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Tag: public health

COVID-19 Pandemic Puts Rural and Tribal Communities at Great Risk

Connie Chan
Brooke Warren
Phuoc Le

By PHUOC LE MD, CONNIE CHAN and BROOKE WARREN

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, we have been changing our daily lives to protect the highest-risk populations: older adults and people with chronic medical conditions. We are asked to follow sensible guidelines like social distancing and thorough hand-washing. Although one may have a gut-reaction to put their own safety at the forefront during these times of crisis, it is essential that we are taking the necessary steps to protect populations with additional vulnerabilities – rural tribal communities.

With the announcement that COVID-19 reached the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Confederation on March 9, 2020, it was evident the virus would not stay confined to urban and metropolitan centers like some previously predicted. The experience in China with COVID-19 clearly reflects the vulnerability of rural communities because many people travel routinely from urban to rural. Experts who conducted an epidemiological study in Hubei province, the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, noted in their report: “…most public medical resources are concentrated in cities but are relatively scarce in rural areas. Therefore, prevention and treatment of 2019-nCoV in rural areas will be more challenging if new phases of the epidemic emerge.”

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Still Fighting the Wrong Wars

By KIM BELLARD

What do the coronavirus and Navy ships have in common?  For that matter, what do our military spending and our healthcare spending have in common?  More than you might think, and it boils down to this: we spend too much for too little, in large part because we tend to always be fighting the wrong wars.  

Photo by STR/AFT via Getty Images

I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago due to a WSJ article about the U.S. Navy’s “aging and fragmented technology.”  An internal Navy strategy memo warned that the Navy is “under cyber siege” by foreign adversaries, leaking information “like a sieve.”  It grimly pointed out:

Our adversaries gain an advantage in cyberspace through guerrilla tactics within our defensive perimeters.  Once inside, malign actors steal, destroy and/or modify critical data and information. 

This is the Navy, after all, that proudly tried to modernize by installing touch screen technology on some of its ships, only to have the disaster that hit the USS McClain.  Its vaunted Integrated Bridge and Navigation System was, ProPublica found, “was a welter of buttons, gauges and software that, poorly understood and not surprisingly misused, helped guide 10 sailors to their deaths.”  And that wasn’t the only technology-enabled naval disaster in recent years.

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A System that Fails Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers

Connie Chan
Brooke Warren
Phuoc Le

By PHUOC LE, MD, CONNIE CHAN, and BROOKE WARREN

I recently took care of Rosaria[1], a cheerful 60-year-old woman who came in for chronic joint pain. She grew up in rural Mexico, but came to the US thirty years ago to work in the strawberry fields of California. After examining her, I recommended a few blood tests and x-rays as next steps. “Lo siento pero no voy a tener seguro hasta el primavera — Sorry but I won’t have insurance again until the Spring.” Rosaria, who is a seasonal farmworker, told me she only gets access to health care during the strawberry season. Her medical care will have to wait, and in the meantime, her joints continue to deteriorate.

Migrant and seasonal agricultural workers (MSAW) are people who work “temporarily or seasonally in farm fields, orchards, canneries, plant nurseries, fish/seafood packing plants, and more.”[2] MSAW are more than temporary laborers, though— they are individuals and families who have time and time again helped the US in its greatest time of need. During WWI, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1917[3] because of the extreme shortage of US workers. This allowed farmers to bring about 73,000 Mexican workers into the US. During WWII, the US once again called upon Mexican laborers to fill the vacancies in the US workforce under the Bracero Program in 1943. Over the 23 years the Bracero Program was in place, the US employed 4.6 million Mexican laborers. Despite the US being indebted to the Mexican laborers, who helped the economy from collapsing in the gravest of times, the US deported 400,000 Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens during the Great Depression.

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The Public Health To-Do List is Choking Doctors and Jeopardizing Patients’ Lives

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

“By the way, Doc, why am I tired, what’s this lump and how do I get rid of my headaches?”

Every patient encounter is a potential deadly disease, disastrous outcome, or even a malpractice suit. As clinicians, we need to have our wits about us as we continually are asked to sort the wheat from the chaff when patients unload their concerns, big and small, on us during our fifteen minute visits.

But something is keeping us from listening to our patients with our full attention, and that something, in my opinion, is not doctor work but nurse work or even tasks for unlicensed staff: Our Public Health to-do list is choking us.

