Global Health Weekly News Round-Up

Politics and Policies:

  • The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will begin exercising its authority given under a 2009 law, power to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products that they believe pose public health risks.
  • In an effort intensify campaign to publicize new health insurance options and to persuade consumers, the White House is recruiting mayors, county commissioners and other local officials.

Programs:

  • A health check program has been launched in Accra, in order to reach out to the people of Ghana who are challenged with non-communicable diseases (NCDS), in an affordable and effective way.
  • The United Kingdom (UK) is starting a rotavirus vaccination program to protect the babies from infection which causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration.
  • Ben & Catherine Ivy foundation grants more that $9 million for brain cancer research.

Research:

  • To help avert 3 million AIDS deaths by 2025, the World Health Organization (WHO) through its guidelines is recommending the patients the start medicine at earlier stage of the deadly disease.
  • According to global Diabetes attitudes, wishes and needs 2 study one in five people with diabetes feel discriminated against them because of their condition. About 16% people suffering from this condition are at risk of depression.
  • According to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Ghana cuts new HIV infections among children by 76% since 2009. It states that one three in ten children in need of treatment have access to it.
  • A report released by the United Nations state that Nigeria has highest number of children with HIV/AIDS virus in the world. It states that the incidence rate has not increased much but the increase in the prevalence rate has remained stagnant.
  • According to the scientists, new World Health Organization (WHO) test- based approach against malaria does not work everywhere. There must be a hard diagnosis before the disease is treated.
  • According to the research results published in the Journal of Infectious diseases, infant rotavirus vaccine is effective against this disease in Ghana. Results showed a significant response in parameters of efficacy, safety and immune impact of vaccine.
  • A study published in the journal’ Diabetologia’, ethnicity should be considered while making guidelines for physical activity. They state that south Asians need more exercise than white Europeans to reduce diabetes risk.
  • According to a research review published in BMJ, high consumption of fish reduces risk of breast cancer by 14%. It replenishes the body with all omega 3 essential fatty acids which can only be acquired from external sources as body cannot manufacture it.
  •  In a study published in Cell Transplantation journal, type 2 diabetes patients who receive self-donated bone marrow stem cells require less insulin. According to the scientist’s good glycemic control appeared as a critical factor in the transplanted and non-transplanted control group.
  • A study indicates that consuming more than 2-3 standard alcohol drinks per day is linked to deadly digestive tract cancers including mouth, throat, larynx and esophageal. They also warn of risk of bowel, breast and prostate cancers.
  • The scientists have found out that the patients of Crohn’s disease also have a virus – enterovirus in their intestines as compared to those who did not have this disease. It also said that the genes associated with the onset of this disease are vital for the immune response against this virus.
  • According to the researcher’s malaria parasite are full of iron which they cannot digest nor can excrete them. Their invention- hand-held battery operated malaria detector will use the power of magnets to detect them.

Diseases & Disasters:

  • Reports state that Lusaka (Zambia) records approximately 185 new HIV/ AIDS infections every day. It has high prevalence rate of 20.8 percent as compared to the other districts of Zambia.
  • The cholera epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims lives of 257 people. Lack of proper sanitation and clear water are stated to be the main cause of the outbreak.
  • Polio outbreak in Somalia jeopardizes global eradication. Before this there was no case of this disease for more than five years. This outbreak is reported in its early stages and WHO experts see more cases coming in next few weeks.
  • A report released by Greenpeace suggests that a Chinese herbal medicine contains a variety of pesticides. It is increasingly accepted in the western countries for medicinal use.
  • Reports have shown a new trend of HIV infection among the youths of Manipur (India). Unsafe sex practice has been indicated to be the major mode of HIV transmission among them.
  • According to the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Diclofenac, a common painkiller raises the risk of heart attack and stroke among the patients with serious underlying heart conditions.
  • Health officials are warning that tularemia cases are on rise in New Mexico. Four cases have been so far been reported.
  • Japan and Poland are facing epidemic of rubella. Travel warnings have been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the pregnant females visiting these countries.

