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1.  Advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in low- and middle-income countries: Implications for the post-2015 global development agenda 
Global Public Health  2015;10(2):137-148.
The papers and commentaries in this special issue illuminate progress made by low- and middle-income countries towards implementation of the Programme of Action (PoA) agreed by 179 countries during the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. The PoA presents a path-breaking sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) framework for global and national population and health policies. While progress towards implementation has been made at global, regional and national levels, continuing and new challenges require that high priority be given to SRHR for all, particularly women and girls, during the remaining months of the millennium development goals and in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda. This paper highlights three critical gaps, raised in other papers: inequalities in access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services; the widespread need to improve SRH services to meet public health, human rights and medical ethics standards for quality of care; and the absence or inadequate use of accountability mechanisms to track and remedy the other two. We discuss priority actions to achieve equality, quality and accountability in SRHR policies, programmes and services, especially those that should be included in the post-2015 development agenda.
PMCID: PMC4318089  PMID: 25628182
sexual and reproductive health and rights; low- and middle-income countries; post-2015 global development agenda; equality of access to SRH services; quality of SRH services; monitoring and tracking of SRH services
2.  Health Systems Integration of Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV Services in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Scoping Study 
Supplemental Digital Content is Available in the Text.
Both sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and HIV programs in sub-Saharan Africa are typically delivered vertically, operating parallel to national health systems. The objective of this study was to map the evidence on national and international strategies for integration of SRH and HIV services in sub-Saharan Africa and to develop a research agenda for future health systems integration.
We examined the literature on national and international strategies to integrate SRH and HIV services using a scoping study methodology. Current policy frameworks, national HIV strategies and research, and gray literature on integration were mapped. Five countries in sub-Saharan Africa with experience of integrating SRH and HIV services were purposively sampled for detailed thematic analysis, according to the health systems functions of governance, policy and planning, financing, health workforce organization, service organization, and monitoring and evaluation.
The major international health policies and donor guidance now support integration. Most integration research has focused on linkages of SRH and HIV front-line services. Yet, the common problems with implementation are related to delayed or incomplete integration of higher level health systems functions: lack of coordinated leadership and unified national integration policies; separate financing streams for SRH and HIV services and inadequate health worker training, supervision and retention.
Rigorous health systems research on the integration of SRH and HIV services is urgently needed. Priority research areas include integration impact, performance, and economic evaluation to inform the planning, financing, and coordination of integrated service delivery.
PMCID: PMC4251913  PMID: 25436826
reproductive health services; HIV; health systems research; maternal health services; integration; linkage
3.  Accelerators/decelerators of achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services: a case study of Iranian health system 
At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, the global community agreed to the goal of achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights by 2015. This research explores the accelerators and decelerators of achieving universal access to the sexual and reproductive health targets and accordingly makes some suggestions.
We have critically reviewed the latest national reports and extracted the background data on each SRH indicator. The key stakeholders, both national and international, were visited and interviewed at two sites. A total of 55 in-depth interviews were conducted with religious leaders, policy-makers, senior managers, senior academics, and health care managers. Six focus-group discussions were also held among health care providers. The study was qualitative in nature.
Obstacles on the road to achieving universal access to SRH can be viewed from two perspectives. One gap exists between current achievements and the targets. The other gap arises due to age, marital status, and residency status. The most recently observed trends in the indicators of the universal access to SRH shows that the achievements in the “unmet need for family planning” have been poor. Unmet need for family planning could directly be translated to unwanted pregnancies and unwanted childbirths; the former calls for sexual education to underserved people, including adolescents; and the latter calls for access to safe abortion. Local religious leaders have not actively attended international goal-setting programs. Therefore, they usually do not presume a positive attitude towards these goals. Such negative attitudes seem to be the most important factors hindering the progress towards universal access to SRH. Lack of international donors to fund for SRH programs is also another barrier. In national levels both state and the society are interactively playing their roles. We have used a cascade model for presenting the barriers at the state levels from the strategic planning to implementation. Social factors are to be considered as a background for other factors at all stages.
Accelerating universal access to SRH requires adequate funding, firm political commitment, creative programming, and the involvement of diverse actors, including faith-based, civil society, and private sector partners.
PMCID: PMC3750448  PMID: 23816259
Iran; Health system; Sexual and reproductive health; Universal access; Millennium development goal
4.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights in changing health systems 
Global Public Health  2014;10(2):228-242.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are centrally important to health. However, there have been significant shortcomings in implementing SRHR to date. In the context of health systems reform and universal health coverage/care (UHC), this paper explores the following questions. What do these changes in health systems thinking mean for SRHR and gender equity in health in the context of renewed calls for increased investments in the health of women and girls? Can SRHR be integrated usefully into the call for UHC, and if so how? Can health systems reforms address the continuing sexual and reproductive ill health and violations of sexual and reproductive rights (SRR)? Conversely, can the attention to individual human rights that is intrinsic to the SRHR agenda and its continuing concerns about equality, quality and accountability provide impetus for strengthening the health system? The paper argues that achieving equity on the UHC path will require a combination of system improvements and services that benefit all, together with special attention to those whose needs are great and who are likely to fall behind in the politics of choice and voice (i.e., progressive universalism paying particular attention to gender inequalities).
PMCID: PMC4318007  PMID: 25536851
sexual and reproductive health and rights; universal health coverage/care; quality of care; accountability; equity
5.  One Health: Past Successes and Future Challenges in Three African Contexts 
The recent emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have contributed to dominant Global Health narratives around health securitisation and pandemic preparedness, calling for greater co-operation between the health, veterinary and environmental sectors in the ever-evolving One Health movement. A decade later, One Health advocates face increasing pressure to translate the approach from theory into action.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A qualitative case study methodology was used to examine the emerging relationships between international One Health dialogue and its practical implementation in the African health policy context. A series of Key Informant Interviews (n = 32) with policy makers, government officials and academics in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda are presented as three separate case studies. Each case examines a significant aspect of One Health operationalisation, framed around the control of both emerging and Neglected Zoonotic Diseases including HPAI, Human African Trypanosomiasis and rabies. The research found that while there is general enthusiasm and a strong affirmative argument for adoption of One Health approaches in Africa, identifying alternative contexts away from a narrow focus on pandemics will help broaden its appeal, particularly for national or regionally significant endemic and neglected diseases not usually addressed under a “global” remit.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to achieving the intersectoral collaboration, significant resource mobilisation and political co-operation required to realise a One Health approach. Individual country requirements cannot be underestimated, dismissed or prescribed in a top down manner. This article contributes to the growing discussion regarding not whether One Health should be operationalised, but how this may be achieved.
Author Summary
The One Health movement requires more robust evidence around its practical implementation if it is to truly become a way forwards for addressing health issues at the human, animal and ecosystem interface. The research in this paper discusses some of the recent successes and challenges with both Emerging and Neglected zoonoses in the sub-Saharan Africa context. Through speaking to various human and animal health practitioners and policy makers in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania, the authors have created three case studies highlighting the various successes of the approach to date, but also clarifying areas where the approach will take longer to implement, often as a result of the wide institutional and policy changes required in many countries. The authors conclude that whilst the “goodwill” is certainly there, the reality of planning, executing and budgeting for joint interventions – particularly at the national or regional level – proves in many cases more difficult than first thought. It is hoped however that through gaining better insight from those charged with the decision-making in these countries, One Health practitioners will be encouraged to build on the momentum through addressing some of the issues that arise with its implementation.
