WHO releases first guideline on digital health interventions

WHO on Wednesday released new recommendations on 10 ways that countries can use digital health technology, accessible via mobile phones, tablets and computers, to improve people’s health and essential services.

“Harnessing the power of digital technologies is essential for achieving universal health coverage,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Ultimately, digital technologies are not ends in themselves; they are vital tools to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.”

Over the past two years, WHO systematically reviewed evidence on digital technologies and consulted with experts from around the world to produce recommendations on some key ways such tools may be used for maximum impact on health systems and people’s health.

One digital intervention already having positive effects in some areas is sending reminders to pregnant women to attend antenatal care appointments and having children return for vaccinations. Other digital approaches reviewed include decision-support tools to guide health workers as they provide care; and enabling individuals and health workers to communicate and consult on health issues from across different locations.

“The use of digital technologies offers new opportunities to improve people’s health,” says Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO. “But the evidence also highlights challenges in the impact of some interventions.”

She adds: “If digital technologies are to be sustained and integrated into health systems, they must be able to demonstrate long-term improvements over the traditional ways of delivering health services.”

For example, the guideline points to the potential to improve stock management. Digital technologies enable health workers to communicate more efficiently on the status of commodity stocks and gaps. However, notification alone is not enough to improve commodity management; health systems also must respond and take action in a timely manner for replenishing needed commodities. 

“Digital interventions, depend heavily on the context and ensuring appropriate design,” warns Dr Garrett Mehl, WHO scientist in digital innovations and research. “This includes structural issues in the settings where they are being used, available infrastructure, the health needs they are trying to address, and the ease of use of the technology itself.”

The guideline demonstrates that health systems need to respond to the increased visibility and availability of information. People also must be assured that their own data is safe and that they are not being put at risk because they have accessed information on sensitive health topics, such as sexual and reproductive health issues.

Health workers need adequate training to boost their motivation to transition to this new way of working and need to use the technology easily. The guideline stresses the importance of providing supportive environments for training, dealing with unstable infrastructure, as well as policies to protect privacy of individuals, and governance and coordination to ensure these tools are not fragmented across the health system.

The guideline encourages policy-makers and implementers to review and adapt to these conditions if they want digital tools to drive tangible changes and provides guidance on taking privacy considerations on access to patient data.

“Digital health is not a silver bullet,” says Bernardo Mariano, WHO’s Chief Information Officer. “WHO is working to make sure it’s used as effectively as possible. This means ensuring that it adds value to the health workers and individuals using these technologies, takes into account the infrastructural limitations, and that there is proper coordination.”

The guideline also makes recommendations about telemedicine, which allows people living in remote locations to obtain health services by using mobile phones, web portals, or other digital tools. WHO points out that this is a valuable complement to face-to-face-interactions, but it cannot replace them entirely. It is also important that consultations are conducted by qualified health workers and that the privacy of individuals’ health information is maintained.

The guideline emphasizes the importance of reaching vulnerable populations, and ensuring that digital health does not endanger them in any way.

Long periods of sedentary behavior may increase cardiovascular risk in older women

A new study has found that the longer older women sit or lay down during the course of a day—and the longer the individual periods of uninterrupted sitting—the greater their risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

Physically active women have significantly decreased risk of heart disease. Photo credit:
Medical Xpress

The study noted that reducing their sedentary time by just an hour a day appears to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 12 percent—and for heart disease alone, by a dramatic 26 percent, the research found. The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.  

“This study provides further strong evidence of a link between sedentary behavior, like sitting and laying down, which uses very little energy, and cardiovascular disease,” said David Goff, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, NHLBI. “Sedentary behaviors and inactivity are major risk factors for heart disease, and this research also shows that it is never too late, or too early, to move more and improve your heart health.”

In this five-year prospective study, researchers looked at more than 5,000 women ages 63 to 97 and measured both the total time they sat or laid down each day and the duration of discrete sedentary periods. The results, published today in the journal Circulation, are significant.   

“Higher amounts of sedentary time and longer sedentary bouts were directly associated with cardiovascular disease,” said John Bellettiere, Ph.D., research fellow of cardiovascular disease epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego, and lead author of the study. “Importantly, the association showed up regardless of a woman’s overall health, physical function, and other cardiovascular risk factors, including whether they also were engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity.”

Of the estimated 85.6 million American adults having at least one type of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, 43.7 million of them are 60 or older. In fact, 67.9 percent of women between 60 and 79 years old, have cardiovascular disease; and heart disease is the leading cause of death among women 65 and older.

