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1.  Treatment of Infections in Young Infants in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Frontline Health Worker Diagnosis and Antibiotic Access 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(10):e1001741.
Anne C. C. Lee and colleagues assess the factors affecting access to treatment for neonatal and infant infections in low- and middle-income countries by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of frontline health worker diagnosis and access to antibiotics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Inadequate illness recognition and access to antibiotics contribute to high case fatality from infections in young infants (<2 months) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We aimed to address three questions regarding access to treatment for young infant infections in LMICs: (1) Can frontline health workers accurately diagnose possible bacterial infection (pBI)?; (2) How available and affordable are antibiotics?; (3) How often are antibiotics procured without a prescription?
Methods and Findings
We searched PubMed, Embase, WHO/Health Action International (HAI), databases, service provision assessments (SPAs), Demographic and Health Surveys, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, and grey literature with no date restriction until May 2014. Data were identified from 37 published studies, 46 HAI national surveys, and eight SPAs. For study question 1, meta-analysis showed that clinical sign-based algorithms predicted bacterial infection in young infants with high sensitivity (87%, 95% CI 82%–91%) and lower specificity (62%, 95% CI 48%–75%) (six studies, n = 14,254). Frontline health workers diagnosed pBI in young infants with an average sensitivity of 82% (95% CI 76%–88%) and specificity of 69% (95% CI 54%–83%) (eight studies, n = 11,857) compared to physicians. For question 2, first-line injectable agents (ampicillin, gentamicin, and penicillin) had low variable availability in first-level health facilities in Africa and South Asia. Oral amoxicillin and cotrimoxazole were widely available at low cost in most regions. For question 3, no studies on young infants were identified, however 25% of pediatric antibiotic purchases in LMICs were obtained without a prescription (11 studies, 95% CI 18%–34%), with lower rates among infants <1 year. Study limitations included potential selection bias and lack of neonatal-specific data.
Trained frontline health workers may screen for pBI in young infants with relatively high sensitivity and lower specificity. Availability of first-line injectable antibiotics appears low in many health facilities in Africa and Asia. Improved data and advocacy are needed to increase the availability and appropriate utilization of antibiotics for young infant infections in LMICs.
Review Registration
PROSPERO International prospective register of systematic reviews (CRD42013004586).
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Neonatal mortality—death that occurs during the first 28 days of life—accounts for nearly half of all the deaths that occur in children before they reach their fifth birthday. Worldwide, nearly 3 million neonatal deaths occur every year. Three bacterial infections—sepsis (infection of the bloodstream), pneumonia (infection of the lungs), and meningitis (infection of the brain's protective covering)—are responsible for nearly a quarter of all neonatal deaths. Babies born in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are at particularly high risk of developing neonatal bacterial infections because the risk factors for these infections, which include maternal infections and unhygienic delivery care, are more common in LMICs than in high-income countries. Babies born in LMICs are also at a high risk of dying from bacterial infections because access to appropriate medical care and antibiotics is often poor.
Why Was This Study Done?
To reduce neonatal deaths from bacterial infections in LMICs, health care experts need to identify the factors that limit access to medical care and antibiotics in these countries. Are babies dying because health care providers fail to diagnose neonatal bacterial infections, because antibiotics are not available in first-line health facilities, or for some other reason? In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers investigate access to treatment for neonatal bacterial infections in LMICs by first asking whether frontline health workers in LMICs can accurately diagnose bacterial infections in neonates and young infants (babies less than 2 months old). Next, they ask whether antibiotics for treating neonatal infections are available and affordable in LMICs. Finally, they ask how often antibiotics are procured for young children (children up to the age of 5 years) without a prescription. A systematic review uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 37 published studies, 46 surveys of drug availability and affordability in LMICs (Health Access International databases), and eight surveys of the capacity of health facilities in LMICs to provide quality health care services (service provision assessments) that met their inclusion criteria. Meta-analysis of six studies indicated that a combination of simple clinical signs for the diagnosis of bacterial infection in children predicted very severe disease in young infants with a sensitivity of 87% and a specificity of 62% (“sensitivity” indicates the percentage of true positives detected by a test; “specificity” indicates the percentage of healthy people that a test correctly identifies as healthy) compared to a physician's diagnosis with laboratory testing. Meta-analysis of eight studies indicated that frontline health workers (for example, community health workers) diagnosed very severe disease (including possible bacterial infection) in young infants with a sensitivity of 82% and a specificity of 69% compared to trained physicians. The national surveys analyzed indicated that first-level (primary) health facilities in Africa and South Asia had low, variable stocks of recommended first-line injectable antibiotics and that the cost of these drugs was high. By contrast, some oral antibiotics were widely available at low cost in most regions. Finally, meta-analysis of 11 studies indicated that, in LMICs, 25% of antibiotic purchases for the treatment of young children were obtained without a prescription.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that trained frontline health workers should be able to identify most young infants who have possible bacterial infections in LMICs but may also diagnose bacterial infections in many young infants who are not infected. This may lead to the inappropriate use of antibiotics and facilitate the emergence of antibiotic resistance. These findings also show that the availability and affordability of first-line injectable antibiotics is low in many health facilities in Africa and Asia. The lack of neonatal-specific data on illness recognition, antibiotic formulations and availability, and other aspects of this systematic review and meta-analysis are likely to limit the accuracy of these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest that, to decrease the neonatal death toll in LMICs, governments, policymakers, and the pharmaceutical industry need to work together to improve the diagnosis of neonatal bacterial infections and to increase the availability, affordability, and appropriate use of antibiotics for the treatment of these infections.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
WHO provides information on global efforts to reduce global child mortality and on ending preventable neonatal deaths (available in several languages)
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on global efforts to reduce child mortality , and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about neonatal survival and health; its “Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed” webpage includes links to its 2013 progress report and to videos about ending preventable child deaths
The WHO has published a report entitled UN Commission on Life Saving Commodities for Women and Children
The Healthy Newborn Network (NHH) is an online community of more than 80 partner organizations that addresses critical knowledge gaps in newborn health; its website includes information on neonatal infections in LMICs
Kidshealth, a resource provided by the not-for-profit Nemours Foundation, has information for parents on neonatal infections (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a page on neonatal sepsis (in English and Spanish)
A personal story about fatal neonatal bacterial meningitis is available on the website of Meningitis UK, a not-for-profit organization; the site also includes a survivor story
PMCID: PMC4196753  PMID: 25314011
2.  A Risk Prediction Model for the Assessment and Triage of Women with Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy in Low-Resourced Settings: The miniPIERS (Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk) Multi-country Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001589.
Beth Payne and colleagues use a risk prediction model, the Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk (miniPIERS) to help inform the clinical assessment and triage of women with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in low-resourced settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Pre-eclampsia/eclampsia are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, particularly in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). We developed the miniPIERS risk prediction model to provide a simple, evidence-based tool to identify pregnant women in LMICs at increased risk of death or major hypertensive-related complications.
Methods and Findings
From 1 July 2008 to 31 March 2012, in five LMICs, data were collected prospectively on 2,081 women with any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy admitted to a participating centre. Candidate predictors collected within 24 hours of admission were entered into a step-wise backward elimination logistic regression model to predict a composite adverse maternal outcome within 48 hours of admission. Model internal validation was accomplished by bootstrapping and external validation was completed using data from 1,300 women in the Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk (fullPIERS) dataset. Predictive performance was assessed for calibration, discrimination, and stratification capacity. The final miniPIERS model included: parity (nulliparous versus multiparous); gestational age on admission; headache/visual disturbances; chest pain/dyspnoea; vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain; systolic blood pressure; and dipstick proteinuria. The miniPIERS model was well-calibrated and had an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC ROC) of 0.768 (95% CI 0.735–0.801) with an average optimism of 0.037. External validation AUC ROC was 0.713 (95% CI 0.658–0.768). A predicted probability ≥25% to define a positive test classified women with 85.5% accuracy. Limitations of this study include the composite outcome and the broad inclusion criteria of any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. This broad approach was used to optimize model generalizability.
The miniPIERS model shows reasonable ability to identify women at increased risk of adverse maternal outcomes associated with the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. It could be used in LMICs to identify women who would benefit most from interventions such as magnesium sulphate, antihypertensives, or transportation to a higher level of care.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Each year, ten million women develop pre-eclampsia or a related hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorder of pregnancy and 76,000 women die as a result. Globally, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy cause around 12% of maternal deaths—deaths of women during or shortly after pregnancy. The mildest of these disorders is gestational hypertension, high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational hypertension does not usually harm the mother or her unborn child and resolves after delivery but up to a quarter of women with this condition develop pre-eclampsia, a combination of hypertension and protein in the urine (proteinuria). Women with mild pre-eclampsia may not have any symptoms—the condition is detected during antenatal checks—but more severe pre-eclampsia can cause headaches, blurred vision, and other symptoms, and can lead to eclampsia (fits), multiple organ failure, and death of the mother and/or her baby. The only “cure” for pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby as soon as possible but women are sometimes given antihypertensive drugs to lower their blood pressure or magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are more likely to develop complications of pre-eclampsia than women in high-income countries and most of the deaths associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy occur in LMICs. The high burden of illness and death in LMICs is thought to be primarily due to delays in triage (the identification of women who are or may become severely ill and who need specialist care) and delays in transporting these women to facilities where they can receive appropriate care. Because there is a shortage of health care workers who are adequately trained in the triage of suspected cases of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in many LMICs, one way to improve the situation might be to design a simple tool to identify women at increased risk of complications or death from hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Here, the researchers develop miniPIERS (Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk), a clinical risk prediction model for adverse outcomes among women with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy suitable for use in community and primary health care facilities in LMICs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data on candidate predictors of outcome that are easy to collect and/or measure in all health care settings and that are associated with pre-eclampsia from women admitted with any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy to participating centers in five LMICs to build a model to predict death or a serious complication such as organ damage within 48 hours of admission. The miniPIERS model included parity (whether the woman had been pregnant before), gestational age (length of pregnancy), headache/visual disturbances, chest pain/shortness of breath, vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain, systolic blood pressure, and proteinuria detected using a dipstick. The model was well-calibrated (the predicted risk of adverse outcomes agreed with the observed risk of adverse outcomes among the study participants), it had a good discriminatory ability (it could separate women who had a an adverse outcome from those who did not), and it designated women as being at high risk (25% or greater probability of an adverse outcome) with an accuracy of 85.5%. Importantly, external validation using data collected in fullPIERS, a study that developed a more complex clinical prediction model based on data from women attending tertiary hospitals in high-income countries, confirmed the predictive performance of miniPIERS.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the miniPIERS model performs reasonably well as a tool to identify women at increased risk of adverse maternal outcomes associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Because miniPIERS only includes simple-to-measure personal characteristics, symptoms, and signs, it could potentially be used in resource-constrained settings to identify the women who would benefit most from interventions such as transportation to a higher level of care. However, further external validation of miniPIERS is needed using data collected from women living in LMICs before the model can be used during routine antenatal care. Moreover, the value of miniPIERS needs to be confirmed in implementation projects that examine whether its potential translates into clinical improvements. For now, though, the model could provide the basis for an education program to increase the knowledge of women, families, and community health care workers in LMICs about the signs and symptoms of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The World Health Organization provides guidelines for the management of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in low-resourced settings
The Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program provides information on pre-eclampsia and eclampsia targeted to low-resourced settings along with a tool-kit for LMIC providers
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information about high blood pressure in pregnancy and a guide to lowering blood pressure in pregnancy
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about pre-eclampsia
The US not-for profit organization Preeclampsia Foundation provides information about all aspects of pre-eclampsia; its website includes some personal stories
The UK charity Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about hypertensive disorders of pregnancy
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure and pregnancy (in English and Spanish); the MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a video about pre-eclampsia (also in English and Spanish)
More information about miniPIERS and about fullPIERS is available
PMCID: PMC3897359  PMID: 24465185
3.  Care Seeking for Neonatal Illness in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001183.
Hadley Herbert and colleagues systematically review newborn care-seeking behaviors by caregivers in low- and middle-income countries.
