Saturday, October 08, 2005

Yet another breakthrough for women's cancers...but what about access?

Merck's stunning breakthrough in the vaccine world is great news. The vaccine Gardasil has proven in clinical trials to be "100% effective" at protecting against the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is responsible for causing 70% of cervical cancers.

There are plans of routinely offering this vaccine to schoolgirls aged 10-13, before they become sexually active (one hopes!) and can be at risk for transmitting the virus. It will take about a generation to see a really big reduction in rates of cervical cancer. Until the vaccine comes on the market, pap smears will continue to be the only way of identifying precancerous cells.

Pap smear rates in the United States are around 86%. Of course, there are huge problems with access to care because 15% of the country doesn't have health insurance. How would a vaccine change this? It will mean one shot and you're done, as opposed to having to go in every year for a pap smear. Health insurance will cover those with it...but what about the 10 million children in this country who don't have any insurance at all? Can't we expect our government to provide it for free to these kids so that they don't risk getting cervical cancer? The costs of treating cancer are far greater than preventing it, and this new vaccine is the ultimate example. It would be unjust to confine a devastating virus to a socio-economic group that is least equipped to cope with treating it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Breakthrough in breast cancer drug availability in the U.K.

Thanks to a legal battle won by a breast cancer patient in the U.K., the drug Herceptin will be made available to patients on the state-funded National Health Service. Patients will be tested for the HER-2 receptor, a protein which is over-abundant in some breast cancer patients. HER-2 positive patients may benefit from using Herceptin and "of the 35,000 women diagnosed [in the U.K.] with breast cancer each year, about 20,000 are likely to be suitable for herceptin testing and around 5,000 should benefit from use of the drug."

The cost per patient is estimated at US$ 35 000.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Flu Pandemic Awareness Week

To heighten awareness of avian flu, the folks at Flu Wiki have declared October 3-9th Flu Pandemic Awareness Week. Although there haven't been any human-to-human transmissions of the H5N1 virus, some public health officials say it could happen any time and the World Health Organization warns of "between 5 and 150 million deaths" if it does.
Development of a vaccine is essential and there are several upcoming meetings to plan for a possible pandemic. The public's knowledge of the issue is key to making a difference in how officials respond and prepare for an emergency, and our input is vital. Flu Wiki offers some good ways to help here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bill Bennett's Final Solution

Even after the tragedies that unfolded during Hurricane Katrina, when it became so clear to us that this country is still divided on class and racial lines, you'd think that some people would be able to keep their mouths shut. Not the Reagan-era Secretary of Education, whose comments are inexcusable. Bill Bennett said to a caller "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. "
Oh, so as long as you say that it's "ridiculous" and "morally reprehensible", then you are a cut above facists like, say, Pat Robertson, who just go ahead and promote violence on the air?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Something to chew over

I have been meaning to post about British chef Jamie Oliver's efforts to reform School Dinners since I first heard about the program months ago. Today, I am finally getting around to it for a number of reasons. The news that junk food will be banned in U.K. schools from September 2006 is certainly encouraging and shows the influence that Oliver has had on public opinion and the government of late. I wonder if we could have similar success in the state of Massachusetts if we lobbied for a change? The Act to Promote Proper School Nutrition, H. 1457, will give us a chance to see if the public interest wins out. This Bill in the MA legislature hopes to:
  • Replace soda with healthier drinks, such as water, low- and non-fat milk, and juice.
  • Set healthy standards for fat and sugar in snacks.
  • Make fresh fruits and vegetables available in cafeterias.
With 9.9% of high school students in MA reportedly overweight, it really is high time for change. The Boston Public School menus are available online for elementary, middle and high schools. We can see what they eat for meals (and to me, it doesn't look too great - lots of fat, no?), but what is also really scary is what they have access to outside of class - from the vending machines. The spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, Kathleen Dezio, when informed about the proposal to pass the H. 1457 Bill, said "We believe very strongly that it is most appropriate for local school officials and parents to determine what products are appropriate for the students in their area...I don't want anyone at the state or federal level telling me what my sons should eat and drink."

Monday, September 19, 2005

A VIP comes to BWH...

