LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08:  A woman draws a mural on a office window in Fitzrovia during International Women's Day on March 8, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. International Women's Day is annually held on March 8 to celebrate women's achievements throughout history and across nations. It is also known as the United Nations (UN) Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.  (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
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Women make up 70 per cent of the global health workforce but 30 per cent of its leadership. Twenty per cent of board chairs are women. And — at the current rate of progress — it will be 217 years before the gender pay gap is closed. For female health workers, International Women’s Day was as much an opportunity for taking stock as for celebration.

At least they now have a benchmark. The Global Health 50/50 project analyses policies at key institutions, but — as former New Zealand prime minister and UN official Helen Clark pointed out — its inaugural report hardly made uplifting reading. Only half have committed to gender equality and a third publish data by gender.

There are inequalities at all levels. Thirty per cent of European health ministers are women while, in the lab, women working in science and engineering — in the UK at least — earn 20 per cent less than male colleagues.

And to cap a torrid time for the development sector in the wake of the Oxfam scandalfemale aid workers from around the world used International Women’s Day to demand an end to sexual harassment and abuse in the sector and a “culture of silence, intimidation and abuse”.

The global health community has an important role in promoting the wider wellbeing of women — reproductive rights, for example, are under attack in richer and poorer nations alike — but reforming its own organisations would send a strong signal of their intent. 

Three questions

Frans van Houten, chief executive of Philips, the health technology group.

How have you transformed Philips?

We were a lighting company and in electronics. But with commodities, it is difficult to differentiate. It was underperforming. Since I became CEO in 2011 . . . I stepped up R&D. Our DNA is as inventors. We are the largest patent filers in Europe. The future is in health technology.

What is the current focus?

We have three divisions: diagnosis and treatment; connected care through informatics; and personal health. We should not shove our products on patients. We need to co-own the challenge. We should not provide a scanner but better diagnosis, not a device but treatment. We need to partner rather than sell a box. Data are the new gold for healthcare.

What is the role of your community life centres?

Our vision is to be the McDonald’s of primary care. We have six centres now in DRC, Kenya and South Africa. We use solar, clean water, education, hygiene, drone delivery and light to provide health, safety and allow people to study at night. We are serving 50,000 people at a cost of $15-$20 per patient per year. But scaling is a big challenge.


Stubbing out tobacco A global summit ramped up the rhetoric against Big Tobacco, accusing the industry of targeting vulnerable populations where regulations are weak. Philanthropist Michael Bloomberg launched a watchdog to “aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine public health”. (WCTOH, Tobacco Atlas, Guardian)

News round-up

Tackling TB The WHO aims to replicate its success in HIV drugs by bringing down the price of those for tuberculosis, a problem in India, which has the highest number of drug-resistant TB patients in the world. Giant rats are helping to sniff out solutions. (The Hindu, Devex)

Aid in war zones It is difficult for NGOs to keep their independence and neutrality in the middle of a conflict, especially in civil wars. This piece examines the example of the WHO’s intervention in Mosul, Iraq. (Devex)

Food fight English health authorities sent a message to the processed food industry in its fight against childhood obesity: change your recipes, reduce portion sizes or encourage switching to lower calorie products. MPs launched an inquiry into the issue. (FT, UK parliament)

Listeria fears The world’s worst listeria outbreak has so far killed 180 in South Africa. A popular type of sausage — the polony — is said to be the cause. (Reuters, BBC)

Lassa Fever The Lassa Fever toll in Nigeria continues to rise. The disease is one of a number of illnesses which can cause dangerous epidemics, but for which no vaccine currently exists. A global coalition is funding a drive to find one. (Pulse Nigeria, BBC, Stat)

Drip, drip of US health costs The FT has revealed US authorities were investigating whether companies aggravated a shortage of saline to boost profits. The problem shows how US healthcare is reliant on small groups of for-profit companies for essential supplies and lacks a regulator to control prices and marketing practices. The supply chain is too long and thin. (FT, Wired)

US deal frenzy Fevered M&A activity in US healthcare — spurred by Amazon's move into the sector — continued as insurer Cigna said it would buy pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts for $67bn. This video explains the role of the PBM in prescription drug pricing. (FT, Kaiser Health News) 

Opioid crisis worsening US health authorities charted an average 30 per cent rise in opioid overdoses in just one year, with the Midwest increasing by 70 per cent. Black urban populations were disproportionately affected. New research shows opioids are not as useful as painkillers as thought. (CDC, NPR, Jama) 

Brexit blues pt 94 Warnings of damage to the UK health sector came thick and fast as Brexit negotiations intensified. Fears were raised over research and staffing, on technology, and patient welfare on either side of a potential hard Irish border. (The Lancet, ABHI, National Health Executive)

Noise annoys Noise pollution is an underestimated problem that can cause hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, cognitive impairment, stress and depression. World Hearing Day reminded us that 466m people have disabling hearing loss and by 2050 it could affect one in 10. (Guardian, WHO)

Tainted blood scandal The struggle for justice continues in the “biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS”. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 4,000 haemophiliacs were infected with hepatitis C and HIV after being treated with contaminated blood products from the US, much of it from prisons with infected inmates. (The Guardian)

Fifty ideas to change the world

We asked readers, researchers and FT journalists to submit ideas with the potential to change the world. The latest tranche discusses advances in healthcare:

New diagnostic tools needed to stop antibiotic resistance
Gene editing
Video: Exoskeletons for factory workers
DNA sequencing
Brain implants
Nanobots to kill off tumours
3D-printing organs
Personalised mental health treatment
Apps to speed surgical recovery

Best from the journals

Climate change and health Hitting the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change is cheaper than tackling the associated costs on health, according to the first cost-benefit study on the subject. (The Lancet Planetary Health)

Pollution neglected Pollution is responsible for 9m premature deaths each year and accounts for many of the deaths from cardiovascular disease, stroke and lung cancer — but is neglected in global campaigns against non-communicable diseases. (The Lancet Planetary Health)

Unplanned pregnancies An estimated 44 per cent of pregnancies were unintended between 2010 and 2014. The rate fell by 30 per cent in developed regions while in developing areas it only dropped 16 per cent, illustrating the need for better sexual and reproductive health services in poorer countries. (The Lancet Global Health)

Diabetes danger The bestselling diabetes drug combinations in India have been found to be potentially dangerous and call into question the role of the multinational corporations behind their manufacture. India is often referred to as “the diabetes capital of the world”, with 60m affected by the type-2 disease. (BMJ)

Adapting to night shifts Working on night shifts is linked to an increased risk of sleep loss, occupational accidents, weight gain, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and various cancers. Here’s a review of the best evidence and opinion on how to adjust your sleep patterns. (BMJ)

Surreal-world data The use of “real-world data” in clinical trials is expanding but misunderstandings and misconceptions are hampering their usefulness. (BMJ)

Podcast of the week

Pollution and health Awareness is growing that pollution — and in particular the air pollution that kills 6.5m a year — is not just an environmental problem but a health issue. We talk to Dr Maria Neira of the WHO and Laurie Laybourn-Langton of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. (FT, 13m)

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Final thought

Health incentives Many companies pay lip service to the idea that fitter and healthier workers are more productive, but a company in New Zealand is putting the theory to the test — by paying its employees to cycle to work. Should others follow suit? (Guardian)

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