An Idiot Wind Blows

a wind is sweeping the land
no wait, across our planet
the wind blows through the halls of power
no country is sacrosanct


mediocrity our new political watchword
on a good day!
on every other day
we would be considered blessed
to have mediocre leaders


the wind of the bigot
the ignorant
the illiterate autocrat
blows with vigour
no stone left unturned
all that stand in the way 
bashed, broken, ripped apart


theocracy takes flight
the hot air of idiocy
blows with venom
from the open gaping
vacuous mouths
of our elected leaders


even when they are eloquently
hoisted on their own petard
their praise singers and chorus lines
run to the fore
like court jesters of old


the halls are silent
laughter is absent
intentions are real, deceitful
wrestling power and control
from the blind electorate
who have realised to late
the error of their ballot cross
has now become a cross they cannot bear

© 2015 michael d emmerich

EMS – You Can Never Leave

Last thing I remember I was running for the door

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before

“Relax,” said the night man, “We are programmed to receive

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave”

EAGLES – Hotel California

EMS is like the Hotel California: “You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave” the memories, faces, successes and failures will always be with us. They dim at times over the years, but they are always there. I read a thought provoking and honest analysis on being a paramedic a few months back and have been mulling over her post, digging through ramblings from my field journals and the skeleton of a story I have been working on for about 2 years… these all prompted me to ramble further…

The blog post that triggered this article is: Unless you’ve been there, you wouldn’t understand: A Paramedics farewell to the job. Posted on February 10, 2015 by Di McMath

https://dimcmath.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/unless-youve-been-there-you-wouldnt-understand-a-paramedics-farewell-to-the-job/

One of the key issues for me is the ability/or lack thereof to detach from what we are doing and seeing; this drags one into the massively dehumanising temptation of EMS. I do feel that this dehumanisation is both inexorable and dangerous – as practitioners we need to know how to halt or slow it down. After 30 years of emergency medicine practise; I am still not entirely sure if we can entirely halt the process, which is why we can never fully check-out.

Being a fan of the poetry of Wilfred Owen, and as I reread his poems on a regular basis, I was drawn back to his poems during this thought process and found some further insight on reading “Insensibility”:

And some cease feeling

Even themselves or for themselves

Dullness best solves

The tease and doubt

The poem plays along the interesting juxtaposed lines of detached versus involved, and the varied degrees of these mindsets. Those of us in the profession have over the years dabbled with both approaches, the trick is for each individual to find his/her own balance. That is all part of the process of slowing down the dehumanising process. Finding this balance is key, if we do not, then we are doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of our past (mistakes as regards emotions and those of a clinical nature).

Emergency Medicine has the ability to dehumanise and diminish or renew and expand our powers of feeling. It is our choice to decide which path to follow. We realise soon on in our profession that this is one of the many choices that we have to make. How we deal with this choice determines how we deal with another key critical decision we as practitioners in the field are confronted with at numerous times in our career. Who lives or dies, or why do some people die despite our best efforts; and the pain of admitting defeat and saying okay, we need to stop now, the patient is deceased.

It is on these crucial scenarios, that I have to agree with the title of Di’s blogpost:

Unless you have been there you wouldn’t understand – Its sounds trite, but it is so true.

Trying to explain this process of immediate Triage, that at times needs to be done in very short time frames, less than a minute, is very difficult. Those are some of the choices we can never walk away from, and even when we do make them we cannot stop thinking about “What If?” the curse and bane of every paramedic. The cursed ability to second guess yourself long after the fact on an ongoing basis. It is here where we as emergency medicine practitioners are faced with the dehumanising and diminishing or the renewing and expanding of mental and medical health.

The goal of our profession should be a living force in the quest for and prevention of human suffering, but that sometimes comes at the cost of our own mental health. As we enter, continue in and exit this amazing profession, lets consider the cost to those we have served and continue to serve. All we can do as practitioners is warn, and that is why the practitioner needs to be truthful.

