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Gambian President Announces Cure for Aids February 2, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy.
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A claim by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh that he can cure Aids in three days has been lambasted by a leading South African HIV/Aids specialist.

“I’m astonished. The danger of a president standing up [to say this] is shocking,” Jerry Coovadia told the BBC.

Source: news.bbc.co.uk

According to this BBC story, the President of Gambia believes that a secret concoction of herbal medicine can cure AIDS in under a week. And the Gambian Minister of Health, Tasmir Mbow, concurs. The ingredients of this highly unlikely panacea, of course, cannot be revealed now (for some reason), but will be known to the “whole world later on.”

As an act of public irresponsibility, these statements by the Gambian leader are almost without parallel. In the first place, as Dr. Coovadia notes, the atmosphere of secrecy is not simply unscientific: it is anti-scientific. That Jammeh also claims to be able to cure asthma through similar secret methods is, in view of his more grandiose claim, a mere megalomanic addendum to a larger delusion.

There were an estimated 19,000 Gambian adults with HIV/AIDS in 2005, 11,000 of whom were women between the ages of 15-49, and 1,300 deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS, and the prevalence rate was some 2.5% of the population. All of these numbers are probably severe underestimates. The President’s outrageous claims not only play to the gullible ill, but are likely to increase the transmission rate by promulgating the idea that unprotected sex is in fact, safe sex. After all, the only penalty is a three day cure.

The World Health Organization did not wish to comment on the BBC story yet, presumably because they fear active political interference in AIDS/HIV programs now operating in Gambia. A fight between the WHO and other organizations and the Gambian leadership would do nothing to assist the cause of HIV prevention and treatment in Gambia. But WHO and other concerned organizations will have to break this diplomatic but ultimately ineffective silence, sooner or later.

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Eli Lilly Suppressed and Minimized Health Risk of Zyprexa December 17, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy.
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The drug maker Eli Lilly has engaged in a decade-long effort to play down the health risks of Zyprexa, its best-selling medication for schizophrenia, according to hundreds of internal Lilly documents and e-mail messages among top company managers.

Alec Berenson, NYT

Back in the mid 90’s Zyprexa was billed as a wonder drug for schizophrenia, one that would diminish if not eliminate the tics and tremors associated with others, and that was not associated with tardive dykinesia, a movement disorder frequently associated with antipsychotic medications. According to the NYT , reports of Zyprexa associated weight gain and drug induced development of hyperglycemia ( high blood sugar) began to be discussed in company emails in 1999.

Lilly refused to supply diabetes teaching aids to physicians because the company did not want to strengthen the association of diabetes and Zyprexa in the minds of physicians. Perhaps the most cynical move by the company was to develop an intensive marketing campaign for primary care physicians. Lilly’s own research had shown that these doctors were less aware than were specialists of the drug’s ability to cause weight gain and contribute to the onset of diabetes in the mentally ill. By the time Lilly decided to be more forthcoming about side effects, the evidence linking Zyprexa to untoward weight gain was too clear to ignore. Although the company will probably pat itself on the back for taking some steps toward mitigation and education, those should be viewed for exactly what they were.

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Information War: Feds Close Science Libraries December 12, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Information policy, Libraries, U.S. Congress.
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The NASA library in Greenbelt, Md., was part of John C. Mather’s daily routine for years leading up to the astrophysicist’s 2006 Nobel Prize for shedding new light on the Big Bang theory of universal origin. He researched existing space hardware and instrumentation there while designing a satellite that collected data for his prize-winning discovery.

So when he learned that federal officials were planning to close the library, Mather was stunned.

Tim Reiterman

Last week, I blogged about the EPA libraries closing, but it turns out the story is more complicated- and more menacing. Tim Reiterman of the L.A. Times calls the recent shuttering of federal research libraries a “quiet war on information.” And the story is changing. The explanation for the EPA libraries last week was that some libraries were being shut down as an attempt to modernize them-specifically, to digitize their holdings in the name of greater access.This week, America is waking up to find that not only were the pesky EPA libraries closed, but that the General Services Administration headquarters library , where investigators explore real estate, communications, and aspects of government finance was closed earlier this year, along with the Department of Energy headquarters(!) library.

