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Hurricanes and Health

Although our President seems to be focused on criticizing NFL players right now, most of the rest of the world is concerned about the state of our global climate and even more importantly, surviving. There have been three major hurricanes as of late. In late August Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas and Louisiana as a category four hurricane with over one hundred thirty mile per hour winds and dropping forty-sixty inches of rain causing terrible flooding and damage and catastrophic impact. Then there was Irma which hit many of the Caribbean islands and was named a category five hurricane, the strongest possible with the highest wind speeds. The damaged travelled up the Florida Keys as a category four storm and battered much of Florida and then moved up to Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. The storm started late August and worked its way up through mid-September. Florida evacuated more than five million people and more than three million lost power. Finally, Maria hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico decimating the island. One man in Puerto Rico said, “Irma gave us a break but Maria destroyed us.” The entire island lost power, there was also horrific flooding and many deaths. As with the other storms, there are significant challenges to rebuilding homes and communities. While all of these storms have their own stories, they should leave us with a common conclusion: the world is in turmoil right now and if we want to see a sustainable future, we can’t just sit around anymore.

Hurricane Harvey hit a thriving city, Houston and yet relief seems far from reach. Houston is on a low-altitude part of the Gulf Coastal Plain and has poor drainage; so, in terms of environment this city is susceptible to floods. Some see this as reason to dismiss the issue of global warming as the cause for the most recent natural disaster; however, in recent years Houston has achieved rapid development on the front of drainage capacity. Harvey completely erased these efforts. Due to Global Warming, the ocean waters are above average temperature as well as above average level. Warm water is the catalyst for energy for major storms and can prolong storms and their intensity. The floodwaters contained numerous hazards to the environment and general health.  Bacteria such as E. Coli, coliform and Vibrio vulnificus, a “flesh-eating disease” that lives in the Gulf Coast has affected many hurricane victims in this area. Additionally, many cancer-causing toxins and carcinogens were found in the water and sewer systems.

Hurricane Irma’s impact was so far-reaching and catastrophic with confirmed landfalls in Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, Cuba and the United States. Yet, the storm deeply affected areas far removed from the landfall phenomenons as well. Irma shut off electricity in many areas, which cut off their wastewater lift stations, leading to overflows and spills—twenty-eight million gallons of sewage was dumped across Florida. With this sewage, came perilous bacteria, viruses and parasites including E. Coli, salmonella, and hepatitis A. Another health risk that arose in the aftermath of Irma was that because of the humid temperatures mold and mildew built up in houses which causes allergies, asthma and various respiratory conditions. Additionally, build up of still water can be breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the health risks that come with them such as West Nile and Zika. Another health risk that is often overlooked is the UV exposure that comes from damage on tree canopies.

Hurricane Maria, while slightly smaller than Irma may be the worst one yet in terms of its long-term affects. There is still no power on the island, meaning there is still no clean drinking water, places to bathe or flush toilets. Food, fuel and cell service is also extremely limited. Transportation, including roads and even the airports are severely damaged. Perhaps even worse, very few hospitals are operating because so few actually have power. Additionally, although agriculture was a relatively small part of the Puerto Rican economy, it is now completely destroyed after wiping out eighty percent of the crop value which will likely increase prices and intensify the probability of food shortages.

Besides these very tangible health consequences in the aftermath of these three devastating disasters, so much comes from these effects. Not only are homes themselves destroyed but the families inside are as well. The death toll is high, and additionally mental health in the aftermath of events like these are in turmoil as well. And with these mental and physical ailments comes extreme financial unrest. The cycle is never-ending. Luckily with our access to news comes our access to solutions. There are charities to give to such as American Red Cross, Global Giving, the Salvation Army and Americares. However, simply giving to these organizations seems like a reactionary solution. This is a problem that needs to be addressed at the root: people need to acknowledge their actions in adding to the effects of global warming on our country; additionally, great works needs to be done to acknowledge the disparities of who is affected most in the aftermath of these natural disasters. We shouldn’t just address these issues when we are bombarded with news on three new disasters, this should be an ongoing fight for justice and equality. If only Mr. Trump would acknowledge this instead of just tweeting, “…Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.” We know.

