I assume everyone is, like me, tired of (and stressed out about) the US election, so let’s take a break from that to take a quick look around at some interesting recent public health stories.
According to data released last month by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the maternal mortality rate in the US is rising, “defying global trends.” In a related article, Newsweek has a long piece on the ways that racism disproportionately disadvantages women of color in terms of maternal health care, exposing them to riskier pregnancies and deliveries; “even when controlling for age, socioeconomic status and education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that African-American women…face a nearly four times higher risk of death from pregnancy complications than white women.”
New research published in Radiology shows that playing football can affect the brains of children as young as 8. And, CMV Is a Greater Threat to Infants Than Zika, but Far Less Often Discussed.
Many of you perhaps heard about the fact that Médecins Sans Frontières this month turned down a donation of one million Prevnar13 vaccines from Pfizer. Prevnar13 is a vaccine which protects against a particular bacteria that causes pneumonia, the leading cause of death of children under 5 (1.4 million deaths per year), and is recommended for all infants. Pfizer makes USD 6.245 billion in revenue per year from this drug alone, but it is too expensive for MSF to purchase regularly. This article in The Atlantic details the problems with donations of this kind, the reasons for which MSF turned it down, and the opacity of vaccine prices on the global market.
Paul Farmer was interviewed by NPR’s Goats and Soda blog on the aftermath of the Hurricane Matthew in Haiti; he discusses the status of aid in the country, in what ways the hurricane is different from/worse than the 2010 earthquake, and the role of “resilience”: “I heard last week, well, the Haitians are resilient. That 12-year-old boy seemed bright and resilient but he needed to be on a breathing machine to survive. In Sierra Leone during Ebola, I knew three doctors and two were dead of Ebola by November and, let me tell you, they were plenty resilient. That’s why I worry about the term ‘resilient.’ Resilience is not the same as survival.”
This is an interesting story about a doctor in Lynn, Massachusetts who was diagnosed with an active Tuberculosis infection, the public health response that followed, and the state of TB resources in the US.
Anthropologist Wendy Orent published a piece in Aeon about the Black Death and the controversies surrounding its causes, which she claims were the combination of four “dark stars,” namely “germ, host, Empire, and flea.”
A project in India called WHP-Sky aiming to set up kiosks in rural places where patients can consult electronically with a doctor has garnered accolades and millions of dollars in funding (including USD 23 million from the Gates Foundation); however, an evaluation study has shown the program to have been largely ineffective, both in reaching people in the first place, and in providing better care than the uncertified medical workers to whom people in rural areas usually turn for care.
A trial of an apparently-effective birth control shot for men was cut short because of side effects, including mood disorders and depression which, as many women have since pointed out, have been part and parcel of female hormonal contraception since its invention.
A review in The Guardian of a new graphic book co-authored by a French psychiatrist and an illustrator called The Story of Sex: From Apes to Robots.
And, a few more non-public health bits:
An investigation by ProPublica revealed that Facebook allows advertisers to target users of certain “Ethnic Affinities” (which Facebook claims is not the same as race) while excluding others from seeing their ads. In the course of this investigation, ProPublica bought an ad in Facebook’s housing section, and “when [they] showed Facebook’s racial exclusion options to a prominent civil rights lawyer John Relman, he gasped and said, ‘This is horrifying. This is massively illegal. This is about as blatant a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act as one can find.’ ” In other Facebook news, Pacific Standard has a piece about how Zuckerberg and Chan’s pledge of USD 3 billion to control “all diseases” won’t work: Facebook Can’t Rescue Our Underfunded Science.
One of my favorite authors, Amitav Ghosh, wrote a piece in the Guardian about why climate change is absent from modern realist fiction writing. “Here, then, is the irony of the ‘realist’ novel: the very gestures with which it conjures up reality are actually a concealment of the real.”
And, the Ross Sea in Antarctica is now a protected area, making it the world’s largest marine reserve at nearly 600,000 square miles.
The Atlantic’s Future of Work Summit was this past week in Chicago.