Updated:

Read these 2 poems I wrote on the cost of service:

https://mikesnexus.com/2017/04/23/at-what-cost/

https://mikesnexus.com/2016/10/30/god-is-in-session/

MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS – A GROWING PUBLIC HEALTH BURDEN

My latest Blog post for This Week in Global Health:

http://www.twigh.org/twigh-blog

Road Traffic Crashes do not just happen! They are caused by Fatal Moves (actions) by a driver. The message is simple – DON’T DO FATAL MOVES!” @FatalMoves

1990 to 2010: Deaths from road traffic injuries increased by almost half.

The largest category of fatal events are transport related. In 1990, according to Global Burden figures, these were the 10th leading global killer. By 2013, they were fifth! Ahead of malaria, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis or any kind of cancer. In part, this is because of progress against these diseases. But it also because as incomes have risen worldwide, more people are buying, and crashing, motorbikes and cars.

Most global road traffic deaths occur in low and middle-income countries and are rapidly increasing because of the growth in motorisation. Mortality rates caused by traffic related injuries are increasing in low and middle-income countries and they account for 48 percent of the world’s vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s road traffic fatalities. Pedestrians are most often affected, followed by car occupants and motorcyclists. Alcohol plays a key factor in the drivers and pedestrians, notably in South Africa, where as many as 65% of all pedestrians have increased blood alcohol levels. Conversely, traffic deaths are decreasing in high-income countries, Sweden is an excellent case study that we will review further on in this article.

10 countries are responsible for 600,000 road traffic deaths annually (see the MikeBloomberg link in the references below, to see if your country is on the list). Each year, 1.3 million people die in car accidents, so these 10 countries are responsible for nearly half of all road deaths! India tops the list for the highest overall number of road deaths, followed by China and the U.S.

If public health leaders are to catch up on accident prevention, the Global Burden of Disease study (Lancet links below) findings can help them see where and how. “Now that somebody’s done the work and we recognize that there’s a difference we may not have seen before, we can go to work and ask why,” said Dr. Schauben

Besides the rapidly rising fatalities we must also take cognisance of the rising number of injured persons and their cost on the (Global) health burden. Road-traffic crashes were the number one killer of young people and accounted for nearly a third of the world injury burden, a total of 76 million DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years) in 2010, up from 57 million in 1990. Most of the victims were young, and many had families that depended on them, who know have to rely on other sources of support, in most instances, the state.

What does the current research then tell us about this rapidly rising burden on global public health; transport injury prevention shows that collective action is as important as individual efforts. Motorcycle helmets, car seatbelts and sober drivers are important, but so are safe vehicles, consistent law enforcement and a reliable infrastructure. Thanks to a combination of insufficient, nonexistent or poorly enforced safety laws, poor infrastructure and a lack of enforcement and corrupt enforcers, the bulk of the countries globally keep aiding and abetting in the deaths of over 1.3 million persons annually! Only 28 countries, representing 449 million people (7% of the world’s population), have adequate laws that address all five risk factors (speed, drunk driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints). Over a third of road traffic deaths in low and middle-income countries are among pedestrians and cyclists. However, less than 35% of these countries have policies in place to protect their road users.

India has the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of road fatalities in the world (250,000), despite the fact that its population is much smaller than neighboring China and there are more vehicles on the roads in the USA than in India. “A large proportion of these deaths can be prevented by simple measures. The most important of these is strict enforcement of traffic rules, which is conspicuous by its absence in our cities as well as on highways,” says the Times of India, and this would be true of the top 10, and also of the country where I reside, South Africa, where 47 persons die each day!

Further compounding the cost of the traffic fatalities is the actual real cost impacting on the affected countries economies; many who cannot afford to have the extra burden on their already strained public health budgets. The economic cost of road collisions to low and middle income countries is at least $100 billion a year! The risk of dying as a result of a road traffic injury is highest in the African Region (24.1 per 100 000 population) It’s such a big problem, in fact, that the U.N. feels it needs an entire decade to fix it. In 2011, the U.N. launched a “Decade of Action” that aims to “stabilize and then reduce” global road traffic fatalities by 2020.