Despite recent achievements to reduce child mortality, neonatal deaths continue to remain high, accounting for 41% of all deaths in children under five years of age worldwide, of which over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Infections are a leading cause of death and limitations in care seeking for ill neonates contribute to high mortality rates. As estimates for care-seeking behaviors in LMICs have not been studied, this review describes care seeking for neonatal illnesses in LMICs, with particular attention to type of care sought.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic literature review of studies that reported the proportion of caregivers that sought care for ill or suspected ill neonates in LMICs. The initial search yielded 784 studies, of which 22 studies described relevant data from community household surveys, facility-based surveys, and intervention trials. The majority of studies were from South Asia (n = 17/22), set in rural areas (n = 17/22), and published within the last 4 years (n = 18/22). Of the 9,098 neonates who were ill or suspected to be ill, 4,320 caregivers sought some type of care, including care from a health facility (n = 370) or provider (n = 1,813). Care seeking ranged between 10% and 100% among caregivers with a median of 59%. Care seeking from a health care provider yielded a similar range and median, while care seeking at a health care facility ranged between 1% and 100%, with a median of 20%. Care-seeking estimates were limited by the few studies conducted in urban settings and regions other than South Asia. There was a lack of consistency regarding illness, care-seeking, and care provider definitions.
There is a paucity of data regarding newborn care-seeking behaviors; in South Asia, care seeking is low for newborn illness, especially in terms of care sought from health care facilities and medically trained providers. There is a need for representative data to describe care-seeking patterns in different geographic regions and better understand mechanisms to enhance care seeking during this vulnerable time period.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Worldwide around 3.3 million babies die within their first month of life every year. While the global neonatal mortality rate has declined by 28% between 1990 and 2009 (from 33.2 deaths per 1,000 livebirths to 23.9), the proportion of under-five child deaths that are now in the neonatal period has increased in all regions of the world and currently stands at 41%. Of these deaths, over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), making the risk of death in the neonatal period in LMICs more than six times higher than in high-income countries. In LMIC settings most babies are born at home so inappropriate and delayed care seeking can contribute substantially to neonatal mortality. Infection causes over a quarter of all deaths in neonates, but in LMICs diagnosis is often based on nonspecific clinical signs, which may delay the provision of care.
Why Was This Study Done?
In order to improve neonatal survival in LMICs, health care facilities and providers must not only be available and accessible but a baby's caregiver, often a parent or other family member, must also recognize that the baby is ill and seek help. To address this problem with effective strategies, an understanding is needed of the patterns of care-seeking behavior by babies' caregivers in seeking help from health-care facilities or providers. In this study, the researchers explored the extent and nature of care-seeking behaviors by the caregivers of ill babies in LMIC settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using multiple databases, the researchers conducted a comprehensive review up until October 2011 of all relevant studies including those that had not been formally published. Using specific criteria, the researchers then identified 22 appropriate studies (out of a possible 784) and recorded the same information from each study, including the number of neonates with illness or suspected illness, the number of care providers who sought care, and where care was sought. They also assessed the quality of each included study (the majority of which were from rural areas in South Asia) on the basis of a validated method for reviewing intervention effectiveness. The researchers found that the definitions of neonatal illness and care-seeking behavior varied considerably between studies or were not defined at all. Because of these inherent study differences it was not possible to statistically combine the results from the identified studies using a technique called meta-analysis, instead the researchers reported literature estimates and described their findings narratively.
The researchers' analysis included 9,098 neonates who were identified in community-based studies as being ill or suspected of being ill and a total of 4,320 related care-seeking events: care seeking ranged between 10% and 100% among caregivers including seeking care from a health facility (370) or from a health provider (1,813). Furthermore, between 4% to 100% of caregivers sought care from a trained medical provider and 4% to 48% specified receiving care at a health care facility: caregivers typically sought help from primary health care, secondary health care, and pharmacies and some from an unqualified health provider. The researchers also identified seven community-based intervention studies that included interventions such as essential newborn care, birth preparedness, and illness recognition, where all showed an increase in care seeking following the intervention.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings highlight the lack of a standardized and consistent approach to neonate care-seeking behaviors described in the literature. However, despite the large variations of results, care seeking for newborn illnesses in LMICs appears to be low in general and remains a key challenge to improving neonatal mortality. Global research efforts to define, understand, and address care seeking, may help to reduce the global burden of neonatal mortality. However, to achieve sustainable improvements in neonatal survival, changes are needed to both increase the demand for newborn care and strengthen health care systems to improve access to, and quality of, care. This review also shows that there is a role for interventions within the community to encourage appropriate and timely care seeking. Finally, by addressing the inconsistencies and establishing standardized terms to identify barriers to care, future studies may be able to better generalize the factors and delays that influence neonatal care seeking.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A recent PLoS Medicine study has the latest figures on neonatal mortality worldwide
UNICEF provides information about progress toward United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4
UNICEF also has information about neonatal mortality
The United Nations Population Fund has information on home births
PMCID: PMC3295826  PMID: 22412355
4.  Socioeconomic Factors and All Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality among Older People in Latin America, India, and China: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(2):e1001179.
Cleusa Ferri and colleagues studied mortality rates in over 12,000 people aged 65 years and over in Latin America, India, and China and showed that chronic diseases are the main causes of death and that education has an important effect on mortality.
Even in low and middle income countries most deaths occur in older adults. In Europe, the effects of better education and home ownership upon mortality seem to persist into old age, but these effects may not generalise to LMICs. Reliable data on causes and determinants of mortality are lacking.
Methods and Findings
The vital status of 12,373 people aged 65 y and over was determined 3–5 y after baseline survey in sites in Latin America, India, and China. We report crude and standardised mortality rates, standardized mortality ratios comparing mortality experience with that in the United States, and estimated associations with socioeconomic factors using Cox's proportional hazards regression. Cause-specific mortality fractions were estimated using the InterVA algorithm. Crude mortality rates varied from 27.3 to 70.0 per 1,000 person-years, a 3-fold variation persisting after standardisation for demographic and economic factors. Compared with the US, mortality was much higher in urban India and rural China, much lower in Peru, Venezuela, and urban Mexico, and similar in other sites. Mortality rates were higher among men, and increased with age. Adjusting for these effects, it was found that education, occupational attainment, assets, and pension receipt were all inversely associated with mortality, and food insecurity positively associated. Mutually adjusted, only education remained protective (pooled hazard ratio 0.93, 95% CI 0.89–0.98). Most deaths occurred at home, but, except in India, most individuals received medical attention during their final illness. Chronic diseases were the main causes of death, together with tuberculosis and liver disease, with stroke the leading cause in nearly all sites.
Education seems to have an important latent effect on mortality into late life. However, compositional differences in socioeconomic position do not explain differences in mortality between sites. Social protection for older people, and the effectiveness of health systems in preventing and treating chronic disease, may be as important as economic and human development.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, half of all deaths occur in people aged 60 or older. Yet mortality among older people is a neglected topic in global health. In high income countries, where 84% of people do not die until they are aged 65 years or older, the causes of death among older people and the factors (determinants) that affect their risk of dying are well documented. In Europe, for example, the leading causes of death among older people are heart disease, stroke, and other chronic (long-term) diseases. Moreover, as in younger age groups, having a better education and owning a house reduces the risk of death among older people. By contrast, in low and middle income countries (LMICs), where three-quarters of deaths of older people occur, reliable data on the causes and determinants of death among older people are lacking, in part because many LMICs have inadequate vital registration systems—official records of all births and deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
In many LMICs, chronic diseases are replacing communicable (infectious) diseases as the leading causes of death and disability—health experts call this the epidemiological transition (epidemiology is the study of the distribution and causes of disease in populations)—and the average age of the population is increasing (the demographic transition). Faced with these changes, which occur when countries move from a pre-industrial to an industrial economy, policy makers in LMICs need to introduce measures to improve health and reduce deaths among older people. However, to do this, they need reliable data on the causes and determinants of death in this section of the population. In this longitudinal population-based cohort study (a type of study that follows a group of people from a defined population over time), researchers from the 10/66 Dementia Research Group, which is carrying out population-based research on dementia, aging, and non-communicable diseases in LMICs, investigate the patterns of mortality among older people living in Latin America, India, and China.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 2003 and 2005, the researchers completed a baseline survey of people aged 65 years or older living in six Latin American LMICs, China, and India. Three to five years later, they determined the vital status of 12,373 of the study participants (that is, they determined whether the individual was alive or dead) and interviewed a key informant (usually a relative) about each death using a standardized “verbal autopsy” questionnaire that includes questions about date and place of death, and about medical help-seeking and signs and symptoms noted during the final illness. Finally, they used a tool called the InterVA algorithm to calculate the most likely causes of death from the verbal autopsies. Crude mortality rates varied from 27.3 per 1,000 person-years in urban Peru to 70.0 per 1,000 person-years in urban India, a three-fold difference in mortality rates that persisted even after allowing for differences in age, sex, education, occupational attainment, and number of assets among the study sites. Compared to the US, mortality rates were much higher in urban India and rural China; much lower in urban and rural Peru, Venezuela, and urban Mexico; but similar elsewhere. Although several socioeconomic factors were associated with mortality, only a higher education status provided consistent independent protection against death in statistical analyses. Finally, chronic diseases were the main causes of death; stroke was the leading cause of death at all the sites except those in rural Peru and Mexico.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify the main causes of death among older adults in a range of LMICs and suggest that there is an association of education with mortality that extends into later life. However, these findings may not be generalizable to other LMICs or even to other sites in the LMICs studied, and because some of the information provided by key informants may have been affected by recall error, the accuracy of the findings may be limited. Nevertheless, these findings suggest how health and mortality might be improved in elderly people in LMICs. Specifically, they suggest that efforts to ensure universal access to education should confer substantial health benefits and that interventions that target social and economic vulnerability in later life and promote access to effectively organized health care (particularly for stroke) should be considered.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The World Health Organization provides information on mortality around the world and projections of global mortality up to 2030
The 10/66 Dementia Research Group is building an evidence base to inform the development and implementation of policies for improving the health and social welfare of older people in LMICs, particularly people with dementia; its website includes background information about demographic and epidemiological aging in LMICs
Wikipedia has a page on the demographic transition (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Information about the InterVA tool for interpreting verbal autopsy data is available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about healthy aging
PMCID: PMC3289608  PMID: 22389633
5.  Why Do Women Not Use Antenatal Services in Low- and Middle-Income Countries? A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(1):e1001373.
In a synthesis of 21 qualitative studies representing the views of more than 1,230 women from 15 countries, Kenneth Finlayson and Soo Downe examine the reasons why many women in low- and middle-income countries do not receive adequate antenatal care.