The findings, Bellettiere said, could have implications for what health officials communicate to older women about staying heart healthy. Getting up and moving, even if for just a few minutes more throughout the day, he noted, might help reduce their already-high rates of heart disease.

“Encouraging less sedentary time and shorter sedentary bouts in older women could have large public health benefits,” Bellettiere said.

The research involved an ethnically diverse group of 5,638 women, nearly half of whom were over age 80, enrolled between 2012 and 2014. None had a history of myocardial infarction or stroke. The women were part of the NHLBI-funded Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health (OPACH)—a sub cohort of the Women’s Health Initiative. 

At the start of the study, participants wore hip-mounted accelerometers that measured their movement 24 hours a day for seven consecutive days. Previous studies have largely relied on self-reporting questionnaires; the accelerometers, however, provided researchers more accurate measures of sedentary time overall, as well as the duration of individual bouts of sedentary time. The latter was important because it allowed, for the first time, the study of whether sitting for long uninterrupted periods throughout the day was contributing to higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers then followed the participants for almost five years, tracking cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes. They found that on average, an additional hour of total sedentary time was associated with a 12 percent higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, and when that sitting time was made up of long uninterrupted sedentary sessions, the risk was 52 percent higher than when it was accumulated in short, regularly interrupted bouts of sedentary time.

Yet, just as the risk for heart disease can increase with more sitting and longer sedentary bouts, it can be reduced by getting up and moving, even if only a little, and by doing it often throughout the day, the researchers found.

“Reductions of sedentary time do not need to happen all at once,” said Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., Chair of the Division of Epidemiology and Director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, who led the OPACH study. “I recommend to all women who, like me, are over 60, to make a conscious effort to interrupt our sitting by getting up and moving around as often as we can.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH): the United States medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. 

Sierra Leone: Sexual Violence declared a national emergency

Efforts by the First Lady of Sierra Leone have ushered a new beginning for women and girls as the fight against sexual violence intensified.

Rape and Sexual violence are today declared National Emergency at State House in Freetown, and calls for safe homes and DNA forensic lab.

The stance by the Government is lauded a vital component in national development by women organizations, civil society, and the media.

Canadian Minister of International Development visits African Development Bank in Côte d’Ivoire, reinforces Canada’s role in Africa


Beneficiaries of PAIA-ID, an AfDB-financed agriculture project in rural Côte d’Ivoire.

At the invitation of the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and the African Development Bank Group President, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, Canada’s Minister for International Development, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, will be visiting Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen relations with the African Development Bank Group, of which Canada is the fifth-largest shareholder and the fourth among non-regional member countries.

The visit includes a half-day tour of a Bank-financed agriculture project in rural Côte d’Ivoire and culminates at the Bank headquarters in Abidjan. It will be an opportunity for the Bank and Canada to strengthen relations in light of the Canadian Government’s international priorities, which include, among others, empowerment of women and girls on the continent, energy and climate change, security in the Sahel, and opportunities for trade and investment.

As the first visit by Canada’s Minister of International Development to the Bank, and the first official meeting between President Adesina and the Canadian Government, it provides an opportunity to engage on issues of importance to both parties, namely the empowerment of women and girls in keeping with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, renewable energy, climate change and security in the Sahel.

It will also offer a platform to explore greater cooperation between Canada and Africa, including trade and investment opportunities on the continent.

Canada joined the African Development Fund (ADF) in 1973 and the African Development Bank (the Bank) in 1982. It supported all capital Increases and contributed to all replenishments of the ADF. The African Development Bank Group is one of Canada’s key development partners in supporting sustainable economic growth in Africa. The core area of focus for Canada is empowerment of women and girls. Other priority development areas for Canada’s partnership with the Bank Group include: Environment and climate action, Growth that works for everyone, Inclusive governance, and peace and security.

The country supports a number of Multi-Donor Trust Funds and other initiatives hosted by the Bank.

CAR: UN soldier killed while protecting a convoy of water trucks

Christian militia in the Central African Republic have attacked United Nations peacekeepers who were protecting a convoy of water trucks, according to BBC report.

peaceOne Moroccan UN soldier was killed and three others injured in the southern diamond-mining town of Bangassou.

“The attack took place while the Moroccan peacekeepers were escorting water tankers to the river to help resupply the village,” the MINUSCA force said on Sunday.

Christian militia have been attempting to seize a cathedral housing hundreds of displaced Muslims, who have been sheltering in the compound since a wave of ethnic killings in May.

The Red Cross said it found 115 bodies in the town after those attacks, when the rival religious groups clashed.