IH News Global Health Weekly News Round-Up

Politics and Policies:

  • Burundi is introducing the second dose of measles vaccine in its vaccination campaign in order to strengthen its efforts to fight preventable diseases.
  • China has stated that it will assist Cameroon in its fight against malaria as well as to strengthen health policies.
  • Angola parliament approves main lines of 2013 budget bill. A third of it will be spent on education, health, social welfare and housing.
  • African government’s will implement a health scorecard to reduce child deaths. This monitoring system publicly collects and reports health data.
  • Ghana is planning to establish its Health Insurance Learning Center to provide expertise and training on health insurance to many countries and institutions across the world.
  • China plans emergency measures to control Beijing air pollution. The rules will formalize previous ad-hoc measures including shutting down factories, cutting back on burning coal and taking certain vehicle classes off the roads on days when pollution hits unacceptable levels.
  • Negotiations on the Minamata Convention on Mercury (in Switzerland) among the delegates of 140 United Nations member states state that mercury added products like batteries, switches, thermometers etc. may not be manufactured, imported or exported no later than 2020. Mercury-added dental amalgams are also to be phased out. But certain mercury-added products are to be exempted from ban- like products for military and civil protection, products used in religious practices and some vaccines (with thimerosal) etc.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new type of flu vaccine which is made with a process that does not require the virus to be grown in chicken eggs. This will make it available weeks earlier in the event of a pandemic.

Programs:

  • In order to prevent, strengthen, and mobilize the society on HIV/AIDS risks, a project “Proactive” was presented in Angola by the Population Services International (PSI). It will target prostitutes, lorry drivers and gays.
  • In collaboration with UNAIDS, Tango organized a two-day workshop on combating stigma and discrimination in HIV/AIDS for Civil Society Organizations.
  • To provide treatment to the needy heart patients mainly children and elderly, the Emirates Heart Group has launched humanitarian missions in Sudan, Egypt and Bosnia.
  • Guinea worm eradication program is coming to its completion. The reports show that the cases of the parasitic disease were reduced by nearly half in 2012.
  • For increasing awareness on road traffic safety the Riders for Health-the Gambia (RFH) and the British High Commission have established a Training-cum Resource Center in Gambia.

Research:

  • According to a study done by the researchers of UK, US and Germany, eating with seven servings a day is linked to peak mental well-being.
  • A study states that the HIV infection rate has declined among the pregnant females in the Republic of Congo from 3.4 percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2012.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the cases of measles have fallen by 75 percent since 2000 but the rate of vaccination is still quite low to progress towards its complete eradication.
  • A study states that the HIV infection rate has declined among the pregnant females in the Republic of Congo from 3.4 percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2012.
  • A report states that the Somali women living in Minnesota for 20 years or more have their cultural traditions about pregnancy and birth. They continue to resist cesarean sections, prenatal care and family planning.
  • A study published in PloS One states that South Africa pays a high cost to treat both drug-resistant and drug-sensitive tuberculosis. It states that drug resistant tuberculosis in South Africa consumed about 32% of the total estimated 2011 national TB budget of $218 million.
  • A simple radiographic scoring system has been suggested as it is found to reliably rule out active pulmonary tuberculosis in smear negative HIV – uninfected patients. It will potentially reduce the need for further testing in high burden settings.
  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that a 48-week course of antiretroviral medication taken in early stages of HIV infection slows the damage to immune system and delays the need for long term treatment.
  • According to a study bats are reservoirs for Ebola virus in Bangladesh.
  • Studies have shown that the cactus fruit could treat diabetes, help to lower cholesterol and have high levels of vitamin C.
  • A study published in Plos One states that majority of the high risk population in a setting in rural China have been diagnosed with a Cardiovascular Disease related disease. Majority of them did not take any cardiovascular disease drugs and very few of them took some drugs to prevent the diseases.
  • A study done in University of Gothenburg, Sweden, states that amputations among people with diabetes can be reduced by 50%. They stated that simple interventions like shoe inserts, podiatry, regular check-ups and other simple interventions can help to reduce it.
  • A new infection caused by ticks similar to Lyme disease has been found in 18 people in southern New England and upstate New York. According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, this sickness could be infecting more than 4,300 Americans a year with flu-like symptoms and relapsing fevers.
  • According to a study vitamin D3 supplements are as effective as influenza vaccine. The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that those school children who took vitamin D3 supplements were 64 % less likely to contract seasonal influenza A viral infection.

Diseases and Disasters:

  • A recently introduced five-in-one vaccine against diphtheria, pneumonia, tetanus, hepatitis B and Hib meningitis have raised health concerns among the doctors in India.
  • The Public Health Laboratory Services Branch (PHLSB) of the Center for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health Hong Kong, has confirmed a case of New Delhi metallo-β – lacatamase-1 (NDM-1) Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae in a 26 year old female.
  • The Department of Health (Hong Kong) has released a warning on a oral product named ‘Chashoot’. They say that it may contain undeclared Western drug ingredients that are dangerous to health.