PMCID: PMC4031173  PMID: 24851901
6.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescent girls: Evidence from low- and middle-income countries 
Global Public Health  2015;10(2):189-221.
This paper reviews the evidence on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of adolescent girls in low-income and middle-income countries (LMIC) in light of the policy and programme commitments made at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), analyses progress since 1994, and maps challenges in and opportunities for protecting their health and human rights. Findings indicate that many countries have yet to make significant progress in delaying marriage and childbearing, reducing unintended childbearing, narrowing gender disparities that put girls at risk of poor SRH outcomes, expanding health awareness or enabling access to SRH services. While governments have reaffirmed many commitments, policy development and programme implementation fall far short of realising these commitments. Future success requires increased political will and engagement of young people in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes, along with increased investments to deliver at scale comprehensive sexuality education, health services that are approachable and not judgemental, safe spaces programmes, especially for vulnerable girls, and programmes that engage families and communities. Stronger policy-making and programming also require expanding the evidence on adolescent health and rights in LMICs for both younger and older adolescents, boys and girls, and relating to a range of key health matters affecting adolescents.
PMCID: PMC4318087  PMID: 25554828
adolescent girls; sexual and reproductive health; low- and middle-income countries
7.  The success factors of scaling-up Estonian sexual and reproductive health youth clinic network - from a grassroots initiative to a national programme 1991–2013 
Reproductive Health  2015;12:2.
A growing number of middle-income countries are scaling up youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health pilot projects to national level programmes. Yet, there are few case studies on successful national level scale-up of such programmes. Estonia is an excellent example of scale-up of a small grassroots adolescent sexual and reproductive health initiative to a national programme, which most likely contributed to improved adolescent sexual and reproductive health outcomes. This study; 1) documents the scale-up process of the Estonian youth clinic network 1991–2013, and 2) analyses factors that contributed to the successful scale-up. This research provides policy makers and programme managers with new insights to success factors of the scale-up, that can be used to support planning, implementation and scale-up of adolescent sexual and reproductive health programmes in other countries.
Information on the scale-up process and success factors were collected by conducting a literature review and interviewing key stakeholders. The findings were analysed using the WHO-ExpandNet framework, which provides a step-by-step process approach for design, implementation and assessment of the results of scaling-up health innovations.
The scale-up was divided into two main phases: 1) planning the scale-up strategy 1991–1995 and 2) managing the scaling-up 1996–2013. The planning phase analysed innovation, user organizations (youth clinics), environment and resource team (a national NGO and international assistance). The managing phase examines strategic choices, advocacy, organization, resource mobilization, monitoring and evaluation, strategic planning and management of the scale-up.
The main factors that contributed to the successful scale-up in Estonia were: 1) favourable social and political climate, 2) clear demonstrated need for the adolescent services, 3) a national professional organization that advocated, coordinated and represented the youth clinics, 4) enthusiasm and dedication of personnel, 5) acceptance by user organizations and 6) sustainable funding through the national health insurance system. Finally, the measurement and recognition of the remarkable improvement of adolescent SRH outcomes in Estonia would not have been possible without development of good reporting and monitoring systems, and many studies and international publications.
PMCID: PMC4298051  PMID: 25566785
Adolescents; Youth-friendly; Youth clinic; Sexual and reproductive health; Scale-up; Framework
8.  Using research to influence sexual and reproductive health practice and implementation in Sub-Saharan Africa: a case-study analysis 
Health Research Policy and Systems  2011;9(Suppl 1):S10.
Research institutions and donor organizations are giving growing attention to how research evidence is communicated to influence policy. In the area of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV there is less weight given to understanding how evidence is successfully translated into practice. Policy issues in SRH can be controversial, influenced by political factors and shaped by context such as religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
The case-studies presented in this paper analyse findings from SRH/HIV research programmes in sub-Saharan Africa: 1) Maternal syphilis screening in Ghana, 2) Legislative change for sexual violence survivors In Ghana, 3) Male circumcision policy in South Africa, and 4) Male circumcision policy in Tanzania. Our analysis draws on two frameworks, Sumner et al’s synthesis approach and Nutley’s research use continuum.
The analysis emphasises the relationships and communications involved in using research to influence policy and practice and recognises a distinction whereby practice is not necessarily influenced as a result of policy change – especially in SRH – where there are complex interactions between policy actors.
Both frameworks demonstrate how policy networks, partnership and advocacy are critical in shaping the extent to which research is used and the importance of on-going and continuous links between a range of actors to maximize research impact on policy uptake and implementation. The case-studies illustrate the importance of long-term engagement between researchers and policy makers and how to use evidence to develop policies which are sensitive to context: political, cultural and practical.
PMCID: PMC3121127  PMID: 21679377
9.  An assessment of mental health policy in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia 
Approximately half of the countries in the African Region had a mental health policy by 2005, but little is known about quality of mental health policies in Africa and globally. This paper reports the results of an assessment of the mental health policies of Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
The WHO Mental Health Policy Checklist was used to evaluate the most current mental health policy in each country. Assessments were completed and reviewed by a specially constituted national committee as well as an independent WHO team. Results of each country evaluation were discussed until consensus was reached.
All four policies received a high level mandate. Each policy addressed community-based services, the integration of mental health into general health care, promotion of mental health and rehabilitation. Prevention was addressed in the South African and Ugandan policies only. Use of evidence for policy development varied considerably. Consultations were mainly held with the mental health sector. Only the Zambian policy presented a clear vision, while three of four countries spelt out values and principles, the need to establish a coordinating body for mental health, and to protect the human rights of people with mental health problems. None included all the basic elements of a policy, nor specified sources and levels of funding for implementation. Deinstitutionalisation and the provision of essential psychotropic medicines were insufficiently addressed. Advocacy, empowerment of users and families and intersectoral collaboration were inadequately addressed. Only Uganda sufficiently outlined a mental health information system, research and evaluation, while only Ghana comprehensively addressed human resources and training requirements. No country had an accompanying strategic mental health plan to allow the development and implementation of concrete strategies and activities.
Six gaps which could impact on the policies' effect on countries' mental health systems were: lack of internal consistency of structure and content of policies, superficiality of key international concepts, lack of evidence on which to base policy directions, inadequate political support, poor integration of mental health policies within the overall national policy and legislative framework, and lack of financial specificity. Three strategies to address these concerns emerged, namely strengthening capacity of key stakeholders in public (mental) health and policy development, creation of a culture of inclusive and dynamic policy development, and coordinated action to optimize use of available resources.
PMCID: PMC3090369  PMID: 21477285
10.  Can rights stop the wrongs? Exploring the connections between framings of sex workers’ rights and sexual and reproductive health 
There is growing interest in the ways in which legal and human rights issues related to sex work affect sex workers’ vulnerability to HIV and abuses including human trafficking and sexual exploitation. International agencies, such as UNAIDS, have called for decriminalisation of sex work because the delivery of sexual and reproductive health services is affected by criminalisation and social exclusion as experienced by sex workers. The paper reflects on the connections in various actors’ framings between sex workers sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the ways that international law is interpreted in policing and regulatory practices.
The literature review that informs this paper was carried out by the authors in the course of their work within the Paulo Longo Research Initiative. The review covered academic and grey literature such as resources generated by sex worker rights activists, UN policy positions and print and online media. The argument in this paper has been developed reflectively through long term involvement with key actors in the field of sex workers’ rights.
International legislation characterises sex work in various ways which do not always accord with moves toward decriminalisation. Law, policy and regulation at national level and law enforcement vary between settings. The demands of sex worker rights activists do relate to sexual and reproductive health but they place greater emphasis on efforts to remove the structural barriers that limit sex workers’ ability to participate in society on an equal footing with other citizens.
