Month: September 2010

Health’s Deadline: 2015

At the turn of the millennium, world leaders decided the new era should see the end of extreme poverty and other basic development problems. In order to facilitate a worldwide focus on this broad aim, they crafted the Millennium Development Goals to set up detailed goals to be achieved by 2015. Out of the eight goals, three deal directly with health: Goal 4 calls for a two-thirds reduction of child mortality, goal 5 focuses on a three-quarters reduction of maternal mortality and universal access to reproductive health, and goal 6 aims to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases while also providing universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment. How are we doing on those? The three health MDGs have seen the least progress out of all eight goals. According to the U.N. Development Programme, annual deaths of children under five worldwide has dipped below 10 million for the first time since data collection began, but certain countries, especially those of sub-Saharan Africa, have seen no change. Maternal mortality has only decreased by about 2.3 percent by U.N. estimations. Around 33 million people are living with HIV, mostly in developing countries, despite significant international attention and aid efforts. The international community has taken notice of this lack of progress. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced a new plan aimed at addressing problems with women’s and children’s health. This plan...

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Broadband – Public Infrastructure for U.S. Competitiveness

Twenty-second in average speed. Sixth in penetration. These statistics are the rankings of the broadband services in the United States compared to other countries around the world, according to Akamai’s most recent report. Surprised? Most Americans have adopted the mentality that the United States has been and will always be the world leader. But when it comes to the Internet, this is simply not the case. The world is rapidly changing because of technology and the Internet, but the United States is not adapting fast enough. According to the Speedmatters.org annual survey of Internet speeds, if the United States maintains its current rate of improvement, it will take 15 years for us to catch up to the internet connection speeds found today in South Korea. The Internet offers a faster, more efficient way for people to communicate, changing how most aspects of life and society operate. As stated in the federal government’s National Broadband Plan, the Internet “is changing how we educate children, deliver health care, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organize and disseminate knowledge.” Many, if not most, Americans fail to realize that we are rapidly falling behind other countries in Internet development. Countries around the world offer higher speeds, more availability, and lower costs. How do they do it? Is it because those countries can afford to supply more and faster Internet because...

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Safe, Affordable and Evidence-Based Maternity Care in the U.S.

As the palliative care and hospice movement figured out long ago, over-medicalizing and dehumanizing a natural human function doesn’t necessarily yield better outcomes or greater patient satisfaction – though it does guarantee that the cost will rise for taxpayers footing the bill. That same lesson may apply to the way that we approach birth in America. Perversely, by increasing spending on high-tech maternity care, modern obstetrics has created a system that frequently ignores the most fundamental rule of medicine: First, do no harm. The rate of cesarean sections skyrocketed from 20 percent of births to more than 32 percent in the last decade for no clear medical reason. Obviously, a small percentage of women need surgery to safely deliver their baby, but the World Health Organization estimates that the cesarean rate should not be higher than 10 to 15 percent. Women with one cesarean under their belt are typically pushed into repeat surgeries in subsequent pregnancies, though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently admitted that many patients should be allowed a trial of vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) labor. Health risks to both mother and baby rise with each repeat section. For the discriminating consumer, there are ways to avoid a surgical birth – for example, by remaining uninsured. Nearly 34 percent of privately insured patients underwent C-sections in 2006, compared to just 25 percent of uninsured...

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A Brewing Storm over the Internet

As another hurricane season brews off our coasts, a storm of another kind is brewing in the halls of Congress over how the Internet should be regulated. The concept of “network neutrality” may be cloudy, but the implications are clear: Unnecessary restrictions on those that invest in the development of our nation’s high speed networks will stifle development and innovation here at home. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast, killing 48 Texans and ranking as the costliest weather disaster in the state’s history with a price tag of $12 billion. In the lead up to the storm as well as in its aftermath, Texans turned to the Internet to assist in preparation and recovery. Public interest in Hurricane Ike was recorded by Google Hot Trends, which noted “Tropical Storm Ike” as one of the most popular search terms the day it became a named storm. After landfall, top searches were related to the landfall location and flooding. Citizens were sharing their stories online by uploading homemade videos of the devastation to YouTube. Texans were flocking to local government websites for news and the latest information. But in the aftermath of such a significant storm, whose job was it to ensure the broadband capability for Texans was up and running, and to restore lines and connectivity after the clouds parted? Not Google’s who provided search capabilities....

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Healing the Masses with a Few Pakistani Rupees

The international sound and fury over the Pakistani floods has died down – and yet, flood victims still face a serious crisis. Most notably, the health crisis associated with the flooding has only recently begun to unfold, and yet the international aid and attention just is not there the way it was in the very beginning of the crisis. How should Pakistan face this host of problems with such limited funding? As early as the beginning of August, the Punjab government in Pakistan and UNICEF both underlined the imminent threat of epidemics of waterborne diseases in areas affected by flooding. These diseases include a vast number of digestive problems, as well as flu, hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, malaria, and a host of other diseases continually battled by international aid programs. While some of these diseases were addressed by deploying extra vaccinations to affected areas, others were largely forgotten in the race to provide basic needs like food and shelter for refugees. Developed countries pledged large quantities of aid, and even increased their pledges after an August appeal from the United Nations, which set the target for pledged aid at $2 billion. It is unclear whether this target has been met, how much of this aid has actually been disbursed, or what percentage of it is being used for health purposes, given how recent the disaster is. However, what is clear...

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