictive painkiller. Company executives allegedly gave bribes and kickbacks to get doctors to prescribe the fentanyl product. (Boston Globe)

Turn down the volume The WHO and the International Telecommunications Union introduced new guidelines to make personal audio devices safer to listen to. Nearly half of people aged 12-35 risk hearing loss through prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds. (WHO)

Emotive emojis A new emoji to represent menstruation (below left) was unveiled by Unicode, the standard-setting body. Campaigners were divided: some preferred the more direct design (below right), put forward by Plan International, the girls' rights group. (Unicode, NPR)


Best from the journals

Food for thought A French study suggests a link between eating too much ultraprocessed” food — such as ready meals and sugary drinks — and early death through diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The WHO's first ever food safety conference called for better regulation to keep pace with the way food is produced and consumed. (JAMA Internal Medicine, WHO)

Lettuce be happy A UK study suggests a link between consumption of fruit and vegetables and mental wellbeing, with important implications for public health, especially given the poor rate of adherence to the “five-a-day” fruit and veg guidelines. (Science Direct)

Unicorns and peer review An analysis of biomedical “unicorns” — start-ups valued at more than $1bn — suggests that a lack of published research does not deter investors. (Nature)

Anti-social media A new Facebook tool identifies users at risk of self-harm and suicide, and can lead the social media company to raise the alarm with emergency services. The approach however raises questions about ethics and transparency and whether the data should be regarded as medical research. (Annals of Internal Medicine)

Obesity and disability A large Swedish study suggests low physical fitness and obesity among the young is associated with greater risk of chronic disability in later life. (Annals of Internal Medicine) 

Cannabis depression link Cannabis use in adolescence is associated with an increased risk of depression or suicidal behaviour during young adulthood. A cannabis-based treatment is being trialled in the UK to determine whether it can treat agitation in people with Alzheimer’s. (Jama Psychiatry Today, Alzheimer's Research UK)

Antidepressants and the elderly Dealing with depression among the over 60s is becoming increasingly important as the population ages, yet access to therapies is low: the elderly are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants. (British Journal of General Practice)

Dark net danger Sales of prescription psychiatric drugs such as Xanax and diazepam via “dark net” online markets have shot up in the UK. (International Journal of Drug Policy)

Economic crisis and health There is a well-established positive association between economic growth and life expectancy, but a study of European countries around the 2008 economic crisis shows mortality rates actually declined. Possible reasons include lower levels of pollution; fewer accidents in the workplace and on roads; lower alcohol and tobacco consumption; and fewer sedentary lifestyles. (Nature Communications) 


Podcast of the week

The Planetary Health Diet The recent EAT/Lancet Commission laid out the world’s first scientific targets for healthy eating from sustainable agriculture. This series discusses why and how we should change our diets with the report's authors. (Let's Rethink Food, 30 min)


Join the debate

FT Health is free to read — please forward and encourage others to register here

Contact us via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or email health@ft.com 

Previous edition: Combating cancer

Latest news at www.ft.com/health and Twitter @FTHealth 


Final thought

FT Health is 100! On the occasion of our 100th issue we'd like to thank all our readers and especially those who have contributed such valuable insights over the past two years. And if you read FT Health by email then please pass on to friends and colleagues who can sign up here: no FT subscription is needed. 

Get alerts on Health when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article