References:

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/26/16365994/hurricane-maria-2017-puerto-rico-san-juan-humanitarian-disaster-electricty-fuel-flights-facts

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/19/16325044/hurricane-2017-health-risks-irma-harvey-pollution-mold-mosquitoes-depression

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/26/552063244/long-after-the-hurricanes-have-passed-hard-work-and-hazards-remain

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World Day of Social Justice

“Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.” -United Nations, WDSJ webpage (1)

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared that February 20th be celebrated annually as World Day of Social Justice. A product of rising globalization, World Day of Social Justice encourages nations to devote the day towards the eradication of poverty, inequity, exclusion, and unemployment. While we know these goals cannot be achieved in a day, World Day of Social Justice provides us with a chance to look around our community, locally and globally, with extra purpose and passion. GlobeMed at Tufts and PHASE Nepal share a drive to collaborate and eliminate global health inequity, and we find inspiration in the action taken by the international community in support of global health equity. February 20th has become a day to rally, to dream, to energize, to learn, to grow, and to come together. Especially in the current national climate, it is increasingly important every single day to take action and to create hope.

This February 23rd, GlobeMed at Tufts will be hosting a film screening of Vessel, an award-winning documentary following the work of Rebecca Gomperts, founder of Women on Waves. Dr. Gomperts, a Dutch physician, activist, and artist, made it her life’s work to end the health risks associated with illegal abortions. Dr. Gomperts and her organization work on a ship-turned-clinic that sails to areas where women cannot access legal and safe abortion. Once in international waters, Dr. Gomperts and her crew are trained and authorized to administer abortions and provide contraceptives. They also train local women to administer safe abortions using non-surgical WHO-researched protocols. Through a network of empowerment, Women on Waves has given countless women access to safe abortions, birth control, and invaluable knowledge.

We find this documentary especially relevant after the reenactment of the U.S. Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag. First enacted by President Reagan and most recently reenacted by President Trump, this policy blocks federal funding to NGOs that provide abortion services or counseling as well as those that advocate for the decriminalization or expansion of abortion services.

GlobeMed at Tufts is devoted to social justice, nationally and abroad, and aims to emphasize the importance of self-education and community discussion. Please join us on February 23rd at 6 PM in Tisch 304 for a free screening of Vessel with snacks, discussion, and good company! We hope to foster an open dialogue about the film and World Day of Social Justice, so all thoughts, feelings, and opinions are welcome.

Vessel trailer: https://vimeo.com/106489346

Women on Waves website: http://www.womenonwaves.org/


(1) http://www.un.org/en/events/socialjusticeday/

Considering the impacts of climate change on global health, a call for intersectionality

On November 15th, 2016, the GlobeMed Policy team hosted Dr. Barry Levy of Tufts Medical (co-editor of the book Climate Change and Public Health), Dr. David Gute of Tufts University, and  Dr. Jonathan Buonocore of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment for a conversation about how climate change is impacting and will continue to impact global health. Dr. Levy opened the panel with an overview of a variety of different impacts including: heat-related disorders; the health impacts of air pollution; vectorborne, waterborne, and foodborne diseases; impacts on nutrition and food insecurity; displacement; and increases in collective violence. Dr. Gute then followed up with a discussion of the ways in which every academic and professional field is implicated in the issue of climate change. He argued that they should all be working together to find solutions, drawing connections between engineering and climate justice through the example of buildings built to decrease carbon emissions as well as accommodate sea-level rise. Finally, Dr. Buonocore talked about the potential for and importance of development and widespread implementation of renewable energy sources. 