Armed groups in the Central African Republic have killed civilians with wholesale impunity, spurring more violence in the war-torn country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released recently.

The 92-page report, “Killing Without Consequence: War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and the Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic,” presents a comprehensive account of war crimes committed in three central provinces since late 2014, including more than 560 civilian deaths and the destruction of more than 4,200 homes. The crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Criminal Court (SCC), a new judicial body that, when operational, will investigate and prosecute grave human rights violations and war crimes in the country since 2003.

80 percent of Nigerian girls are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation on their way to Europe

Amid political instability, poverty and increasing migration of people from Africa to Europe, IOM report says 80 percent of the younger girls from Nigeria are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

nigeria victims

IOM staff Italy, meeting with a migrant. Photo: UN Migration Ageny (IOM) 2017

According to IOM Italy, over the past three years, an almost 600 per cent increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea, and that this upward trend has continued during the first six months of 2017, with most victims arriving from Nigeria.

This is one of the key findings of a new report published by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, Human Trafficking through the Central Mediterranean Route, which was released in Italian this week (21 July) by IOM’s Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome. An English version will be available soon.

Among other findings, the report states that sexual exploitation increasingly involves younger girls – often minors – who are already subject to violence and abuse on their way to Europe. IOM estimates that 80 per cent of girls arriving from Nigeria – whose numbers have soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016 – are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The report is based on data collected by IOM at landing sites and in reception centres for migrants in the regions of southern Italy, where the Organization carries out identification of potential victims and assists those who, once identified, decide to escape their exploiters and accept IOM support.

“Trafficking is a transnational crime that devastates the lives of thousands of people and is the cause of untold suffering,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean. “This is a theme we have been working on for years, committing to protect, prevent and collaborate with the authorities dealing with organized crime.”

IOM Project Manager Carlotta Santarossa added: “The report describes the organization’s activities in the face of this phenomenon: the difficulties in protecting victims and the main vulnerabilities identified among several cases of people who were assisted by the Organization. We also wanted to tell some of the stories of people who have been assisted by IOM staff to highlight the true nature of this painful and hateful form of slavery. We also feel that it is increasingly urgent that data analysis be accompanied by an examination of the market these girls supply, and the growing demand for paid sexual services.”

African Development Bank President reiterates comitment in empowering women in agriculture

By Alpha Bedoh.

To transform agriculture we must recognise the critical role women play in agriculture in Africa. We must invest in measures that target the needs of women farmers including access to land, improving market access, increasing access labour-saving tools, and providing improved seeds and quality fertilisers,” said Africa Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina. 

Adesina was addressing Heads of States, and governments and partners for the implementation of empowering women in agriculture and of the affirmative Finance Action for women in Africa Initiative being held at the African Union Summit in Kegali, Rwanda.

The agricultural sector has over the years being the major sector  driving the economies of most African countries by providing jobs for the millions of young people and source for goods for local and international consumption.

Unfortunately, the sector which used to have men at the forefront experienced a shift with the migration of people from the rural sector to urban areas in search for better opportunities, while in some areas the farm lands became mining grounds and forests.

However, facing the challenges of raising the kids, high level of illiteracy and tradition, women stayed back home, the majority engaging into subsistence agricultural activities, with only a smaller proportion with limited resources, engaging into commercial agriculture.

Women’s role in agriculture has therefore being of vital importance to African economies and the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina reiterated on July 16, 2016 that the AfDB is commited to support empowerment of women in Agriculture in order to unlock the sector’s potential.

President Adesina underlined the importance of ensuring access to financing. “Women pay back loans. They are bankable, but the banking system does not lend to them,” he said, adding: “We want to change this; we want to de-risk the financial system and allow institutions to give loans to women.” He referred to the AfDB’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program, launched at the 2016 Bank’s Annual Meetings, to provide available, accessible and affordable financial services to women in business through selected financial institutions.

Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is EWA’s co-chair, lauded the Bank’s Programme, which she said shared a common agenda with EWA. Empowering women, she added, “has the potential to lift millions out of poverty especially through agriculture.” She appealed to countries to integrate women farmers’ interests in programmes for agricultural transformation in Africa. “This will ensure women are part of the economic growth and development,” she said.  

According to APO, Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, called for speedy implementation of measures that enable women to play a leading role in the business of farming and agricultural value chains. “We have discussed a lot in Africa; we need to move to action be part of agriculture value chain. We have to boost women’s productivity and increase their participation in commercial and higher value-add activities in agriculture, as women make up more than 50 percent of the agricultural labour force in Africa.”