Discussion and conclusion
There is a tension between those who wish to uphold the rights of sex workers in order to reduce vulnerability to ill-health and those who insist that sex work is itself a violation of rights. This is reflected in contemporary narratives about sex workers’ rights and the ways in which different actors interpret human rights law. The creation of regulatory frameworks around sex work that support health, safety and freedom from abuse requires a better understanding of the broad scope of laws, policies and enforcement practices in different cultural contexts and economic settings, alongside reviews of UN policies and human rights conventions.
PMCID: PMC3287462  PMID: 22376152
11.  Strengthening the research to policy and practice interface: exploring strategies used by research organisations working on sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS 
This commentary introduces the HARPS supplement on getting research into policy and practice in sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The papers in this supplement have been produced by the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Practice (SHHEP) collaboration of international research, practitioner and advocacy organizations based in research programmes funded by the UK Department for International Development.
The commentary describes the increasing interest from research and communication practitioners, policy makers and funders in expanding the impact of research on policy and practice. It notes the need for contextually embedded understanding of ways to engage multiple stakeholders in the politicized, sensitive and often contested arenas of sexual and reproductive health. The commentary then introduces the papers under their respective themes: (1) The theory and practice of research engagement (two global papers); (2) Applying policy analysis to explore the role of research evidence in SRH and HIV/AIDS policy (two papers with examples from Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia); (3) Strategies and methodologies for engagement (five papers on Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Swaziland respectively); (4) Advocacy and engagement to influence attitudes on controversial elements of sexual health (two papers, Bangladesh and global); and (5) Institutional approaches to inter-sectoral engagement for action and strengthening research communications (two papers, Ghana and global).
The papers illustrate the many forms research impact can take in the field of sexual and reproductive health. This includes discursive changes through carving out legitimate spaces for public debate; content changes such as contributing to changing laws and practices, procedural changes such as influencing how data on SRH are collected, and behavioural changes through partnerships with civil society actors such as advocacy groups and journalists.
The contributions to this supplement provide a body of critical analysis of communication and engagement strategies across the spectrum of SRH and HIV/AIDS research through the testing of different models for the research-to-policy interface. They provide new insights on how researchers and communication specialists can respond to changing policy climates to create windows of opportunity for influence.
PMCID: PMC3121133  PMID: 21679383
12.  Engaging media in communicating research on sexual and reproductive health and rights in sub-Saharan Africa: experiences and lessons learned 
The mass media have excellent potential to promote good sexual and reproductive health outcomes, but around the world, media often fail to prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights issues or report them in an accurate manner. In sub-Saharan Africa media coverage of reproductive health issues is poor due to the weak capacity and motivation for reporting these issues by media practitioners. This paper describes the experiences of the African Population and Health Research Center and its partners in cultivating the interest and building the capacity of the media in evidence-based reporting of reproductive health issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
The paper utilizes a case study approach based primarily on the personal experiences and reflections of the authors (who played a central role in developing and implementing the Center’s communication and policy engagement strategies), a survey that the Center carried out with science journalists in Kenya, and literature review.
The African Population and Health Research Center’s media strategy evolved over the years, moving beyond conventional ways of communicating research through the media via news releases and newspaper stories, to varying approaches that sought to inspire and build the capacity of journalists to do evidence-based reporting of reproductive health issues. Specifically, the approach included 1) enhancing journalists’ interest in and motivation for reporting on reproductive health issues through training and competitive grants for outstanding reporting ; 2) building the capacity of journalists to report reproductive health research and the capacity of reproductive health researchers to communicate their research to media through training for both parties and providing technical assistance to journalists in obtaining and interpreting evidence; and 3) establishing and maintaining trust and mutual relationships between journalists and researchers through regular informal meetings between journalists and researchers, organizing field visits for journalists, and building formal partnerships with professional media associations and individual journalists.
Our experiences and reflections, and the experiences of others reviewed in this paper, indicate that a sustained mix of strategies that motivate, strengthen capacity of, and build relationships between journalists and researchers can be effective in enhancing quality and quantity of media coverage of research.
PMCID: PMC3121138  PMID: 21679388
13.  Bringing Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Urban Contexts to the Forefront of the Development Agenda: The Case for Prioritizing the Urban Poor 
Maternal and Child Health Journal  2013;18(7):1572-1577.
Estimates suggest that over 90 % of population increase in the least developed countries over the next four decades will occur in urban areas. These increases will be driven both by natural population growth and rural–urban migration. Moreover, despite its status as the world’s least urbanized region, the urban population in the sub-Saharan Africa region is projected to increase from under 40 % currently to over 60 % by 2050. Currently, approximately 70 % of all urban residents in the region live in slums or slum-like conditions. Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) risks for the urban poor are severe and include high rates of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and poor maternal and child health outcomes. However, the links between poverty, urbanization, and reproductive health priorities are still not a major focus in the broader development agenda. Building on theoretical and empirical data, we show that SRH in urban contexts is critical to the development of healthy productive urban populations and, ultimately, the improvement of quality of life. We posit that a strategic focus on the sexual and reproductive health of urban residents will enable developing country governments achieve international goals and national targets by reducing health risks among a large and rapidly growing segment of the population. To that end, we identify key research, policy and program recommendations and strategies required for bringing sexual and reproductive health in urban contexts to the forefront of the development agenda.
PMCID: PMC4152622  PMID: 24352624
Sexual and reproductive health; Maternal health; Urbanization; Policy; Program; Research
14.  Physician Emigration from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States: Analysis of the 2011 AMA Physician Masterfile 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(9):e1001513.
Siankam Tankwanchi and colleagues used the AMA Physician Masterfile and the WHO Global Health Workforce Statistics on physicians in sub-Saharan Africa to determine trends in physician emigration to the United States.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The large-scale emigration of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to high-income nations is a serious development concern. Our objective was to determine current emigration trends of SSA physicians found in the physician workforce of the United States.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed physician data from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Workforce Statistics along with graduation and residency data from the 2011 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile (AMA-PM) on physicians trained or born in SSA countries who currently practice in the US. We estimated emigration proportions, year of US entry, years of practice before emigration, and length of time in the US. According to the 2011 AMA-PM, 10,819 physicians were born or trained in 28 SSA countries. Sixty-eight percent (n = 7,370) were SSA-trained, 20% (n = 2,126) were US-trained, and 12% (n = 1,323) were trained outside both SSA and the US. We estimated active physicians (age ≤70 years) to represent 96% (n = 10,377) of the total. Migration trends among SSA-trained physicians increased from 2002 to 2011 for all but one principal source country; the exception was South Africa whose physician migration to the US decreased by 8% (−156). The increase in last-decade migration was >50% in Nigeria (+1,113) and Ghana (+243), >100% in Ethiopia (+274), and >200% (+244) in Sudan. Liberia was the most affected by migration to the US with 77% (n = 175) of its estimated physicians in the 2011 AMA-PM. On average, SSA-trained physicians have been in the US for 18 years. They practiced for 6.5 years before US entry, and nearly half emigrated during the implementation years (1984–1999) of the structural adjustment programs.