Almost 50% of women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) don't receive adequate antenatal care. Women's views can offer important insights into this problem. Qualitative studies exploring inadequate use of antenatal services have been undertaken in a range of countries, but the findings are not easily transferable. We aimed to inform the development of future antenatal care programmes through a synthesis of findings in all relevant qualitative studies.
Methods and Findings
Using a predetermined search strategy, we identified robust qualitative studies reporting on the views and experiences of women in LMICs who received inadequate antenatal care. We used meta-ethnographic techniques to generate themes and a line-of-argument synthesis. We derived policy-relevant hypotheses from the findings. We included 21 papers representing the views of more than 1,230 women from 15 countries. Three key themes were identified: “pregnancy as socially risky and physiologically healthy”, “resource use and survival in conditions of extreme poverty”, and “not getting it right the first time”. The line-of-argument synthesis describes a dissonance between programme design and cultural contexts that may restrict access and discourage return visits. We hypothesize that centralised, risk-focused antenatal care programmes may be at odds with the resources, beliefs, and experiences of pregnant women who underuse antenatal services.
Our findings suggest that there may be a misalignment between current antenatal care provision and the social and cultural context of some women in LMICs. Antenatal care provision that is theoretically and contextually at odds with local contextual beliefs and experiences is likely to be underused, especially when attendance generates increased personal risks of lost family resources or physical danger during travel, when the promised care is not delivered because of resource constraints, and when women experience covert or overt abuse in care settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Although maternal deaths worldwide have almost halved since 1990, according to the latest figures, every day roughly 800 women and adolescent girls still die from the complications of pregnancy or childbirth: in 2010, 287,000 women died during or following pregnancy and childbirth, with almost all of these deaths (99%) occurring in low-resource settings. Most maternal deaths are avoidable, as the interventions to prevent or manage the most common complications (severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion) are well known. Furthermore, many of these complications can be prevented, detected, or treated during antenatal care visits with trained health workers.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of four antenatal visits per pregnancy, but according to WHO figures, between 2005 and 2010 only 53% of pregnant women worldwide attended the recommended four antenatal visits; in low-income countries, this figure was a disappointing 36%. Unfortunately, despite huge international efforts to promote and provide antenatal care, there has been little improvement in these statistics over the past decade. It is therefore important to investigate the reasons for poor antenatal attendance and to seek the views of users of antenatal care. In this study, the researchers combined studies from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that included women's views on antenatal care in a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies (qualitative research uses techniques, such as structured interviews, to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, and a meta-synthesis combines and interprets information across studies, contexts, and populations).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched several medical, sociological, and psychological databases to find appropriate qualitative studies published between January 1980 and February 2012 that explored the antenatal care experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of women from LMICs who had chosen to access antenatal care late (after 12 weeks' gestation), infrequently (less than four times), or not at all. The researchers included 21 studies (out of the 2,997 initially identified) in their synthesis, representing the views of 1,239 women from 15 countries (Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda) who were either interviewed directly or gave their opinion as part of a focus group.
The researchers identified three main themes. The first theme reflects women's views that pregnancy is a healthy state and so saw little reason to visit health professionals when they perceived no risk to their well-being—the researchers called this theme, “pregnancy as socially contingent and physiologically healthy.” The second theme relates to women's limited financial resources, so that even when antenatal care was offered free of charge, the cost of transport to get there, the loss of earnings associated with the visit, and the possibility of having to pay for medicines meant that women were unable to attend—the researchers called this theme “resource use and survival in conditions of extreme poverty.” The third theme the researchers identified related to women's views that the antenatal services were inadequate and that the benefits of attending did not outweigh any potential harms. For example, pregnant women who initially recognized the benefits of antenatal care were often disappointed by the lack of resources they found when they got there and, consequently, decided not to return. The researchers called this theme “not getting it right the first time.”
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there may be a misalignment between the principles that underpin the provision of antenatal care and the beliefs and socio-economic contexts of pregnant women in LMICs, meaning that even high-quality antenatal care may not be used by some pregnant women unless their views and concerns are addressed. The themes identified in this meta-synthesis could provide the basis for a new approach to the design and delivery of antenatal care that takes local beliefs and values and resource availability into account. Such programs might help ensure that antenatal care meets pregnant women's expectations and treats them appropriately so that they want to regularly attend antenatal care.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
Wikipedia describes antenatal care (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The World Health Organization has a wealth of information relating to pregnancy, including antenatal care
The UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has evidence-based guidelines on antenatal care
The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood has a series of web pages and links relating to respectful maternity care in LMICs
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics is an international organization with connections to various maternity initiatives in LMICs
International Confederation of Midwives has details of the Millennium Development Goals relating to maternity care
PMCID: PMC3551970  PMID: 23349622
6.  Heart Failure Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(8):e1001699.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Kazem Rahimi and colleagues examine the burden of heart failure in low- and middle-income countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Heart failure places a significant burden on patients and health systems in high-income countries. However, information about its burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is scant. We thus set out to review both published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, Global Health Database, and World Health Organization regional databases were searched for studies from LMICs published between 1 January 1995 and 30 March 2014. Additional unpublished data were requested from investigators and international heart failure experts. We identified 42 studies that provided relevant information on acute hospital care (25 LMICs; 232,550 patients) and 11 studies on the management of chronic heart failure in primary care or outpatient settings (14 LMICs; 5,358 patients). The mean age of patients studied ranged from 42 y in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 y in Argentina, and mean age in studies largely correlated with the human development index of the country in which they were conducted (r = 0.71, p<0.001). Overall, ischaemic heart disease was the main reported cause of heart failure in all regions except Africa and the Americas, where hypertension was predominant. Taking both those managed acutely in hospital and those in non-acute outpatient or community settings together, 57% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 49%–64%) of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, 34% (95% CI: 28%–41%) with beta-blockers, and 32% (95% CI: 25%–39%) with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists. Mean inpatient stay was 10 d, ranging from 3 d in India to 23 d in China. Acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% (range: 0.3%–7.7%) of total hospital admissions, and mean in-hospital mortality was 8% (95% CI: 6%–10%). There was substantial variation between studies (p<0.001 across all variables), and most data were from urban tertiary referral centres. Only one population-based study assessing incidence and/or prevalence of heart failure was identified.
The presentation, underlying causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. On average, the use of evidence-based medications tends to be suboptimal. Better strategies for heart failure surveillance and management in LMICs are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
A healthy heart pumps about 23,000 liters of blood around the body every day. This blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body and carries carbon dioxide and waste products away from the tissues and organs. A healthy heart is therefore essential for life. Unfortunately, many people (particularly elderly people) develop heart failure, a life-threatening condition in which the heart no longer pumps enough blood to meet all the body's needs because it has become too weak or too stiff to work properly. Heart failure can affect the left, right, or both sides of the heart, and it can develop slowly (chronic heart failure) or quickly (acute heart failure). Its symptoms include swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles, and legs, tiredness, and shortness of breath. Heart failure, which is most commonly caused by coronary heart disease (blockage with fatty deposits of the blood vessels that supply the heart) or high blood pressure (hypertension), cannot be cured. However, lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight and avoiding salty food) and various medications can control heart failure and improve the quality of life of patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
In high-income countries (HICs), heart failure is a common condition that typically consumes 1%–2% of healthcare resources. Experts believe that heart failure may soon become a major public health issue in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) because fewer people are dying of infectious diseases in these countries than in the past. LMICs need to plan for this eventuality, but little is known about the current burden of heart failure in LMICs. Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis uses statistical approaches to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 49 published studies and four unpublished databases that provided information on nearly 240,000 hospitalizations for acute and chronic heart failure in 31 LMICs. Across these LMICs, the average age of patients admitted to hospital for heart failure was 63 years, more than ten years younger than the average admission age in HICs. Differences in mean age at presentation, which ranged from 42 years in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 years in Argentina, largely correlated with the human development index (a measure of national well-being) of individual LMICs. Notably, acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% of all hospital admissions in the LMICs for which data were available. Hypertension was the main cause of heart failure in Africa and the Americas, whereas ischemic heart disease was the main cause in all other regions. More than two-thirds of patients were prescribed diuretics for heart failure, whereas only 57% of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, only 34% were treated with beta-blockers, and only 32% were treated with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists, the three treatments currently recommended in guidelines for managing heart failure. Finally, on average, patients admitted to hospital for heart failure in LMICs spent ten days in hospital, and 8.3% of them died in hospital (compared to 6.7% and 4% of similar patients across Europe and the US, respectively).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. Importantly, however, these findings reveal that heart failure is already a major burden in LMICs and that the use of recommended medications for heart failure is currently suboptimal in these countries. Because the studies included in this systematic review and meta-analysis set out to answer different research questions and used different methods to diagnose heart failure, the estimates of the burden of heart failure in LMICs provided here may not be completely accurate. Moreover, because the data were derived mainly from urban tertiary referral hospitals, these findings may not reflect the broader picture of heart failure in the community in LMICs. However, although additional studies are needed to completely assess the burden of heart failure in LMICs, the present findings nevertheless highlight the need to implement better strategies for the management of heart failure in LMICs.
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 Druin Burch
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information for patients about heart failure
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about all aspects of heart failure
The American Heart Association, a not-for-profit organization, also provides detailed information about heart failure for patients and their carers
The British Heart Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, provides additional information about heart failure, including a personal story about heart failure; further personal stories about heart failure are provided by the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline
Heart Failure Matters provides practical information about heart failure for patients, families, and caregivers in several languages; its website includes an animated journey through heart failure and several personal stories about the condition
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about heart failure (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC4130667  PMID: 25117081
7.  Tuberculosis among Health-Care Workers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e494.
The risk of transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from patients to health-care workers (HCWs) is a neglected problem in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Most health-care facilities in these countries lack resources to prevent nosocomial transmission of tuberculosis (TB).
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic review to summarize the evidence on the incidence and prevalence of latent TB infection (LTBI) and disease among HCWs in LMICs, and to evaluate the impact of various preventive strategies that have been attempted. To identify relevant studies, we searched electronic databases and journals, and contacted experts in the field. We identified 42 articles, consisting of 51 studies, and extracted data on incidence, prevalence, and risk factors for LTBI and disease among HCWs. The prevalence of LTBI among HCWs was, on average, 54% (range 33% to 79%). Estimates of the annual risk of LTBI ranged from 0.5% to 14.3%, and the annual incidence of TB disease in HCWs ranged from 69 to 5,780 per 100,000. The attributable risk for TB disease in HCWs, compared to the risk in the general population, ranged from 25 to 5,361 per 100,000 per year. A higher risk of acquiring TB disease was associated with certain work locations (inpatient TB facility, laboratory, internal medicine, and emergency facilities) and occupational categories (radiology technicians, patient attendants, nurses, ward attendants, paramedics, and clinical officers).
In summary, our review demonstrates that TB is a significant occupational problem among HCWs in LMICs. Available evidence reinforces the need to design and implement simple, effective, and affordable TB infection-control programs in health-care facilities in these countries.
A systematic review demonstrates that tuberculosis is an important occupational problem among health care workers in low and middle-income countries.