The Immigrant Experience

It may come as a shock to some of you that I have been living and working in South Korea for the past four months. My husband and I decided that we wanted to get some experience living and working abroad (and frankly, I needed a change in career scenery), so after he graduated, we took an easy job teaching English at a private academy in South Korea.

Terribly cliche, I know.

Part of our “training” was watching a series of videos done by a sharply-dressed twenty-something from the academy’s corporate headquarters. (We call him “Frozen Man” because in two of the videos, the image of the perky, fast-talking Korean American man freezes about three minutes in and you are stuck listening to his obnoxious voice for the rest of the 45-minute presentation.) The curve that Frozen Man described in the “Culture Shock” presentation showed the initial “honeymoon phase” – the first few weeks in a new place where you are enchanted with everything – wearing off about two or three months after moving, and “culture shock,” defined as constant irritation at barriers encountered in everyday life, setting in. Joel and I didn’t really give it much thought until we went to the bank to open bank accounts after receiving our first paychecks.

I asked around at work, and all of our Western co-workers recommended us to the same bank. They assured us that there were multiple English-speaking customer service staff members who could help us open the account and even help us set up wire transfers to our bank in the U.S. So on Tuesday morning, armed with our envelope of cash, our passports, and our American bank account information (and, stupidly, not a dictionary or phrasebook), we walked into the bank.

me: Annyeong haseyo! (Hello!)
Customer Service Rep (CSR): Annyeong haseyo! (Hello!)
me: Yongo haseyo? (Do you speak English?)
CSR: shakes head
And then I freeze. And I look at Joel, who looks back at me. I look over to our right, where the bank employees in the office to the side are working with Korean customers. And then it occurs to me that we just walked into a bank in Korea with no preparation, expecting someone who speaks English to be able to help us. And then I feel like the world’s biggest idiot.
me: Uhm…
CSR: Ah, do you want…open an account?
Joel and me: Yes!
So we sit down and begin to fill out the paperwork. Our very polite and patient customer service rep puts everything into the computer, has us put in more PINs than we know what to do with, and hands us some kind of bank booklet. Then he indicates that we are finished.
me: Uh, how do we get bank cards?
And then another bout of broken English and hand-waving ensues, at which point we figure out that this very polite man has opened not one, but two checking accounts, one for each of us. And then I start to get upset. Not because we have two bank accounts, or because we only have one check card, or because no one spoke English, but because I realized that I assumed that this man would instinctively figure out what we wanted, even though – or maybe because – we couldn’t communicate it to him. It was the first time that it really hit me that I cannot do the most important things – financial things – here without help.

My biggest bout with “culture shock” by far was my epic battle to get information about our health insurance policy. When we got our first paychecks, I saw that there was no deduction for our policy, so I asked our head teacher about it, and she explained that the school was paying the entire premium. Fine, I said, but can I have some kind of proof of coverage?

And then the struggle began.

A simple request for a health insurance card, or even just a document with a policy number, turned into a mandatory meeting for all foreign teachers where a generic memo with an explanation of the coverage limits of our policy was handed out. They explained to us what was covered (and what was not) and asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand. “Can you give us our policy number?”
The school administrator stared at me. “Why do you need that?”
“Just to have,” I responded. “I want to have all of the information.”
“I don’t have it now, but if you need it, we can give it to you,” he said.
“You don’t need it,” one of my co-workers explained to me. “You just bring in your receipts and they reimburse you.”
They went on to explain that if we had a doctor or hospital visit, we would have to pay out of pocket. We would then bring them the receipts, and they would take care of filing the claim for us. I raised my hand again.
“Can we file the claim ourselves if we want to?”
Now I started to get some raised eyebrows. “You can if you want to,” the head teacher explained, “but we can do it for you. It is easier for you this way.”

Apparently the concept of privacy regarding health information has not been introduced here.

After some more nagging, I finally got our group policy number, and so one morning I tried to call the company and reach someone in customer service who could speak English and verify the policy. After pressing the button indicated on the phone menu for English language service, I waited.
Customer service rep (CSR): Yoboseyo? (Hello?)
me: Ne, yoboseyo! Yeongeo haseyo? (Yes, hello! Do you speak English?)
CSR: A little.
me: I need to speak to someone in English who can help me with my policy.
CSR: Wait please. [puts me on hold]
Different CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: Yes, do you speak English?
CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: (louder) I need to speak to someone in English!
CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: Sigh.

