Archive for the ‘public health’ Category

Make like Apple: Think Different

About half way through my term of service with AmeriCorps, I have written lesson plans for our new college counseling curriculum and I am building our volunteer managment program from the ground up. I can imagine these activities are similar  to the process needed to write a communication plan for a health behavior intervention and then work to train the community health workers that would education the community about that health intervention, but I can not be sure. I have amazed myself with how much my thought process has changed in such a short period of time. My first concern has become what is probable rather than what is possible for organizational sustainability. Where I used to focus on only the program I worked on, I now have to make tough decisions about our limitations.

I know that professional and personal development has improved as a result of my daring to think differently about my potential and my role in a nonprofit.

GlaxoSmithKline is daring to think different(ly)  as well by expanding access to medicines for neglected diseases in some of the least developed countries. The corporation also plans to open access to their medical technologies in development to other sciences to expand research on treatments for neglected diseases. Whether out of a moral obligation or the pursuit of a financial opportunity, this unprecedented level of access has the potential to help countless numbers of patients. Furthermore, this is the first time that I have heard of a private sector company acting on the reality that universal access to treatment while necessary is not sufficient for eradication of certain diseases.

There needs to be a simultaneous focus on expanding access and improving health systems to build capacity for increased usage. Even then, it is unlikely actions GSK takes now will become the only road for eradication of diseases. As a corporate social responsibility venture, GSK may reap the benefit of positive public relations and somewhat increased profits from the now possible sales. However, it is difficult to tell how many countries will be able to afford medicines even at these discounted profits. The real benefit for developing countries lies in the potential for increased research for neglected diseases that affect developing countries most. OneWorld Health is the only major nonprofit pharmaceutical company that focuses on research and development of treatments for neglected diseases; having a major Big Pharma company devote more time and resources might be enough to tip the balance for some substantive development.

Advertisements

News about mobile phones and public health and safety

I have come across quite a few great applications of mobile phones and technology in the public health and safety that would be nice to share.

1) Promoting HIV awareness through soap opera vignettes

A campaign developed at Rutgers University’s School of Nursing has produced a series of soap opera vignettes that demonstrate safer sex and proper condom use. Researchers believe that mobile phones provide an ideal delivery system because they allow women privacy and multiple viewings. I think that the ease of propagating this campaign by word of mouth through forwarding will allow it to have a larger impact.

Hat tip: @DigiActive on Twitter and on the Web

2) Protecting public safety at NFL games

The NFL has started a new service that will allow fans to text information about public disputes and disturbances in games so that they can be dispelled before escalating. Allison Fine at the Social Citizens blog speculates about future uses in creating safer communities by allowing citizens to safely report dangerous activities. While safe whistleblowing may open channels of communication somewhat, I think there is still a great deal of work to be done in increasing trust in and respect of authority if this were applied in the community context.

Hat tip: @socialcitizen on Twitter

3) Promoting adherence to DOTS, treatment for tuberculosis

Companies have finally started to realize the need for actively promoting adherence to DOTS, or directly observed treatment, short course, the recommended treatment for tuberculosis. DOTS requires that a health care worker directly supervise a patient that the drugs to treat the tuberculosis. However, due to a number of factors including a health care worker shortage and insufficient funds, this is not possible in many developing countries. Companies are working to increase access to mobile phones so that patients may receive text reminders to take medication.

Read The Lancet for more information.

4) Monitoring child growth and nutritional status in Malawi

Columbia University and UNICEF are the winners of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development 2.0 Challenge. Their project will establish a “RapidSMS” system that will allow health care workers to use basic mobile phones to share information about child growth and nutritional status in Malawi. This will be an interesting one to watch to see if they can scale it to other countries and other populations. The dearth of current statistical health information of many developing countries, particularly in Africa, makes measuring success difficult and distributing much needed resources properly impossible.