One noteworthy point brought up during the Q&A was about the impact of climate change on mental health. Mental health is often forgotten in conversations about health emergencies, in the wake of natural disasters, for instance. However, it is just as relevant and important as physical health, and will likely be heavily impacted by climate change. Each of the aforementioned impacts of climate change on health has the potential to impact mental health as well. Mental health impacts must be treated with the same severity as all other impacts.

The panelists presented compelling arguments that were both intimidating as well as energizing. Dr. Gute argued that in most situations, change begins on a community level. This grassroots level is where new technology or new strategies can be tested, or where norms begin to shift. He gave the example of how Tufts as well as most other institutions in Boston, now ensure that every new building they construct is LEED certified, and how that represents a shift in norms. When faced with the recent election of Donald Trump and the nomination of Myron Ebell to lead the EPA, it is difficult to expect much top-down change with regards to the environment over the course of the next four years, making it all the more important to consider the power that individual communities hold to make a difference.

Finally, a theme present throughout the panel was how these problems have had, and will continue to have, disparate impacts on different groups of people across the globe. The impacts of climate change have already proven to and will continue to affect people based on race, gender, class, and geography, all shaped by a long history and currently reality of colonialism that shapes our world today. Taking this into account, we see the importance of the intersectionality of social justice movements. This event was framed around the intersectionality of climate justice and health justice, but it inherently brought up issues relating to economic, gender, and racial justice. This was one of the most important takeaways of the evening: that it is impossible to fight for one type of justice or equality without fighting for them all, a critical message to all those who, like the members of GlobeMed at Tufts, implicate themselves in the fight for health equity.

Below are some photos from the panel:

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Reflections from the Summer 2016 Grow Team

When we wrote our first blogpost about GROW, not having yet arrived in Nepal, each of us mentioned our excitement and enthusiasm for learning about PHASE and using that knowledge to strengthen our partnership. As a chapter who went a year without being able to send a GROW team due to the devastating earthquake in 2015, we have experienced firsthand the palpable disconnect between the majority of the chapter and our partner organization that occurs when a GROW team is unable to go during the summer. We were able to present small bits about Nepali culture and PHASE, but without the ability to tie in any strong personal connections, many of the lessons just skimmed the surface. It was difficult to get new members to understand the purpose of our fundraising and education efforts. Some of our members had prior experience in Nepal, but no one could remotely comprehend the effect of the earthquake on communities in the country.

Not only has life changed due to the earthquake, but so has PHASE’s efforts. They had to reallocate funds from their usual programs to support relief projects, which included our own fundraising which was originally structured to go to training a teacher-trainer who would facilitate workshops for teachers in the communities PHASE works in. Learning about these changes without seeing it in action has been difficult, and further muddled the information being given to members about the organization. Other than PHASE newsletters once a month about their different efforts and the many videos of the earthquake’s destruction in tourist areas, it was impossible to know what working in Nepal involved. Even the last GROW team’s stories of day-to-day life became less applicable because the house they stayed in became too damaged to be inhabitable along with one of the schools they worked in. The gap made us ineffective and less accountable fundraisers. This year, we hope that having had 5 members get so much exposure to and experience with PHASE will enable us to renew GlobeMedders’ sense of purpose, and help everyone in the chapter better understand our partner. We look forward to transferring our knowledge through presentations, the incorporation of information about PHASE in weekly ghUs.

The absence of the GROW trip from the GlobeMed model also created a disconnect on PHASE’s end of our partnership. We realized this summer that most of the PHASE staff weren’t very aware of who we were, why we were there, or what we do. Other than a small stamp as a donor on the company calendar, GlobeMed was an unknown. The trip was an invaluable opportunity to communicate our goals to PHASE staff and demonstrate our potential as interns every summer. We got the chance to interact work with so many PHASE staff members, getting to explain who we are to them. We also gave a presentation to the staff at the end of the summer, summarizing what our initial goals for the trip were, what we had been doing in our time in Nepal, and more general information about the chapter. We were graciously hosted by a PHASE education officer who we spent many nights chatting with about PHASE’s work in detail and these personal relationships will not only help in creating better dialogue going forward but they are the types of grounded experiences that will make our fundraising, education efforts, and future GROW planning easier.