You don’t need a medical degree to encourage people to get flu and tetanus shots, Pap smears, breast, colon and lung cancer screening, to quit smoking, see their eye doctor or get some more blood pressure readings before your next appointment. But those are the pillars of individual medical providers’ performance ratings these days. We must admit that the only way you can get all that health maintenance done is through a team effort. Medical providers neither hire nor supervise their support staff, so where did the idea ever come from that this was an appropriate individual clinician performance measure?

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Maternal Mortality – Separating Signal from Noise

By AMEYA KULKARNI, MD

When Samuel Morse left his New Haven home to paint a portrait of the Maquis du Lafayette in Washington DC, it was the last time he would see his pregnant wife. Shortly after his arrival in Washington, his wife developed complications during childbirth. A messenger took several days on horseback to relay the message to Mr Morse. Because the trip back to New Haven took several more, his wife had died by the time he arrived at their home.  So moved was he by the tragedy of lost time that he dedicated the majority of the rest of his life to make sure that this would never happen to anyone again. His subsequent work on the telegraph and in particular the mechanism of communication for the telegraph resulted in Morse code – the first instantaneous messaging system in the world.

Mr Morse’s pain is not foreign to us in the 21st century. We feel the loss of new mothers so deeply that, when earlier this year new statistics on the rate of maternal death were released and suggested that American women died at three times the rate of other developed countries during child birth, doctors, patient advocates, and even Congress seemed willing to move heaven and earth to fix the problem. As someone who cares for expectant mothers at high risk for cardiovascular complications, I too was moved. But beyond the certainty of the headlines lay the nuance of the data, which seemed to tell a murkier story.

First at issue was the presentation of the data. Certainly, as a rate per live births, it would seem that the United States lagged behind other OECD countries – our maternal mortality rate was between 17.2 and 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 6.6 in the UK or 3.7 in Spain. But this translated to approximately 700 maternal deaths per year across the United States (among approximately 2.7 million annual births). While we would all agree that one avoidable maternal death is one too many, the low incidence means that small rates of error could have weighty implications on the reported results. For instance, an error rate of 0.01% would put the United States in line with other developed countries.

Surely, the error rate could not account for half the reported deaths, right? Unfortunately, it is difficult to estimate how close to reality the CDC reported data is, primarily because the main source data for maternal mortality is a single question asked on the application for death certificates. The question asks whether the deceased was pregnant at the time of death, within 42 days of death, or in the 43 to 365 days prior to death. While pregnancy at the time of death may be easy to assess, the latter two categories are subject to significantly more error.

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YTH Live 2020

By ERIN MCKELLE

There are many public health conferences that focus on young people, or that center around youth issues, but very few that actually include the young people’s voices that we are claiming to uplift as public health professionals.

There are also very few conferences that emphasize innovation in healthcare, that are pointed towards solutions rather than discussing problems at length without clear ways of solving them.

These core issues are at the heart of the annual YTH Live conference. Each year (we’re on our twelfth!), we showcase the boldest technologies in health and cutting-edge research in all facets of youth health and wellness. We also have attendees that range from IT professionals to high school students, with over 25% of last year’s attendees and speakers being young people themselves.

YTH’s Communications Coordinator Erin McKelle has first-hand experience of this. “I first attended YTH Live when I was a senior in high school. It was the first conference I ever spoke at and all of my fears about being the only young person in the room were quickly put to rest, once I saw that YTH plans a youth conference that actually centers around youth voices,” she says. “I’m proud to now be working for the organization years later, after serving on the Youth Advisory Board, paying the mission of youth empowerment forward to the next generation of youth leaders.”

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Changing Health Behavior at the Population Level | Maureen Perrin, Public Health Epidemiologist

By JESSICA DAMASSA, WTF HEALTH

With everyone talking about health data and being able to impact population health thanks to AI and machine learning algorithms, it ONLY makes sense to talk to a good, ole’ fashioned Public Health Epidemiologist like Maureen Perrin about the science and the philosophy at work behind all that data. Smoking, sex, vaccinations, plastic straw bans — this interview has it all! (Well, mostly in the context of changing behavior at-scale to improve the overall health of very large populations of people.) As everyone from digital health startups to health systems look at data as a way to study then impact behavior change, Maureen reminds us that “data doesn’t always make a difference in terms of how we make decisions” as individuals. What else can you learn from someone who’s made it her life’s work to study how to influence behavior change to reduce everyone’s health risks? Watch and learn…

Filmed in the HISA Studio at HIC 2019 in Melbourne, Australia, August 2019.

Jessica DaMassa is the host of the WTF Health show & stars in Health in 2 Point 00 with Matthew HoltGet a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health.

