“New threat from poxviruses
,” Scientific American
magazine, March 2013
“India’s Superhospitals and Superbugs,” Le Monde Diplomatique (Paris), December 2012
“Safari scalpel à New Delhi, ou les périls du tourisme médical,” Le Monde Dipomatique (Paris), December 2012
“Breeding Ground,” review of David Quammen’s Spillover, New York Times Book Review, October 21, 2012
“David Kato’s life and death in Uganda,” review of “Call Me Kuchu,” The Lancet, July 20, 2012
“Living in the shadows of modern medicine,” review of “Off Label,” The Lancet, June 2, 2012
“Starved for attention,” review of “The Hunger Games,” The Lancet, April 5, 2012
In today’s era of fan activism and celebrity philanthropy, it seems that most aid organisations must chase the stars. This time it’s the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) seeking support for its mission by partnering with the recently released Hollywood blockbuster film The Hunger Games.
“When Superbugs Attack: Antibiotic-resistant NDM-1 Is Undermining India’s Medical Sector,” Foreign Affairs, March 29, 2012.
The discovery in Delhi of a particularly nasty form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, against which even last-resort drugs are ineffective, could bring about an era of unstoppable infections. But fearing a hit to the country’s medical tourism industry, the government has denied the problem and has pressured researchers to disavow their findings.
“The Super-Resistant Bacteria That Has India ‘Hell Scared’” The Atlantic, January 26, 2012.
Can India’s already troubled health system — much less its political system — handle NDM-1?
“Super-resistant bacteria, medical tourism, and India’s poor: a global health crisis in the making,” Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, January 18, 2012. Antibiotic resistant bacteria is spreading from India throughout the world, affecting those living in New Delhi slums as well as “medical tourists” who come to India for inexpensive treatment.
Over the last three decades, public funding for global health organizations has dried up. Private companies are writing checks to fill the gap, and, accordingly, they are bending the agenda toward their interests. Realigning priorities, however, will mean getting more private firms involved, not less.
,” The Lancet,
September 30, 2011 (Review of film, “Contagion”)
It’s hard to imagine a more alluring lesson in basic epidemiology than the one the lovely actress Kate Winslet delivers in Steven Soderbergh’s new disaster movie, Contagion. Playing an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Winslet marches to a blackboard and, chalk in hand, succinctly defines for her viewers the terms “fomite” and “basic reproductive ratio”. Public health education has never had it so good.
There was a time when it was de rigueur for those concerned with the well-being of the global poor to rail against big business. Not anymore. In recent years, the private sector has become the most sought-after source for global aid groups in search of leadership and financing. In 2008, Raymond Chambers, a phenomenally successful financier and major philanthropist, was appointed the first-ever United Nation special envoy for, of all things, the mosquito-borne disease malaria, which kills nearly one million people every year.
It took a while, but with this year’s World Malaria Day on 25 April, the effect is now clear: the tidal wave of privatization that’s washed over so many aspects of our lives, from the way we run our wars and prisons to the ownership of our bridges and airports, has finally reached the backwaters of global health – and the long-running battle against the mosquito-borne disease malaria.
For decades, deadly outbreaks of cholera were attributed to the spread of disease through poor sanitation. But recent research demonstrates how closely cholera is tied to environmental and hydrological factors and to weather patterns — all of which may lead to more frequent cholera outbreaks as the world warms.
film review of “Never Let Me Go,” The Lancet
, February 12, 2011
Hollywood has rarely viewed the grafting of organs from one body to another with much tenderness. The basic story line—that organ donors are misguided victims and their recipients exploitative monsters—has dominated films from 1978’s blockbuster Coma to last year’s My Sister’s Keeper. Never Let Me Go, based on the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is no exception.
It’s technically straightforward to eliminate malaria from an area. At least in theory. You reduce the ability of mosquitoes to bite people, treat every sick victim with curative drugs and prevent any infected person from bringing new parasites into the area. Keep working outwards from your area, and eventually there will be no more malaria. But what if there’s a secret reservoir of pathogens in the bodies of wild animals, unreachable by medical interventions, as there is in yellow fever, cholera, and influenza, diseases from which humankind can never hope to be completely free?
The Romans called malaria the “rage of the Dog Star,” since its fever and chills so often arrived during the caniculares dies, the dog days of summer, when Sirius disappeared in the glow of the sun. To avoid it, ancient Romans built their grand villas high in the hills, fled the mosquito-ridden wetlands that encircled Rome, and prayed for relief at temples dedicated to the fever goddess, Febris.
The premise behind the idea of treated nets is simple. The netting prevents malarial mosquitoes from biting people while they’re asleep, and the insecticide kills and repels the insects. World health experts say that using the nets can reduce child mortality in malarial regions by 20%. But even as donations roll in and millions of bed nets pile up in warehouses across Africa, aid agencies and non-governmental organizations are quietly grappling with a problem: Data suggest that, at least in some places, nearly half of Africans who have access to the nets refuse to sleep under them.
For over half a century, the battle against malaria has been waged with powerful anti-malarial drugs and potent mosquito-killing insecticides, weapons born from the wonders of synthetic chemistry. In recent years, however, fed up with the financial and ecological drawbacks of chemical warfare, malarious communities from China to Tanzania to Mexico have been forging a new way to fight the scourge, one that draws inspiration from the lessons of ecology more than chemistry. Rather than attempt to destroy mosquitoes and parasites outright, these new methods call for subtle manipulations of human habitats and the draining of local water bodies — from puddles to irrigation canals — where malarial mosquitoes hatch.
This past week, in honor of World Malaria Day, I attended a meeting in Washington, D.C., of a small group of aid workers, social scientists, and others involved in the business of distributing insecticide-treated bednets to women and children in rural Africa, to protect them from malaria.
“As Pharmaceutical Use Soars, Drugs Taint Water and Wildlife
,” Yale e360, April 15, 2010
With nearly $800 billion in drugs sold worldwide, pharmaceuticals are increasingly being released into the environment. The “green pharmacy” movement seeks to reduce the ecological impact of these drugs, which have caused mass bird die-offs and spawned antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
Before a young African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks died from aggressive cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in 1951, clinicians excised a slice of her cervical tissue and Dr George Gey painstakingly cultured and incubated the prodigiously fecund cancer cells within. The immortal cell line Gey produced—dubbed HeLa—liberated the study of human cells from the messy business of human experimentation.
“Back to the Asylum
” The Lancet,
Volume 375, Issue 9718, Page 883, 13 March 2010.
These days, thanks in part to the great popularity of the modern psychoactive drugs they prescribe, psychiatrists are generally portrayed in popular film and television as rather lovable characters. Think Kelsey Grammar as Dr Frasier Crane in Frasier, Gabriel Byrne as Dr Paul Weston in HBO’s In Treatment, or Lorraine Bracco as Dr Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos. Not so the psychiatrist and psychiatric institution at the centre of Martin Scorsese’s lurid new film about a state hospital for the criminally insane located on a fictional island off the coast of Boston.
“Ted lecturer exploits African women and children,” Ms. magazine blog, March 8, 2010. Doesn’t Nathan Myhrvold get enough attention? The guy is the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, a multimillionaire, a gourmet chef, a prize-winning photographer and keeper of multiple higher degrees from prestigious institutions. As the CEO and founder of Intellectual Ventures, a private outfit that invests in “pure inventions,” he frequently finds himself in the news. And yet, at the annual techno-hip TED conference in February, Myhrvold decided to up the ante, tapping into the misery of millions of rural African women and their families to wrap his business in a cloak of moral urgency. “Every 43 seconds a child dies of malaria,” he told the crowd.
(Translated into Spanish for Rebelion, at http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=102228)
“Biotech on the Big Screen,” The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9714, Pages 543 – 544, 13 February 2010
“Behind Mass Die-offs, Pesticides Lurk as Culprit,” Yale Environment 360, January 7, 2010
Ever since Olga Owen Huckins shared the spectacle of a yard full of dead, DDT-poisoned birds with her friend Rachel Carson in 1958, scientists have been tracking the dramatic toll on wildlife of a planet awash in pesticides. Today, drips and puffs of pesticides surround us everywhere, contaminating 90 percent of the nation’s major rivers and streams, more than 80 percent of sampled fish, and one-third of the nation’s aquifers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fish and birds that unsuspectingly expose themselves to this chemical soup die by the millions every year.
“Climate and the Spread of New Diseases,” Yale Environment 360, October 15, 2009
Look up into the tree canopy of the urban tropics in South Asia, Australia, or equatorial Africa and as often as not you will find masses of Pteropos fruit bats, hanging from the branches like so many furry stalactites. Their forests cut down by bulldozers, torched by slash-and-burn farmers, or desiccated from a disrupted climate, fruit bats increasingly intrude upon human communities, adapting to the orchards and cultivated fruit trees of the cities, farms, and suburbs that have subsumed their forests.
With those bats come diseases that spread to humans, and a growing body of research suggests that their microbes — as well as other pathogens that jump from animals to people — are spreading more rapidly because of climate change and deforestation.
In a provocative new book, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argues that foreign aid in Africa, one of the most haloed sacred cows of the liberal establishment, has been an “unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster,” an idea that “seemed so right” but is in fact “so wrong” that, like asbestos or the Hummer, it should be phased out entirely within the next decade.