Physician emigration from SSA to the US is increasing for most SSA source countries. Unless far-reaching policies are implemented by the US and SSA countries, the current emigration trends will persist, and the US will remain a leading destination for SSA physicians emigrating from the continent of greatest need.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Population growth and aging and increasingly complex health care interventions, as well as existing policies and market forces, mean that many countries are facing a shortage of health care professionals. High-income countries are addressing this problem in part by encouraging the immigration of foreign health care professionals from low- and middle-income countries. In the US, for example, international medical graduates (IMGs) can secure visas and permanent residency by passing examinations provided by the Educational Commission of Foreign Medical Graduates and by agreeing to provide care in areas that are underserved by US physicians. Inevitably, the emigration of physicians from low- and middle-income countries undermines health service delivery in the emigrating physicians' country of origin because physician supply is already inadequate in those countries. Physician emigration from sub-Saharan Africa, which has only 2% of the global physician workforce but a quarter of the global burden of disease, is particularly worrying. Since 1970, as a result of large-scale emigration and limited medical education, there has been negligible or negative growth in the density of physicians in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Liberia, for example, in 1973, there were 7.76 physicians per 100,000 people but by 2008 there were only 1.37 physicians per 100,000 people; in the US, there are 250 physicians per 100,000 people.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before policy proposals can be formulated to address global inequities in physician distribution, a clear picture of the patterns of physician emigration from resource-limited countries is needed. In this study, the researchers use data from the 2011 American Medical Association Physician Masterfile (AMA-PM) to investigate the “brain drain” of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa to the US. The AMA-PM collects annual demographic, academic, and professional data on all residents (physicians undergoing training in a medical specialty) and licensed physicians who practice in the US.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Workforce Statistics and graduation and residency data from the 2011 AMA-PM to estimate physician emigration rates from sub-Saharan African countries, year of US entry, years of service provided before emigration to the US, and length of time in the US. There were 10,819 physicians who were born or trained in 28 sub-Saharan African countries in the 2011 AMA-PM. By using a published analysis of the 2002 AMA-PM, the researchers estimated that US immigration among sub-Saharan African-trained physicians had increased over the past decade for all the countries examined except South Africa, where physician emigration had decreased by 8%. Overall, the number of sub-Saharan African IMGs in the US had increased by 38% since 2002. More than half of this increase was accounted for by Nigerian IMGs. Liberia was the country most affected by migration of its physicians to the US—77% of its estimated 226 physicians were in the 2011 AMA-PM. On average, sub-Saharan African IMGs had been in the US for 18 years and had practiced for 6.5 years before emigration. Finally, nearly half of the sub-Saharan African IMGs had migrated to US between 1984 and 1995, years during which structural adjustment programs, which resulted in deep cuts to public health care services, were implemented in developing countries by international financial institutions as conditions for refinancing.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the sub-Saharan African IMGs in the 2011 AMA-PM only represent about 1% of all the physicians and less than 5% of the IMGs in the AMA-PM, these findings reveal a major loss of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa. They also suggest that emigration of physicians from sub-Saharan Africa is a growing problem and is likely to continue unless job satisfaction for physicians is improved in their country of origin. Moreover, because the AMA-PM only lists physicians who qualify for a US residency position, more physicians may have moved from sub-Saharan Africa to the US than reported here and may be working in other jobs incommensurate with their medical degrees (“brain waste”). The researchers suggest that physician emigration from sub-Saharan Africa to the US reflects the complexities in the labor markets for health care professionals in both Africa and the US and can be seen as low- and middle-income nations subsidizing the education of physicians in high-income countries. Policy proposals to address global inequities in physician distribution will therefore need both to encourage the recruitment, training, and retention of health care professionals in resource-limited countries and to persuade high-income countries to train more home-grown physicians to meet the needs of their own populations.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research is a non-profit foundation committed to improving world health through education that was established in 2000 by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates
The Global Health Workforce Alliance is a partnership of national governments, civil society, international agencies, finance institutions, researchers, educators, and professional associations dedicated to identifying, implementing and advocating for solutions to the chronic global shortage of health care professionals (available in several languages)
Information on the American Medical Association Physician Masterfile and the providers of physician data lists is available via the American Medical Associations website
The World Health Organization (WHO) annual World Health Statistics reports present the most recent health statistics for the WHO Member States
The Medical Education Partnership Initiative is a US-sponsored initiative that supports medical education and research in sub-Saharan African institutions, aiming to increase the quantity, quality, and retention of graduates with specific skills addressing the health needs of their national populations
CapacityPlus is the USAID-funded global project uniquely focused on the health workforce needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals
Seed Global Health cultivates the next generation of health professionals by allying medical and nursing volunteers with their peers in resource-limited settings
"America is Stealing the Worlds Doctors", a 2012 New York Times article by Matt McAllester, describes the personal experience of a young doctor who emigrated from Zambia to the US
Path to United States Practice Is Long Slog to Foreign Doctors, a 2013 New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, describes the hurdles that immigrant physicians face in practicing in the US
PMCID: PMC3775724  PMID: 24068894
15.  Strategies and tensions in communicating research on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS: a qualitative study of the experiences of researchers and communications staff 
Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV issues are often controversial and neglected, leading to challenges with engaging policy actors. Research evidence is complex, posing further challenges for ensuring that policy and practice are evidence-based. Many health researchers are adopting innovative approaches to engaging stakeholders in their research, yet these experiences are not often shared. This qualitative study focuses on the research communication and policy influencing objectives, strategies and experiences of four research consortia working on SRH, HIV and AIDS.
We carried out 22 in-depth interviews with researchers and communications specialists (research actors) from the four consortia and their partners, working in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Using the ‘framework’ approach to qualitative data analysis, we identified factors that affect the interaction of research evidence with policy and practice. We used the ODI RAPID analytical framework to present these results, adapting this tool by incorporating the actions, strategies and positionality of research actors.
The characteristics of researchers and their institutions, policy context, the multiplicity of actors, and the nature of the research evidence all play a role in policy influencing processes. Research actors perceived a trend towards increasingly intensive and varied communication approaches. Effective influencing strategies include making strategic alliances and coalitions and framing research evidence in ways that are most attractive to particular policy audiences. Tensions include the need to identify and avoid unnecessary communication or unintended impacts, challenges in assessing and attributing impact and the need for adequate resources and skills for communications work.
We contend that the adapted RAPID framework can serve as a tool for research actors to use in resolving these tensions, through facilitating a reflexive approach to considering their own combination of attributes, skills, networks and objectives and the ways these relate to policy contexts, actors and processes.
PMCID: PMC3121135  PMID: 21679385
16.  Key informant perspectives on policy- and service-level challenges and opportunities for delivering integrated sexual and reproductive health and HIV care in South Africa 
Integration of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV services is a policy priority, both globally and in South Africa. Recent studies examining SRH/HIV integration in South Africa have focused primarily on the SRH needs of HIV patients, and less on the policy and service-delivery environment in which these programs operate. To fill this gap we undertook a qualitative study to elicit the views of key informants on policy-and service-level challenges and opportunities for improving integrated SRH and HIV care in South Africa. This study comprised formative research for the development of an integrated service delivery model in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province.
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 21 expert key informants from the South African Department of Health, and local and international NGOs and universities. Thematic codes were generated from a subset of the transcripts, and these were modified, refined and organized during coding and analysis.
While there was consensus among key informants on the need for more integrated systems of SRH and HIV care in South Africa, a range of inter-related systems factors at policy and service-delivery levels were identified as challenges to delivering integrated care. At the policy level these included vertical programming, lack of policy guidance on integrated care, under-funding of SRH, program territorialism, and weak referral systems; at the service level, factors included high client load, staff shortages and insufficient training and skills in SRH, resistance to change, and inadequate monitoring systems related to integration. Informants had varying views on the best way to achieve integration: while some favored a one-stop shop approach, others preferred retaining sub-specialisms while strengthening referral systems. The introduction of task-shifting policies and decentralization of HIV treatment to primary care provide opportunities for integrating services.
