Top of the Morning: EU Wins Nobel Peace Prize; Indonesia Overrides Drug Patents; New Way to Track Malaria

Top stories from DAWNS Digest.

And the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Goes To….The European Union

A rather surprising choice. “The EU is currently negotiating with the Nobel committee for both Mr. Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy to go to the Nobel prize ceremony later this year, according to an EU official…In a joint statement, Messrs. Barroso and Van Rompuy said ‘it is a prize not just for the project and the institutions embodying a common interest, but for the 500 million citizens living in our Union.’ Mr. Barroso said the committee and the international community are ‘sending a very important message to Europe, that the European Union is something very precious, and we should cherish it, for the good of Europeans, and indeed for the good of all the world.’ [Nobel Committee member] Mr. Jagland said there was ‘total agreement in the committee and it was not difficult to come to the conclusion.’ He also acknowledged the current economic crisis. ‘The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.’” (WSJ )

Indonesian Government Overrides Major Drug Patents

A very big move in the long running battle between big Pharma and governments in the developing world. Point, Indonesia.“Indonesia’s government has quietly issued an order to override the patents on seven important medicines used to treat people with HIV and hepatitis B and allow cheap versions to be made by local drug companies. The “government use” order was made on 3 September, but with no fanfare and, as yet, no public outcry from the pharmaceutical giants which, in the past, used to defend their patents volubly and aggressively – through the courts as well as diplomatic back-channels. Times have changed somewhat, with much greater public awareness of the toll of treatable diseases and the high price of medicines in developing countries. The biggest fights now are in India, where Big Pharma is battling to preserve its patents, arguing that India’s thriving generic companies will sell not just to the poor but to the whole world. But what has happened in Indonesia is remarkable for its scale. It appears that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has decided to license the entire slate of medicines its population needs against HIV. It already had an order from 2007 for three older HIV drugs (efavirenz, lamivudine and nevirapine), but the new decree states specifically that this is “no longer sufficient”. The drug patents belong to Merck, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb, Abbott and Gilead. The drugs include Glaxo’s Abacavir and Abbott’s Kaletra, which are both useful combinations, as well as Gilead’s tenofovir (Viread), which treats hepatitis B as well as being the mainstay of the new prevention treatment for people whose partners are HIV positive. The order says the companies will receive a 0.5% royalty.” (Guardian

New Study: Tracking Malaria With Mobile Phones

Yet another mHealth solution: new research uncovers a novel way to understand the spread of malatia. “Harvard researchers found they could track the spread of malaria in Kenya using phone calls and text messages from 15 million mobile phones. “Before mobile phones, we had proxies for human travel, like road networks, census data  and small-scale GPS studies,”  said study author Caroline Buckee, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “But now that mobile phones have spread throughout the world, we can start using these massive amounts of data to quantify human movements on a larger scale and couple this data with knowledge of infection risk.” Buckee and colleagues used mobile phone records from June 2008 and June 2009 to track the timing and origin of calls and texts among 15 million Kenyan mobile phone subscribers. They then compared the volume of subscribers in a particular region to that region’s known malaria prevalence.  By studying networks of human and parasite movement, the team could then determine primary sources of malaria and who was most likely to become infected. The results, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggest that malaria transmission within Kenya is dominated by travel from Lake Victoria on the country’s western edge to the more central capital city of Nairobi.  And human carriers of the malaria parasite, who may not show symptoms, far outpace the flying limits of mosquitoes in endemic regions.” (ABC