Editors' Summary
One third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). In many people, the bug causes no health problems—it remains latent. But about 10% of infected people develop active, potentially fatal TB, often in their lungs. People with active pulmonary TB readily spread the infection to other people, including health-care workers (HCWs), in small airborne droplets produced when they cough or sneeze. In high-income countries such as the US, guidelines are in place to minimize the transmission of TB in health-care facilities. Administrative controls (for example, standard treatment plans for people with suspected or confirmed TB) aim to reduce the exposure of HCWs to people with TB. Environmental controls (for example, the use of special isolation rooms) aim to prevent the spread and to reduce the concentration of infectious droplets in the air. Finally, respiratory-protection controls (for example, personal respirators for nursing staff) aim to reduce the risk of infection when exposure to M. tuberculosis is unavoidably high. Together, these three layers of control have reduced the incidence of TB in HCWs (the number who catch TB annually) in high-income countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
But what about low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where more than 90% of the world's cases of TB occur? Here, there is little money available to implement even low-cost strategies to reduce TB transmission in health-care facilities—so how important an occupational disease is TB in HCWs in these countries? In this study, the researchers have systematically reviewed published papers to find out the incidence and prevalence (how many people in a population have a specific disease) of active TB and latent TB infections (LTBIs) in HCWs in LMICs. They have also investigated whether any of the preventative strategies used in high-income countries have been shown to reduce the TB burden in HCWs in poorer countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To identify studies on TB transmission to HCWs in LMICs, the researchers searched electronic databases and journals, and also contacted experts on TB transmission. They then extracted and analyzed the relevant data on TB incidence, prevalence, risk factors, and control measures. Averaged-out over the 51 identified studies, 54% of HCWs had LTBI. In most of the studies, increasing age and duration of employment in health-care facilities, indicating a longer cumulative exposure to infection, was associated with a higher prevalence of LTBI. The same trend was seen in a subgroup of medical and nursing students. After accounting for the incidence of TB in the relevant general population, the excess incidence of TB in the different studies that was attributable to being a HCW ranged from 25 to 5,361 cases per 100, 000 people per year. In addition, a higher risk of acquiring TB was associated with working in specific locations (for example, inpatient TB facilities or diagnostic laboratories) and with specific occupations, including nurses and radiology attendants; most of the health-care facilities examined in the published studies had no specific TB infection-control programs in place.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all systematic reviews, the accuracy of these findings may be limited by some aspects of the original studies, such as how the incidence of LTBI was measured. In addition, the possibility that the researchers missed some relevant published studies, or that only studies where there was a high incidence of TB in HCWs were published, may also affect the findings of this study. Nevertheless, they suggest that TB is an important occupational disease in HCWs in LMICs and that the HCWs most at risk of TB are those exposed to the most patients with TB. Reduction of that risk should be a high priority because occupational TB leads to the loss of essential, skilled HCWs. Unfortunately, there are few data available to indicate how this should be done. Thus, the researchers conclude, well-designed field studies are urgently needed to evaluate whether the TB-control measures that have reduced TB transmission to HCWs in high-income countries will work and be affordable in LMICs.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases patient fact sheet on tuberculosis
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information for patients and professionals on tuberculosis
• MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on tuberculosis
• NHS Direct Online, from the UK National Health Service, patient information on tuberculosis
• US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, information about tuberculosis for health-care workers
• American Lung Association information on tuberculosis and health-care workers
PMCID: PMC1716189  PMID: 17194191
8.  "We can move forward": challenging historical inequity in public health research in Solomon Islands 
In resource-poor countries, such as Solomon Islands, the research agenda on health is often dominated by researchers from resource-rich countries. New strategies are needed to empower local researchers to set directions for health research. This paper presents a process which seeks to enable a local and potentially more equitable research agenda at a remote hospital in Solomon Islands.
In preparation for a health research capacity-building workshop at Atoifi Adventist Hospital, Malaita, Solomon Islands, a computer-based search was conducted of Solomon Islands public health literature. Using a levels-of-agreement approach publications were categorised as: a) original research, b) reviews, c) program descriptions and d) commentaries or discussion. Original research publications were further sub-categorised as: i) measurement, ii) descriptive research and iii) intervention studies. Results were reviewed with Solomon Islander health professionals in a focus group discussion during the health research workshop. Focus group participants were invited to discuss reactions to literature search results and how results might assist current or future local researchers to identify gaps in the published research literature and possible research opportunities at the hospital and surrounding communities. Focus group data were analysed using a grounded theory approach.
Of the 218 publications meeting inclusion criteria, 144 (66%) were categorised as 'original research', 42 (19%) as 'commentaries/discussion', 28 (13%) as 'descriptions of programs' and 4 (2%) as 'reviews'. Agreement between three authors' (MRM, DM, AC) independent categorisation was 'excellent' (0.8 <κ). The 144 'original research' publications included 115 (80%) 'descriptive studies' (κ = 0.82); 19 (13%) 'intervention studies' (κ = 0.77); and 10 (7%) 'measurement studies'(κ = 0.80). Key themes identified in the focus group discussion challenged historical inequities evident from the literature review. These included: i) who has done/is doing research in Solomon Islands (largely non-Solomon Islanders); ii) when the research was done (research needs to keep up to date); iii) amount of published research (there should be more); iv) types of research (lack of intervention and operational research); v) value of published research (important); vi) gaps in published literature (need more research about nursing); vii) opportunities for research action (start small); viii) support required to undertake research at the hospital and in surrounding communities (mentoring and partnering with experienced researchers).
A search and collaborative review of public health literature for Solomon Islands at a health research capacity building workshop has uncovered and challenged historical inequity in the conduct and access to public health research. Emerging Solomon Islander researchers at a remote hospital are now working to set priorities and strengthen local research efforts. These efforts have highlighted the importance of collaboration and mentoring for Solomon Islanders to instigate and implement public health research to improve the health of individuals and communities served by this remote hospital.
PMCID: PMC2992041  PMID: 21050492
9.  Circulating Mitochondrial DNA in Patients in the ICU as a Marker of Mortality: Derivation and Validation 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001577.
In this paper, Choi and colleagues analyzed levels of mitochondrial DNA in two prospective observational cohort studies and found that increased mtDNA levels are associated with ICU mortality, and improve risk prediction in medical ICU patients. The data suggests that mtDNA could serve as a viable plasma biomarker in MICU patients.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a critical activator of inflammation and the innate immune system. However, mtDNA level has not been tested for its role as a biomarker in the intensive care unit (ICU). We hypothesized that circulating cell-free mtDNA levels would be associated with mortality and improve risk prediction in ICU patients.
Methods and Findings
Analyses of mtDNA levels were performed on blood samples obtained from two prospective observational cohort studies of ICU patients (the Brigham and Women's Hospital Registry of Critical Illness [BWH RoCI, n = 200] and Molecular Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome [ME ARDS, n = 243]). mtDNA levels in plasma were assessed by measuring the copy number of the NADH dehydrogenase 1 gene using quantitative real-time PCR. Medical ICU patients with an elevated mtDNA level (≥3,200 copies/µl plasma) had increased odds of dying within 28 d of ICU admission in both the BWH RoCI (odds ratio [OR] 7.5, 95% CI 3.6–15.8, p = 1×10−7) and ME ARDS (OR 8.4, 95% CI 2.9–24.2, p = 9×10−5) cohorts, while no evidence for association was noted in non-medical ICU patients. The addition of an elevated mtDNA level improved the net reclassification index (NRI) of 28-d mortality among medical ICU patients when added to clinical models in both the BWH RoCI (NRI 79%, standard error 14%, p<1×10−4) and ME ARDS (NRI 55%, standard error 20%, p = 0.007) cohorts. In the BWH RoCI cohort, those with an elevated mtDNA level had an increased risk of death, even in analyses limited to patients with sepsis or acute respiratory distress syndrome. Study limitations include the lack of data elucidating the concise pathological roles of mtDNA in the patients, and the limited numbers of measurements for some of biomarkers.
Increased mtDNA levels are associated with ICU mortality, and inclusion of mtDNA level improves risk prediction in medical ICU patients. Our data suggest that mtDNA could serve as a viable plasma biomarker in medical ICU patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Intensive care units (ICUs, also known as critical care units) are specialist hospital wards that provide care for people with life-threatening injuries and illnesses. In the US alone, more than 5 million people are admitted to ICUs every year. Different types of ICUs treat different types of problems. Medical ICUs treat patients who, for example, have been poisoned or who have a serious infection such as sepsis (blood poisoning) or severe pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs); trauma ICUs treat patients who have sustained a major injury; cardiac ICUs treat patients who have heart problems; and surgical ICUs treat complications arising from operations. Patients admitted to ICUs require constant medical attention and support from a team of specially trained nurses and physicians to prevent organ injury and to keep their bodies functioning. Monitors, intravenous tubes (to supply essential fluids, nutrients, and drugs), breathing machines, catheters (to drain urine), and other equipment also help to keep ICU patients alive.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although many patients admitted to ICUs recover, others do not. ICU specialists use scoring systems (algorithms) based on clinical signs and physiological measurements to predict their patients' likely outcomes. For example, the APACHE II scoring system uses information on heart and breathing rates, temperature, levels of salts in the blood, and other signs and physiological measurements collected during the first 24 hours in the ICU to predict the patient's risk of death. Existing scoring systems are not perfect, however, and “biomarkers” (molecules in bodily fluids that provide information about a disease state) are needed to improve risk prediction for ICU patients. Here, the researchers investigate whether levels of circulating cell-free mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are associated with ICU deaths and whether these levels can be used as a biomarker to improve risk prediction in ICU patients. Mitochondria are cellular structures that produce energy. Levels of mtDNA in the plasma (the liquid part of blood) increase in response to trauma and infection. Moreover, mtDNA activates molecular processes that lead to inflammation and organ injury.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured mtDNA levels in the plasma of patients enrolled in two prospective observational cohort studies that monitored the outcomes of ICU patients. In the Brigham and Women's Hospital Registry of Critical Illness study, blood was taken from 200 patients within 24 hours of admission into the hospital's medical ICU. In the Molecular Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome study (acute respiratory distress syndrome is a life-threatening inflammatory reaction to lung damage or infection), blood was taken from 243 patients within 48 hours of admission into medical and non-medical ICUs at two other US hospitals. Patients admitted to medical ICUs with a raised mtDNA level (3,200 or more copies of a specific mitochondrial gene per microliter of plasma) had a 7- to 8-fold increased risk of dying within 28 days of admission compared to patients with mtDNA levels of less than 3,200 copies/µl plasma. There was no evidence of an association between raised mtDNA levels and death among patients admitted to non-medical ICUs. The addition of an elevated mtDNA level to a clinical model for risk prediction that included the APACHE II score and biomarkers that are already used to predict ICU outcomes improved the net reclassification index (an indicator of the improvement in risk prediction algorithms offered by new biomarkers) of 28-day mortality among medical ICU patients in both studies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that raised mtDNA plasma levels are associated with death in medical ICUs and show that, among patients in medical ICUs, measurement of mtDNA plasma levels can improve the prediction of the risk of death from the APACHE II scoring system, even when commonly measured biomarkers are taken into account. These findings do not indicate whether circulating cell-free mtDNA increased because of the underlying severity of illness or whether mtDNA actively contributes to the disease process in medical ICU patients. Moreover, they do not provide any evidence that raised mtDNA levels are associated with an increased risk of death among non-medical (mainly surgical) ICU patients. These findings need to be confirmed in additional patients, but given the relative ease and rapidity of mtDNA measurement, the determination of circulating cell-free mtDNA levels could be a valuable addition to the assessment of patients admitted to medical ICUs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about intensive care
The Society of Critical Care Medicine provides information for professionals, families, and patients about all aspects of intensive care
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about intensive care (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity ICUsteps supports patients and their families through recovery from critical illness; its booklet Intensive Care: A Guide for Patients and Families is available in English and ten other languages; its website includes patient experiences and relative experiences of treatment in ICUs
Wikipedia has a page on ICU scoring systems (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3876981  PMID: 24391478
10.  Professional Uncertainty and Disempowerment Responding to Ethnic Diversity in Health Care: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e323.