Is there any good news? Sweden is one success story, in 2013 only 264 people died in road crashes, a record low. How have they done this? Planning has played the biggest part in reducing accidents. Roads in Sweden are built with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped. Globally we need to reduce human error, or eliminate the opportunity for drivers to make fatal moves; human error can even further be reduced, for instance through cars that warn against drunk drivers via built-in breathalysers and making the implementation of safety systems, such as warning alerts for speeding or unbuckled seatbelts/child-seats, compulsory on all new vehicles, built in any factories across the globe.

Individually we need to be aggressive in safe and sober driving habits and not allow our friends and family to place themselves, their passengers and fellow pedestrians at risk by not looking kindly on their unsafe driving practises. Bad and drunk driving should become as unpopular as using a cellphone while driving.

References:

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2814%2961682-2/fulltext

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2962037-6/fulltext

http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/road-traffic-accidents/by-country/

http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.A997

http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.A998

http://mikebloomberg.com/Bloomberg_Philanthropies_Leading_the_Worldwide_Movement_to_Improve_Road_Safety.pdf

MANAGING THE GLOBAL BURDEN OF CHRONIC ILLNESSES

An article on an EMS blog caught my eye in the past week:

COPD was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2011 and is expected to become the third-leading cause of death worldwide by 2020.

Source:

Hoyert DL, Xu JQ. Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. Natl Vital Stat Rep, 2012; 61(6): 1–65.

Lopez AD, Shibuya K. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: current burden and future projections. Eur Respir J, 2006; 27(2): 397.

This caused me to dig up a presentation I did in 2006 at a Fitness Seminar, wherein I was discussing chronic medical conditions, which are caused by poor lifestyle choices and I noted then:

In 1999 CVD contributed to a third of global deaths. In 1999, low and middle income countries contributed to 78% of CVD deaths. By 2010 CVD is estimated to be the leading cause of death in developing countries. Heart disease has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries.

I further stated:

Chronic illness have overtaken communicable disease as a major cause of death and disability worldwide. chronic diseases, including such noncommunicable conditions as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease, are now the major cause of death and disability, not only in developed countries, but also worldwide. The greatest total numbers of chronic disease deaths and illnesses now occur in developing countries.

I then dug deeper to see how this has changed since 2006, and the outlook has become even more bleak!

More than 75% of all deaths worldwide are due to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCD deaths worldwide now exceed all communicable, maternal and perinatal nutrition-related deaths combined and represent an emerging global health threat. Every year, NCDs kill 9 million people under 60 years of age. The socio-economic impact is staggering. These NCD-related deaths are caused by chronic diseases, injuries, and environmental health factors. Important risk factors for chronic diseases include tobacco, excessive use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.

The world now suffers from a global epidemic of poor lifestyle choices! Medically we call them chronic illnesses or NCD’s, but the issue at hand is that they can be avoided, reversed and prevented; with smarter lifestyle choices. The why and the how of these lifestyle choices is a debate for another blog, but poor socioeconomic conditions, poverty, malnourishment and diets deficient in basic nutritional building blocks all form part of this dynamic.

These poor lifestyle choices and the death, illness, and disability they cause will soon dominate health care costs and should be causing public health officials, governments and multinational institutions to rethink how they approach this growing global challenge. To exacerbate the matter; the deaths, illnesses and disability are spiralling at even faster rates in the developing world, where the infrastructure is even weaker than in the developed world.

causeofdeathdevelopingcountries

It is estimated that by 2020 the number of people who die from ischemic heart disease will increase by approximately 50% in countries with established market economies and formerly socialist economies, and by over 100% in low- and middle-income countries. Similar increases will also be found in cerebrovascular disease (Stroke) by 2020!

This is indeed a frightening prospect; NCDs are expected to account for 7 of every 10 deaths in the world! The overextended healthcare systems in Africa and Asia will battle to cope with these spiralling patient numbers.

