Haiti, health reform and diversity

Haiti — a public health nightmare

haiti-relief-use.jpgIn the devastation of Haiti, what appears from the pictures and first person accounts, is hell on earth, a public health nightmare, a human tragedy. Yet, public health forces on the ground, along with our medical colleagues and search and rescue forces, will be the potential salvation of the country. With only a thread of infrastructure and little government, the challenges will be immense.

In our School, with business and NGO colleagues, Kenan Professor Mark Sobsey has developed several effective water filters which could be deployed to Haiti immediately; check out FilterPure Filters. More recently, through a Gillings Innovation Laboratory and a large USAID grant, Dr. Sobsey and Tom Outlaw have been scaling these innovations for wider use. Dan Okun Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering Phil Singer has spent much of his career designing point-of-use water purification systems. Getting these innovations and others into practice is a life and death issue. While we wait, people die.

haiti-relief-use2.jpgI am drawn to the stories on Haiti and, like many of you, feel helpless in the face of such a massive tragedy. I am grateful that medical colleagues like Mike Cohen, MD (J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, Immunology and Public Health, School of Medicine and Director, UNC Center for Infectious Diseases), have offered to help. A UNC student, Laura Wagner, was in Haiti living with a family while working with Epi Associate Professor Frieda Behets, as the earthquake struck. Fortunately, after some frantic worrying and emails from Peggy Bentley and others, we heard from Laura. Although the house in which she’d been living had collapsed, she and the family escaped with minor injuries.  Jennifer Nomides, a second year Master’s student in HBHE, has strong ties to Haiti and has been sending information from the ground.  I hope that once the immediate crisis has ended, our Team Epi Aid will be able to help.

haiti-relief-use-3-copy.jpgAmber Munger’s Update on the Coordinated Rapid Response to the Haiti Earthquake: I have yet to see a better or more detailed look at Haiti from the perspective of relief workers already there. (You need a Facebook account to get the update.)

SPH Student Body President Jeff Nguyen had a letter to the editor published in the Daily Tar Heel covering all the efforts of our School’s student organizations.

People have asked me to recommend charities for donations. The charities my colleagues in the know recommend are Partners in Health and Doctors without Borders. I gave online to the former.

Tuesday, January 26, Mediterranean Deli ( 410 W. Franklin St.) in Chapel Hill is donating ALL proceeds from ALL sales to help victims of the earthquake. Their #:  967-2666. The Med Deli people are great!

There is a Supercourse SWAT Team lecture about the disaster that is very informative.

Health insurance reform — not perfect but better than the status quo

We had very lively presentations on Tuesday January 12th. Director Tim Carey, Deniese Chaney and Professor Jon Oberlander spoke about electronic medical records (EMRs) and how they would be affected by health reform. It really is a no-brainer that health care quality is better with EMRs. The NYT had a fascinating article about how they are used in Copenhagen–which is ahead of us. Accenture generously sponsored the meeting. Thanks to our alumna Deniese Chaney for making the forum happen.

Many people I respect have concluded that health reform without a public option is worse than nothing at all, because it will delay necessary action. I disagree. This country, unfortunately, isn’t ready for a public option. I don’t want to end up with nothing at the end of the day. How long would it be before politicians would risk their careers again to take up the issue? Possibly, a very long time.If Congress overcomes differences within and across branches and passes health reform, this country will have crossed an important threshold. It will be far from a perfect package, but it will be a great improvement over what we have now: more than 47 million Americans without health insurance, and many more living in fear that if they lose their jobs, they could lose their health, homes and more.  Hendrik Herzberg wrote in The New Yorker that the final bill, if it passes, will be flawed and messy. He recounted how John F. Kennedy, in advocating a bill to provide hospital care for the aged, agreed that his bill would not meet every need and concluded that We’ve got great unfinished business in this country. Herzberg asked if Democrats and Barack Obama are doing enough and answered the question. No but they are doing what’s possible. That may be pathetic but it’s no fallacy. Read the article. It’s good.

This blog has some good information about health reform, including how the quality of US health care compares to other countries.

Increasing diversity — still

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s life, we should try harder to realize his dream. In our School, we are going to try harder. Last week, we had a dinner with some of our most distinguished diverse alumni. We asked their help in devising new strategies to increase diversity and finding new sources of support for students. We’ve got a fabulous School, with truly great faculty, staff and students. As good as we are, we will be even better if we can become more diverse.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, We have great unfinished business in this School!  Happy Monday. Barbara

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