Finally, we believe that GROW is crucial to the GlobeMed model, because GlobeMed supports sustainability in development. We believe in accountability for the impact that we have. It is critical for individuals and organizations to understand the impact that they are having when they support projects. Although the work may not be hands on, it is still affecting people, and it is of the utmost importance for donors to understand that and hold themselves accountable for it.

 

The 2016 Summer Grow Team: Colette Midulla, Jenna Sherman, Nick Roberts, Kiley Pratt, Kellie Chin 

Treatment in the Time of Cholera

Last summer I had the opportunity to conduct research with Tufts’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Department on cholera in drinking water in rural Haiti. Nearly six years ago, when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country, Haiti was on the front page of every news source. Once the crisis abated and the country lost the limelight, international aid and attention plummeted. Still, in the months after the earthquake, cholera– an infectious disease spread through water– appeared in the country for the first time in a hundred years, brought in by foreign aid workers trying to help. It remains, now endemic, in the country to this day.

The thing about cholera is that is entirely treatable. If, say, I had contracted the disease while I was there last May collecting samples, I would have been transported to a hospital either in Port-au-Prince or Miami, rehydrated and maybe given some antibiotics, and I would have been fine. Untreated, however, it can kill in a matter of days. Furthermore, because the disease works by flushing all liquid out of the body, any water contaminated by the excrement of the diseased will then spread the cholera even further.

This was the case in Haiti. Because of the lack of infrastructure, the idea of waste water treatment or a centralized water system of any sort is entirely unheard of in the country, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake. Instead, in the rural areas where my research was focused, communities get their water primarily from wells and open sources called canals that irrigate the fertile Artibonite Valley. Once the Artibonite River, the main artery of Haiti, was contaminated, so was every canal in the valley. The disease spread like wildfire.

While cholera has been a chronic issue in Haiti for the past six years, it has recently popped up in outbreaks around the world. The tragedy of this sickness continues: in a world with the medical knowledge and technology ours has today, people are still dying from something as treatable as cholera. All you need to survive is clean water, something that is incredibly easy to take for granted in this country. The importance of providing basic human necessities like clean water to protect the health of others is insurmountable. We need not have another Haiti.

Kellie Chin, sophomore
Communications Team

To learn more about cholera and Haiti, check out Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Unicef and Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population.

Mental Health at Home and Abroad

Last week at our chapter meeting, two members of our ghU staff team did an important presentation on mental health, both at Tufts and in Nepal. An underlying theme of the presentation was how mental and physical health are treated so differently in our society, and yet how there is no way to have one without the other.

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This stigma prevents everyone from college students to rural villagers in Nepal from receiving the help they need. For example, in the entire country of Nepal, there is only one mental hospital. Looking at mental health from a wider, whole-body health perspective is also in line with the greater mission of our partner organization, PHASE. They include education and livelihood as key elements in promoting health because they know that health is a combination of physical, emotional, and social factors.

Finally, we discussed an important but difficult question: How should mental health be treated in nations facing serious physical health problems? Should it have the same priority level as physical health? As a chapter, we were unable to determine a definitive answer. What do you think?

P.S. If you’re a Tufts student looking for any sort of help, please visit Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Services at the Sawyer House, or call Ears for Peers (617-627-3888) any night from 7pm to 7am. Stay healthy everyone!

Lack of Resources for Asylum-Seekers Exacerbates Health Conditions for All

Healthcare is a human right. This is a fact that, as Westerners, we are imbued with from a young age and that is evident in Article 25 of the declaration of human rights that states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of…circumstances beyond his control.” Under this international article, all human beings are endowed with protection of the right to health and wellbeing of personhood.