While ethnic disparities in health and health care are increasing, evidence on how to enhance quality of care and reduce inequalities remains limited. Despite growth in the scope and application of guidelines on “cultural competence,” remarkably little is known about how practising health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities. Using cancer care as a clinical context, we aimed to explore this with a range of health professionals to inform interventions to enhance quality of care.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study involving 18 focus groups with a purposeful sample of 106 health professionals of differing disciplines, in primary and secondary care settings, working with patient populations of varying ethnic diversity in the Midlands of the UK. Data were analysed by constant comparison and we undertook processes for validation of analysis. We found that, as they sought to offer appropriate care, health professionals wrestled with considerable uncertainty and apprehension in responding to the needs of patients of ethnicities different from their own. They emphasised their perceived ignorance about cultural difference and were anxious about being culturally inappropriate, causing affront, or appearing discriminatory or racist. Professionals' ability to think and act flexibly or creatively faltered. Although trying to do their best, professionals' uncertainty was disempowering, creating a disabling hesitancy and inertia in their practice. Most professionals sought and applied a knowledge-based cultural expertise approach to patients, though some identified the risk of engendering stereotypical expectations of patients. Professionals' uncertainty and disempowerment had the potential to perpetuate each other, to the detriment of patient care.
This study suggests potential mechanisms by which health professionals may inadvertently contribute to ethnic disparities in health care. It identifies critical opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively. Interventions should help professionals acknowledge their uncertainty and its potential to create inertia in their practice. A shift away from a cultural expertise model toward a greater focus on each patient as an individual may help.
From a qualitative study, Joe Kai and colleagues have identified opportunities to empower health professionals to respond more effectively to challenges in their work with patients from diverse ethnic communities.
Editors' Summary
Communities are increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity (belonging to a group of people defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin) and race (belonging to a group identified by inherited physical characteristics). Although health professionals and governments are striving to ensure that everybody has the same access to health care, there is increasing evidence of ethnic inequalities in health-care outcomes. Some of these inequalities reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often carry an altered gene that increases their chance of developing aggressive breast cancer. Often, however, these differences reflect inequalities in the health care received by different ethnic groups. To improve this situation, “cultural competence” has been promoted over recent years. Cultural competence is the development of skills by individuals and organizations that allow them to work effectively with people from different cultures. Health professionals are now taught about ethnic differences in health beliefs and practices, religion, and communication styles to help them provide the best service to all their patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
Numerous guidelines aim to improve cultural competency but little is known about how health professionals experience and perceive their work with patients from diverse ethnic groups. Is their behavior influenced by ethnicity in ways that might contribute to health care disparities? For example, do doctors sometimes avoid medical examinations for fear of causing offence because of cultural differences? If more were known about how health professionals handle ethnic diversity (a term used here to include both ethnicity and race) it might be possible to reduce ethnic inequalities in health care. In this qualitative study, the researchers have explored how health professionals involved in cancer care are affected by working with ethnically diverse patients. A qualitative study is one that collects nonquantitative data such as how doctors “feel” about treating people of different ethnic backgrounds; a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes in different ethnic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 106 doctors, nurses, and other health-related professionals from different health-service settings in the Midlands, an ethnically diverse region of the UK. They organized 18 focus groups in which the health professionals described their experiences of caring for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. The participants were encouraged to recall actual cases and to identify what they saw as problems and strengths in their interactions with these patients. The researchers found that the health professionals wrestled with many challenges when providing health care for patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds. These challenges included problems with language and with general communication (for example, deciding when it was acceptable to touch a patient to show empathy). Health professionals also worried they did not know enough about cultural differences. As a result, they said they often felt uncertain of their ability to avoid causing affront or appearing racist. This uncertainty, the researchers report, disempowered the health professionals, sometimes making them hesitate or fail to do what was best for their patient.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal that health professionals often experience considerable uncertainty when caring for ethnically diverse patients, even after training in cultural competency. They also show that this uncertainty can lead to hesitancy and inertia, which might contribute to ethnic health care inequalities. Because the study participants were probably already interested in ethnic diversity and health care, interviews with other health professionals (and investigations of patient experiences) are needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, the researchers suggest several interventions that might reduce health care inequalities caused by ethnic diversity. For example, health professionals should be encouraged to recognize their uncertainty and should have access to more information and training about ethnic differences. In addition, there should be a shift in emphasis away from relying on knowledge-based cultural information towards taking an “ethnographic” approach. In other words, health professionals should be helped to feel able to ask their patients about what matters most to them as individuals about their illness and treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information on cultural competence and health care is available from the US National Center for Cultural Competence (in English and Spanish) and DiversityRx
PROCEED (Professionals Responding to Cancer in Ethnic Diversity) is a multimedia training tool for educators within the health and allied professions developed from the results of this study; a press release on PROCEED is available from the University of Nottingham
Transcultural Health Care Practice: An educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners is available on the web site of the UK Royal College of Nursing
PMCID: PMC2071935  PMID: 18001148
11.  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
12.  Emergency and surgery services of primary hospitals in the United Republic of Tanzania 
BMJ Open  2012;2(1):e000369.
The primary objective was to evaluate the capacity of first-referral health facilities in Tanzania to perform basic surgical procedures. The intent was to assist in planning strategies for universal access to life-saving and disability-preventing surgical services.
Cross-sectional survey.
First-referral health facilities in the United Republic of Tanzania.
48 health facilities.
The WHO Tool for Situational Analysis to Assess Emergency and Essential Surgical Care was employed to capture a health facility's capacity to perform basic surgical (including obstetrics and trauma) and anaesthesia interventions by investigating four categories of data: infrastructure, human resources, interventions available and equipment. The tool queried the availability of eight types of care providers, 35 surgical interventions and 67 items of equipment.
The 48 facilities surveyed served 18.6 million residents (46% of the population). Supplies for basic airway management were inconsistently available. Only 42% had consistent access to oxygen, and only six functioning pulse oximeters were located in all facilities surveyed. 37.5% of facilities reported both consistent running water and electricity. While very basic interventions (suturing, wound debridement, incision and drainage) were provided in nearly all facilities, more advanced life-saving procedures including chest tube thoracostomy (30/48), open fracture management (29/48) and caesarean section delivery (32/48) were not consistently available.
Based on the results in this WHO country survey, significant gaps exist in the capacity for emergency and essential surgical services in Tanzania including deficits in human resources, essential equipment and infrastructure. The information in this survey will provide a foundation for evidence-based decisions in country-level policy regarding the allocation of resources and provision of emergency and essential surgical services.
Article summary
Article focus
On-site visits to primary health centres in a developing nation.
Evaluate capacity to deliver emergency and surgical care-identify gaps in equipment, skills and personnel.
Key messages
Basic surgical procedures are being performed in nearly all health centres.
Significant deficits in human resources, essential equipment and infrastructure.
Pulse oximetry is rarely available.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Most comprehensive evaluation of a developing country's surgical capacity.
Based on established well-accepted analysis tool.
Relies on subjective measures and estimate.
PMCID: PMC3274714  PMID: 22307096
13.  Global Anesthesia Workforce Crisis: A Preliminary Survey Revealing Shortages Contributing to Undesirable Outcomes and Unsafe Practices 
World Journal of Surgery  2009;34(3):438-444.
The burden of disease, disability, and mortality that could be averted by surgery is growing. However, few low and middle income countries (LMICs) have the infrastructure or capacity to provide surgical services to meet this growing need. Equally, few of these countries have been assessed for key infrastructural capacity including surgical and anesthesia providers, equipment, and supplies. These assessments are critical to revealing magnitude of the evolving surgical and anesthesia workforce crisis, related morbidity and mortality, and necessary steps to mitigate the impact of the crisis.
A pilot Internet-based survey was conducted to estimate per-capita anesthesia providers in LMICs. Information was obtained from e-mail respondents at national health care addresses, and from individuals working in-country on anesthesia-related projects.
Workers from 6 of 98 countries responded to direct e-mail inquiries, and an additional five responses came from individuals who were working or had worked in-country at the time of the survey. The data collected revealed that the per-capita anesthesia provider ratio in the countries surveyed was often 100 times lower than in developed countries.
This pilot study revealed that the number of anesthesia providers available per capita of population is markedly reduced in low and lower middle income countries compared to developed countries. As anesthesia providers are an integral part of the delivery of safe and effective surgical care, it is essential that more data is collected to fully understand the deficiencies in workforce and capacity in low and middle income countries.
PMCID: PMC2816796  PMID: 19795163
14.  Preventing breast cancer in LMICs via screening and/or early detection: The real and the surreal 
To review the present status of breast cancer (BC) screening/early detection in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and identify the way forward, an open focused search for articles was undertaken in PubMed, Google Scholar and Google, and using a snowball technique, further articles were obtained from the reference list of initial search results. In addition, a query was put up on ResearchGate to obtain more references and find out the general opinion of experts on the topic. Experts were also personally contacted for their opinion. Breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer in women in the world. The rise in incidence is highest in LMICs where the incidence has often been much lower than high-income countries. In spite of more women dying of cancer than pregnancy or childbirth related causes in LMICs, most of the focus and resources are devoted to maternal health. Also, the majority of women in LMICs present at late stages to a hospital to initiate treatment. A number of trials have been conducted in various LMICs regarding the use of clinical breast examination and mammography in various combinations to understand the best ways of implementing a population level screening/early detection of BC; nevertheless, more research in this area is badly needed for different LMIC specific contexts. Notably, very few LMICs have national level programs for BC prevention via screening/early detection and even stage reduction is not on the public health agenda. This is in addition to other barriers such as lack of awareness among women regarding BC and the presence of stigma, inappropriate attitudes and lack of following proper screening behavior, such as conducting breast self-examinations. The above is mixed with the apathy and lack of awareness of policy makers regarding the fact that BC prevention is much more cost-effective and humane than BC treatment. Implementation of population level programs for screening/early detection of BC, along with use of ways to improve awareness of women regarding BC, can prove critical in stemming the increasing burden of BC in LMICs. Use of newer modalities such as ultrasonography which is more suited to LMIC populations and use of mHealth for awareness creation and increasing screening compliance are much needed extra additions to the overall agenda of LMICs in preventing BC.
PMCID: PMC4127620  PMID: 25114864
Breast cancer; Screening; Early detection; Mammography; Clinical breast examination; Breast self examination; Ultrasonography; Awareness; Developing countries; Low- and middle-income countries
15.  The Role of Health Systems Factors in Facilitating Access to Psychotropic Medicines: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the WHO-AIMS in 63 Low- and Middle-Income Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(1):e1001166.
In a cross-sectional analysis of WHO-AIMS data, Ryan McBain and colleagues investigate the associations between health system components and access to psychotropic drugs in 63 low and middle income countries.
