Wrapping Up 2020’s Best Global Health Stories


Syrians Suffer as the World Looks Away

Early this year, Syria saw the largest single displacement of people since conflict began 9 years ago. More than 800,000 fled the fighting with nowhere to go but Turkey, as the Financial Times reported.

In January, aid agencies sent 1,200 trucks of emergency supplies into Idlib: “But do we have enough? No. Are we on top of things? No. The scale of the crisis is enormous,” said the UN’s Mark Cutts.

COVID-19 only added to the challenges. The virus was almost impossible to track, treat, or contain in a country most medical professionals have fled, as Al Jazeera reported in October.  

The UN Brought Cholera—Haiti Beat It

A decade ago, Haiti’s devastating earthquake was followed by a cholera outbreak that caught the country completely off guard.
It began at now-infamous “Minustah” UN base, from which sick peacekeepers’ waste flowed into a key river, wrote Jacob Kushner in this illuminating piece for The Guardian, which GHN featured in March.
While the key to treating cholera is simple rehydration, in a broken health system even that can prove a mammoth task.

Yet Haiti is going on 2 years with no cholera cases, wrote veteran Haiti reporter Jacqueline Charles in an excellent deep-dive for the Miami Herald. 

But, Charles writes, another glaring oversight remains: Reparations for Minustah’s negligence.


‘Climate of Terror’: China Forces Birth Control on Minorities

The AP reporters behind a harrowing investigation into the Chinese government’s draconian forced birth control campaign are unnamed—but they deserve recognition.
The campaign—aimed at limiting Muslim minority populations, such as Uighurs, while encouraging members of the Han majority to have larger families—systematically subjected minority women to pregnancy checks, forced sterilization, long-term birth control, and abortions over in recent years.
Those who didn’t comply were fined and sent to mass detention centers—creating a “climate of terror around having children,” the reporters found. It appears to be working: Birth rates in 2 Uighur-majority regions plummeted more than 60% from 2015–2018
China isn’t the only country that needs sunlight provided by investigative reporters: In September, reporters like Vox’s Nicole Narea helped expose involuntary hysterectomies of ICE detainees at a Georgia immigration detention center in the US.


Racing for Blood 

Whether or not Deborah would bleed to death depended on Joseph, the motorcyclist at the heart of “Blood Rider,” a captivating Jon Kasbe documentary that is our must-see of the year. 

The filmmakers spent a month embedded in a Lagos hospital, following 4 pregnant women and 3 blood-delivery drivers, including Joseph—who races through Lagos’ traffic-clogged streets for LifeBank. The project collects and delivers blood to patients—particularly women suffering from postpartum hemorrhage, saving ~10,400 lives in Nigeria and Kenya, writes Anakwa Dwamena in a companion piece in The New Yorker.


Hometown Births at Last for Inuit Women 

One of the first pieces we covered in 2020 focused on Inuit women in Canada. 

In the 1970s, the Canadian government pressured Inuit women in remote areas to travel south to give birth in hospitals—ostensibly to improve survival rates and reduce complications. 

“But for many Indigenous women, the policy turned pregnancy into an illness, and deprived them of care by traditional methods,” write Amber Bracken and Megan Specia in their moving must-read in the New York Times

Local elders stepped in, pushing for training to certify Inuit women as midwives. Thanks to their efforts, many Inuit women now give birth close to home, surrounded and celebrated by loved ones. 

One clinic turns on Christmas lights in the window to signal each birth—a sign of renewal to take us all into 2021, and the hope for a better year. 






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