Now that HIV treatment programs have been scaled up, actions are needed at both policy and service-delivery levels to develop an integrated approach to the provision of SRH and HIV services in South Africa. Concurrent national policies to deliver HIV treatment within a primary care context can be used to promote more integrated approaches.
PMCID: PMC3311559  PMID: 22369041
HIV; Family planning; Reproductive health; Sexual health; Integrated delivery of healthcare; South Africa
17.  Study protocol for the Integra Initiative to assess the benefits and costs of integrating sexual and reproductive health and HIV services in Kenya and Swaziland 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:973.
In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) there are strong arguments for the provision of integrated sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV services. Most HIV transmissions are sexually transmitted or associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Many of the behaviours that prevent HIV transmission also prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies. There is potential for integration to increase the coverage of HIV services, as individuals who use SRH services can benefit from HIV services and vice-versa, as well as increase cost-savings. However, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on effective models for integrating HIV/SRH services. The need for robust evidence led a consortium of three organizations – International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Council and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine – to design/implement the Integra Initiative. Integra seeks to generate rigorous evidence on the feasibility, effectiveness, cost and impact of different models for delivering integrated HIV/SRH services in high and medium HIV prevalence settings in SSA.
A quasi-experimental study will be conducted in government clinics in Kenya and Swaziland – assigned into intervention/comparison groups. Two models of service delivery are investigated: integrating HIV care/treatment into 1) family planning and 2) postnatal care. A full economic-costing will be used to assess the costs of different components of service provision, and the determinants of variations in unit costs across facilities/service models. Health facility assessments will be conducted at four time-periods to track changes in quality of care and utilization over time. A two-year cohort study of family planning/postnatal clients will assess the effect of integration on individual outcomes, including use of SRH services, HIV status (known/unknown) and pregnancy (planned/unintended). Household surveys within some of the study facilities’ catchment areas will be conducted to profile users/non-users of integrated services and demand/receipt of integrated services, before-and-after the intervention. Qualitative research will be conducted to complement the quantitative component at different time points. Integra takes an embedded ‘programme science’ approach to maximize the uptake of findings into policy/practice.
Integra addresses existing evidence gaps in the integration evaluation literature, building on the limited evidence from SSA and the expertise of its research partners.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials NCT01694862
PMCID: PMC3529107  PMID: 23148456
Sexual and reproductive health; HIV services; Integration; Sub-Saharan Africa
18.  Changes to the law on consent in South Africa: implications for school-based adolescent sexual and reproductive health research 
The National Health Act, No 61, 2003 in South Africa is the first effort made by the government to protect health-related research participants under law. Implemented on March 1, 2012, the law mandates active consent from a parent or legal guardian for all research conducted with research participants under the age of 18 years. This paper focuses on the Act's implications for school-based adolescent sexual and reproductive health research.
Although well intentioned, the added legal protections in the National Health Act may have the unintended consequence of reducing participation rates in school-based adolescent sexual and reproductive health research, thereby excluding the most at-risk students. The Act may also compromise adolescents' right to dignity and privacy, especially considering the personal nature of research on sex and sexuality. Devolved, discretionary decision-making, which empowers local human research ethics committees to permit a wider range of protective measures, including passive consent, independent adolescent consent or community consultation ought to be considered. The continued and direct involvement of young people in their sexual and reproductive health and well-being is an important principle to uphold.
This paper calls for a re-examination of section 71's ethical guidelines relating to informed consent in the National Health Act, No 61, 2003 in South Africa in order to better serve the interests of South African adolescents in sexual and reproductive health research.
PMCID: PMC3353180  PMID: 22490444
19.  Long-Term Biological and Behavioural Impact of an Adolescent Sexual Health Intervention in Tanzania: Follow-up Survey of the Community-Based MEMA kwa Vijana Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000287.
David Ross and colleagues conduct a follow-up survey of the community-based MEMA kwa Vijana (“Good things for young people”) trial in rural Tanzania to assess the long-term behavioral and biological impact of an adolescent sexual health intervention.
The ability of specific behaviour-change interventions to reduce HIV infection in young people remains questionable. Since January 1999, an adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) intervention has been implemented in ten randomly chosen intervention communities in rural Tanzania, within a community randomised trial (see below; NCT00248469). The intervention consisted of teacher-led, peer-assisted in-school education, youth-friendly health services, community activities, and youth condom promotion and distribution. Process evaluation in 1999–2002 showed high intervention quality and coverage. A 2001/2 intervention impact evaluation showed no impact on the primary outcomes of HIV seroincidence and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) seroprevalence but found substantial improvements in SRH knowledge, reported attitudes, and some reported sexual behaviours. It was postulated that the impact on “upstream” knowledge, attitude, and reported behaviour outcomes seen at the 3-year follow-up would, in the longer term, lead to a reduction in HIV and HSV-2 infection rates and other biological outcomes. A further impact evaluation survey in 2007/8 (∼9 years post-intervention) tested this hypothesis.
Methods and Findings
This is a cross-sectional survey (June 2007 through July 2008) of 13,814 young people aged 15–30 y who had attended trial schools during the first phase of the MEMA kwa Vijana intervention trial (1999–2002). Prevalences of the primary outcomes HIV and HSV-2 were 1.8% and 25.9% in males and 4.0% and 41.4% in females, respectively. The intervention did not significantly reduce risk of HIV (males adjusted prevalence ratio [aPR] 0.91, 95%CI 0.50–1.65; females aPR 1.07, 95%CI 0.68–1.67) or HSV-2 (males aPR 0.94, 95%CI 0.77–1.15; females aPR 0.96, 95%CI 0.87–1.06). The intervention was associated with a reduction in the proportion of males reporting more than four sexual partners in their lifetime (aPR 0.87, 95%CI 0.78–0.97) and an increase in reported condom use at last sex with a non-regular partner among females (aPR 1.34, 95%CI 1.07–1.69). There was a clear and consistent beneficial impact on knowledge, but no significant impact on reported attitudes to sexual risk, reported pregnancies, or other reported sexual behaviours. The study population was likely to have been, on average, at lower risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections compared to other rural populations, as only youth who had reached year five of primary school were eligible.
SRH knowledge can be improved and retained long-term, but this intervention had only a limited effect on reported behaviour and no significant effect on HIV/STI prevalence. Youth interventions integrated within intensive, community-wide risk reduction programmes may be more successful and should be evaluated.