Neuropsychiatric conditions comprise 14% of the global burden of disease and 30% of all noncommunicable disease. Despite the existence of cost-effective interventions, including administration of psychotropic medicines, the number of persons who remain untreated is as high as 85% in low- and middle-income countries (LAMICs). While access to psychotropic medicines varies substantially across countries, no studies to date have empirically investigated potential health systems factors underlying this issue.
Methods and Findings
This study uses a cross-sectional sample of 63 LAMICs and country regions to identify key health systems components associated with access to psychotropic medicines. Data from countries that completed the World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS) were included in multiple regression analyses to investigate the role of five major mental health systems domains in shaping medicine availability and affordability. These domains are: mental health legislation, human rights implementations, mental health care financing, human resources, and the role of advocacy groups. Availability of psychotropic medicines was associated with features of all five mental health systems domains. Most notably, within the domain of mental health legislation, a comprehensive national mental health plan was associated with 15% greater availability; and in terms of advocacy groups, the participation of family-based organizations in the development of mental health legislation was associated with 17% greater availability. Only three measures were related with affordability of medicines to consumers: level of human resources, percentage of countries' health budget dedicated to mental health, and availability of mental health care in prisons. Controlling for country development, as measured by the Human Development Index, health systems features were associated with medicine availability but not affordability.
Results suggest that strengthening particular facets of mental health systems might improve availability of psychotropic medicines and that overall country development is associated with affordability.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Mental disorders—conditions that involve impairment of thinking, emotions, and behavior—are extremely common. Worldwide, mental illness affects about 450 million people and accounts for 13.5% of the global burden of disease. About one in four people will have a mental health problem at some time in their life. For some people, this will be a short period of mild depression, anxiety, or stress. For others, it will be a serious, long-lasting condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. People with mental health problems need help and support from professionals and from their friends and families to help them cope with their illness but are often discriminated against, which can make their illness worse. Treatments include counseling and psychotherapy (talking therapies), and psychotropic medicines—drugs that act mainly on the brain. Left untreated, many people with serious mental illnesses commit suicide.
Why Was This Study Done?
About 80% of people with mental illnesses live in low- and middle-income countries (LAMICs) where up to 85% of patients remain untreated. Access to psychotropic medicines, which constitute an essential and cost-effective component in the treatment of mental illnesses, is particularly poor in many LAMICs. To improve this situation, it is necessary to understand what health systems factors limit the availability and affordability of psychotropic drugs; a health system is the sum of all the organizations, institutions, and resources that act together to improve health. In this cross-sectional study, the researchers look for associations between specific health system components and access to psychotropic medicines by analyzing data collected from LAMICs using the World Health Organization's Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS). A cross-sectional study analyzes data collected at a single time. WHO-AIMS, which was created to evaluate mental health systems primarily in LAMICs, is a 155-item survey that Ministries of Health and other country-based agencies can use to collect information on mental health indicators.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used WHO-AIMS data from 63 countries/country regions and multiple regression analysis to evaluate the role of mental health legislation, human rights implementation, mental health care financing, human resources, and advocacy in shaping medicine availability and affordability. For each of these health systems domains, the researchers developed one or more summary measurements. For example, they measured financing as the percentage of government health expenditure directed toward mental health. Availability of psychotropic medicines was defined as the percentage of mental health facilities in which at least one psychotropic medication for each therapeutic category was always available. Affordability was measured by calculating the percentage of daily minimum wage needed to purchase medicine by the average consumer. The availability of psychotropic medicines was related to features of all five mental health systems domains, report the researchers. Notably, having a national mental health plan (part of the legislation domain) and the participation (advocacy) of family-based organizations in mental health legislation formulation were associated with 15% and 17% greater availability of medicines, respectively. By contrast, only the levels of human resources and financing, and the availability of mental health care in prisons (part of the human rights domain) were associated with the affordability of psychotropic medicines. Once overall country development was taken into account, most of the associations between health systems factors and medicine availability remained significant, while the associations between health systems factors and medicine affordability were no longer significant. In part, this was because country development was more strongly associated with affordability and explained most of the relationships: for example, countries with greater overall development have higher expenditures on mental health and greater medicine affordability compared to availability.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that access to psychotropic medicines in LAMICs is related to key components within the mental health systems of these countries but that availability and affordability are affected to different extents by these components. They also show that country development plays a strong role in determining affordability but has less effect on determining availability. Because cross-sectional data were used in this study, these findings only indicate associations; they do not imply causality. They are also limited by the relatively small number of observations included in this study, by the methods used to collect mental health systems data in many LAMICs, and by the possibility that some countries may have reported biased results. Despite these limitations, these findings suggest that strengthening specific mental health system features may be an important way to facilitate access to psychotropic medicines but also highlight the role that country wealth and development play in promoting the treatment of mental disorders.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001166.
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on all aspects of mental health (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information on mental health; its Live Well feature provides practical advice on dealing with mental health problems and personal stories
The UK charity Mind provides further information about mental illness, including personal stories
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on mental health (in English and Spanish)
Information on WHO-AIMS, including versions of the instrument in several languages, and WHO-AIMS country reports are available
PMCID: PMC3269418  PMID: 22303288
16.  The case for investing in family planning in the Pacific: costs and benefits of reducing unmet need for contraception in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands 
Reproductive Health  2013;10:30.
Unmet need for family planning in the Pacific is among the highest in the world. Better understanding of required investments and associated benefits of increased access to family planning in the Pacific may assist prioritisation and funding.
We modelled the costs and associated health, demographic and economic impacts of reducing unmet need for family planning between 2010–2025 in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Baseline data were obtained from census reports, Demographic and Health Surveys, and UN agency reports. Using a demographic modelling program we compared a scenario of “no change in unmet need” with two distinct scenarios: 1) all family planning needs met by 2020; and, 2) all needs met by 2050.
Meeting family planning needs by 2020 would increase prevalence of modern contraception in 2025 from 36.8 to 65.5% in Vanuatu and 28.5 to 37.6% in the Solomon Islands. Between 2010–2025 the average annual number of unintended pregnancies would decline by 68% in Vanuatu and 50% in the Solomon Islands, and high-risk births would fall by more than 20%, averting 2,573 maternal and infant deaths. Total fertility rates would fall from 4.1 to 2.2 in Vanuatu and 3.5 in the Solomon Islands, contributing to slowed population growth and lower dependency ratios. The direct cost of reducing unmet need by 2020 was estimated to be $5.19 million for Vanuatu and $3.36 million for the Solomon Islands between 2010–2025. Preventing unintended pregnancies would save $112 million in health and education expenditure.
In small island developing states such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, increasing investment in family planning would contribute to improved maternal and infant outcomes and substantial public sector savings.
PMCID: PMC3700798  PMID: 23758783
Family planning; Contraception; Women’s Health; Infant Health; Adolescent Fertility; Population; Economic Development
17.  Uncovering Treatment Burden as a Key Concept for Stroke Care: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001473.
In a systematic review of qualitative research, Katie Gallacher and colleagues examine the evidence related to treatment burden after stroke from the patient perspective.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Patients with chronic disease may experience complicated management plans requiring significant personal investment. This has been termed ‘treatment burden’ and has been associated with unfavourable outcomes. The aim of this systematic review is to examine the qualitative literature on treatment burden in stroke from the patient perspective.
Methods and Findings
The search strategy centred on: stroke, treatment burden, patient experience, and qualitative methods. We searched: Scopus, CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and PsycINFO. We tracked references, footnotes, and citations. Restrictions included: English language, date of publication January 2000 until February 2013. Two reviewers independently carried out the following: paper screening, data extraction, and data analysis. Data were analysed using framework synthesis, as informed by Normalization Process Theory. Sixty-nine papers were included. Treatment burden includes: (1) making sense of stroke management and planning care, (2) interacting with others, (3) enacting management strategies, and (4) reflecting on management. Health care is fragmented, with poor communication between patient and health care providers. Patients report inadequate information provision. Inpatient care is unsatisfactory, with a perceived lack of empathy from professionals and a shortage of stimulating activities on the ward. Discharge services are poorly coordinated, and accessing health and social care in the community is difficult. The study has potential limitations because it was restricted to studies published in English only and data from low-income countries were scarce.
Stroke management is extremely demanding for patients, and treatment burden is influenced by micro and macro organisation of health services. Knowledge deficits mean patients are ill equipped to organise their care and develop coping strategies, making adherence less likely. There is a need to transform the approach to care provision so that services are configured to prioritise patient needs rather than those of health care systems.
Systematic Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42011001123
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. About 5 million of these people die within a few days, and another 5 million are left disabled. Stroke occurs when the blood supply of the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blood vessel in the brain being blocked by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. In the longer term, post-stroke rehabilitation can help individuals overcome the physical disabilities caused by stroke, and drugs that thin the blood, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol (major risk factors for stroke) alongside behavioral counseling can reduce the risk of a second stroke.
Why Was This Study Done?
Treatment for, and rehabilitation from, stroke is a lengthy process that requires considerable personal investment from the patient. The term “treatment burden” describes the self-care practices that patients with stroke and other chronic diseases must perform to follow the complicated management strategies that have been developed for these conditions. Unfortunately, treatment burden can overwhelm patients. They may be unable to cope with the multiple demands placed on them by health-care providers and systems for their self-care, a situation that leads to poor adherence to therapies and poor outcomes. For example, patients may find it hard to complete all the exercises designed to help them regain full movement of their limbs after a stroke. Treatment burden has been poorly examined in relation to stroke. Here, the researchers identify and describe the treatment burden in stroke by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the literature on a given topic) of qualitative studies on the patient experience of stroke management. Qualitative studies collect non-quantitative data so, for example, a qualitative study on stroke treatment might ask people how the treatment made them feel whereas a quantitative study might compare clinical outcomes between those receiving and not receiving the treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 69 qualitative studies dealing with the experiences of stroke management of adult patients and analyzed the data in these papers using framework synthesis—an approach that divides data into thematic categories. Specifically, the researchers used a coding framework informed by normalization process theory, a sociological theory of the implementation, embedding and integration of tasks and practices; embedding is the process of making tasks and practices a routine part of everyday life and integration refers to sustaining these embedded practices. The researchers identified four main areas of treatment burden for stroke: making sense of stroke management and planning care; interacting with others, including health care professionals, family and other patients with stroke; enacting management strategies (including enduring institutional admissions, managing stroke in the community, reintegrating into society and adjusting to life after stroke); and reflecting on management to make decisions about self-care. Moreover, they identified problems in all these areas, including inadequate provision of information, poor communication with health-care providers, and unsatisfactory inpatient care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that stroke management is extremely demanding for patients and is influenced by both the micro and macro organization of health services. At the micro organizational level, fragmented care and poor communication between patients and clinicians and between health-care providers can mean patients are ill equipped to organize their care and develop coping strategies, which makes adherence to management strategies less likely. At the macro organizational level, it can be hard for patients to obtain the practical and financial help they need to manage their stroke in the community. Overall, these findings suggest that care provision for stroke needs to be transformed so that the needs of patients rather than the needs of health-care systems are prioritized. Further work is required, however, to understand how the patient experience of treatment burden is affected by the clinical characteristics of stroke, by disability level, and by other co-existing diseases. By undertaking such work, it should be possible to generate a patient-reported outcome measure of treatment burden that, if used by policy makers and health-care providers, has the potential to improve the quality of stroke care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); its Know Stroke site provides educational materials about stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation including personal stories (in English and Spanish); the US National Institutes of Health SeniorHealth website has additional information about stroke
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families, and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about stroke for patients and their families, including personal stories
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about stroke (in English and Spanish)
The UK not-for-profit website Healthtalkonline provides personal stories about stroke
Wikipedia provides information on the burden of treatment and on the normalization process theory (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC3692487  PMID: 23824703
18.  Fitting a square peg into a round hole: are the current Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines feasible for Africa? 