A (positive) point to ponder as we consider this bleak outlook; the principal known causes of premature death from NCDs are tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and harmful alcohol consumption – all of these are preventable and manageable; as they relate to personal choices. Therefore we need to focus on creating a environment where these same individuals can make the correct choices which will have a positive impact on their lives. This is where governments, aid agencies and multi-nationals should focus their energies, and the approach should be more carrot than stick, which is not the case at present.

Reference’s:

http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/128038/1/9789241507509_eng.pdf

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND DUTY OF CARE – HEALTH INSURANCE AND ASSISTANCE

“Between one in two and one in three expatriates has no international health insurance”
International Private Medical Insurance Magazine from the report: International And Expatriate Healthcare And Insurance 2014

I believe this to be a very accurate statement notably, with regard to the African continent (where I spend most of my time), this figure might even be flattering to some companies employing expat staff in Africa.

The globally mobile population has grown dramatically. There are over 50 million expatriates, and by 2020 this will be 60 million. 232 million people now live away from their country of birth.
Between one in two and one in three expatriates has no international health insurance, although a minority is covered by domestic health insurance. Several countries seek to get expatriates and migrants to pay for healthcare or have compulsory health insurance.

This is a disturbing issue, as too many companies are happy to send their staff abroad, or to remote work sites, without any or inadequate medical cover; be it insurance or assistance. This shows very poor duty of care. In discussions with some of these companies, when trying to assist them with advice on even basic assistance packages or client managed services, their responses are troubling; when viewed against the light of corporate responsibility and duty of care. To defer the responsibility to the employee and abdicate corporate responsibility, should be cause for concern.

The duty of care of the employer, is a term that is often thrown about and The UN Global Compact, is one way that companies are being encouraged to show a greater duty of care, although some would cynically say that Corporate Social Responsibility is a box-ticking exercise, companies are just paying lip service, but do no more than is necessary to avoid affecting the bottom line. The UN Global Compact, is engaging over 8,000 companies in more than 145 countries on human rights, labour standards, environment and anti-corruption, hopefully at the same time pushing to commit to a sustainable workforce, via duty of care and corporate social responsibility.

The level of care offered by companies, will depend where the company is registered, as to what laws could be enforceable, hence most companies register an off-shore shell for hiring, staffing and contracts. (this is in itself a topic for another day – relating to contracts, taxes etc.)

Possibly other avenues should be explored, with respect to medical assistance/insurance; by pushing that investors use their muscle, ensuring that their investment capital is being well managed. Staff that cannot be properly cared for (ex-pat and local), via medical cover that is in place, place a further drain on company resources, shifting capital away from its intended purpose. A well managed corporate health care plan, ensures ongoing confidence in the company.

Till now I have only been speaking about expat staff, but the issue of medical care for local staff would also need to be addressed, in fact poor care for expat staff, could be viewed as an indicator of poor care for local staff. The ever growing impact of business on society means that staff, investors and consumers expect corporate power to be exerted responsibly, the corporate community will have to step up its game and build greater trust with respect to duty of care. Business are being expected to do more in areas that used to be the exclusive domain of the public sector – ranging from health, education and to community investment.

Having insurance/assistance programs from reputable companies, linked to well managed onsite managed health care programs, which is in place for ALL staff, makes good business sense. This then empowers staff to work safely in environments that might be deemed risky, allowing them to work with confidence and be fully focussed on their daily tasks.

Reference’s:

http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/2788557/international_and_expatriate_healthcare_and

https://www.unglobalcompact.org/abouttheGC/thetenprinciples/index.html

HEALTH ISSUES ON THE AFRICAN HORIZON FOR 2015

As 2014 draws to a close and we review what has happened over this past year, we also look forward to 2015 and all of it challenges. Numerous organisations and commentators have written of the challenges that lie over the horizon for 2015, as regards Global Health. From my own experience of working on the continent I have identified the following challenges for 2015 for Africa.

