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Top 5 Global Health Headlines: Crisis at Libya Border, Food Prices Hit 20 Year High

A man reaches for bread while waiting to cross from Libya into Tunisia. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Humanitarian Crisis at Libya-Tunisia Border

People desperate to leave Libya and the violent clashes between rebel groups and Moammar Gadhafi’s forces streamed to the Tunisia border this week, with as many as 10,000 to 15,000 people crossing each day. Many of those leaving are migrant workers from other countries, especially Egypt, and thousands were temporarily stranded at the crossing with no route home.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR reported a sharp drop in these numbers Friday, expressing concern over what factors might be keeping people from fleeing. At the border, the World Health Organization warned of the risks of disease epidemics among the crowds of thousands of people who have flocked to Tunisia’s southern border. World leaders also called this week for Gadhafi to open the borders to allow aid to be delivered to the population remaining in the country.

Food Prices Hit 20-Year High

Global food prices rose 2.2 percent in February, reaching their highest level in 20 years, since the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization began tracking levels.

Gains were driven by spikes in cereal and meat prices — and rising oil prices could push costs even higher. The FAO reports food prices in February were 34 percent higher than a year ago.

Clinton Defends State Department Budget

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the administration’s $47 billion 2012 budget request for diplomacy and development for the State Department this week, saying the United States is losing the “information war” at an international level and that foreign aid is important for both humanitarian and strategic reasons.

“If anybody thinks that our retreating on these issues is somehow going to be irrelevant to the maintenance of our leadership in a world where we are competing with China, where we are competing with Iran, that is a mistaken notion,” Clinton said.

The 16 percent cut to the agency’s budget proposed by Republicans in Congress would be “devastating” to U.S. national security, she said.

U.S. Global Clinical Trials Panel Formed

The revelation last year that U.S. researchers deliberately tried to give Guatemalans STDs for research purposes in the 1940s cast new attention on global clinical trial practices.

The Associated Press reported this week that a review of medical journals and press clippings found more than 40 studies in the United States in which researchers experimented on disabled people and prison inmates, including giving patients Hepatitis and injecting cancer cells into people. Most of the studies occurred between the 1940s to 1960s.

This week, White House advisers formed a bioethics panel for global trials that will evaluate the standard across international research. Participants will include experts from the U.S. and 10 other countries.

Reparations for Rape Victims

A U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights panel is calling for financial compensation for victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rape was a commonly used weapon in the more than decade-long war that raged in the country beginning in the 1990s. The thousands of rape victims face stigmatization, no legal recourse for the crimes and lack of access to needed medical and mental health services, the panel found.

It is recommending the creation of a fund for the victims, to be financed by the government of the DRC.

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