Health and Healthcare Systems

WHO warns of imminent health catastrophe in Gaza, and other health stories you need to know this week

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A Palestinian patient sleeps as he undergoes kidney dialysis at Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Women, children and newborns are being disproportionately affected by the hostilities. Image: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: public health crisis imminent in Gaza, WHO warns; health and environmental cost of food production tops $10 trillion a year; Finger-prick test could help spot brain cancer.

1. Imminent 'public health catastrophe' in Gaza, WHO says

A "public health catastrophe" is imminent in Gaza, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. Mass displacement, overcrowding and damage to water and sanitation infrastructure is putting civilian lives at risk, a spokesperson for the agency said.

Women, children and newborns are being disproportionately affected by hostilities, both as casualties and as a result of reduced access to healthcare services.

Pregnant women are unable to access maternity and obstetric services to give birth safely, warn the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, and WHO, and maternal deaths are expected to increase.

Most of the population of Gaza is now sheltering in UNRWA facilities in poor conditions with inadequate water and food supplies. This is leading to hunger and dehydration, and contributing to the spread of waterborne diseases, the agencies say.

2. $10 trillion health and environmental cost of food production – FAO

Quantified hidden costs of agrifood systems by cost category.
Poor health is the biggest hidden cost linked to food production. Image: FAO

Global hidden costs to health and the environment as a result of food production amount to at least $10 trillion a year, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in a new report.

The State of Food and Agriculture 2023 finds the biggest contributor to these hidden costs comes from productivity losses from dietary conditions that lead to non-communicable diseases. This is particularly prominent in higher and upper-middle-income countries.

However, these hidden costs have a disproportionate burden on low-income countries, where they account for an average of 27% of GDP, primarily due to the impacts of poverty and undernourishment.

Understanding the true costs of our food systems is crucial to making informed decisions and policymaking, the report says.


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3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world

Scientists at the University of Sheffield and Nottingham Trent University are developing a simple finger-prick test to detect aggressive, recurring brain tumours. The test, which can be done at home, will use similar technology to the lateral flow tests used during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aggressive, recurring brain tumours lead to almost 200,000 deaths a year around the world.

A long-term Parkinson's patient has seen his ability to walk dramatically improve after receiving an implant against his spinal cord. The neuroprosthetic consists of an electrode field and an electrical impulse generator that stimulates the patient's spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.

A new tampon designed by health start-up Daye could allow women to test their sexual health at home. The tampon is used to take a vaginal swab in place of a woman visiting a clinic, which the company hopes will help make women's healthcare more accessible and help close the health gender gap. Using the tampon to analyze their vaginal microbiome, women will be able to see their risk of sexually transmitted and other infections and fertility complications.

An artificial intelligence tool may be significantly better at assessing rare cancer than current methods, a study suggests. Retroperitoneal sarcomas, rare cancers that develop from the body's connective tissues, generally result in a poor prognosis, and their severity is often underrated as characterization of the tumour can be difficult. Using machine learning, researchers were able to develop a model that could predict the severity of a tumour with 82% accuracy.

Human-to-human transmission of mpox may have been occurring since 2016, research suggests. Mpox is typically characterized as a zoonotic disease, rarely transmitted to humans through contact with infected rodent populations. This means that public health messaging should be revised and outbreak management and control updated, the study authors say.

4. More on health from Agenda

A comprehensive, integrated strategy is needed to manage dengue and reduce deaths to zero by 2030. In recent years, several countries have witnessed worse dengue outbreaks than usual, ahead of peak season, and climate change is increasing the probability of cases in non-endemic countries.

Work has a big impact on people's health and is responsible for creating and exacerbating many unequal health outcomes across different societal groups. But despite policymakers being aware of this, it is underused as a lever to address health inequities.

Vaccines must be more accessible, affordable and sustainable to save more lives, says Biozeen CEO Dr Vibin Joseph. The company, which helped produce more than 1.5 billion vaccines during the pandemic, has a vision to produce more vaccines locally.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsWellbeing and Mental Health
1. Imminent 'public health catastrophe' in Gaza, WHO says2. $10 trillion health and environmental cost of food production – FAO3. News in brief: More health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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