Some of the issues/challenges overlap and/or influence one another. They do not stand alone, the one can exacerbate the other.

1. Water

Water, on its own, is unlikely to bring down governments, but shortages could threaten food production and energy supply and put additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions. Water plays a crucial role in accomplishing the continent’s development goals, a large number of countries on the continent still face huge challenges in attempting to achieve the United Nations water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

Africa faces endemic poverty, food insecurity and pervasive underdevelopment, with almost all countries lacking the human, economic and institutional capacities to effectively develop and manage their water resources sustainably. North Africa has 92% coverage and is on track to meet its 94% target before 2015. However, Sub-Saharan Africa experiences a contrasting case with 40% of the 783 million people without access to an improved source of drinking water. This is a serious concern because of the associated massive health burden as many people who lack basic sanitation engage in unsanitary activities like open defecation, solid waste disposal and wastewater disposal. The practice of open defecation is the primary cause of faecal oral transmission of disease with children being the most vulnerable. Hence as I have previously written, this poor sanitisation causes numerous water borne disease and causes diarrhoea leading to dehydration, which is still a major cause of death in children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent on the planet and the demand for water and sanitation is outstripping supply in cities” Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT

2. Health Care Workers

Africa has faced the emergence of new pandemics and resurgence of old diseases. While Africa has 10% of the world population, it bears 25% of the global disease burden and has only 3% of the global health work force. Of the four million estimated global shortage of health workers one million are immediately required in Africa.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) deliver life-saving health care services where it’s needed most, in poor rural communities. Across the central belt of sub-Saharan Africa, 10 to 20 percent of children die before the age of 5. Maternal death rates are high. Many people suffer unnecessarily from preventable and treatable diseases, from malaria and diarrhoea to TB and HIV/AIDS. Many of the people have little or no access to the most fundamental aspects of primary healthcare. Many countries are struggling to make progress toward the health related MDGs partly because so many people are poor and live in rural areas beyond the reach of primary health care and even CHW’s.

These workers are most effective when supported by a clinically skilled health workforce, and deployed within the context of an appropriately financed primary health care system. With this statement we can already see where the problems lie; as there is a huge lack of skilled medical workers and the necessary infrastructure, which is further compounded by lack of government spending. Furthermore in some regions of the continent CHW’s numbers have been reduced as a result of war, poor political will and Ebola.

3. Ebola

The Ebola crisis, which claimed its first victim in Guinea just over a year ago, is likely to last until the end of 2015, according to the WHO and Peter Piot, a scientist who helped to discover the virus in 1976. The virus is still spreading in Sierra Leone, especially in the north and west.

The economies of West Africa have been severely damaged: people have lost their jobs as a result of Ebola, children have been unable to attend school, there are widespread food shortages, which will be further compounded by the inability to plant crops. The outbreak has done untold damage to health systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hundreds of doctors and nurses and CHW’s have died on the front line, and these were countries that could ill afford to lose medical staff; they were severely under staffed to begin with.

Read Laurie Garrett’s latest article: http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/12/24/pushing-ebola-to-the-brink-of-gone-in-liberia-ellen-johnson-sirleaf/

The outcome is bleak, growing political instability could cause a resurgence in Ebola, and the current government could also be weakened by how it is attempting to manage the outbreak.

4. Political Instability

Countries that are politically unstable, will experience problems with raising investment capital, donor organisations also battle to get a foothold in these countries. This will affect their GDP and economic growth, which will filter down to government spending where it is needed most, e.g.: with respect to CHW’s.

Political instability on the continent has also lead to regional conflicts, which will have a negative impact on the incomes of a broad range of households,and led to large declines in expenditures and in consumption of necessary items, notably food. Which in turn leads to malnutrition, poor childhood development and a host of additional health and welfare related issues. Never mind the glaringly obvious problems such as, refugees, death of bread winners etc…

Studies on political instability have found that incomplete democratization, low openness to international trade, and infant mortality are the three strongest predictors of political instability. A question to then consider is how are these three predictors related to each other? And also why, or does the spread of infectious disease lead to political instability?

