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Global health news round-up: $100 million boost for Australian health tech, Japan’s loneliness task force

Another week, another boat-load of fascinating developments, stories and innovations in healthcare.

In the UK, we’ve seen the Wolfson Prize fund 2021 launch, asking people to design the hospitals of the future. Meanwhile, the British Heart Foundation announced funding for a “neglected area of cardiology”, and 40 mental health hubs were set up for NHS staff nationwide.

But what’s been going on elsewhere in the world? Find some of our favourite stories from across the globe this week, below.

Over in the US, Carnegie Mellon University and New York University conducted a study into the health and economic impacts of mHealth technologies, specifically on the outcomes of diabetes patients in Asia. Researchers wanted to find out how devices, such as smart phones, tablets and sensors encourage and persuade users to comply with reaching health goals.

The study monitored 1,070 people and found users became more motivated and engaged through autonomous self-regulation, leading to improved health outcomes. These included those who used the study’s mHealth app reducing their blood glucose and haemoglobin levels, while also exercising and sleeping more, eating healthier food and making fewer hospital visits. (Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College)

In Italy, the Emilia-Romagna region shared its report on “humanization practices” in health-care settings with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Regions for Health Network member created a ‘catalogue of practices’ featuring ideas and projects to promote ’empathy and autonomy’ and meet people’s relational needs.

Projects included fortnightly music therapy sessions for critically ill patients in ICU, music therapy for inmates, writing workshops for patients, support for perinatal loss, and meditative techniques for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The aim is to encourage people to ‘transform their reality’ through ‘shared responsibility’ and ‘collective participation in health management’. (WHO)

The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of AstraZeneca vaccine imports are sitting unopened in Germany, with people supposedly ‘rejecting’ the vaccine over fears it isn’t as effective as the BioNTech and Pfizer offering. The paper claims that, two weeks after a delivery of 1.45 million doses ‘only’ 270,986 have been administered – as per data from the Robert Koch Institute. (The New York Times)

In the Republic of Ireland, around 40 Defence Forces personnel received COVID-19 vaccinations in Ballyshannon. Troops from the 28th Infantry Battalion, who have been helping at swabbing centres around the country, were vaccinated ahead of plans to help out in vaccination centres. (HSE)

Earlier in February, Japan appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’ and this has now been followed up by the launch of a cross-ministerial task force to address social issues related to isolation. An interesting report from The Japan Times focused on what the nation is doing to tackle suicide and loneliness, after a rise in the former during the pandemic. (The Japan Times)

Meanwhile, Australia’s medical research and technology sector is to receive a $100 million (AUD) boost from the government. The funding is to be invested in the development of new technologies – to improve the diagnosis and treatment of conditions including strokes, epilepsy and lung diseases such as as COVID-19. Lightweight brain scanners for ambulances, lung scanners and AI platforms are the innovations highlighted in the Department of Health’s news. (Australian Government Department of Health)

And, finally, we end with good news from Israel, where data from its Health Ministry suggests that the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-91 vaccine reduces transmission and is ‘89% effective at preventing infection of any kind’. (Financial Times)