The protection of this inalienable right, though in place under international law, is undertaken by individual nation states who implement and regulate their own systems of healthcare. Because refugees and asylum-seekers are between borders, internally displaced, or stateless, their precarious statuses make them a population particularly vulnerable to a lack of guarantee to this right to health.  This right, however, should not be contingent on citizenship status of a state, but on the basis of being human. Multiple European nations are not upholding this belief in the current refugee crisis, but rather are acting directly contrary to it.

It is the deplorable truth that many countries, including more economically developed nations, do not employ a healthcare system that embodies the fundamental principle of healthcare as a human right. Myriad US citizens, disproportionately low-income people of color, suffer from this absence of universal healthcare daily in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world; not to mention less-economically developed nations, or nations that are hot-beds of conflict, that do not have the means to provide advanced and equitable healthcare to their citizens.

Because even within many nation borders there is a dire need for improved quality of health care, the dearth of access to and quality of healthcare for those between borders demands to be called into question.

Not only are millions of Syrian refugees making the impossible decision to risk their lives to escape what has become one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, but, in doing so, they are sacrificing fundamental human rights that come with the protection of the state—one of the most vital of them being access to healthcare. These asylum-seekers, however, are not finding a regaining of those rights upon their various entrances into Europe. Rather, in the majority of cases they find themselves in heavily-burdened countries such as Hungary, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, that not only are adamant in their unwillingness to grant them asylum, but that are unwilling to treat them as human beings with fundamental rights in the holding period.

Refugee camps and processing facilities within these countries are under-resourced, inhumanely disorganized, and stigmatized by the local community. In the majority of cases these camps are run solely by NGO’s and international aid groups, guarded only by the local police to dissuade any violent activity. With countries such as Hungary pledging to grant asylum to not one refugee, where does that leave those without a home? Oftentimes in poor physical and mental health, and with no other option but to continue the journey north towards countries more willing to accept them.

In recent weeks, there has been a cessation in the Dublin Regulations in Germany that, under EU law stipulates that refugees only can be granted asylum in the country in which they first enter, permitting entryway countries such as Hungary to bus thousands of asylum seekers to northern Europe; however, conditions are still in need of significant improvement in the processing facilities within these gateway nations. The rights of these vulnerable human beings are being blatantly disregarded.

This neglect is not only deteriorating health, and, in turn, overall living conditions for refugees within these camps, but is exacerbating health conditions in all locations within the EU experiencing an influx of refugees. As health is embedded in all sectors of livelihood, the refugee crisis only continues to worsen.

There have been myriad complaints and expressions of fears from within the EU that this incursion of refugees from countries particularly in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, are bringing with them an array of new diseases. These fears, though valid, are bolstered by increasing Islamophobia in Europe and contribute to the stigmatization of refugees as well as the lack of organized aid going to them.

The point these countries are missing, is that withholding resources from refugees won’t deter them from coming; conversely, it is degenerating health conditions of asylum seekers even further that affect the hosting European cities and feed a self-fulfilling prophecy. To put it succinctly, the situation is becoming more dangerous for everyone.

Many European seem to believe that by refusing to grant asylum to the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking it, paired with withholding basic aid and support will deter refugees from coming; the truth, however, is that refugees are using any means to make the journey into Europe regardless of the cost, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. According to the UNHCR, 38 European countries have recorded at least a 24% increase in asylum applications since 2013. This number is only continuing to rise as the state of the Syrian wars continues to worsen, along with conflict and instability in other countries such as Afghanistan and Eritrea. Therefore, devising strategies to keep refugees out is not the answer to mitigating an influx of diseases—improving access to, and quality of healthcare within camps and adhering to the Declaration of Human Rights, is.

Jenna Sherman is a junior majoring in Community Health and Peace and Justice Studies.

Nepal Earthquake: PHASE Update and Emergency Appeal

Our thoughts are with our partner organization, PHASE Nepal, and the rest of the incredible and resilient people of Nepal.