5. Poverty

Poverty and poor health worldwide are inextricably linked. The causes of poor health for millions globally is rooted in political, social and economic injustices. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health. Poverty increases the chances of poor health, which in turn traps communities in poverty. Mechanisms that do not allow poor people to climb out of poverty, notably; the population explosion, malnutrition, disease, and the state of education in developing countries and its inability to reduce poverty or to abet development thereof. These are then further compounded by corruption, the international economy, the influence of wealth in politics, and the causes of political instability and the emergence of dictators.

The new poverty line is defined as living on the equivalent of $1.25 a day. With that measure based on latest data available (2005), 1.4 billion people live on or below that line. Furthermore, almost half the world, over three billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day and at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

MEDICAL RESEARCH – AN EVIDENCE BASED APPROACH TO GLOBAL HEALTH

A question posed by Jessica Taaffe on twitter, who is a TWIGH panelist, is my inspiration for this weeks blog. The question posed was: If you were to list three major research gaps for access to medicines what would they be? I posted 2 comments to that statement, the 140 characters per tweet, was not enough to fully weigh into the matter, so I am using this weeks post as a soapbox to expand further.

Firstly you might be asking what does this have to do with global health? In a nutshell, it has a huge impact, access to medicines, is dependent on the research that underpins it, it is the foundation on which medicine that we use stands. How firmly it stands depends on the strength of the research. If the road travelled to arrive at the end product is not evidence based (we will discuss the vagaries of this shortly), we then run the risk of having a flawed product, or even in some cases a product that never sees the light of day, (see my blog on Politics and Medicine).

The two comments I posted to twitter stated that evidence based medicine must be driven by independent clinicians, scientists and medical policy makers. Furthermore I stated that Levels of Evidence A (LOE – A) must be the benchmark. We cannot just be led by the large multinationals (Pharma and Medical Device Industries), they can most certainly push money into research, but the parameters of that research must be in the hands of independent clinicians, shared decision making can and must play a key role. This is a huge challenge but must be addressed, we need to claim back the labs and work alongside the drug and medical device industries

So what is evidence based medicine , why is it important and why do I say the we need to adhere to LOE -A?

Evidence based medicine grew out of critical appraisal, when Gordon Guyatt took over as the director of the internal medicine registry programme at McMaster University. He wanted to change the program so that physicians managed patients based not on what authorities told them to do but on what the evidence showed worked. It then appeared in an article in “The Rational Clinical Examination” series in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1992.

The strength of evidence is assessed by a specific grading system which, in fact, is quite simple. It combines a description of the existence and types of studies supporting a certain recommendation.

-Level of evidence A: recommendation based on evidence from multiple randomized trials or meta-analyses

-Level of evidence B: recommendation based on evidence from a single randomized trial or non-randomized studies

-Level of evidence C: recommendation based on expert opinion, case studies, or standards of care.

So the highest standard to attain is LOE – A, is this always the case? In 2009, a very interesting paper was published in JAMA, assessing the strength of evidence underlying the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) practice guidelines. They were reviewing recommendations to see if they were based on strong levels of evidence (LOE – A) and how much is based on “expert” opinion.

In only 11% of the guidelines published was LOE – A the benchmark, and most of the current guidelines included more than 50% of LOE – C as the standard! The authors correctly concluded that “expert opinion remains a dominant driver of clinical practice, particularly in certain topic areas, highlighting the need for clinical research in these fields”. I am sure if we had to review other areas of medical research we will be in a similar ballpark.

I can cite numerous examples from my own area of speciality where we have used certain drugs for years, with no studies definitely stating that they were beneficial to the patient, but there use was continued because of expert opinion, what drove that expert opinion is open to debate.

The Internet has also allowed incredible access to masses of data and information. However, we must be careful with an overabundance of “unfiltered” data. As history, as clearly shown us, evidence and data do not immediately translate into evidence based practice.

