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Archive for the tag “health”

Flu vacccines and snake oil

Almost every year my medical aid sends out a circular to its members, urging them to get vaccinated against influenzs, and saying that they will pay for it. And the letter they send usually warns of the dire consequences of not being vaccinated, and the complications that can ensue from influenza.

flu-shotAnd every year I ignore their advice, because I believe it is unnecessary. Yes, I know that they will pay for it, and so it will cost me nothing but the effort of going to the doctor or the chemist to get vaccinated. But I believe that the main purpose of medical aids is to help with medical expenses in the case of serious illness or injury, and that wasting money on things that I regard as trivial, like flu vaccines, mean that contributions will have to go up, or benefits will go down. So I ignore it.

Influenza is something that comes around every year, and I suspect that one of the reasons for that is that the virus that causes it mutates, so any immunity you have from last year isn’t much good for nezt year’s variety. And in my experience, most times it can be sorted out by two days of bed rest and a couple of boxes of tissues. An aspririn to two can help with headaches, and Vitamin C seems to help, if only as a placebo.

influenzaOf course two days in bed usually means two days off work, and that means lost productivity, and as employers provide substantial funding for most medical aid schemes, it is in their interest to urge people to get vaccinated to avoid the time lost. But if immunity to last year’s flu doesn’t count this year, then vaccines made for last year’s flu won’t count for much this year either. And my experience has been that if I have flu once this season, I’m unlikely to have it again. So the most effective vaccine for flu is flu. Unless, of course, you suffer from something like Aids, which weakens the immune system; in that case it is probably safer to be vaccinated against everything.

I’ve had no scientific basis for ignoring the blandishments to be vaccinated against flu, just my own experience and reasonings. But now there comes this article, which seems to support wehat I’ve long thought: Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines

A Johns Hopkins scientist has issued a blistering report on influenza vaccines in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Peter Doshi, Ph.D., charges that although the vaccines are being pushed on the public in unprecedented numbers, they are less effective and cause more side effects than alleged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Further, says Doshi, the studies that underlie the CDC’s policy of encouraging most people to get a yearly flu shot are often low quality studies that do not substantiate the official claims.

So it seems that my reluctance to support big pharma is not so crazy after all. Of course influenza can lead to complications like bronchitis or pneumonia, but I also suspect that it is most likely to do so if you skip the two days of bed rest and try to carry on with n0rmal activities. So by all means have the vaccination if you can’t afford to take the two days off work, or if you are planning to travel to America, where they might mistake the symptoms for Ebola.

But generally I think medical aid schemes can find better things to spend their money on.

They can also find worse things to spend their money on.

The medical aid I belong to, Bestmed, retains some vestiges of its socialist origins, and therefore tends to consult its members about some things (we are memberts, not customers, you see). One thing they consulted us on was whether we wanted to participate in one of those “loyalty” programmes, which give you points to save up for this or that benefit, or discounts at various shops you never frequent and on products you would never dream of buying. I gather most members said that they’d rather pay lower subscriptions or get more medical benefits than such frippery, because no more was heard of it. But capitalist medical schemes, which have “customers” rather than members, and are accountable to their shareholders rather than to their customers, embark on such things without asking the people who ultimately have to pay for them.

So there are definitely things worse than flu vaccines, but I still don’t want one.

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World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day, and this year is also the 30th year since Aids was discovered and named.

This map shows how it has spread around the world in the last 30 years:

For more information see World AIDS Day – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Smelly socks to prevent malaria?

Malaria and Aids are probably two of the biggest killer diseases in Africa.

I wonder what the pharmaceutical industry will think about this?

Smelly socks tested in Tanzania as way to prevent malaria – The Washington Post:

In global public health, disease-fighting tools that are cheap, available and sustainable are the Holy Grail. It might be hard to top the one being tested in Tanzania as a way to prevent malaria: smelly socks.

Experiments in three villages where people get about 350 bites a year from malaria-infected mosquitoes are using dirty socks to lure the insects into traps, where they become contaminated with poisons and ultimately die.

There used to be a pop group called Toxic Socks. I wonder if they are still around? Their time may have come.