Trial Registration NCT00248469
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Every year, about 2.5 million people become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, so individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by delaying first sex, by having few partners, and by always using a condom. And, because nearly half of new HIV infections occur among youths (15- to 24-year-olds), programs targeted at adolescents that encourage these protective behaviors could have a substantial impact on the HIV epidemic. One such program is the MEMA kwa Vijana (“Good things for young people”) program in rural Tanzania. This program includes in-school sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education for pupils in their last three years of primary education (12- to 15-year-olds) that provides them with the knowledge and skills needed to delay sexual debut and to reduce sexual risk taking. Between 1999 and 2002, the program was trialed in ten randomly chosen rural communities in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania; ten similar communities that did not receive the intervention acted as controls. Since 2004, the program has been scaled up to cover more communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the quality and coverage of the MEMA kwa Vijana program was good, a 2001/2002 evaluation found no evidence that the intervention had reduced the incidence of HIV (the proportion of the young people in the trial who became HIV positive during the follow-up period) or the prevalence (the proportion of the young people in the trial who were HIV positive at the end of the follow-up period) of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2, another sexually transmitted virus). However, the evaluation found improvements in SRH knowledge, in reported sexual attitudes, and in some reported sexual behaviors. Evaluations of other HIV prevention programs in other developing countries have also failed to provide strong evidence that such programs decrease the risk of HIV infection or other biological outcomes such as the frequency of other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancies, even when SRH knowledge improves. One possibility is that it takes some time for improved SRH knowledge to be reflected in true changes in sexual behavior and in HIV prevalence. In this follow-up study, therefore, researchers investigate the long-term impact of the MEMA kwa Vijana program on HIV and HSV-2 prevalence and ask whether the improvement in knowledge, reported attitudes and sexual risk behaviours seen at the 3-year follow up has persisted.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 2007/8, the researchers surveyed nearly 14,000 young people who had attended the trial schools between 1999 and 2002. Each participant had their HIV and HSV-2 status determined and answered questions (for example, “can HIV be caught by sexual intercourse (making love) with someone,” and “if a girl accepts a gift from a boy, must she agree to have sexual intercourse (make love) with him?”) to provide three composite sexual knowledge scores and one composite attitude score. 1.8% of the male and 4.0% of the female participants were HIV positive; 25.9% and 41.4% of the male and female participants, respectively, were HSV-2 positive. The prevalences were similar among the young people whose trial communities had been randomly allocated to receive the MEMA kwa Vijana Program and those whose communities had not received it, indicating that the MEMA kwa Vijana intervention program had not reduced the risk of HIV or HSV-2. The intervention program was associated, however, with a reduction in the proportion of men reporting more than four sexual partners in their lifetime and with an increase in reported condom use at last sex with a non-regular partner among women. Finally, although the intervention had still increased SRH knowledge, it now had had no impact on reported attitudes to sexual risk, reported pregnancies, or other reported risky sexual behaviors beyond what might have happened due to chance.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in the MEMA kwa Vijana trial, SRH knowledge improved and that this improved knowledge was retained for many years. Disappointingly, however, this intervention program had only a limited effect on reported sexual behaviors and no effect on HIV and HSV-2 prevalence at the 9-year follow-up. Although these findings may not be generalizable to other adolescent populations, they suggest that intervention programs that target only adolescents might not be particularly effective. Young people might find it hard to put their improved skills and knowledge into action when challenged, for example, by widespread community attitudes such as acceptance of older male–younger female relationships. Thus, the researchers suggest that the integration of youth HIV prevention programs within risk reduction programs that tackle sexual norms and expectations in all age groups might be a more successful approach and should be evaluated.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Rachel Jewkes
More information about the MEMA kwa Vijana program is available at their Web site
Information is available from the Programme for Research and Capacity Building in Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV in Developing Countries on recent and ongoing research on HIV infection and other STIs
Information is available from the World Health Organization on HIV and on the health of young people
Information on HIV is available from UNAIDS
Information on HIV in children and adolescents is available from UNICEF
Information on HIV prevention interventions in the education sector is available from UNESCO
Information on HIV infection and AIDS is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on HIV/AIDS and on HIV/AIDS among youth (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSitehas comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including links to information on the prevention of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS prevention and AIDS and sex education (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2882431  PMID: 20543994
20.  Pandemic influenza control in Europe and the constraints resulting from incoherent public health laws 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:532.
With the emergence of influenza H1N1v the world is facing its first 21st century global pandemic. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza H5N1 prompted development of pandemic preparedness plans. National systems of public health law are essential for public health stewardship and for the implementation of public health policy[1]. International coherence will contribute to effective regional and global responses. However little research has been undertaken on how law works as a tool for disease control in Europe. With co-funding from the European Union, we investigated the extent to which laws across Europe support or constrain pandemic preparedness planning, and whether national differences are likely to constrain control efforts.
We undertook a survey of national public health laws across 32 European states using a questionnaire designed around a disease scenario based on pandemic influenza. Questionnaire results were reviewed in workshops, analysing how differences between national laws might support or hinder regional responses to pandemic influenza. Respondents examined the impact of national laws on the movements of information, goods, services and people across borders in a time of pandemic, the capacity for surveillance, case detection, case management and community control, the deployment of strategies of prevention, containment, mitigation and recovery and the identification of commonalities and disconnects across states.
Results of this study show differences across Europe in the extent to which national pandemic policy and pandemic plans have been integrated with public health laws. We found significant differences in legislation and in the legitimacy of strategic plans. States differ in the range and the nature of intervention measures authorized by law, the extent to which borders could be closed to movement of persons and goods during a pandemic, and access to healthcare of non-resident persons. Some states propose use of emergency powers that might potentially override human rights protections while other states propose to limit interventions to those authorized by public health laws.
These differences could create problems for European strategies if an evolving influenza pandemic results in more serious public health challenges or, indeed, if a novel disease other than influenza emerges with pandemic potential. There is insufficient understanding across Europe of the role and importance of law in pandemic planning. States need to build capacity in public health law to support disease prevention and control policies. Our research suggests that states would welcome further guidance from the EU on management of a pandemic, and guidance to assist in greater commonality of legal approaches across states.
PMCID: PMC2945945  PMID: 20815888
21.  Health financing in Africa: overview of a dialogue among high level policy makers 
BMC Proceedings  2011;5(Suppl 5):S2.
Even though Africa has the highest disease burden compared with other regions, it has the lowest per capita spending on health. In 2007, 27 (51%) out the 53 countries spent less than US$50 per person on health. Almost 30% of the total health expenditure came from governments, 50% from private sources (of which 71% was from out-of-pocket payments by households) and 20% from donors. The purpose of this article is to reflect on the proceedings of the African Union Side Event on Health Financing in the African continent.
Methods employed in the session included presentations, panel discussion and open public discussion with ministers of health and finance from the African continent.
The current unsatisfactory state of health financing was attributed to lack of clear vision and plan for health financing; lack of national health accounts and other evidence to guide development and implementation of national health financing policies and strategies; low investments in sectors that address social determinants of health; predominance of out-of-pocket spending; underdeveloped prepaid health financing mechanisms; large informal sectors vis-à-vis small formal sectors; and unpredictability and non-alignment of majority of donor funds with national health priorities.
Countries need to develop and adopt a comprehensive national health policy and a costed strategic plan; a comprehensive evidence-based health financing strategy; allocate at least 15% of the national budget to health development; use GFATM and PEPFAR funds for health systems strengthening; strengthen intersectoral collaboration to address health determinants; advocate among donors to implement the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and its Accra Agenda for Action; ensure universal access to health services for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children aged under five years; strengthen financial management capacities; and develop prepaid health financing systems, especially health insurance to complement tax funding.
In addition, countries need to institutionalize national health accounts; undertake feasibility studies of various health financing mechanisms; and document and share best practices in health financing.
There was consensus that every country ought to have an evidence-based comprehensive health financing strategy with a road map for attaining universal health service coverage vision; and increase physical and financial access by pregnant women, lactating mothers and by children under five years to quality health services.
PMCID: PMC3254896  PMID: 21810212
22.  Diet and Physical Activity for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Policy Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001465.
Carl Lachat and colleagues evaluate policies in low- and middle-income countries addressing salt and fat consumption, fruit and vegetable intake, and physical activity, key risk factors for non-communicable diseases.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are increasing rapidly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and constitute a leading cause of mortality. Although a call for global action has been resonating for years, the progress in national policy development in LMICs has not been assessed. This review of strategies to prevent NCDs in LMICs provides a benchmark against which policy response can be tracked over time.