This is where the Cochrane Review stands the test of time, as it enable the practice of evidence-based health care, where health care decisions can be made based on the best available research, which is systematically assessed and summarised in a Cochrane Review. Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care.

In closing then, to come back to the original question; what three major research gaps for access to medicines:

  1. Research must be evidence based with LOE-A as the gold standard

  2. Research must be driven by independent clinicians, scientists and medical policy makers

  3. Research needs to be taken back to the labs and institutions who will research what is needed globally.

We would need large NGO’s such as the WHO and the European Research Council (amongst others) to monitor and guide where research needs to be focussed. We need to thank all scientists, inventors, and researchers who are motivated by the need to know, the thrill of discovery,and the desire to make a positive contribution to mankind as a whole and acknowledge the right of people to the common ownership of medicines/vaccines etc. which are basic to their common and individual well being, as to life itself.

As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff puts it, “Empathy is at the heart of real rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice. Empathy is the reason we have the principles of freedom and fairness, which are necessary components of justice.”

MALNOURISHMENT – A GROWING CONCERN – Food as a Weapon

The number of hungry people has fallen by over 200-million since 1992, so says the 2014 Hunger Map and a report titled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World: Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition” jointly prepared by World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

They go on to say that 805 million people, or one in nine of the world’s population, go to bed hungry each night. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, this is even worse, with one in four people suffering from undernourishment. The report says that sub-Saharan Africa faces the most severe challenges in securing its food; mainly due to sluggish income growth, high poverty rates and poor infrastructure, which hampers physical and distributional access.

It states: “In general, in Africa, there has been insufficient progress towards international hunger targets, especially in the sub-Saharan region,”

The report also says limited progress had been made in improving access to safe drinking-water and providing adequate sanitation facilities, while the region continues to face challenges in improving dietary quality and diversity, particularly for the poor. I did some work in the Southern DRC (based out of Lubumbashi in 2006) and we noted then that dehydration, was the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Dehydration as the result of diarrhoea, caused by unsanitary drinking water. For those who survive they are then in turn faced with stunted growth, which is made worse by poor food nourishment.

This report just published confirms that the situation has not changed in the past 8 years, limited progress had been made in improving access to safe drinking-water and providing adequate sanitation facilities. In fact the report notes, that progress has been so poor, that the WFP target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015, will not be realised.

The report highlights the following to move forward:

1. Sustained political commitment at the highest level
2. Placing food security and nutrition at the top of the political agenda
3. Creating an enabling environment for improving food security and nutrition through adequate investments
4. Better policies, legal frameworks and stakeholder participation
5. Institutional reforms are also needed to promote and sustain progress.

Plus an integrated plan focussing on:

1. Public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity
2. Better access to inputs, land, services, technologies and markets
3. Measures to promote rural development
4. Social protection for the most vulnerable (persons and countries)
5. Including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters
6. Specific nutrition programmes, especially to address micro-nutrient deficiencies in mothers and children under five.
As reports go it is a very good piece of work tackling many complex issues and outlining clear broad action plans. As with most reports though, I take issue with their expected outcomes, to broad, not specific and in my opinion, to broad. Its like position papers from government departments or even aid agencies. It does not tackle the problem head stating what is at fault and what needs to be done in clear action plans; to do that will require stepping on toes or worse – maybe even naming names!

Regional conflicts, greedy power hungry warlords all demanding access to food, how it is priced and distributed. This can affect when and if crops are planted, and who gets the produce, and they who sells it. Food can be and is used as a weapon, to control people or even to get votes, Zimbabwe and South Africa are cases in point.

The cost of food is then another key factor, Lester Brown wrote in 2011’s “Food Issue” of the Foreign Policy magazine:

Americans generally spend less than 10% of their income on food, but there are 2 billion people who live in poverty around the globe who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food.

A slight increase in the cost of food for these persons could be life or death, and the costs when they do escalate, are beyond the control of the consumer, at times manipulated by external forces, for their own (political or economic) gain.