We Can Stop America’s Surge in Opioid-Dependent Babies

By STUART H. SMITH

Imagine a massive public health crisis in the United States that affects tens of thousands of people. Now imagine that the government had a simple tool at its disposal that could prevent this kind of physical and psychological trauma. You might think that I’m writing about America’s deadly outbreak of gun violence, which has made headlines this summer from Dayton to El Paso.

But actually I’m talking about a different crisis that affects even more people – all of them children — and which could be sharply reduced with one simple step that lacks the bitter political animus of the gun debate. The issue at hand involves babies born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy – babies who tend to develop a condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS.

Experts say that state and federal governments have grossly underestimated the number of NAS babies currently born in the United States, as the addiction crisis triggered by Big Pharma’s greed in pushing painkillers refuses to fade. They say an accurate accounting would find a minimum of 250,000 children — and possibly two or three times that every year born with NAS. These kids will face chronic symptoms such as trembling and seizures, gastrointestinal problems, and an inability to sleep. Their numbers are more than eight times higher than the last official estimate from the government.

For more than a year now, I’ve been working with a team of attorneyscalled the Opioid Justice Team who are fighting for any settlement of the massive court fight pitting more than 2,000 localities against Big Pharma to include a medical monitoring fund for the estimated hundreds of thousands of kids born with NAS syndrome. But our team has also been pushing for radical measures that would prevent many of these unfortunate cases.

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Standing Rock Two Years Later: Public Health Lessons and the Physician’s Responsibility

By PHUOC LE MD 

A close look at disease and suffering would lead most of us to the same conclusion: our natural environment is inextricably linked to our health. When the Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in July 2016, thousands of water protectors from across the world gathered in protest. Through staunch, organized resistance, indigenous activists and their non-indigenous allies refuted the proposed pipeline, which now shuttles over 500,000 barrels of oil per day through the Standing Rock Sioux’s sole water supply and most coveted burial grounds.

In December 2016, I joined the thousands at Standing Rock to briefly bear witness to their commitment to protecting the health and well-being of future generations. Eager to assist, I provided medical care to these heroes, many of whom had given up their jobs, quit school, or come out of retirement in solidarity with the water protectors. Their determination and strength became even more inspirational when a blizzard brought -40° F in its wake, trapping everyone inside the camp for several days.

Photo Courtesy of Phuoc Le, MD

After battling corporate juggernauts, state governments, and fossil fuel lobbyists for months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies neared victory when the Obama administration denied a permit required for the pipeline’s completion. Just a couple of months later, however, President Trump authorized its advancement and on February 23rd, 2017, the U.S. National Guard evicted the final Standing Rock protestors from the Oceti Sakowin camp. Last week marks the two-year anniversary of that eviction.

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Everyone Has a Part to Play in Ending Vaccine Hesitancy

Felicia D. Goodrum Sterling

Heidi L. Pottinger

By FELICIA D. GOODRUM STERLING, PhD and HEIDI L. POTTINGER, DrPH, MPH, MA

The measles outbreak in Washington state this week has brought new attention to the anti-vaccine movement.  In fact, the World Health Organization recently identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of top threats to global health. In the US, the number of unvaccinated children has quadrupled since 2001, enabling the resurgence of infectious diseases long-since controlled.  In fact, the WHO claims a staggering 1.5 million deaths could be prevented worldwide by improved vaccination rates.

Amidst the media and public health outcry, a mystery persists:  Why has vaccine hesitancy continued, despite years of vigorous debunking of shoddy science?  The answer may lie in a deeply-rooted distrust of doctors and science.

One of the authors of this article, Dr. Pottinger, surveyed hundreds of Arizona parents, from schools with exemption rates greater than 10%, about their perceptions on vaccines. Pottinger and colleagues found the vast majority of the parents surveyed who delayed or chose not to vaccinate their children did so because of true personal beliefs and not convenience.  Specifically, they tended to distrust physicians and information about vaccines or held misperceptions about health and disease, including the idea that immunity by natural infection is more effective or that vaccine-preventable diseases are not severe.

These beliefs, stoked by a fraudulent 2010 study, have proven almost impossible to shake—despite the fact that the debunked study, based on 12 children, was retracted due to serious ethical violations and scientific misrepresentation; authors cherry-picked and fabricated data, and the first author had undisclosed business interests in the vaccine industry.

The failure of many interventions to dispel misinformation demonstrates the power of a complex interaction of confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, distrust in data sources, and personal experiences and narratives.  Taking them on requires that the healthcare community effectively spread the following messages.

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