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Monthly Archives: March 2012

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This past Friday, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media caught fire with lottery fever.  People who don’t even usually play the lottery plunked down $1 or more for a chance to try to get a slice of the record breaking $640 million jackpot.  According to Bostom.com, although no one in Massachusetts won more than $39 million worth of tickets were bought since the jackpot began accumulating back on January 24th.  Mega Millions is a lottery that spans over 12 states; one can only image how much revenue this past drawing brought in.  Holding a ticket Friday night that could mean a better life got me thinking about what people do with their winnings and our discussion in class about how much money benefits low income countries.  We live in a society where one person could with one ticket could potentially wipe out disease and hunger in a small country; would it ever happen?  Are human altruistic by nature, or is this a learned “habit” we have formed?  Is health care just a mark of the “haves” and the “have not”s in the world (like the brand of car you can afford?) 

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 Last week, New York Times writer Katie Thomas published an article “Generic Drugs Prove Resistant to Damage Claims,” exploring the effects that the establishment of the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act has on patients in care and in need of medical drug assistance. Thomas surveys 3 well-related cases, all of which are firmly expressed examples of patients in medical care, receiving needed drug assistance, and finding themselves severely harmed and left in compromising positions due to the drug and/or the procedure needed to supply the drug to an individual; said examples were strongly advised to use the drugs in question. The Hatch-Waxman Act, more formally addressed as the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, was approved by congress in 1984 and ultimately allows drug companies to produce generic versions of brand-name drugs in a much more fast paced fashion and significantly, conveniently at a fraction of the cost. As long as these companies can effectively prove that their drug is of the same uniformity as the brand-name drugs their obligation to provide any warning or education of the drug other than what can be read on the label (labels are produced solely by the brand-name drug company,) is lifted. In other words, if patients who use a generic drug incur negative side effects, (such as the development of gangrene to a stage which forces the amputation of a body part, as Ms. Schork experienced according to Author Katie Thomas,) they are in no position to neither sue the drug company nor receive any form of reimbursement or assistance.

 By encouraging drug companies to recreate brand-name drugs and produce less-costly generic forms, individuals all across the globe are more or less granted their use; though the Hatch-Waxman Act quite obviously encourages the prior, they informally produce a double standard when the producers of generic drugs have no legal responsibilities intact when drug use has unsettling results, furthering the infringement of those individuals who are unable to obtain the use of brand-name drugs.

 At no point in Thomas’ article are references made to, what I presume as being plausible, the liability of hospitals and/or health care providers in any of the three cases publicized. Numerous times have I personally been under care when my provider didn’t even bother to check my allergies prior to prescribing drugs, let alone ask whether I cared for a brand-name drug or a generic version; with this in mind I am at a loss of where I find the error – who ought to be blamed? It seems to me that the Hatch-Waxman Act was not passed to further inhibit individuals in need of medical and drug assistance, rather the opposite, as assistance for those. Yet, plenty instances of uneasiness arise throughout the cases which Thomas presents in her Times’ article, leaving the begging of the question: who needs to be held responsible?

President Obama has sponsored legislation to protect the rights of women in the United States, this law is being contested by some religious organizations and conservative politicians. The law that is being debated requires employers to cover the cost of contraception. In class we have touched upon the fact that family planning increases the earning potential and political autonomy of women in developing nations. Is the situation different for women in the US?

According to an article by Nick Baumann “Most of Obama’s ‘Controversial’ Birth Control Rule Was Law During Bush Years.” US Senator John McCain has recently changed his position concerning womens right to birth control. According to the Senator “I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives.” This is a novel idea. While I suspect that McCain may have some implicit political agenda in his change of stance, I see it as a move in the right direction. The truth about contraception and womens bodies is frequently concealed behind political agendas, as highlighted in a Huffington Post article by Kay Hall.

Opposition to the legislation comes from organizations that seek to “Restore Religious Freedom in America.” I do not personally understand how freedom is restored by limiting womens rights to make decisions concerning their own bodies. From my perspective the bill does not endanger religious freedom in any way, someone still has the option to choose not to use contraception. The bill does protect the rights of those who wish to use contraception.

Buckle-up! Today, we are going to Sub-Saharan Africa!

For over 50 years, children in the Sub-Saharan area, particularly in Uganda and Sudan.  The reason behind this lack of information is because it affects a population that is often overlooked–the poor that is.  There are no efforts being made to help rid children of this disease because many people cannot afford any medical relief.  If there is no profit to be made does that mean that pharmaceutical companies should not even try to create a solution that affects so many children?

An article in the Huffington Post identifies that there is a lack of Vitamin B in community members of these Sub-Saharan regions.  Providing vitamin B supplements to children in this region ages 5-15 whom are most affected by this disease should be urged.  Even though the disease is not discussed much, does not mean that is not harmful. Children with this disease, are prone to accidents such as drowning and burning because of mental impairment.

My question to you all is: should diseases that affect the poor not be discussed and not receive a treatment?

