In the journals
Over the weekend, I got caught up on some of the journals and magazines in my stack—JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard Business Review, Wired, Annals of Behavioral Medicine and a few others. Joseph Cook, MD, PhD, an adjunct professor of epidemiology at our School, is the author of a fascinating NEJM article, Eliminating Blinding Trachoma. Trachoma is a horrible, blinding eye disease linked to poverty. It was a problem in the U.S. until the 1950s and is rampant in Africa and much of the developing world. Fifty-five million people are infected; about 3 million are visually impaired or blind as a result.
So, why wasn’t I aware of this before? How many of our students learn about it? What’s particularly tragic is that trachoma is largely preventable through access to safe water and good personal hygiene practices (health education) and is treatable with antibiotics. Yet, often the disease is neither prevented nor treated. The unjustness and unfairness of poverty-related conditions and diseases is so distressing, and the cycle of poverty is exacerbated by ill health. Surely, we can do better.
The June 28th issue of The Lancet, includes an editorial entitled “How to prevent a tenth of the global disease burden.”The article reflects upon a new World Health Organization report titled “Safer Water, Better Health.” (Jamie Bartram, one of the report’s three co-authors, spoke at our School last spring.)
The report concludes that 9.1% of the world’s global burden of disease could be prevented through better water, sanitation and hygiene. In 32 of the worst-affected countries, the estimate is 15%. Globally, that’s a huge potential impact, and the report does an excellent job of reviewing the data and estimating DALYs* and costs associated with possible interventions.
Anyone who cares about public health should read the report. It is brief, well-written and well-illustrated, and the case it makes is compelling. At the end of the editorial, The Lancet calls for an immediate water, sanitation and hygiene plan that should be discussed and implemented by the international community without delay. I’d like our School to be part of this effort.
*Note: DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) for a disease are the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality in the population and the years lost due to disability for incident cases of the health condition. The DALY is a health gap measure that extends the concept of potential years of life lost due to premature death to include equivalent years of “healthy” life lost in states of less than full health, broadly termed “disability.” One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full health. – from the World Health Organization Web site.
I just read Blue Covenant (New Press, NY, 2008) by Maude Barlow. It’s about the global water crisis and analyzes causes and solutions. Nowhere is our planetary interdependence more clear than where water is concerned. Barlow cites the irony of Revelations 21.6: “To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountains.” That is in contrast to the growing price and inaccessibility of water in much of the world. (Trachoma, which I mentioned above, thrives in areas where water is scarce and unsafe.) Barlow cautions that unless we “collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supply of freshwater” (p. 142). While water is a public health issue, it also is a global security issue. That may lead us to new partnerships. I have been surprised how difficult it is to get federal funding for water-related research. It just doesn’t make sense.
Awards and Recognition
I am so excited that Professor Peggye Dilworth-Anderson (Department of Health Policy and Administration) was elected incoming president of the Gerontological Society of America. The GSA is a very influential organization that reaches across both theory and practice.
In the last week, Professor Mark Sobsey and alumnus Joe Brown, now assistant professor at University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, were awarded the 2008 Project Innovation Award from the International Water Association. It is a major recognition of their efforts to bring low-cost ceramic water filters to people who lack safe, accessible water.
Congratulations to Vangee Foshee on her promotion to professor. Hope Associate Professor Linnan is having a great time singing her way through Italy.
Have a great July 4th – and Happy Monday!