Top 5 Global Health Headlines: Food Aid for N. Korea, China’s Aging Population

BY Talea Miller  April 29, 2011 at 3:08 PM EDT

A malnourished North Korean boy. Photo by WFP/Gerald Bourke.

Emergency Food Aid Operation in North Korea

The U.N. World Food Programme will deliver more than $200 million in emergency food aid to North Korea over the next year, the agency announced Friday.

Crop losses and a severe winter have endangered lives and caused widespread chronic malnutrition among civilians, the group said. The government food rations reportedly provide only half of a family’s daily food needs, and securing food from outside the isolated communist state is extremely difficult.

China’s Aging Population

China’s elderly population is growing, and the country’s one child policy is contributing to a shift in demographics, according to the country’s latest census figures released this week.

Of China’s 1.3 billion people, 13 percent are over the age of 60, up from 10 percent a decade ago. Children under the age of 14 meanwhile have dropped, from 23 percent of the population to 17 percent in the same period. The new data is raising questions about caring for the elderly and China’s shrinking future workforce.

Rwanda’s Cervical Cancer Vaccine Campaign

The first major cervical vaccine campaign in an African country began this week in Rwanda, targeting girls between the ages of 12 and 15. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women around the globe, causing about 250,000 deaths each year.

Drug maker Merck is donating two million doses of its Gardasil vaccine over three years, and the maker of a diagnostic test for HPV is donating 250,000 tests.

A Check-List for Autism?

A brief checklist may help pediatricians detect autism as early as an infant’s first-year checkup, according to new research released on Thursday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Dr. Karen Pierce, a neuroscience professor at U.C. San Diego, got 137 doctors to screen their one-year-old patients using a short survey of questions like “When your child plays with toys, does he or she look at you to see if you’re watching?”

Despite the young age, Pierce believes the test picked up about half of those children with autism.

African-Americans’ High Rate of Maternal Death

In California, African-American women are dying of pregnancy-related causes at rates seen in some developing countries, and at four times the rate of white women in the state, according to a new report.

A 2007 Centers for Disease Control national breakdown showed a similar — but smaller– race gap, with black women at about three times the risk for maternal death as white women.