Critical Care  2011;15(1):117.
In their article, Baelani and colleagues surveyed anesthesia providers from African low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to evaluate whether or not the current Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) guidelines are feasible in such resource-constrained settings. The authors report that an alarmingly low percentage of hospitals have the capacity to implement the SSC guidelines in their entirety but a higher percentage are able to implement the majority of SSC guidelines and grade 1 recommendations. In reality, the probability of adherence to SSC guidelines for septic management is even lower than reported, given that the majority of sepsis management in African LMICs is likely performed by non-intensivists outside of intensive care units. Efforts to address the challenges of managing severely ill patients in LMICs have recently been taken on by the World Health Organization. After reviewing available evidence for sepsis management predominantly from high-income countries, a panel of experts developed a consensus-based strategy tailored for resource-limited settings. However, more research that can evaluate the challenges specific to sepsis management in LMICs and not currently addressed by the SSC guidelines is needed. Comprehensive, evidence-based guidelines combined with innovative approaches to sepsis management in LMICs are required to make a meaningful impact on worldwide sepsis survival.
PMCID: PMC3222070  PMID: 21345262
19.  Population screening for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiencies in Isabel Province, Solomon Islands, using a modified enzyme assay on filter paper dried bloodspots 
Malaria Journal  2010;9:223.
Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency poses a significant impediment to primaquine use for the elimination of liver stage infection with Plasmodium vivax and for gametocyte clearance, because of the risk of life-threatening haemolytic anaemia that can occur in G6PD deficient patients. Although a range of methods for screening G6PD deficiency have been described, almost all require skilled personnel, expensive laboratory equipment, freshly collected blood, and are time consuming; factors that render them unsuitable for mass-screening purposes.
A published WST8/1-methoxy PMS method was adapted to assay G6PD activity in a 96-well format using dried blood spots, and used it to undertake population screening within a malaria survey undertaken in Isabel Province, Solomon Islands. The assay results were compared to a biochemical test and a recently marketed rapid diagnostic test.
Comparative testing with biochemical and rapid diagnostic test indicated that results obtained by filter paper assay were accurate providing that blood spots were assayed within 5 days when stored at ambient temperature and 10 days when stored at 4 degrees. Screening of 8541 people from 41 villages in Isabel Province, Solomon Islands revealed the prevalence of G6PD deficiency as defined by enzyme activity < 30% of normal control was 20.3% and a prevalence of severe deficiency that would predispose to primaquine-induced hemolysis (WHO Class I-II) of 6.9%.
The assay enabled simple and quick semi-quantitative population screening in a malaria-endemic region. The study indicated a high prevalence of G6PD deficiency in Isabel Province and highlights the critical need to consider G6PD deficiency in the context of P. vivax malaria elimination strategies in Solomon Islands, particularly in light of the potential role of primaquine mass drug administration.
PMCID: PMC2924349  PMID: 20684792
20.  Community perceptions of mental health needs: a qualitative study in the Solomon Islands 
Psychosocial and mental health needs in the aftermath of conflict and disaster have attracted substantial attention. In the Solomon Islands, the conceptualisation of mental health, for several decades regarded by policy makers as primarily a health issue, has broadened and been incorporated into the national development and social policy agendas, reflecting recognition of the impact of conflict and rapid social change on the psychosocial wellbeing of the community as a whole. We sought to understand how mental health and psychosocial wellbeing were seen at the community level, the extent to which these issues were identified as being associated with periods of 'tension', violence and instability, and the availability of traditional approaches and Ministry of Health services to address these problems.
This article reports the findings of qualitative research conducted in a rural district on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Key informant interviews were conducted with community leaders, and focus groups were held with women, men and young people. Wellbeing was defined broadly.
Problems of common concern included excessive alcohol and marijuana use, interpersonal violence and abuse, teenage pregnancy, and lack of respect and cooperation. Troubled individuals and their families sought help for mental problems from various sources including chiefs, church leaders and traditional healers and, less often, trauma support workers, health clinic staff and police. Substance-related problems presented special challenges, as there were no traditional solutions at the individual or community level. Severe mental illness was also a challenge, with few aware that a community mental health service existed. Contrary to our expectations, conflict-related trauma was not identified as a major problem by the community who were more concerned about the economic and social sequelae of the conflict.
Communities identify and are responding to a wide range of mental health challenges; the health system generally can do more to learn about how this is being done, and build more comprehensive services and policy on this foundation. The findings underscore the need to promote awareness of those services which are available, to extend mental health care beyond urban centres to rural villages where the majority of the population live, and to promote community input to policy so as to ensure that it 'fits' the context.
PMCID: PMC2667440  PMID: 19284638
21.  Genetic mutations in Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) and dihydropteroate synthase (DHPS) in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands prior to the introduction of artemisinin combination therapy 
Malaria Journal  2014;13(1):402.
Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are endemic in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. While both countries have introduced artemether-lumefantrine (AL) as first-line therapy for both P. falciparum and P. vivax since 2008, chloroquine and sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) were used as first-line therapy for many years prior to the introduction of AL. Limited data are available on the extent of SP resistance at the time of policy change.
Blood spots were obtained from epidemiological surveys conducted on Tanna Island, Tafea Province, Vanuatu and Temotu Province, Solomon Islands in 2008. Additional samples from Malaita Province, Solomon Islands were collected as part of an AL therapeutic efficacy study conducted in 2008. Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum dhfr and dhps genes were sequenced to detect nucleotide polymorphisms.
All P. falciparum samples analysed (n =114) possessed a double mutant pfdhfr allele (C59R/S108N). Additionally, mutation A437G in pfhdps was detected in a small number of samples 2/13, 1/17 and 3/26 from Tanna Island, Vanuatu and Temotu and Malaita Provinces Solomon Islands respectively. Mutations were also common in pvdhfr from Tanna Island, Vanuatu, where 33/51 parasites carried the double amino acid substitution S58R/S117N, while in Temotu and Malaita Provinces, Solomon Islands 32/40 and 39/46 isolates carried the quadruple amino acid substitution F57L/S58R/T61M/S117T in DHFR respectively. No mutations in pvdhps (n =108) were detected in these three island groups.
Prior to the introduction of AL, there was a moderate level of SP resistance in the P. falciparum population that may cause SP treatment failure in young children. Of the P. vivax isolates, a majority of Solomon Islands isolates carried quadruple mutant pvdhfr alleles while a majority of Vanuatu isolates carried double mutant pvdhfr alleles. This suggests a higher level of SP resistance in the P. vivax population in Solomon Islands compared to the sympatric P. falciparum population and there is a higher level of SP resistance in P. vivax parasites from Solomon Islands than Vanuatu. This study demonstrates that the change of treatment policy in these countries from SP to ACT was timely. The information also provides a baseline for future monitoring.
PMCID: PMC4203929  PMID: 25311473
Plasmodium falciparum; Plasmodium vivax; Surveillance; Molecular markers; Sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine; dhfr; dhps; Vanuatu; Solomon Islands
22.  Observational Research on NCDs in HIV-Positive Populations: Conceptual and Methodological Considerations 
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for a growing burden of morbidity and mortality among people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). HIV infection and antiretroviral therapy interact with NCD risk factors in complex ways, and research into this “web of causation” has so far been largely based on data from high-income countries. However, improving the understanding, treatment, and prevention of NCDs in LMICs requires region-specific evidence. Priority research areas include: (1) defining the burden of NCDs among people living with HIV, (2) understanding the impact of modifiable risk factors, (3) evaluating effective and efficient care strategies at individual and health systems levels, and (4) evaluating cost-effective prevention strategies. Meeting these needs will require observational data, both to inform the design of randomized trials and to replace trials that would be unethical or infeasible. Focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, we discuss data resources currently available to inform this effort and consider key limitations and methodological challenges. Existing data resources often lack population-based samples; HIV-negative, HIV-positive, and antiretroviral therapy–naive comparison groups; and measurements of key NCD risk factors and outcomes. Other challenges include loss to follow-up, competing risk of death, incomplete outcome ascertainment and measurement of factors affecting clinical decision making, and the need to control for (time-dependent) confounding. We review these challenges and discuss strategies for overcoming them through augmented data collection and appropriate analysis. We conclude with recommendations to improve the quality of data and analyses available to inform the response to HIV and NCD comorbidity in LMICs.
PMCID: PMC4317266  PMID: 25117964
HIV/AIDS; Sub-Saharan Africa; resource limited settings; casual inference; loss to follow-up; cohorts
23.  The provision of critical care in emergency departments at Canada 
Critically ill patients are common in emergency medicine, and require expert care to maximize patient outcomes. However, little data is available on the provision of critical care in the ED. The goal of this study is to describe the management of critically ill patients in the ED via a survey of Canadian emergency physicians.
Materials and Methods:
A survey of attending physician members of CAEP was conducted by email. The survey was developed by the authors and internal validity was established prior to survey deployment. Data on physician demographics, hospital resources, use of invasive procedures, vasopressor/inotropic medications, length of stay in the ED and patient responsibility were assessed.
The survey response rate was 22.9%, with the majority of respondents possessing speciality training in EM (73.5%). Respondents indicated that critically ill patients were commonly managed in the ED, with 68.5% reporting >6 critically ill patients per month, and 12.4% indicating > 20 patients per month. Respondents indicated that the majority of critically ill patients remained in the ED for 1-4 hours (70%) after resuscitation, yet 18% remained in the ED for >5 hours. Patients with a “respiratory” etiology were the most common critically ill patient population reported, followed by “cardiovascular”, “infectious” and “traumatic illness”. Direct laryngoscopy was frequently performed (66.9%> 11 in the year prior to the survey) in the year prior to the survey, while other invasive procedures and vasopressor/inotropic medications were utilized less often. EM physicians were responsible for the management of critically ill patients in the ED, even after consultation to an inpatient service, and were often required to provided acute care to critically ill patients admitted to an ICU, yet remaining in the ED prior to transfer (20% reported > 50% of the time).
Our survey demonstrates that critically ill patients are common in Canadian ED's, and that EMP's are often responsible to provide care for prolonged period of time. In addition, the use of invasive procedures other then direct laryngoscopy was variable. Further research is warranted to determine the impact of delayed transfer and ED physician management of critically ill patients in the ED.
PMCID: PMC3214506  PMID: 22090743
Critical Care; inotrope; invasive procedures; length of stay; patient responsibility; resuscitation; vasopressor
24.  Prioritizing CD4 Count Monitoring in Response to ART in Resource-Constrained Settings: A Retrospective Application of Prediction-Based Classification 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(4):e1001207.
Luis Montaner and colleagues retrospectively apply a potential capacity-saving CD4 count prediction tool to a cohort of HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy.