On a sad and macabre note, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China ventured beyond their borders in 2008 to grow grain in cheaper regions, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, where, of course, people where starving and did not get any of the planted grain.

So where to from here; I think if we cast our eyes to Burkina Faso, we might see a way out, People Power. The people need to speak and speak loudly in the only way the politicians and regional leaders will listen.

Politics and Medicine

Politics and Medicine

“Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”—Rudolf Virchow

Politics is defined as “organised human behaviour”, thus we can postulate that Medicine is micro managed organised human behaviour, at times right down to the molecular level. If we examine the Ebola outbreak/s (globally) and how it is being managed on a macro (politics) and micro scale (medicine) we can begin to see the cracks in the system, and hopefully then move to addressing these cracks, before they begin yawning chasms that are not repairable.

The region (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) has had success (we could add Nigeria and Senegal to the successes) and failures in both areas. Neither is Spain and the USA exempt from this analysis as can be noted from the various press releases (government and medical) over the past few months.

Since the first outbreaks in 1976 (Sudan and The DRC) till the current one in West Africa; care has generally been palliative and symptomatic, questions have often been asked during this period; What of a vaccine and/or other means of treating the infected patients? There was a report in the British Sunday Times (12/10/14), cited a Cambridge University zoologist as saying that “it is quite possible to design a vaccine against this disease” but reported that applications to conduct further research on Ebola were rebuffed because “nobody has been willing to spend the twenty million pounds or so needed to get vaccines through trial and production”. Globally this has been one of the failures of the pharmaceutical companies, and most probably even the WHO, for not pushing harder over the years to get this in motion.

In her 1994 book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance Laurie Garrett: warned that there are more than 21 million people on earth “living under conditions ideal for microbial emergence.” Garrett when on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for reporting on Ebola. In 1995 Joshua Lederberg, the American molecular biologist said: “The world is just one village. Our tolerance of disease in any place is at our own peril. Are we better off today than we were a century ago? In most respects, we’re worse off. We have been neglectful of the microbes, and that is a recurring theme that is coming back to haunt us.”

Jump forward to the 23rd of September 2014, US President Obama issued an unprecedented ‘Presidential Memorandum on civil society  recognising that:

Through civil society, citizens come together to hold their leaders accountable and address challenges that governments cannot tackle alone. Civil society organisations…often drive innovations and develop new ideas and approaches to solve social, economic, and political problems that governments can apply on a larger scale.

If we look at the current crises in West Africa civic leaders are what is missing, hence the inability to track and trace potential infected persons, motivate communities to change risky behaviours (handing of the deceased), agitate with government to create better health care systems, this all adds fuel to the fire of the current epidemic.

Have we listened and learnt as governments, NGO’s and Multinational Pharmacare companies since then?

Despite Medical Advances, Millions Are Dying, this is a banner from 1996, not 2014! from the WHO, which was “declaring a global crisis and warning that no country is safe from infectious diseases, the World Health Organization says in a new report that diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, Hanta, Mad Cow, tuberculosis, etc., killed more than 17 MILLION people worldwide last year”.

As Laurie Garrett wrote in her the closing section of her book, The Coming Plague, “In the end, it seems that American journalist I.F. Stone was right when he said, ‘Either we learn to live together or we die together.’ While the human race battles itself, fighting over ever more crowded turf and scarcer resources, the advantage moves to the microbes’ court. They are our predators, and they will be victorious if we, Homo sapiens, do not learn how to live in a rational global village that affords the microbes few opportunities. It’s either that or we brace ourselves for the coming plague.”

Time is short.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, said Monday 20/10/2014). We do seem to be going in circles… circa 1995.. have we learnt nothing from history.

Sooner or later we learn to throw the past away History will teach us nothing Sting – Musician, singer-songwriter

Where have all the people gone, long time passing?

Where have all the people gone, long time ago?

Where have all the people gone?

Gone to graveyards, everyone.
 Oh, when will they ever learn?

Oh, when will they ever learn?

Pete Seeger – American folk singer and activist