FT Health: The global scourge of mental ill health
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In the field of mental health, all countries are developing countries. The Lancet highlighted the challenges for global policymakers meeting in London this week for a ministerial summit on a problem affecting 1.1bn people.
The scale of the problem — estimated to cost the world economy $16tn by 2030 — was outlined in a series of reports for World Mental Health Day: from the effects of the digital age to the impact of climate change.
The poor bear the brunt: for those with a depressive disorder, only one in 27 people in low and middle-income countries receive adequate treatment compared with one in five in high-income countries.
Richer countries are beginning to tackle problems in the workplace, through measures such as Mental Health First Aid, as we discuss in this week's podcast.
But even in a country like the UK, which this week appointed what is thought to be the world's first minister for prevention of suicide, there is a long way to go to reach the summit's goal of parity of esteem between mental and physical health.
Why did you become interested in tackling malaria?
On my first visit to rural Zambia, I learnt three things: that local people didn’t know what malaria was and needed to be trained; that every day a child died from the disease; and that there was no organisation or institution present on the ground except the Anglican church.
What is the role of faith-based organisations?
They are respected and get to the places others don’t. We need the science to tackle malaria but we also need to go the “last mile” with boots on the ground. Their range goes from every person locally to the leaders right at the top. They can influence policymakers and implementation. Our delegation managed to get senators’ support in Washington even during the Kavanaugh hearings.
How would you persuade other donors to support malaria?
There is an intellectual and a human argument. The effect of the disease really touches the heart. And while some issues are intractable, this is a problem that has a very good ratio of how big it is to how solvable it is. Malaria is an enormous problem but it can be tackled. We’re halfway across the river, and it would be really nice to get the whole way over.
The announcement of the first international network to tackle public health problems associated with excessive internet use and the OECD report on children's mental health are just this week's expressions of concern over different forms of digital distraction.
Join FT journalists and their guests in London on November 21 for drinks and discussion on this important topic. Get your tickets here. FT Health subscribers get a 10 per cent discount with the code FTHealth10.
Human capital and health The World Bank's ranking of countries' human capital shows how outcomes in education and health are linked to productivity, prosperity and happiness. The report is an incentive for politicians to shift their focus from “shiny new airports” and on to citizens' health and wellbeing. (FT, Devex video)
Health spending Oxfam's Reducing Inequality Index measures social spending, tax and workers' rights to see which countries are best at closing the gap between rich and poor. Countries such as Kazakhstan, Colombia and Lithuania have increased spending significantly while those with the biggest cuts include richer countries such as Australia and Singapore. Denmark is the most committed overall to tackling inequality. (Oxfam)
Superbug struggles Drug-resistant infections cause 700,000 deaths per year and could rise to 10m by 2050 without urgent action. Experts co-ordinated by the UN are working on policies to fight the problem. A separate report examined the role of vaccines. HSBC, the banking giant, warned that the use of antibiotics in meat production could have “devastating” consequences for humans. (Vaccines for AMR, Health Policy Watch, Business Insider)
Financing health The changing dynamics of health — in particular the growing burden of non-communicable diseases — necessitates new approaches to financing and a “health in all policies” approach. Sustainable investment in global health can be a “game-changer” for fighting NCDs but also profitable. (Devex)
Optimism on Alzheimer's A potential new treatment for the world's 50m Alzheimer's sufferers hopes to end a prolonged series of pharma disappointments. Separately, scientists studying brains in mice — organised similarly to those of humans — have created the most detailed “atlas” yet of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores memories, with the hope of using it to deliver targeted drugs with fewer side effects. (FT, Nature Neuroscience)
Feed the brain and save the child Breakthroughs in portable scanning technology mean children's brain functions can be tracked as they grow and show the effects of malnutrition and poverty. (FT)
'The Rwandan miracle' Rwanda enjoys near-universal access to healthcare via compulsory insurance and is also a pioneer in payment by results. However, it struggles to tackle more complex illnesses. As a nation becomes more affluent and health spending grows, universal health coverage is a sign of “growing up,” says one expert. (FT)
Food for thought The deaths of two customers from allergic reactions to sandwiches in Britain brought calls for improved food labelling — especially for processed goods — and improved clinical response to food anaphylaxis. There has been a six-fold increase in UK cases over the past 20 years. (FT, BMJ)
Battling blindness Up to 1.3bn people live with some form of vision impairment but policy setbacks. have hampered the fight against avoidable blindness. Hearing and visual aids are linked to slower age-related memory loss. Visually-impaired people also experience digital exclusion that could be easily solved by better hardware and software design. (WHO, Devex, Eureka, The Conversation)
Video training Satellite technology is enabling effective medical training by video even in rural areas of developing countries. Medical Aid Films has made about 300 films in 23 languages on everything from Ebola response to emergency obstetrics. (Devex)
Cannabis advances Medicinal cannabis will be available in the UK from November after its approval by the government. Interest from cancer patients in cannabis products is exploding in parts of the US where they have been legalised. A surge in deals has fuelled investment interest. (BBC, Chicago Tribune, FT)
Noise annoys New WHO guidelines for Europe highlight the growing awareness of the impact of environmental noise on public health. At least 100m people in the EU are affected by road traffic noise. (WHO)
Best from the journals
C-section 'epidemic' The large rise in caesarean sections around the world is “unprecedented and unjustified”. Women and their infants can be harmed or die from the procedure, especially if there is a lack of adequate facilities, skills, and comprehensive healthcare. (The Lancet)
Inuit issues Urban Inuit communities in southern Canada suffer disproportionately from illnesses such as cancer and hypertension. Language and cultural barriers also affect satisfactory access to healthcare. (Canadian Journal of Public Health).
Gene genies Successful experiments to correct genetic disorders in unborn mice raised hopes for similar procedures on human embryos. (Nature Medicine)
Fighting flu An analysis of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed up to 50m suggests an outbreak of similar virulence today — however unlikely — could cause between 21m and 147m deaths. New challenges include an ageing population with chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease, antimicrobial resistance and climate change. (Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology)
Widening the gene pool The biggest ever genetic study of Chinese people throws light on a variety of fertility and pregnancy problems, as well as uncovering hidden stories of their migration and culture. (Cell, NYT)
Podcast of the week
Could implants help people walk again? Epidural stimulation has helped four people with paraplegia regain some control of their legs. How does it work and what are the other options for spinal cord injuries? (Guardian Science podcast, 27m)
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Shrinking pizzas New data showed childhood obesity in England up by a third since 2006. Health authorities are now talking to companies to achieve a 20 per cent calorie reduction in foods popular with children by 2024. Should other countries follow their lead? (Guardian)
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