Research Roundup: WHO transformations, new funding model for health needed, and HIV reported cured in second patient
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On March 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced wide-ranging reforms in the organization’s structure intended to help it achieve its “triple billion” targets as part of its new five-year strategic plan—including one billion more people benefiting from universal health coverage, one billion more people better protected from health emergencies, and one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being. Among the reforms is the creation of a new chief scientist division formed “to strengthen WHO’s core scientific work and ensure the quality and consistency of WHO’s norms and standards.” Headed by Soumya Swaminathan who will serve as chief scientist, this division is also expected to offer and improve career opportunities for scientists at WHO. Other reforms include the creation of a new department of digital health, a division of emergency preparedness to complement WHO’s existing emergency response work, and a “WHO Academy” to train public health professionals. WHO officials have summed up the organizational transformation initiative as an effort to break down silos across WHO programs and ensure alignment among its offices worldwide.
A new report released by the G20 Health & Development Partnership on March 5 urges finance ministers to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing global health challenges by developing new financing models and increasing concerted activity for research and development. The report calls for innovative solutions to funding health, citing that ill health could cost the world billions in treatment and lost economic productivity. Alan Donnelly, convener of the G20 Health & Development Partnership, stated that tackling these health challenges are “no longer just an issue for health ministers, it is now an issue for heads of government and for finance ministers because of the threat to the global economy as well as to humanity.” The partnership released the report in advance of the joint G20 health and finance ministers meeting in Japan in June as an appeal to the finance ministers to “remove the silo walls around health care.”
For only the second time in history, a patient appears to have been cured of HIV. Like the first recorded case nearly 12 years ago, this outcome resulted from a bone marrow transplant initially intended to treat cancer. In both cases, transplants were from a donor with a mutation in a protein called CCR5, which rests on the surface of certain immune cells. The HIV virus uses this protein to enter those cells but cannot latch onto the mutated version. Although these transplants confirm for researchers that a cure for HIV is possible, bone marrow transplantation is unlikely to be a realistic treatment option in the near future due to the risk and harsh side effects involved—though rearming the body with immune cells modified to resist HIV may succeed as a practical treatment.