We are working with SAPAC (South Asian Political Action Committee) and other on-campus organizations to organize a vigil this Thursday evening and other fundraising efforts. Check facebook.com/TuftsSAPAC and our Facebook page (facebook.com/GlobeMedTufts) for more updates on how you can get involved in relief efforts.

Spring Semester: What did we do again?

Finally! After a long winter (Boston’s snowiest yet), today really looks like spring. That means that the school year is almost over… and that another semester of GlobeMed at Tufts is coming to a close. Before we all get swept away with finals and thoughts of summer (and a GROW trip!), we wanted to reflect back on all the awesome events and fundraising with done since January.

We started off the semester with a LOT of snow days, but once we got on our feet, we got a lot done! In February, a bunch of Tufts GlobeMedders headed over to a Boston-area conference at MIT to meet with GlobeMed groups from other schools and discuss health as a human right. We also collaborated with other global health groups on campus this winter— we put together a Taste of Global Health dinner. The dining services at Tufts offered a meal with food from Nepal, Guatemala and India. Along with a delicious meal, all the groups had information tables set up in the dining hall so students could learn more about the great work each of these groups do. A few days later, we sponsored a workshop with a GreenPeace representative about effective activism. Finally, we sent a team to GlobeMed Headquarters in Evanston, IL for the Summit, a conference with representatives from all the chapters across the nation. In terms of educational opportunities, this semester was packed!

But there’s more! We’ve been lucky enough to have surpassed our fundraising goal or $10,000 and have raised $12,150 to date. After a very successful campaign on Global Giving in December, we were ready to continue working on campus this semester. We were lucky enough to receive a second Kaplan course that we then sold to the Tufts community. After that, we began to think about ways to reach out to the student body, and ended up hosting two major events, both of which were wildly successful. The first of these was Trivia Night, where we offered food, (global health related) trivia fun, and prizes. The second was Comedy Night. Five different Tufts’ comedy groups performed and we had a raffle, making it a fun night full of laughter.

All and all, this has been a great semester, and we’ve done a lot of good things. We’re looking forward to the GROW trip this summer and a great next semester. Meanwhile, enjoy spring!

The ACA and Teen Mental Health

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Mental health is a major issue in the United States, especially in high school teens. There are many stigmas associated with mental illnesses that, in some cases, lead to cases going untreated. One of the most common mental illnesses that teens face today is depression. Some symptoms of depression can often be misconceived as part of school stresses or being a teen. The “treatment” for depression can sometimes be antidepressants. Drugs never fix the problem, they just suppress the symptoms, thus in the long term, that needed care is being delayed and prolonged. For some teenagers, antidepressants often don’t get to the core of the problem or discuss the source of that depression. Sometimes talking to a professional does help. What if a family cannot afford the cost of “talking to someone”? Why the Affordable Care Act may be able to help…

In 2010, the ACA authorized $50 million towards the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This money is funneled towards providing “co-location grants” to provide behavioral treatment options in communities. Furthermore, in expanding Medicaid, the ACA is providing more funds to help states’ abilities to create these community-based homes and programs for people who are suffering from long term chronic mental illnesses. Now that the average person can stay under their parents’ health insurance, teenagers can have a more prolonged system of care and help to deal with depression and other mental illnesses. Other legal improvements to the Medicaid is improving health facilities,federally qualified, to have behavioral health programs and care.Does that mean that the ACA fixes everything? Is everything suddenly better and Americans have wiped out depression entirely? No. There are still teenagers depressed and millions of people suffer from various mental illnesses in America. But, there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel.

The ACA does not magically gets rid of depression or cures other mental health issues.  However, it does create programs about mental illnesses to educate against stereotypes and encourage teenagers to seek medical help that they need. Mental health is part of overall health, and the ACA is advocating to shed some lights on it.

Written by Stephane Alexandre

Sources:

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1108649

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-and-high-school-students/index.shtml

http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/effects/

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/tep/1/2/105/