Category Archives: Health

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy:

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

Down at the (social) market

Dude, do I look concerned enough?

The IHT writes about the current wave of scepticism over social marketing, a market-inspired strategy to get the poor to start using mosquito nets by asking them to pay a minimum price for them, which the WHO’s director Dr. Arata Kochi bluntly describes as a pointless approach to reach the most vulnerable.

Clearly, no one has informed of such policy-shift Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who’ve been visiting Tanzanian hospitals implementing government-backed and USAID-funded net distribution facilities adopting a social marketing strategy, allegedly very successfully.

Store Wars

Store Wars 

In a pause in the endless series of exams I seem to be enduring these days, here’s an excellent use of the Internet and creative imagination to promote organic products: the Store Wars animation.

A similar – and equally funny – idea to that of the Meatrix, which also takes inspiration from a movie to promote messages about farming and organic production methods!

So when is organic food going to cost less, so we can all afford it?

World Water Day

Young Sudanees refugee drinks dirty water at Kashuni refugee camp in Eastern Chad - C 

It’s World Water Day 2007 (March 22), an annual, international day of recognition of the world’s most precious resource, established by the UN after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The theme this year is “Coping with Water Scarcity. Check the full entry from WorldChanging, listing a number of interesting water and sanitation initiatives underway in the various parts of the world, including:

On the subject, the World Bank’s Poverty and Growth Blog reproduces an article by Peruvian writed Mario Vargas Llosa, on the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2006:

From this reading, the first conclusion I reach is that the emblematic object of civilization and progress is not the book, the telephone, Internet or the atomic bomb, but the toilet. Where human beings empty their bladder and intestines is the decisive factor to know if they still find themselves in the cruel underdevelopment or if they have started to make progress. The repercussions that this simple and very important fact has on people’s life are vertiginous…

In Dharavi, a populous part of Mumbai, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people, and in the rainy season the water flooding the streets turns them into rivers of excrements. The abundance of the liquid element is, in this case as in many third world cities, a tragedy, because, given the condition in which people live, water, instead of being life is often times the instrument of sickness and death…

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote that “sewers are the conscience of the city” and … he tried to do a strange interpretation of history through human excrement. This terrific report does something similar, without the poetry and eloquence of the great French romantic, but with a much better scientific knowledge.

“We are born among feces and urine”, wrote Saint Agustin. A shiver should shake us when we think that a third of our contemporaries never leave the filth in which they came to this valley of tears.

See also World Water Day by WaterAid.

ASAQ – The $1 Future of Malaria Treatment


Sources: MSF, DNDi, Le Monde, La Repubblica.

On 1 March a revolutionary pharmaceutical product to treat malaria will be launched on the world markets. Why revolutionary? Because it is patent-free, it is not subject to intellectual property (IP) regimes, it is not-for-profit and anyone will be able to copy its formula. It’s called ASAQ and it is the result of an agreement between Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) – a not-for-profit research organisation created in 2003 by Médecins Sans Frontières – and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.

This is the first product manufactured by DNDi, and it represents MSF’s response to PhRMA, the powerful lobbying arm of the largest US pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies. The objective is to develop affordable cures for those ‘forgotten’ diseases that are not lucrative enough for the profit-making drug companies. Malaria is one of them. It is an infectious disease affecting some of the most vulnerable regions of the planet, where people do not have the economic resources to buy medicines at market value. Since the drug companies do not see profitable opportunities there, they have no incentive to develop life-saving medicines.

DNDi’s objective is to coordinate research into pharmaceutical products that can be developed and sold in developing countries at low cost, without IP restrictions. The launch of ASAQ – the first not-for-profit antimalarial drug – marks an entirely new way of conceptualising pharmaceutical products, similar to the way open source changed the way the software industry operates. No one owns the thinking behind a product, so anyone can take it, use it, improve it or – like in this case – save lives.

Update 02/03/07: See some further explanatory remarks by Jean-René Kiechel and Bernard Pecoul of DNDi on the Public Library of Science blog. The story has now been picked up by the NY Times, AP and Reuters.