Public health issues plagued Asia Pacific through 2019

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Health articles were the most read in 2019. Copyright: Aisha Faquir/World Bank, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. This image has been cropped.

Speed read

  • Public health issues and solutions dominated Asia Pacific in 2019
  • Vaccine confidence plummeted with predictable results
  • Successful technological interventions were the bright spot

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Public health issues, infectious or otherwise, and ranging from vaccination to pollution dominated 2019.

As we bid farewell to 2019, here is an over-the-shoulder look at the best stories that the Asia Pacific edition produced in 2019.
Stories related to public health were easily the most popular. This month’s column by Crispin Maslog on funding universal health for all by 2030 garnered the highest traffic for the edition, suggesting the continuing concern for public health in these parts. That the article was released ahead of International Universal Health Coverage Day (12 December) added to its acceptability.

“Overall, the top seven stories for the edition were health-related while the next two were on technology in agriculture”

Joel Adriano and Ranjit Devraj

Vaccine-related issues were popular, especially stories about the measles and polio outbreaks in the Philippines resulting from a loss of public confidence in vaccination. The controversy generated over the new dengue vaccine Dengvaxia — which was branded a ‘killer vaccine’ and banished in the Philippines — had adverse consequences for the whole concept. Vaccine hesitancy was rampant throughout the region and even in small island states like Samoa there were close to 100 deaths from a measles outbreak linked to a serious drop in vaccination rates over the last three years.
We covered other public health stories ranging from emerging antimicrobial resistance to staple diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. While the rapid spread of African swine fever is not yet directly harmful to human health, we published a feature story focusing on concerns that the emergence of the incurable disease in pigs might force growers to shift to poultry production which, in turn, could raise the risk of another avian flu pandemic.
Overall, the top seven stories for the edition were health-related while the next two were on technology in agriculture — both opinion pieces. Just making it to the top 10 was a story about innovation where extracts from the leaf of the mango tree were found useful in protecting ships from rusting and were far cheaper, more effective and more environment-friendly than the synthetic paints currently used.
Technological interventions for sustainable development, our forte, found a place in a story on how satellite imagery was now being brought to bear on the environmental havoc caused by the global demand for palm oil and destruction of pristine rainforests to accommodate oil palm plantations. An opinion piece on ‘disruptive technologies’ transforming agriculture in the region was another example on the increasingly important role played by science and technology in the Asia Pacific. The story on the development of a vaccine against a new strain of typhoid in Pakistan was a case in point.
That five of the top 10 stories were either opinion pieces or feature articles indicated reader interest in longer, analytical pieces.
1. How to fund health cover for all by 2030?
2. Arsenic in groundwater – no silver bullet
3. Micronutrients can counter lead effects in blood pressure
4. Philippine disease outbreaks linked to vaccine fear
5. Pakistan rolls out new typhoid vaccine to fight resistant strain
6. Where there’s smoke: medical marijuana and the Philippine war on drugs
7. Brain-damaging West Nile Virus detected in Pakistan
8. Satellites check oil palm expansion in Borneo
9. ‘Disruptive technologies’ transform Asian agriculture
10. Mango leaf extract can stop ships from rusting

Environment-related stories
Much like the previous years, the region has seen its fair share of natural disasters. We followed these and, while our environmental stories did not make it to the top 10 most read articles, we maintained our presence with articles on green topics, environmental issues, studies and interests related to climate change and energy — particularly on renewables and the continuing use of coal. Drought and water-related concerns were not neglected either, given the predominance of agriculture in the region.
Haze and smog were big issues in 2019, with Indonesia seeing the worst peat fire since 2015, thanks to very dry weather following a major El Nino. Earlier in the year, Thailand suffered from smog while it was India’s turn to experience the same in November. In New Delhi, authorities were forced to declare a public emergency and shut down schools as the AQI crossed an impossible 1,000 mark, portending serious public health consequences of the non-infectious type — respiratory and cardio-vascular ailments. With the situation continuing into the New Year we know that there will be more of the same in 2020.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.