Methods and Findings
We reviewed how government policies in LMICs outline actions that address salt consumption, fat consumption, fruit and vegetable intake, or physical activity. A structured content analysis of national nutrition, NCDs, and health policies published between 1 January 2004 and 1 January 2013 by 140 LMIC members of the World Health Organization (WHO) was carried out. We assessed availability of policies in 83% (116/140) of the countries. NCD strategies were found in 47% (54/116) of LMICs reviewed, but only a minority proposed actions to promote healthier diets and physical activity. The coverage of policies that specifically targeted at least one of the risk factors reviewed was lower in Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Eastern Mediterranean compared to the other two World Health Organization regions, South-East Asia and Western Pacific. Of the countries reviewed, only 12% (14/116) proposed a policy that addressed all four risk factors, and 25% (29/116) addressed only one of the risk factors reviewed. Strategies targeting the private sector were less frequently encountered than strategies targeting the general public or policy makers.
This review indicates the disconnection between the burden of NCDs and national policy responses in LMICs. Policy makers urgently need to develop comprehensive and multi-stakeholder policies to improve dietary quality and physical activity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)—chronic medical conditions including cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma)—are responsible for two-thirds of the world's deaths. Nearly 80% of NCD deaths, close to 30 million per year, occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where they are also rising most rapidly. Diet and lifestyle (including smoking, lack of exercise, and harmful alcohol consumption) influence a person's risk of developing an NCD and of dying from it. Because they can be modified, these risk factors have been at the center of strategies to combat NCDs. In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. For diet, it recommended that individuals achieve energy balance and a healthy weight; limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids; increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts; limit the intake of free sugars; and limit salt consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized. For physical activity, it recommended at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity physical activity on most days throughout a person's life.
Why Was This Study Done?
By signing onto the Global Strategy in 2004, WHO member countries agreed to implement it with high priority. A first step of implementation is usually the development of local policies. Consequently, one of the four objectives of the WHO Global Strategy is “to encourage the development, strengthening and implementation of global, regional, national and community policies and action plans to improve diets and increase physical activity.” Along the same lines, in 2011 the United Nations held a high-level meeting in which the need to accelerate the policy response to the NCD epidemic was emphasized. This study was done to assess the existing national policies on NCD prevention in LMICs. Specifically, the researchers examined how well those policies matched the WHO recommendations for intake of salt, fat, and fruits and vegetables, as well as the recommendations for physical activity.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched the Internet (including websites of relevant ministries and departments) for all publicly available national policies related to diet, nutrition, NCDs, and health from all 140 WHO member countries classified as LMICs by the World Bank in 2011. For countries for which the search did not turn up policies, the researchers sent e-mail requests to the relevant national authorities, to the regional WHO offices, and to personal contacts. All documents dated from 1 January 2004 to 1 January 2013 that included national objectives and guidelines for action regarding diet, physical exercise, NCD prevention, or a combination of the three, were analyzed in detail.
Most of the policies obtained were not easy to find and access. For 24 countries, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean, the researchers eventually gave up, unable to establish whether relevant national policies existed. Of the remaining 116 countries, 29 countries had no relevant policies, and another 30 had policies that failed to mention specifically any of the diet-related risk factors included in the analysis. Fifty-four of the 116 countries had NCD policies that addressed at least one of the risk factors. Thirty-six national policy documents contained strategies to increase fruit and vegetable intake, 20 addressed dietary fat consumption, 23 aimed to limit salt intake, and 35 had specific actions to promote physical activity. Only 14 countries, including Jamaica, the Philippines, Iran, and Mongolia, had policies that addressed all four risk factors. The policies of 27 countries mentioned only one of the four risk factors.
Policies primarily targeted consumers and government agencies and failed to address the roles of the business community or civil society. Consistent with this, most were missing plans, mechanisms, and incentives to drive collaborations between the different stakeholders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
More than eight years after the WHO Global Strategy was agreed upon, only a minority of the LMICs included in this analysis have comprehensive policies in place. Developing policies and making them widely accessible is a likely early step toward specific implementation and actions to prevent NCDs. These results therefore suggest that not enough emphasis is placed on NCD prevention in these countries through actions that have been proven to reduce known risk factors. That said, the more important question is what countries are actually doing to combat NCDs, something not directly addressed by this analysis.
In richer countries, NCDs have for decades been the leading cause of sickness and death, and the fact that public health strategies need to emphasize NCD prevention is now widely recognized. LMICs not only have more limited resources, they also continue to carry a large burden from infectious diseases. It is therefore not surprising that shifting resources towards NCD prevention is a difficult process, even if the human cost of these diseases is massive and increasing. That only about 3% of global health aid is aimed at NCD prevention does not help the situation.
The authors argue that one step toward improving the situation is better sharing of best practices and what works and what doesn't in policy development. They suggest that an open-access repository like one that exists for Europe could improve the situation. They offer to organize, host, and curate such a resource under the auspices of WHO, starting with the policies retrieved for this study, and they invite submission of additional policies and updates.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Stuckler and Basu
The WHO website on diet and physical activity contains links to various documents, including a diet and physical activity implementation toolbox that contains links to the 2004 Global Strategy document and a Framework to Monitor and Evaluate Implementation
There is a 2011 WHO primer on NCDs entitled Prioritizing a Preventable Epidemic
A recent PLOS Medicine editorial and call for papers addressing the global disparities in the burden from NCDs
A PLOS Blogs post entitled Politics and Global HealthAre We Missing the Obvious? and associated comments discuss the state of the fight against NCDs in early 2013
The NCD Alliance was founded by the Union for International Cancer Control, the International Diabetes Federation, the World Heart Federation, and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; its mission is to combat the NCD epidemic by putting health at the center of all policies
The WHO European Database on Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity (NOPA) contains national and subnational surveillance data, policy documents, actions to implement policy, and examples of good practice in programs and interventions for the WHO European member states
PMCID: PMC3679005  PMID: 23776415
23.  Mental health policy process: a comparative study of Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia 
Mental illnesses are increasingly recognised as a leading cause of disability worldwide, yet many countries lack a mental health policy or have an outdated, inappropriate policy. This paper explores the development of appropriate mental health policies and their effective implementation. It reports comparative findings on the processes for developing and implementing mental health policies in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia as part of the Mental Health and Poverty Project.
The study countries and respondents were purposively selected to represent different levels of mental health policy and system development to allow comparative analysis of the factors underlying the different forms of mental health policy development and implementation. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and document analysis. Data analysis was guided by conceptual framework that was developed for this purpose. A framework approach to analysis was used, incorporating themes that emerged from the data and from the conceptual framework.
Mental health policies in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia are weak, in draft form or non-existent. Mental health remained low on the policy agenda due to stigma and a lack of information, as well as low prioritisation by donors, low political priority and grassroots demand. Progress with mental health policy development varied and respondents noted a lack of consultation and insufficient evidence to inform policy development. Furthermore, policies were poorly implemented, due to factors including insufficient dissemination and operationalisation of policies and a lack of resources.
Mental health policy processes in all four countries were inadequate, leading to either weak or non-existent policies, with an impact on mental health services. Recommendations are provided to strengthen mental health policy processes in these and other African countries.
PMCID: PMC2923107  PMID: 20678205
24.  Community empowerment and involvement of female sex workers in targeted sexual and reproductive health interventions in Africa: a systematic review 
Female sex workers (FSWs) experience high levels of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) morbidity, violence and discrimination. Successful SRH interventions for FSWs in India and elsewhere have long prioritised community mobilisation and structural interventions, yet little is known about similar approaches in African settings. We systematically reviewed community empowerment processes within FSW SRH projects in Africa, and assessed them using a framework developed by Ashodaya, an Indian sex worker organisation.
