The year 2011 brought with it a number of milestones for the global health community.
Despite real economic pressures and many competing priorities, across the world, governments, private companies, foundations, doctors, and individual volunteers worked to create a world where opportunity and hope are not crippled by poor health.
Below are ten (among many) reasons to celebrate 2011:
1) Despite the global economic downturn, governments avoid making major cuts to foreign aid budgets.
U.S. and European commitments to global health and foreign aid escaped deep reductions this year - an important achievement as the global health community works to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. Of particular note is David Cameron's commitment to increase U.K. aid to .7% of the Gross National Income by 2013, making the U.K. the first G8 nation to reach the U.N.-recommended benchmark. The Global Fund's decision to cancel funding Round 11 is an obvious exception to this good news.
2) "Treatment as Prevention" as a means to reduce HIV transmission.
In May 2011, a study involving 1,763 HIV discordant couples (one positive, one negative) showed that individuals who had started antiretroviral therapy immediately after diagnosis lowered the risk of HIV transmission to their sexual partners by as much as 96%. As a result, the global health community is mobilizing time and resources to implement "test and treat" strategies for individuals and couples and is increasing treatment for HIV positive mothers to prevent mother-to-child transmission. At a World AIDS Day event on 1 December, President Obama announced that the U.S. will set a new target of helping 6 million people start HIV treatment by the end of 2013--2 million more people than the original goal.
3) The number of malaria cases and deaths continues to fall around the world.
Financial commitments towards malaria prevention and treatment have produced tremendous results. According to the WHO's 2011 Malaria Report, the global incidence of malaria dropped 17 percent since 2000 and by more than 50 percent in several endemic countries. Additionally, malaria-specific mortality rates fell by 26 percent worldwide. Much of this success is due to increased access to and use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This year, my organization PSI - with support from USAID, the Global Fund, UNICEF, and others, delivered its 125 millionth net. Our efforts, combined with the efforts of partners, have helped make progress against malaria one of global health's greatest success stories.
4) Exciting breakthrough in the search for an effective malaria vaccine.
A new vaccine tested in children across sub-Saharan Africa was found to reduce the risk of malaria by nearly 50 percent. This achievement was made possible by a partnership among GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Although still in trial stage (set to be completed by 2014), the vaccine represents a potential landmark step forward in the fight to end malaria deaths once and for all.
5) Long-acting reversible contraceptive methods are reaching more women.
Every year, 70 million unintended pregnancies occur throughout the world, contributing to the 340,000 women who die from pregnancy-related causes. Increasing access to voluntary use of long-acting reversible contraception methods, such as an intrauterine device or contraceptive implants, reduces the risk of women dying from unintended pregnancies. With growing support from donors, PSI and partner health organizations are now taking these methods to scale.
6) Kenya Hosts the First Global Conference on Social Franchising in health care.
More than 50% of people living in the developing world receive health products and services through the private sector. The future of health delivery, therefore, revolves around the expansion of private sector options, the standardization of quality, and cost reduction. From November 9th to 11th, Mombasa, Kenya hosted the first-ever gathering of health experts, donors, and implementers to share experiences about franchising private healthcare provision. The commercial franchising model can be replicated by the social sector to deliver health services with an end goal of improving quality of life rather than generating a profit. This practice has become a reputable and promising model to leverage private sector resources for public health goals.
7) Misoprostol added to WHO List of Essential Medicines.
Post-partum bleeding is responsible for 25 percent of maternal deaths every year. Misoprostol is a safe, effective, and affordable drug that can be used to prevent or treat this deadly condition. In 2011, the World Health Organization added misoprostol to its List of Essential Medicines - an important step forward to help ensure that no mother dies giving life.
8) Hillary Rodham Clinton elevates the importance of protecting the rights - and health - of LGBT populations.
Speaking before the United Nations in December, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a historic call for equality, declaring "gay rights are human rights." The speech specifically cited HIV/AIDS programs that fail to reach LGBT people due to discrimination or fear are a public health failure. Her words served as an important reminder to the global health community. Protecting the health of every person - no matter their background, age, race, gender, or sexual orientation - is our job. Period. (Read a personal commitment from PSI's Dr. Mannasseh Phiri's to increase LGBT HIV/AIDS outreach in Africa).
9) Overdue easy win number 1: Investment and action in pneumonia prevention and treatment saves lives.
Pneumonia kills more children under 5 years of age annually than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. A new report from IVAC demonstrated significant progress has been achieved this year for pneumonia vaccinations. Within the past year alone, 10 of the 15 profiled countries have either introduced pneumococcal vaccines, been approved for introduction, or have applied for introduction support. The report also underscored the importance of scaling up access to antibiotics for children with pneumonia - a call that must be heeded in 2012. (Read Mandy Moore's call to action on pneumonia)
10) Overdue easy win number 2: Public and Private Sectors work together to improve sanitation, hygiene, and access to clean water.
Every year, approximately 1.5 million children die from diarrheal disease. The majority of these deaths could easily be prevented with proper sanitation and hygiene, as well as improved access to safe drinking water. This year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched "WASH for Life". This $17 million partnership will identify, test, and take to scale new hygienic and sanitation technologies and service delivery approaches in developing countries. WASH for Life builds on a $42 million commitment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made this year to improve sanitation worldwide, and complements other programs led by governments, NGOs, and private sector companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble.