health

“Anyone who says that Africa is missing the Millennium Development Goals is missing the point.” You might expect such a tart statement about a canonical organising principle of development policy to come from one of the aid industry’s many curmudgeonly sceptics.

That it came instead from Jan Vandemoortele, a Belgian economist who helped create the United Nations MDGs in the first place, raises questions whether propagating a single set of targets to drive government policy across the entire developing and emerging world is worth doing at all. The “sustainable development goals”, successors to the MDGs, are currently being developed, but the unfortunate signs are that they will be yet more complex and yet less meaningful than the originals.

 

Tough times ahead for Russian smokers and for the international tobacco groups that feed their obnoxious habit: a ban on smoking in government buildings introduced last year was expanded to include all public places at the weekend, as the Kremlin stepped up the war on Russia’s estimated 40m cigarette addicts. 

Many global trade disputes involve the US and other developed nations ticking off emerging market upstarts for their naughty, protectionist practices.

But Indonesia has hit out at American hypocrisy over its failure to adequately respond to a 2012 ruling that Washington had violated World Trade Organisation rules by banning the sale of (mostly Indonesia-made) clove cigarettes for health reasons while permitting the sale of (equally harmful, US-made) menthol cigarettes. 

Last week Ranbaxy Laboratories, India’s biggest pharmaceuticals company, must have thought it had at last settled an eight-year dispute when it paid $500m in fines and compensation and pleaded guilty to felony charges related to production and distribution of adulterated drugs in the US.

But it isn’t over yet. Daiichi Sankyo – the Tokyo based drugmaker that paid quite a premium for a controlling stake in Ranbaxy back in 2008 – has taken the row to a new front. 

A recent conference held by the China Medical Board, a US foundation, on China and the Global Burden of Disease identified smoking as the third greatest risk to health in the country, behind dietary risks and high blood pressure but ahead of China’s deadly environmental pollution about which so much has been written.

Asia is one of the last great global bastions of smoking, with China and Indonesia – the first and fourth most populous countries in the world – setting the regional lead. China alone is home to more than a third of the world’s smokers, puffing away at a rate of more than 2tn cigarettes a year. 

Amid the noisy clatter of mezze plates being laid down inside a west Beirut restaurant, a woman lights up a cigarette, periodically resting it in one of the ashtrays that are placed on each table.

Six months in, such violations of Lebanon’s smoking ban are becoming an increasingly common sight.

 

In India, there are just nine hospital beds for every 10,000 people; 626m people are forced to defecate in the open for want of sanitary facilities; and local investors are looking abroad to escape unpredictable regulation and unreliable infrastructure at home.

And yet, when religion and revelry are at stake, this same country can pull it together and host the 55-day Maha Kumbh Mela festival, where 9m pilgrims are provided with all the shelter and services they need. 

Baijiu, the fiery Chinese liquor that has been around for thousands of years and is today a fast-growing multi-billion-dollar industry, has become the focus of China’s latest food and drink health scare

Russia is finally getting tough on tobacco with a new law that will ban smoking in public places by January 1, 2015 and increase taxes on cigarettes by as much as eight times over the same period.

In a video blog released on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the government would go ahead with the measures despite complaints from foreign tobacco producers, who managed to carve out a niche in Russia at a time when European and US sales were plummeting. 

Actis, the emerging markets private equity fund, has invested $32m in Asiri Hospital Holdings, a private hospital chain in Sri Lanka with five hospitals under its umbrella.

Asiri will use the proceeds to buy out minority shareholders in some of those hospitals as it prepares for further expansion in the country. The deal again underlines Sri Lanka’s appeal to foreign investors, attracted by sustained GDP growth of 7 per cent a year against a backdrop of economic downturn in the west. 

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos’s surprise admission on Monday evening that he has prostate cancer should not be a major scare for the country. The prognosis is good – he says that because it was discovered early, he has a 97 per cent chance of being totally cured. The treatment will take place this week and he will be able to “continue to exercise my functions as president”, albeit with some travel restrictions.

Aside from its own intrinsic importance, though, the news illuminates three other fascinating trends in the region. 

This Ramadan, Gulf residents received text messages with fasting tips to caution against overeating. The problem of expanding waistlines, however, is far from seasonal.

Kuwait, Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain all figure on the list of the world’s top ten most obese nations. Seventy-seven per cent of Kuwaitis are overweight and 34 per cent are obese, putting the tiny country just behind the US, according to the latest research based on UN and World Health Organization data.

But as the obesity epidemic spread across the Persian Gulf, so too has another American phenomenon – the rise of the weight loss cottage industry. 

Emerging markets will nearly double their spending on medicine over the next five years from $194bn in 2011 to $345-375bn in 2016, say healthcare analysts at IMS Health in a report on Thursday.

The Global use of Medicines: Outlook through 2016, says the expected rise comes from a combination of increasing income levels, the increased affordability of medicines and the roll-out of government healthcare programmes for poorer patients. 

Discussion on emerging market growth usually centres on how factors such as inflation, industrial production or even corruption can affect the economies of these countries.

However, a report released this week offers a timely reminder at how malnutrition, an obvious symptom of poverty, is eroding the economic prospects of developing nations, from India and Bangladesh to Peru and Nigeria, which are only just recovering after the fall-out of the financial crisis

It will come as no surprise that last week’s Chinese New Year holiday was a good one for luxury goods retailers worldwide, with Chinese spending $7.2bn overseas on their much-loved luxe (up 28.6 per cent from the holiday week in 2011, according to Chinese newspapers). Within China, retail sales were up 16 per cent from last year, to Rmb470bn.

But the Chinese press, which spent much of the past week dissecting various behaviours relating to the lunar new year holiday, found that all was not bling in the spring festival sales: this year there was a tendency to rent rather than buy cars; to travel rather than buy property – and, for that matter, to travel rather than buy a refrigerator.