The difficult task of developing a vaccine for malaria appears to be making progress.  The RTS,S vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, has reduced malaria cases by about half in field trials, which is a significant breakthrough, even if not perfect.

It's frustrating, how much of a role fashion and politics play in determining where medical research is directed.  Ask the man on the street to name the disease that's devastating Africa, and nearly everyone will answer, "AIDS."  Granted, it's huge problem.  But I'd be willing to bet that lack of clean water, good nutrition, and basic health education and services is the bigger issue.  When it comes to research and funding efforts, since AIDS, being sex- and blood-borne, is nearly 100% preventable, while mosquito-transmitted malaria is nearly unavoidable if one lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, aren't our priorities a little skewed?

This is where I'd usually complain about all the effort and publicity that's gone into Viagra, a drug which at best enhances the quaility of life for a few, while over a million people die each year from malaria—but I'm pretty sure it's income from drugs like Viagra that make it possible for pharmaceutical companies to work on the more important issues.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 10:10 am | Edit
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A recent news story highlights the perils of giving birth in Afghanistan.  It's a great thing that midwives are being trained to help improve the country's appalling maternal mortality rate, which is as bad as it gets unless you give birth in Sierra Leone.  However, the article indicates to me that we are training them in the medical model of care when it comes to childbirth.  Given that childbirth is a natural and normal process for all but a small percentage of births, lack of access to (or willingness to use) doctors and hospitals is hardly the main problem.  Promoting the Midwives' Model of Care along with good nutrition and prenatal care would probably do more than anything else to reduce the grip fear, pain, and death on Afghani mothers.

Afghanistan needs Ina May Gaskin—albeit with a bit of censorship required, especially the part about orgasmic childbirth.  That wouldn't go over with the imams, no, not at all....
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Edit
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The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently doubled its recommendation of vitamin D intake for children, from 200 IU to 400 IU per day.  Not only is vitamin D important in the prevention of ricketts, but there is increasing evidence that its deficiency can promote type 2 diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.  Some doctors think 400 IU may not be enough.

This recommendation is all well and good, but I draw the line at this:  Breastfed and partially breastfed infants should be supplemented with 400 IU a day of vitamin D beginning in the first few days of life.  The reason?  [B]ecause of vitamin D deficiencies in the maternal diet, which affect the vitamin D in a mother’s milk, it is important that breastfed infants receive supplements of vitamin D. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 4:25 pm | Edit
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Years ago, when a friend recommended Airborne for staving off colds, I was skeptical, as I always am with such claims.  But after reading the ingredients and deciding they wouldn't hurt me (and I'm past the age of worrying that what I ingest will hurt someone else), I tried it.  And it worked.  Repeatedly.  The number and the severity of my upper respiratory tract infections were drastically reduced, even though I was travelling and visiting young children, two definite risk factors.  One year I had none at all.  Zero.  At the time, I exclaimed to all who would hear, "Maybe it really works, or maybe it's just the Placebo Effect.  I don't care.  I'm quite willing to pay a dollar a tablet for something that 'doesn't work' but so obviously improves my health."

The Federal Trade Commission disagrees, claiming there is no evidence for the efficacy of Airborne's products, and requiring the company to issue refunds for the price of up to six packages to those who request them.  That won't include me.  Not only am I not certain that $30 would be worth the paperwork involved, but more importantly, I don't see how I could in good conscience ask for a refund when the product worked.

Even Steven Gardner, director of litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which was part of a class-action lawsuit against Airborne, admitted, ""It is pretty much impossible to prove that it didn't prevent a cold if you don't get a cold."  And that's the point.  Doctors, lawyers, and the government can worry about advertising claims and scientific proof of efficacy, but my concerns have a narrower focus: if I don't get a cold, that's good enough for me.

Speaking of the Placebo Effect, here's an interesting story on how it relates to exercise and fitness.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 10:19 am | Edit
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Last night our neighbors called to ask if we had noticed a terrible odor.  They had just returned home after a few hours away and smelled something awful as soon as got out of the car; it was so strong they couldn't tell if it was widespread or localized.  We stepped outside of our house and smelled no more than the normal hot-and-humid Florida vegetation smells.