In November 2012 we searched Medline and Web of Science for studies of FSW health services in Africa, and consulted experts and websites of international organisations. Titles and abstracts were screened to identify studies describing relevant services, using a broad definition of empowerment. Data were extracted on service-delivery models and degree of FSW involvement, and analysed with reference to a four-stage framework developed by Ashodaya. This conceptualises community empowerment as progressing from (1) initial engagement with the sex worker community, to (2) community involvement in targeted activities, to (3) ownership, and finally, (4) sustainability of action beyond the community.
Of 5413 articles screened, 129 were included, describing 42 projects. Targeted services in FSW ‘hotspots’ were generally isolated and limited in coverage and scope, mostly offering only free condoms and STI treatment. Many services were provided as part of research activities and offered via a clinic with associated community outreach. Empowerment processes were usually limited to peer-education (stage 2 of framework). Community mobilisation as an activity in its own right was rarely documented and while most projects successfully engaged communities, few progressed to involvement, community ownership or sustainability. Only a few interventions had evolved to facilitate collective action through formal democratic structures (stage 3). These reported improved sexual negotiating power and community solidarity, and positive behavioural and clinical outcomes. Sustainability of many projects was weakened by disunity within transient communities, variable commitment of programmers, low human resource capacity and general resource limitations.
Most FSW SRH projects in Africa implemented participatory processes consistent with only the earliest stages of community empowerment, although isolated projects demonstrate proof of concept for successful empowerment interventions in African settings.
PMCID: PMC4074148  PMID: 24916108
Female sex workers; Community mobilisation; Structural interventions; Africa
25.  Is Food Insecurity Associated with HIV Risk? Cross-Sectional Evidence from Sexually Active Women in Brazil 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(4):e1001203.
Alexander Tsai and colleagues show that in sexually active women in Brazil severe food insecurity with hunger was positively associated with symptoms potentially indicative of sexually transmitted infection and with reduced odds of condom use.
Understanding how food insecurity among women gives rise to differential patterning in HIV risks is critical for policy and programming in resource-limited settings. This is particularly the case in Brazil, which has undergone successive changes in the gender and socio-geographic composition of its complex epidemic over the past three decades. We used data from a national survey of Brazilian women to estimate the relationship between food insecurity and HIV risk.
Methods and Findings
We used data on 12,684 sexually active women from a national survey conducted in Brazil in 2006–2007. Self-reported outcomes were (a) consistent condom use, defined as using a condom at each occasion of sexual intercourse in the previous 12 mo; (b) recent condom use, less stringently defined as using a condom with the most recent sexual partner; and (c) itchy vaginal discharge in the previous 30 d, possibly indicating presence of a sexually transmitted infection. The primary explanatory variable of interest was food insecurity, measured using the culturally adapted and validated Escala Brasiliera de Segurança Alimentar. In multivariable logistic regression models, severe food insecurity with hunger was associated with a reduced odds of consistent condom use in the past 12 mo (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.67; 95% CI, 0.48–0.92) and condom use at last sexual intercourse (AOR = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.57–0.98). Self-reported itchy vaginal discharge was associated with all categories of food insecurity (with AORs ranging from 1.46 to 1.94). In absolute terms, the effect sizes were large in magnitude across all outcomes. Underweight and/or lack of control in sexual relations did not appear to mediate the observed associations.
Severe food insecurity with hunger was associated with reduced odds of condom use and increased odds of itchy vaginal discharge, which is potentially indicative of sexually transmitted infection, among sexually active women in Brazil. Interventions targeting food insecurity may have beneficial implications for HIV prevention in resource-limited settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, more men than women were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but currently half of all HIV-positive adults are women. Most women become infected with HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected male partner. Biologically, women are twice as likely to become infected through unprotected heterosexual intercourse as men. Moreover, women are often unable to negotiate condom use because of unequal gender relations—men can insist on unprotected sexual intercourse in many relationships. Another factor often related to unequal gender relations that may shape women's risk of exposure to HIV is food insecurity—limited or uncertain access to enough nutritionally adequate and safe food for an active, healthy life. Recent studies done in sub-Saharan Africa suggest that food insecurity can affect women's engagement in risky sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex, transactional sex (sexual relationships that involve the giving of goods or services such as free lodgings), and commercial sex work.
Why Was This Study Done?
Policymakers planning HIV prevention strategies in resource-limited settings need to know whether food insecurity affects sexual risk taking among women. If it increases risk taking, then interventions that target food insecurity should improve the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies. However, little is known about food insecurity and sexual risk taking outside sub-Saharan Africa. In this cross-sectional study (a study that characterizes a population at a single point in time), the researchers investigate whether food insecurity is associated with risky sexual behavior among sexually active women in Brazil, a country where the number of new heterosexually transmitted HIV infections among women is increasing. Condom promotion is the mainstay of Brazil's HIV prevention strategy, but less than half of the population reports the use of a condom whenever sexual intercourse occurs (consistent condom use) or at last sexual intercourse (recent condom use), and a greater proportion of men than women report condom use, possibly because of unequal power relations between men and women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on consistent condom use, recent condom use, and self-reported itchy vaginal discharge in the previous 30 days (used here as an indication that a woman may have a sexually transmitted infection) for 12,684 sexually active women from a national survey conducted in Brazil in 2006–2007. They then used multivariable logistic regression (a statistical method) to investigate the association between these outcomes and food insecurity, which was measured using the Escala Brasiliera de Insegurança Alimentar, an 18-item questionnaire that asks people to recall information about the quantity and quality of food available to them over the previous three months. Severe food insecurity with hunger (the most extreme category of food insecurity) was associated with an adjusted odds ratio (AOR) for consistent condom use of 0.67. That is, women who reported severe food insecurity were two-thirds as likely to use a condom whenever they had sexual intercourse as women who were food secure, after adjustment for other factors that might have affected condom use. The probability of consistent condom use was 15% among women who were food secure but only 10.5% among women who had the worst food security. Severe food insecurity with hunger was also associated with a reduced odds of recent condom use (AOR = 0.75), whereas all categories of food insecurity increased the odds of a recent itchy vaginal discharge.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that severe food insecurity with hunger is associated with reduced condom use and with increased occurrence of symptoms that may indicate sexually transmitted disease among sexually active women in Brazil. Because the study looked at women at only a single time point, these findings do not show that food insecurity causes risky sexual behavior. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other settings, and they do not distinguish between regular condom use with a regular partner and regular condom use with casual partners. Also, although the researchers investigated two hypothesized explanations—lack of control in sexual relations and chronic energy deficiency—neither of these factors could explain why food insecurity is associated with risky sexual behavior. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that interventions that target sexual risk reduction behaviors are unlikely to be optimally effective if food insecurity is not taken into account, and, thus, the researchers conclude, HIV prevention strategies in Brazil should include interventions that target food insecurity.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV and AIDS prevention, women, HIV, and AIDS, and HIV and AIDS in Brazil (in English and Spanish); personal stories of women living with HIV are available
HIV InSite provides comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California at San Francisco
Additional patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through the charity website Healthtalkonline
A primer on food security from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is available
Information about the 2006–2007 Brazilian national survey on health in women and children is available in Portuguese; a profile of food security in Brazil is also available (some information in English but mainly in Portuguese)
PMCID: PMC3323512  PMID: 22505852

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