$5 000 in room fees for Thomas Menino's 2003 and 2004 hospital stays that were written off by Brigham and Women's Hospital should be paid for by the Boston mayor. This may not be a lot of money for BWH or the taxpayers who may be expected to pick up his tab, but it sets a precedent. When thousands of people in this state and country are unable to pay for their healthcare and roughly half of those Americans who filed for bankruptcy in 2001 did so for medical reasons, it really doesn't seem right to give this man special treatment.

$1 billion pilfered from Iraq Defence Ministry

In what has been described by the Iraqi Finance Minister, Ali Allawi, as "possibly one of the largest thefts in history", "huge amounts" of money have been stolen from the coffers of the Defence Ministry in Iraq and was supposed to have been spent on training that country's army. Incredibly, the money went missing during an eight month period from 28 June 2004 and 28 February 2005. How does that sum of money go missing, seemingly without bring noticed? Well, when money is "spent without restraint", "contracts for large sums of money [are] short scribbles on a single piece of paper" and you have a cabinet committee that doesn't review contracts over $5 million because, apparently, the country is just too busy rushing to democracy.

How does this affect the public's health? This no doubt slows down the steps that the country was making towards democracy and hopefully peace. Given the current insurgency in the country, on assumes that the rogues who looted the Ministry are hoping to use at least some of money to fund their activities (i.e. kill and maim thousands of Iraqis) The rest? Well, no doubt Al Qaida will be getting their hands on it and thinking of new ways to kill people.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The disaster cleanup.

As many pause today to remember the victims of the September 11th 2001 attacks, let's not forget those who worked so hard to help save lives in the aftermath. Apparently, a report by the Government Accountability Office found that "Thousands of federal workers who helped untangle the wreckage of the World Trade Center may have never been examined or treated for medical problems stemming from the disaster." The Department of Health and Human Services was provided funds to examine workers and they just didn't use it all, resulting in undiagnosed illnesses and problems stemming from the cleanup of Ground Zero. Why wasn't it used? According to DHHS, they lacked a list of eligible federal workers, they didn't have the authority to help people who left their government jobs after 9/11 (maybe because they were sick or injured? Duh!) and the screeners just didn't know what to do with the results. Sounds like a combination of not caring and too much bureaucracy.

This report is particularly relevant today when we hear about the lengths that all kinds of workers are going to to secure New Orleans. Their work is delayed particularly when reluctant people refuse to leave the city, further risking their exposure to what's in the water. And what is in the water? This article says "At least 10 times the acceptable levels of sewage-related bacteria, including potentially lethal E. coli....gas, oil, lead". These people who are bravely trying to save lives now...is the U.S. government going to adequately provide for them if they are plagued by illnesses and other medical problems? What has the report from the GAO taught them?
(Incidently, I did go to the GAO site, have attempted to find the full text of this report and came up with nothing. Given that this was a recent report and has made all kinds of headlines, you'd think it would be in the "in the spotlight" sidebar of the site, but it wasn't. I did searches for "ground zero", "9/11 workers" and still nothing. Weird.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Arms sales up in the South.

Clearly fear is widespread in the South. Throughout New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston and Mobile, gun sales have gone up since Hurricane Katrina struck. I wonder- would this have happened if the federal government hadn't reacted so slowly and incompetently? Or is this the type of knee-jerk reaction that naturally occurs when there is a combination of fear and allowing (encouraging?) people to own guns.
Some of the people who have been coming in to purchase weapons have never even owned them...one storeowner talked of being "inundated by people seeking handguns and shotguns", selling since Katrina hit as many as they'd sell in a year, and still managing to give lessons to some of the buyers. Wow. Let's hope that he, and others, have taken on some extra staff. We don't want any of these new trigger-happys to be lousy shots or anything.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Teach your children well.

Clearly money doesn't buy you sense and Barbara Bush's comments (you can hear them here) about Hurricane Katrina victims shows something about what type of family our president comes from. I'd like to know how she thinks things are "working out very well" for the victims. Maybe because they're getting oxygen now, like this kid, so the people of the Gulf Coast should be grateful that the Lord struck them with this 'natural disaster'? Or now because they're getting showers, hot meals and somewhere to sleep in the Astrodome, they should be eternally thankful? Is this not the richest country on earth? Shouldn't these people have had these 'privileges' before the hurricane struck?
Not to mention that there are countless people who are worse off now. Financially, mentally, physically and emotionally. We might want to dismiss her comments as those coming from a crazy old bag. But this is our president's mother and the former first lady of the United States. I think that she owes people an apology.