The following week, I tried again.
Customer service rep (CSR): Yoboseyo?
me: Do you speak English?
CSR: Yes.
me: Okay, I need to speak to someone who can verify my policy.
CSR: What kind of policy?
me: Health insurance.
CSR: Okay, hold please. [puts me on hold]
Different CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: Yes, I need to verify my health insurance policy.
CSR: Do you have the policy number?
me: Yes. [I read the policy number to him.]
CSR: Okay, I will transfer you to someone in that department. [puts me on hold again]
Yet another CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: Yes, do you speak English?
CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: (louder) I need to speak to someone in English!
CSR: Yoboseyo?
me: (louder still) Hello?
CSR: [click]
I stared at the Skype window for a few minutes, then got dressed and stormed off to E-mart (about a 2-km walk) to buy chicken and a jar of curry sauce. In the checkout line I realized I didn’t have my wallet…because I’d taken it out at home to pull out our health insurance policy number. It was everything I could do to not throw a fit in the store.

Equally frustrating has been trying to explain to people why these encounters make me so upset. I went from being a fully capable and independent adult in my home country to not being able to take care of simple things (like opening the kind of bank account I want) or get a simple piece of information (like details on my health insurance policy) on my own, because I don’t speak the language. Some days I feel as though I have been robbed of self-sufficiency and reduced to being a child, or a petulant teenager at best. While my employers are certainly well-meaning in offering to file my health insurance claims for me, it is all I can do to not feel bewildered. They simply cannot understand a desire for privacy when it comes to my health, or my insistence on having the policy information (rather than just trusting them that it is provided), or even just wanting to be able to do things on my own. Never has it been more abundantly clear why immigrant advocates consider things like multi-lingual resources and translation services to be issues of human rights.

I ultimately found my answers at the city International Center, a non-profit center staffed by volunteers that provides services for expats living in the city. When I explained my dilemma to the coordinator (a very nice Vietnamese woman), she instantly understood. A Korean volunteer took my written questions and policy number, got on the phone, and in about 15 minutes had all the information I wanted and had been struggling to get for weeks.

Being in a strange land far from home has made me do a lot of thinking about the “immigrant experience.” Growing up, I always thought of myself as sympathetic to their struggles, at least on principle. After all, my mother is an immigrant; I went to school with immigrants, including several who were not permanent and sometimes even illegal; and I even dated a few. I tried to be patient with people that didn’t speak English very well and respect those who were trying to eke out a living – aren’t we all doing that in some form or fashion? – but beyond that, I didn’t think much about it unless I was embroiled in some kind of political debate with my college classmates. Back home we argue about immigration reform and government policies and border security, but until now I had no idea what it felt like to actually walk in those shoes.

Now all of the stories that I laughed about growing up – the one where my mom went to Bering’s asking for hookers (when she was looking for hooks to screw into the wall), or the one where my father’s Peace Corps Brazilian host family waved spoons in his face and screamed the words in the hopes that he would somehow absorb them – come flooding back to me. I remembered standing in line at the post office at my university while the Chinese grad students struggled to understand the forms they had to fill out to send packages home while the postal clerks yelled at them and abused them. I remembered Joel’s stories about standing in line for almost an hour at the post office in Italy for stamps, only to discover at the front that it was the wrong line, or my friend Krystal’s tales of navigating the Chinese postal system and having absolutely no idea what was going on. I thought about how Joel and I struggle to distinguish Korean vowels from each other for our language classes while remembering people back home complaining about immigrants not learning English. In a short amount of time it has become very clear to me why immigrants form their own enclaves in foreign countries with doctors, bankers, lawyers, waiters, and employers that they can communicate with both linguistically and culturally. Without help from someone, we are exposed to an alien (and often hostile) system, we are unable to communicate what we need and are therefore helpless, and we are utterly alone.

Obviously, our situation here doesn’t come anywhere close to the migrant worker, or the refugee, or the undocumented alien who has just crossed the river or allowed his visa to expire to try to find a better life. But now we have real insight into what it means to be at the mercy of your employer (however benevolent and well-intentioned) not only for your livelihood and your health insurance, but also for the roof over your head and your right to be in the freaking country. It’s terrifying, and we don’t even have a family or anything major on the line.

But at least now we have not one, but two bank accounts.

Global Health Weekly News Round-Up

Politics and Policies:

Programs

Research

Diseases & Disasters