Global programs of anti-HIV treatment depend on sustained laboratory capacity to assess treatment initiation thresholds and treatment response over time. Currently, there is no valid alternative to CD4 count testing for monitoring immunologic responses to treatment, but laboratory cost and capacity limit access to CD4 testing in resource-constrained settings. Thus, methods to prioritize patients for CD4 count testing could improve treatment monitoring by optimizing resource allocation.
Methods and Findings
Using a prospective cohort of HIV-infected patients (n = 1,956) monitored upon antiretroviral therapy initiation in seven clinical sites with distinct geographical and socio-economic settings, we retrospectively apply a novel prediction-based classification (PBC) modeling method. The model uses repeatedly measured biomarkers (white blood cell count and lymphocyte percent) to predict CD4+ T cell outcome through first-stage modeling and subsequent classification based on clinically relevant thresholds (CD4+ T cell count of 200 or 350 cells/µl). The algorithm correctly classified 90% (cross-validation estimate = 91.5%, standard deviation [SD] = 4.5%) of CD4 count measurements <200 cells/µl in the first year of follow-up; if laboratory testing is applied only to patients predicted to be below the 200-cells/µl threshold, we estimate a potential savings of 54.3% (SD = 4.2%) in CD4 testing capacity. A capacity savings of 34% (SD = 3.9%) is predicted using a CD4 threshold of 350 cells/µl. Similar results were obtained over the 3 y of follow-up available (n = 619). Limitations include a need for future economic healthcare outcome analysis, a need for assessment of extensibility beyond the 3-y observation time, and the need to assign a false positive threshold.
Our results support the use of PBC modeling as a triage point at the laboratory, lessening the need for laboratory-based CD4+ T cell count testing; implementation of this tool could help optimize the use of laboratory resources, directing CD4 testing towards higher-risk patients. However, further prospective studies and economic analyses are needed to demonstrate that the PBC model can be effectively applied in clinical settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
AIDS has killed nearly 30 million people since 1981, and about 34 million people (most of them living in low- and middle-income countries) are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte and one of the body's white blood cell types), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, and for people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. However, ART was expensive, and for people living in developing countries, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2003, HIV was declared a global health emergency, and in 2006, the international community set itself the target of achieving universal access to ART by 2010. By the end of 2010, only 6.6 million of the estimated 15 million people in need of ART in developing countries were receiving ART.
Why Was This Study Done?
One factor that has impeded progress towards universal ART coverage has been the limited availability of trained personnel and laboratory facilities in many developing countries. These resources are needed to determine when individuals should start ART—the World Health Organization currently recommends that people start ART when their CD4 count drops below 350 cells/µl—and to monitor treatment responses over time so that viral resistance to ART is quickly detected. Although a total lymphocyte count can be used as a surrogate measure to decide when to start treatment, repeated CD4 cell counts are the only way to monitor immunologic responses to treatment, a level of monitoring that is rarely sustainable in resource-constrained settings. A method that optimizes resource allocation by prioritizing who gets tested might be one way to improve treatment monitoring. In this study, the researchers applied a new tool for prioritizing laboratory-based CD4 cell count testing in resource-constrained settings to patient data that had been previously collected.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers fitted a mixed-effects statistical model to repeated CD4 count measurements from HIV-infected individuals from seven sites around the world (including some resource-limited sites). They then used model-derived estimates to apply a mathematical tool for predicting—from a CD4 count taken at the start of treatment, and white blood cell counts and lymphocyte percentage measurements taken later—whether CD4 counts would be above 200 cells/µl (the original threshold recommended for ART initiation) and 350 cells/µl (the current recommended threshold) for up to three years after ART initiation. The tool correctly classified 91.5% of the CD4 cell counts that were below 200 cells/µl in the first year of ART. With this threshold, the potential savings in CD4 testing capacity was 54.3%. With a CD4 count threshold of 350 cells/µl, the potential savings in testing capacity was 34%. The results over a three-year follow-up were similar. When applied to six representative HIV-positive individuals, the tool correctly predicted all the CD4 counts above 200 cells/µl, although some individuals who had a predicted CD4 count of less than 200 cells/µl actually had a CD4 count above this threshold. Thus, none of these individuals would have been exposed to an undetected dangerous CD4 count, but the application of the tool would have saved 57% of the CD4 laboratory tests done during the first year of ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support the use of this new tool—the prediction-based classification (PBC) algorithm—for predicting a drop in CD4 count below a clinically meaningful threshold in HIV-infected individuals receiving ART. Further studies are now needed to demonstrate the feasibility, clinical effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of this approach, to find out whether the tool can be used over extended periods of time, and to investigate whether the accuracy of its predictions can be improved by, for example, adding in periodic CD4 testing. Provided these studies confirm its early promise, the researchers suggest that the PBC algorithm could be used as a “triage” tool to direct available laboratory testing capacity to high-priority individuals (those likely to have a dangerously low CD4 count). By optimizing the use of limited laboratory resources in this and other ways, the PBC algorithm could therefore help to maintain and expand ART programs in low- and middle-income countries.
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 HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in several languages)
More information about universal access to HIV treatment, prevention, care, and support is available from UNAIDS
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
PMCID: PMC3328436  PMID: 22529752
25.  Pressure Ulcer Prevention 
Executive Summary
In April 2008, the Medical Advisory Secretariat began an evidence-based review of the literature concerning pressure ulcers.
Please visit the Medical Advisory Secretariat Web site, to review these titles that are currently available within the Pressure Ulcers series.
Pressure ulcer prevention: an evidence based analysis
The cost-effectiveness of prevention strategies for pressure ulcers in long-term care homes in Ontario: projections of the Ontario Pressure Ulcer Model (field evaluation)
Management of chronic pressure ulcers: an evidence-based analysis (anticipated pubicstion date - mid-2009)
A pressure ulcer, also known as a pressure sore, decubitus ulcer, or bedsore, is defined as a localized injury to the skin/and or underlying tissue occurring most often over a bony prominence and caused by pressure, shear, or friction, alone or in combination. (1) Those at risk for developing pressure ulcers include the elderly and critically ill as well as persons with neurological impairments and those who suffer conditions associated with immobility. Pressure ulcers are graded or staged with a 4-point classification system denoting severity. Stage I represents the beginnings of a pressure ulcer and stage IV, the severest grade, consists of full thickness tissue loss with exposed bone, tendon, and or muscle. (1)
In a 2004 survey of Canadian health care settings, Woodbury and Houghton (2) estimated that the prevalence of pressure ulcers at a stage 1 or greater in Ontario ranged between 13.1% and 53% with nonacute health care settings having the highest prevalence rate (Table 1).
Executive Summary Table 1: Prevalence of Pressure Ulcers*
CI indicates confidence interval.
Nonacute care included sub-acute care, chronic care, complex continuing care, long-term care, and nursing home care.
Mixed health care includes a mixture of acute, nonacute, and/or community care health care delivery settings.
Pressure ulcers have a considerable economic impact on health care systems. In Australia, the cost of treating a single stage IV ulcer has been estimated to be greater than $61,000 (AUD) (approximately $54,000 CDN), (3) while in the United Kingdom the total cost of pressure ulcers has been estimated at £1.4–£2.1 billion annually or 4% of the National Health Service expenditure. (4)
Because of the high physical and economic burden of pressure ulcers, this review was undertaken to determine which interventions are effective at preventing the development of pressure ulcers in an at-risk population.
Review Strategy
The main objective of this systematic review is to determine the effectiveness of pressure ulcer preventive interventions including Risk Assessment, Distribution Devices, Nutritional Supplementation, Repositioning, and Incontinence Management.
A comprehensive literature search was completed for each of the above 5 preventive interventions. The electronic databases searched included MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature. As well, the bibliographic references of selected studies were searched. All studies meeting explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria for each systematic review section were retained and the quality of the body of evidence was determined using the Grading of Recommendation Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) system. (5) Where appropriate, a meta-analysis was undertaken to determine the overall estimate of effect of the preventive intervention under review.
Summary of Findings
Risk Assessment
There is very low quality evidence to support the hypothesis that allocating the type of pressure-relieving equipment according to the person’s level of pressure ulcer risk statistically decreases the incidence of pressure ulcer development. Similarly, there is very low quality evidence to support the hypothesis that incorporating a risk assessment into nursing practice increases the number of preventative measures used per person and that these interventions are initiated earlier in the care continuum.
Pressure Redistribution Devices
There is moderate quality evidence that the use of an alternative foam mattress produces a relative risk reduction (RRR) of 69% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a standard hospital mattress. The evidence does not support the superiority of one particular type of alternative foam mattress.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress is associated with an RRR of 71% in the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers. Similarly, there is low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress is associated with an RRR of 68% in the incidence of deteriorating skin changes.
There is moderate quality evidence that there is a statistically nonsignificant difference in the incidence of grade 2 pressure ulcers between persons using an alternating pressure mattress and those using an alternating pressure overlay.
There is moderate quality evidence that the use of an Australian sheepskin produces an RRR of 58% in the incidence of pressure ulcers grade 1 or greater. There is also evidence that sheepskins are uncomfortable to use. The Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel noted that, in general, sheepskins are not a useful preventive intervention because they bunch up in a patient’s bed and may contribute to wound infection if not properly cleaned, and this reduces their acceptability as a preventive intervention.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of a Micropulse System alternating pressure mattress used intra operatively and postoperatively produces an RRR of 79% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a gel-pad used intraoperatively and a standard hospital mattress used postoperatively (standard care). It is unclear if this effect is due to the use of the alternating pressure mattress intraoperatively or postoperatively or if indeed it must be used in both patient care areas.
There is low quality evidence that the use of a vesico-elastic polymer pad (gel pad) on the operating table for surgeries of at least 90 minutes’ duration produces a statistically significant RRR of 47% in the incidence of pressure ulcers grade 1 or greater compared with a standard operating table foam mattress.
There is low quality evidence that the use of an air suspension bed in the intensive care unit (ICU) for stays of at least 3 days produces a statistically significant RRR of 76% in the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with a standard ICU bed.
There is very low quality evidence that the use of an alternating pressure mattress does not statistically reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers compared with an alternative foam mattress.
Nutritional Supplementation
There is very low quality evidence supporting an RRR of 15% in the incidence of pressure ulcers when nutritional supplementation is added to a standard hospital diet.
There is low quality evidence supporting the superiority of a 4-hourly turning schedule with a vesico-elastic polyurethane foam mattress compared with a 2-hourly or 3-hourly turning schedule and a standard foam mattress to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers.
Incontinence Management
There is very low quality evidence supporting the benefit of a structured skin care protocol to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers in persons with urinary and/or fecal incontinence.
There is low quality evidence supporting the benefit of a pH-balanced cleanser compared with soap and water to reduce the incidence of grade 1 or 2 pressure ulcers in persons with urinary and fecal incontinence.
There is moderate quality evidence that an alternative foam mattress is effective in preventing the development of pressure ulcers compared with a standard hospital foam mattress.
However, overall there remains a paucity of moderate or higher quality evidence in the literature to support many of the preventive interventions. Until better quality evidence is available, pressure ulcer preventive care must be guided by expert opinion for those interventions where low or very low quality evidence supports the effectiveness of such interventions.
Confidence interval
Grading of Recommendation Assessment, Development, and Evaluation
Intensive care unit
Medical Advisory Secretariat
National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel
Risk assessment scale
Randomized controlled trial
Registered Nurses Association of Ontario
Relative risk
Relative risk reduction
PMCID: PMC3377566  PMID: 23074524

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