Until we approached their house, that is. We were then hit with what was, indeed, a foul odor.  But not, I was certain, a what-died-in-here? odor; it was something chemical rather than biological.  Don't get started on the truth that biology is also chemistry; I'd say it was an inorganic smell rather than organic, but that's not true either.  I know what I meant, and you would, too, if you'd smelled it. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 9:25 am | Edit
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Whenever I despair about unnecessary governmental interference in our lives and families, it's good to be reminded that we could be educating our children in Germany or giving birth in Israel.  Think about the Israeli system next time you're tempted to believe the government should be more involved in our health care.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 1, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Edit
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I don't recall the era of the 1960s with fondness; it wasn't all bad, but it was a messy, unkind time that accelerated our culture's decline in the areas of civility and decent behavior.  However, there must be more of the 60s in my make-up than I thought:  I'm finding good reasons to distrust The Man.  :)

Just as the National Education Association adamantly opposes home education, the American Medical Association, unnerved, perhaps, by Ricki Lake's popular home birth movie, The Business of Being Born, has taken direct aim at home birth.*  Reaction against yet one more threat to personal freedom has come from across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right.  Congratulations to the AMA for provoking agreement between pro-choice and pro-life groups.  Wink (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 28, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Edit
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Confessions of a Medical  Heretic, by Robert S. Mendelsohn, M. D. (McGraw-Hill, 1979)

A quick review of this so I can get it off my desk and back on the bookshelf:  There's no doubt that modern medicine has lengthened and improved our lives; the underside of that story is that modern medicine has also shortened our lives, and in many ways diminished their quality.  If you're not already half convinced of the second part of that statement, you'll find Dr. Mendelsohn's style hard to get through.  I believe him, and I still wanted to scream by about the 40th time he beat to death his otherwise illuminating analogy of modern medicine as a religion. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 23, 2008 at 6:31 am | Edit
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The spectre of mercury poisoning from dental fillings has made the leap from alternative medicine/tabloid fodder to official health concern, as the FDA now acknowledges the possible danger to children, unborn babies, and other sensitive populations.  I doubt it's worth having fillings replaced (which I'm guessing could release more mercury than leaving them alone), but certainly a good idea to check with your dentist.

I'd much rather get my mercury from eating tuna and swordfish. 
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 9, 2008 at 6:59 am | Edit
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I actually enjoy airplane food, perhaps because I don't eat it all that often.  It's part of the adventure of flying, and something to break up the monotony of a long flight.  But maybe next time I should wave away the attendent with the tempting tray.  Recent research has shown that fasting for about 16 hours can reset the circadian rhythms and speed adjustment to a new time zone.

At least if you're a mouse.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 6:36 am | Edit
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I don't enjoy reporting bad news, really.  It makes me sound old and curmudgeonly.  Okay, so I am old and curmudgeonly, but that's beside the point.  So today I feature an exciting story from the Philadelphia Inquirer:  Midwife Diane Goslin has emerged victorious from a court case in which the State of Pennsylvania accused her of practicing medicine without a license by assisting at home births.  (See my previous post.)  The author of the article, Angela Couloumbis, and the headline writer who created the title, Birthing Women Win Legal Decision understand that this victory is not about one person's profession, but about one of our most basic freedoms:  choosing where and with whom we will give birth to our children.

I could point out that some of the rejoicing may be premature: the State is considering appealing the decision, and the court only dealt with the charge of practicing medicine, not with the problem that Pennsylvania is not among the 22 states in this country that recognize the Certified Professional Midwife license.  There is cause for joy, to be sure, but not for letting down our guard.  But we'll take our victories one at a time, and be thankful for daily bread even if we're not certain of next week's provision.

Anything less would be curmudgeonly.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 10:00 am | Edit
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It's easy to dismiss the Yearning for Zion Ranch as a collection of kooks, but even kooks have rights in this country, or should. Innocent chidlren, especially, should have their rights firmly protected, including the right not to be torn from their homes without clear and compelling evidence of immediate danger.  Yet the State of Texas has abused the children of the Yearning for Zion families in just that way, on the strength of one anonymous phone call accusing one man of abusing his 16-year-old wife.  Over 400 children were turned over to strangers, subjected to medical examinations, and even though there was no evidence of abuse have still not been allowed to return home.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not to be confused with the "mainline" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormons) certainly is bizarre, and if they are forcing people to marry against their wills (underage or not), if they are breaking the laws of Texas, they are in the wrong.  But living in an isolated community, wearing old-fashioned clothing, and teaching one's children that obedience is a godly virtue are not crimes, no matter how odd they might seem to mainstream America.  If the laws against underage marriage have been broken, let them be investigated and prosecuted with due process, not with hysteria and actions that will forever scar young lives.