Make health and wellness a resolution that you can keep

20090106-fekgdrqs9hn4117s1w57mmgsgmNew Year’s resolutions are easier said than done. A partnership of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications aims to ease the pressure with Healthy Monday. Healthy Monday will be a weekly series of national health observances on – you guessed it – each Monday of this year designed to deliver evidence-based health campaign to reduce factors related to leading causes of death for Americans: poor diet and inactivity, smoking, and alcohol misuse.

I really like how this campaign has incorporated ways for individuals to take action as well as organizations to coordinate events and meetings. Activities such as the Monday Mile encourage participants to increase physical activity and you can get some support (and incorporate social persuasion to promote adherence) by starting and/or joining a Move It Monday club. My major criticism is that they seemed to have missed an opportunity to include elements of social networking. It would be great even if they had pointed out tools such as Google Calendar, Meetup and others to help groups coordinate better at the community level or encourage individuals not associated with the community to take on the responsibility of starting a group.

How not to express disagreement with an issue

I have not come across many causes that stir up so many fervent emotions as some of the issues in public health: reproductive rights, vaccines, and HIV/AIDS among those. When I tell people that I plan to study public health, they speak about the need to help sick people in the world in an abstract manner with little consideration for the nuts and bolts of public health. Speaking about health can be just as controversial as the typically taboo topics of politics, religion and sex because you find all three have a role to play in communication and interventions.

Alanna Shaikh highlighted five of the more contentious issues in public health. I have had a couple incidents involving opposing viewpoints regarding vaccine safety and efficacy and the cause of AIDS. My previous post about my change.org idea prompted an anonymous  comment that attacked me personally and included no scientific evidence to support claims that vaccines do more harm than good. I will repeat again that controversy over vaccine safety is largely a product of faulty communication, NOT faulty science. The development of vaccines represents one of the greatest successes of 20th-century medicine, making immunization of its own success.

My encounter with AIDS denialists that participated in the change.org Ideas competition echoed some of the vehement reactions seen on change.org’s Global Health blog regarding the recent tragic death of Christine Maggiore. As a person living with HIV who publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, Maggiore was a controversial figure who helped to perpetuate misconceptions about HIV and ARV therapy. I had an exchange with the author of the idea aiming to question the link between HIV and AIDS after he left a comment on my idea that questioned my intentions and motivation. I left a response on my wall and have copied it below just in case you are curious to read it.

I would like to let any future commenters know that disagreement is appreciated and encouraged. Just don’t resort to attacking me personally and then to proceed to not back up your argument with some valid, factual pointers.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

I received a nice surprise when I checked email today. Ben Rattray of change.org fame sent me an email saying that my idea made it to the final round of voting for the “Ideas for Change in America” competition.  The final round of voting begins at 8am ET on Monday, January 5th and ends at 5pm ET on Thursday, January 15th.

I have a favor to ask of you dear readers. Please vote for my idea, “Save Children from Preventable Diseases.” I can’t really provide any incentives other than the promise of good karma. C’mon, you want to do it. It’s for the kids. Vote here please!

Save Children from Preventable Diseases

Estimates show that approximately 11 million children die needlessly, primarily from preventable diseases such as measles, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Most of the medical interventions cost pennies per child.

While no one would say fighting major epidemics such as HIV and tuberculosis are very important, these preventable diseases kill hundreds everyday needlessly.

Vaccines are one of modern history’s most important medical innovations yet they remain out of reach for millions of children. Generally rough conditions without necessary refridgeration and proper storage keep health professionals from delivering vaccines to those who need them most. Supporting research for affordable, portable and electricity-free refridgeration will help to keep the doses sufficiently chilled as they are delivered to communities.

Water-borne diseases like diarrhea can be treated with oral rehydration salts. The administration can take a lesson from The Coca Cola project which aims to include oral rehydration salts with every distribution of Coca Cola in developing countries. There are also countless filters to purify the water sources that people are able to find. All that remains is educating about the need for clean water.

Looking outside of the major three diseases of HIV, TB, and malaria could be a cost effective way to save millions of lives.