The Bush administration has a lukewarm attitude to scientific research of all kinds, apart from weapons research, and most scientists knew that a long time ago. It takes some doing, however, to evoke the ire of the American Library Association. Emily Sheketoff, head of the ALA’s Washington office, claims that “crucial information generated with taxpayer dollars is now not available to the scientists and the public who need it.This is the beginning of the elimination of all these government libraries. I think you have an administration that does not have a commitment to access to information.”

The hardest hit agency, the EPA, has asked the GAO to investigate the reduction of its $7 million library budget by $2.5. The EPA claims that all EPA generated documents would be online by January, and that the other 51,000 reports would be digitized in two years. A copy of each book would be kept for interlibrary loan purposes.

Critics say that research will be slowed and perhaps prevented . Book dispersal problems, lost inventory, the high cost of or impossibility of digitizing some copyrighted items all loom as possible obstacles, just as the nation prepares for what is certain to be the most vigorous debate in several years about climate change and alternative fuels.

Members of Congress have voiced their opposition to the closure of the EPA libraries in the form of a letter to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson signed by ranking members of several legislative committees, including the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Science, the Committee on Government Reform, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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The High Cost of Jailing the Mentally Ill November 27, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Seattle Politics.
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Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times reports today that someone booked into the King County Jail will usually stay an average of 9-35 days, but if the offender is mentally ill , the stay is usually about 158 days. And the cost to the county is $15,000 , or much more for the severely ill, based on a daily cost of $98.00 and a booking charge of $180.00. The Metropolitan King County Council, understandably alarmed by these numbers, is mounting a campaign to establish more treatment programs, get inmates out of jail faster, and ideally, prevent them from going there in the first place. The first order of business is to establish a funding mechanism for the effort, and to this end the council is studying the feasability of a one-tenth of one percent increase in the sales tax.

If approved, this tax would raise about 50 million dollars per year, an amount that would be used to provide housing and treatment, as well as to expand the services of the Drug Court and the Mental Health Court.

Of course, these estimates do not include the deleterious effects of jail on the mental state of patient-inmates. County Councilman Bob Ferguson (D-Seattle) has rightly noted that this argument from efficiency is not the only dimension to the problem He calls the “warehousing” of the mentally ill in jails a “moral wrong”. The jail as become the second largest (after Western State Hospital) mental-health facility in the state. Larry Gossett ( D- Seattle) also supports the measure, but Kathy Lambert (R- Seattle) is cautious. She is afraid that the additional tax burden , coming right after a new bus tax, might jeopardize Sound Transit’s plans for a new tax package on the November 7th ballot and endanger funding of a regional highway tax.

Ferguson introduced a motion requesting Sheriff Sue Rahar, County Executive Ron Sims, Prosecutor Norm Maleng, judges, and public defenders to submit a plan by next May to improve services and reduce jailings and visits to emergency rooms. No action will be taken until the report is received.

So the process is underway, but ever so slowly- and why does “voter fatigue” always come up when human services are involved?

Firm on the Family: Bush Appoints Anti-Contraception Advocate to Top Position November 22, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy.
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“Keroack’s professional history makes clear he should be stamped with a warning label against women’s health and safety,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Appointing an individual who has crusaded against birth control to head the nation’s family planning program makes a mockery of women’s health. Keroack’s appointment ought to be pulled immediately.”

All American Patriots

His positions on Donald Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq, and fiscal conservatism aside, never let it be said that George W. Bush is not firm on the issues. On Monday, he appointed one Dr. Eric Keroack to head up the Title X program that provides reproductive health and assistance to millions of poor women. The appointment immediately drew fire from several professional associations and sparked a letter from Planned Parenthood , based on what, in Bush’s view, qualifies Keroack for the position. The good doctor is the medical director of A Woman’s Concern, a network of pregnancy crisis centers in the Boston area. Under his enlightened regime, AWC does not distribute or encourage the use of contraceptive devices. And some of the information that Keroack promulgates is patently false, such as the contention that condoms “”offer virtually no protection” against herpes. He also claims that premarital sex interferes with oxytocin secretion, a hormone that he assumes to be physiologically important to successful marriages.

Despite the already shrill opposition, Bush will likely leave his appointee in place, and the choice is not subject to Congressional approval.This time, Bush will hold fast- against logic and empirical evidence, against women’s rights, and against the will of the American majority..


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