"Laws against underage marriage."  Hmmm, I wonder where the activists are?  The ones who think it's so natural for children to have sex that they're pushing for condom distribution in middle schools?  The ones who insist 13-year-olds need access to abortions—without parental consent or even notification?  It's okay for young teens to be sexually active and have abortions, but not okay for them to marry and have children?  Now that's what I call a bizarre belief system!
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Edit
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The other day we were told, by one whose buisness it is to predict these things, that no matter who wins the upcoming presidential election, our taxes are going up.  He may be right.  If they're serious about stimulating the American economy, raising American taxes seems a foolish approach, but the public keeps demanding more services, and there's always a bill for services rendered.

So I got to thinking, at lunchtime, as I munched on my barbecue potato chips, about Switzerland.  They have some wonderful potato chips there, somewhat like our barbecue variety, but better—though that impression may have been due to Favorable Emotional Circumstances.  One day I made a hasty stop at the grocery store and grabbed some food for a train trip, only to discover, too late, that I had paid over $5 for a medium-sized bag of chips!

The bag I was munching from was more than half again as large, and priced at $2.50.  I actually paid half that; I generally don't by chips unless they're on sale.  It occured to me that a price tag of $7.50 would be a significant deterrent; I would probably still buy them for very special occasions, but casual purchasing would defintely be out.  Thus it would be in my best interest, health-wise, if the potato chip manufacturers decided to triple their prices.  But they wouldn't do it.  Without illegal collusion in the industry, competition would force the price back down immediately.

Unless the government stepped in.  Imagine a $5/bag tax on potato chips; applied to all, no one manufacturer could undercut the market, and suddenly Americans just might start reducing their consumption.  I only pick on potato chips because they are my own weakness, but let's not stop there:  corn chips, soda, candy, cookies, Happy Meals—all those top of the food pyramid, artificial ingredient, and preservative heavy "foods" that make up so much of our modern diet and have nutritionists and health professionals wringing their hands.

Sin taxes have their problems, I know.  The last thing I want to do is create yet another opportunity for organized crime to fluorish.  (Pssst!  Wanna buy an Oreo?) But it would be my favorite kind of tax:  likely to provide significant income for the government, yet completely avoidable simply by eating as we know we should. 
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Edit
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One of the strangest and most difficult aspects of interacting with other people is discovering those areas which you consider to be so basic, so foundational, so obvious that you don't even think about them—until you run up against someone for whom they are not basic, and maybe not even important.

For me one of those givens is that you don't take food from a common dish and then put it back, and if your hands touch something on a common plate you take it, even if you didn't mean to.  Thus I find it particularly unnerving to watch at church potlucks, or <shudder> restaurant buffet bars, as folks violate those maxims repeatedly and egregiously, with no consideration for those behind them in line.  I'm not speaking particularly of children here; the adults are just as likely, sometimes more so, to be the offenders.

This raises two questions:  Is this really a matter of fundamental hygiene and common courtesy, or merely a particular, culture-specific custom?  I do hope not the latter, or I may have to stop eating away from home.


What are the habits that seem perfectly normal and natural to me, yet cause in others the stomach-turning reaction I experienced this morning?
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Edit
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I mentioned the advantages of my customized Google News page yesterday, and here today is another example of its serendipity. One of my categories is "Basel Switzerland," which I'll admit is not usually very interesting as it usually contains only stories about banks, drug companies, and the occasional Paris Hilton slip-up.  This morning, however, I was greeted by the headline, More Dairies Go Raw.  That sounded interesting, given my interest in foods natural and unpasteurized, and my observation that, while Switzerland does cheese very, very well, the milk—at least that available in the grocery stores—is less than stellar.  Just like here, everything is pasteurized and homogenized, and if you want skim milk (as I do), you are reduced to buying that which has been so denatured as to be able to sit, unrefrigerated, on the shelf for an indeterminant time.  No thanks; I got my dairy from yoghurt and cheese while we were there.

So what was a story from the Boston Globe doing in my Basel news feed? Because of these sentences:

Researchers at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Basel in Switzerland followed nearly 15,000 children ages 5 to 15 in Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany from 2001 to 2004. The study, sponsored by the European Union and published in 2007, found that children who drank raw milk had a lower incidence of asthma and allergies.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 8:51 am | Edit
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