How a Tiny Parasite Helped Shape History,
Alternet, April 27, 2009
Last weekend, the mosquitoes emerged from the narrow stream that trickles by our house outside Baltimore, flitting around the ankles of my 9-year-old son, skipping stones with his pants rolled up to his knees.These days, it’s just a benign sign of warmer months to come, but it wasn’t always so. Not too long ago, the local Anopheles mosquitoes — like dozens of mosquito species around the world today — were just as likely to slip in a few Plasmodium parasites with their itchy bites, roiling their victims with the chills and fever named after the Italian for bad air, mal’aria. The stories of how malaria and yellow fever impeded European colonization of Africa and the building of the Panama Canal (surveyed by the Spanish in 1534, unsuccessfully attempted by the Scots in the seventeenth century and the French in the late nineteenth) are familiar. Less known is how malaria’s tide sculpted our own landscape, too.
“The perfect predator: malaria makes a comeback,” Orion magazine, November/December 2006
MY FATHER PROBABLY WASN’T THE ONLY PARENT in our southern New England town to entertain his children by chasing them around the house pretending to be a scary monster. But he probably was the only one who pretended to be an insect. Crouched down, hands curled in front of his nose, he’d slowly unfurl two fingers. When they started to flutter, that was the signal for my sister and me to start running. Dad had turned into the Giant Mosquito, prime predator of his native India, and he was out to get us. My sister and I would pound through the house, howling in terrified delight.
“Small Wonder,” The Urbanite
, March 2009 [visit]
“Re-route US Money,” in “Visions for Change,” Ms Magazine, Winter 2009 [visit]
“World Malaria Day Requires Action,” Belleville News Democrat, April 26, 2008 [visit]
“Malaria Resurges Around the Globe,” ZNet, April 23, 2008
“Translating Newborn,” Wondertime magazine, December/January 2008 [visit]
“The Sickness in Medicine,” The Progressive, July 2007 [Review of Jonathan Cohn's Sick] [visit]
“Testing new drugs on the world’s poor,” Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2007. Reprinted in ZNet, here [visit]
“Fossil fools,” review of Oil on the Brain, Ms. Magazine, Winter 2007
“Medicaments du Nord tests sur les pauvres du Sud,” Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2007 [visit]
“Running on Fumes,” a Q&A with Charley Maxwell, OnEarth magazine, Winter 2007, pp. 8-9 [visit]
“Help wanted: Human guinea pigs,” an interview with Sonia Shah by Betsy Model, The Internationalist magazine, April 30, 2007 [visit]
“The New Tuskegee: Testing New Drugs on the World’s Poor,” CommonDreams.org, November 13, 2006, and ZNet
, November 14, 2006 [visit]
“The Body Hunters” Excerpt, OpenDemocracy.net, November 6, 2006 [visit]
“Testing new drugs on the world’s poor,” Anniston Star, November 12, 2006 [visit]
“America’s Scariest Drug Dealer: Billy Tauzin, CEO PhrMA,” Old Trout magazine, Winter 2006 [visit]
“Kicking the Habit,” Washington Post, October 14, 2006 [visit]
“Testing new drugs on prisoners: the easy out,” The Boston Globe, August 17, 2006 [visit]
“Drug Companies’ Walking Test-Tubes,” NACLA Report on the Americas, March/April 2006
“Halt Global Diabetes Epidemic,” Miami Herald, April 6, 2006
“Don’t blame environmentalists for malaria,” The Nation Online, March 31, 2006 [visit]
“The Constant Gardener: What the movie missed,” The Nation Online, August 30, 2005. [visit]
“The Strange Heresies of Thomas Gold,” Playboy magazine, November 2005
“The Tiniest Trash Bin,” Orion magazine, November 2004.
“The End of Oil? Guess Again,” Salon.com, September 15, 2004. [visit]
“The New Oil,” Salon.com, March 16, 2004
“Our Liquid Slave,” Z Net, July 2003
“The Quest for Oil under the Great Barrier Reef,” The Progressive, July 2003
“An Unprofitable Disease,” The Progressive, November 2002
“Globalizing Clinical Research,” The Nation, July 1, 2002 (reprinted in International Journal of Health Services, Volume 33, Number 1, 2003.) [visit]
“Rx Needed for Medical Journals,” The Nation, January 28, 2001
“The Orgasm Industry: Drug Industry Searches for Female Viagra,” The Progressive, October 2001
“New Report Calls IUDs Safe, But Doubts Linger,” Women’s E-News, September 25, 2001.
“Drug Industry Seeks Viagra-Like Remedy for Women,” Women’s E-News, July 24, 2001. [visit]
“Judge Rules Rape of Aboriginal Girl ‘Traditional,’ ” Women’s E-News, December 2002. [visit]
“Veiled Solidarity,” The Progressive, January 2002
“Walker’s Odd Odyssey A Search for Pure Faith,” Northeast Magazine, December 30, 2001
“Revenge Comes Home,” Outlook India, September 2001
“Taliban Dress Codes Are Not the Issue, New Study Finds,” Masala.com, August 8, 2001