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South African gold miners are at greater risk of developing TB due to the heavy presence of silica dust in their working environment

This past Saturday, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, spoke at an event held at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The event was being held in observance of World Tuberculosis Day–a bacterial disease that has become all too common among South African mine workers. Individuals within this particular profession have been known to have a greater risk of contracting the disease due to the heavy presence of silica dusk within their working environment. Although silica is nothing more than a mineral found in rocks and soil, repeated inhalation of the mineral can lead to serious implications. In fact, a staggering 22,000 mine workers are infected with the disease yearly. However, TB is not the only illness in which these mine workers must battle daily; there is that widespread virus that occurs outside the workplace: HIV. Between 60%-70% of mine workers who have been infected with TB have also been infected with HIV as well. But these startling statistics have not stopped South Africa from doing all that it can to combat these two life-threatening illnesses.

Standing before an audience that included Gold Fields mine workers and their mining managers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers and government representatives, Motlanthe vowed that the South African government would continue its initiative in supplying its citizens with the programs needed to successfully thwart TB and HIV. As a matter of fact, Motlanthe states that within the last few years, South Africa has made testing for TB and HIV more of a regular initiative, as opposed to an initiative that arises only during emergency outbreaks. Nick Holland, CEO of Driefontein Gold Fields mine, has also hopped on the bandwagon in making TB testing more readily available for his own mine workers. At the event, he spoke of the necessity of Gold Fields mine being able to diagnose TB in its earlier stages, as well as being able to develop more efficient means for testing for TB.

Even so, the progress that South Africa has made in their fight to stop the spread of TB has been incredibly noteworthy thus far. Just last year, South Africa embarked on a new approach in actually traveling to the homes of individuals who have had contact with a TB infected person. Furthermore, individuals were also tested and educated about HIV. During that mission, roughly 160,000 people were screened, where 3,000 individuals tested positive for TB. What is more, another 3,200 individuals actually tested positive for HIV. In addition to home screenings, since last year, South Africa has also been utilizing the GeneXpert machine, enabling the successful diagnosis of drug-resistant and drug-sensitive TB patients. At the moment, South Africa is number one in the manufacture of GeneXpert tests, having completed roughly 300,000 tests.

I think that it is important to acknowledge here that although South Africa is still in some aspects a developing nation, the initiatives, however, that the Country appears to be taking in the prevention of TB and HIV, in my opinion, would illustrate its advancement into a developed nation. When a nation’s own government makes it their endeavor to provide the utmost care to their citizens, a sense of unity transpires between all. As we saw in class during our attempts to revise TRIPS, it was difficult for us to come to an agreement on how high-income and middle-income countries could not only efficiently provide foreign aid to low-income countries, but also continue to recognize some of their own personal goals as well. In my opinion, South Africa sets a wonderful example of the potential that developing and also underdeveloped nations have in terms of the combat of life-threatening epidemics.

It is interesting that as we discuss in class whether or not healthcare is a basic human right or if it is more of a civil right, the US Supreme Court is debating whether or not government can require people to purchase healthcare insurance, thus in some ways requiring them to access healthcare. After our discussions in class it seems crazy that anyone would try to interfere in the providing of better health. The greatest concern is that if the individual mandate is struck down, it is quite possible that the rest of the Affordable Care Act will have to be done away with as well. If this happens the United States healthcare system will be in great disarray and healthcare will become even harder to access and afford in the United States. Please view the video link below for a synopsis of the court hearings today.

Affordable Healthcare Act Debate

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Recently, I have been very involved in the issue of immigrant justice and bringing forward the stories of thousands of undocumented immigrants in this country who often do not have a say in discussions about human rights. We often speak about how in a first-world country like America, we have more access to medicine and other rights than in many other parts of the world; but for undocumented people this is not always the case. In discussions of healthcare coverage in this country, despite the well-known privatized system of medical care, it is always assumed that everyone has some right to be covered because if they cannot afford private insurance they are eligible for Medicaid. Yet undocumented immigrants are not.

At a recent panel about this issue, I heard a statement that disturbed me: A son of an immigrant mother had said that the first time his mother was eligible for Medicaid was when she was pregnant with him. Because she was holding the life of a future American citizen, she became eligible to receive the healthcare benefits that this country offers. Although this law does not surprise me, I am still struck by the distinction that is made between a human with American citizenship and a human without American citizenship, and how this status determines one’s right to basic healthcare. If health is a universal human right, how come a social security number, or lack there of, determines one’s access it?

With the enforcement of anti-immigrant legislation in 2010, Nebraska passed a law that prevented undocumented women from receiving prenatal services through Medicaid programs in an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits. However, this notion contradicted Nebraska’s pro-life sentiment, which encouraged covering all prenatal costs of women for the benefit of the unborn child who would in-fact be born an American citizen. This led to a controversial discussion of the right of unborn children vs. born children to healthcare. So because the child would eventually be born American, there was already discussions over the unborn child’s right to health. However, there was no discourse over the mother’s right to health, simply because she was not American? Is she not human too?

So what makes a person eligible for the right to health? Is it where they are born? Is it what legal status they have? Do they even hold this right before they are born? When we discuss access to medicine on a global scale we see clear barriers in developing countries’ accessibility to medicines and health care that have to do with trade laws, pricing, lack of infrastructure, and other factors.  But the gaps in access to medicine within the US population arise from completely different barriers that prevent certain people from their right to health even when adequate medicine and care reside just around the corner.