Circumcision of HIV+ males increases risk to women

For quite a long time now there have been reports of studies that purport to show that male circumcision reduces transmission of HIV and Aids, leading some people to advocate universal male circumcision as a means of combating the pandemic.

There is a study that implies that this approach could be counterproductive. Circumcision of HIV men INCREASES risk to women. | ICGI – Genital Integrity:

A new study published in Lancet shows that women are 50% more likely to contract HIV if they are having sex with circumcised men. Most of the infections were from the time period when the couples began having sex before the wound healed, but the effect continued past that period, indicating that there is no benefit to women from male circumcision. Proponents of mass circumcision plans have long argued that women are protected when men are circumcised, but this study indicates the opposite. The study, like its predecessors, was stopped early.

Medical statisticians may believe that universal male circumcision will statistically reduce the rate of transmission of HIV, but one is dealing with people, not statitstics. The web site in the link is an advocacy site, and not disinterested in this matter, but The Lancet is a reputable medical journal.

The study referred to above shows what simple logic should have shown anyway — that while circumcision may reduce a male’s chance of being infected with HIV, one that male is infected, it does nothing to reduce the chance of his passing on the virus to women.

And the propaganda for universal male circumcision may be counterproductive, in that, human nature being what it is, it could lead circumcised males to believe that they are immune to infection (yes, weirder things have happened — people are not statistics) and thus become more promiscuous.

Health hazard in flu vaccine?

It has been reported that some batches of flu vaccine have been contaminated by live avian flu virus (H5N1):

The Czech company Biotest near from Prague got from Austria a testing batch of the new flu vaccine for 2009 from the american company Baxter. In february they have found that the vaccine was contaminated by the H5N1 – Avian flu virus, which is on the list of the possible biological weapons and is one of the most dangerous biological agents on the Earth – with more than 60% death rate [4]. All the testing animals in Biotest were subsequently destroyed and all the workers in the company were put in quarantine. Luckily nobody contracted the disease. Subsequently the same problem of the Baxter vaccines contamination with H5N1 was found in the laboratories in Slovenia, Austria and Germany, which confirms that the source of the contagion was in fact the Baxter vaccine, which could be very probable, because Baxter is one of the companies, which are developing the vaccines against H5N1.

This has led some to suggest that it is a deliberate attempt to create a pandemic. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory, and most of these reports, except possiblt the original Czech ones, seem to emanate from conspiracy theory factories.

But I’ve managed to survive every winter of my life so far without resorting to flu vaccines, in spite of my Medical Aid sending out letters recommending them, and I think this year will be no exception.

Cholera stretches Limpopo resources

The Times – Cholera stretching SA to breaking point:

MORE than 40 new cholera infections — half of them further than 100km from the disease’s South African epicentre, Musina — have prompted Limpopo health authorities to ask that outbreak sites be declared emergency areas.

The new cases of the water- borne disease were reported at the weekend. Twenty-one new cases were reported in remote areas along the Limpopo River, where thousands of Zimbabweans illegally cross into South Africa. Officials fear the outbreak will become unmanageable if there is no emergency intervention.

It has taken a long time for Zimbabwe’s infrastructure to collapse to this extent. The collapse has now reached, or passed, the point that Albania had reached ten years ago. And the South African government continues prop up the mad dictator who is destroying his country and his people.

Five years ago a group of Johannesburg church leaders criticised the state of human rights in Zimbabwe after hearing stories from Zimbabwean refugees, and were castigated by Frank Chikane and Cedric Mayson (two clergy advisers of the ANC government), for doing so, and likened to George Bush. At the same time Bishop Desmond Tutu made a much stronger statement, which was reported in the newspapers, but did not have much effect, since he was retired. But it was the kind of statement that the South African government could have made, but did not. The ANC could see through Ronald Reagan’s “constructive engagement” approach to P.W. Botha’s human rights abuses in South Africa in the 1980s, but 20 years later it had fallen into the same trap in the way it approached Mugabe’s human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Whether speaking out more strongly against Mugabe’s human rights abuses would have made a concrete difference is a moot point, but the “constructive engagement” policy certainly achieved nothing, and the cholera epidemic is just one consequence of that.

The Aids war is over – sort of

While there was controversy and a split in the ANC over the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, there were few to mourn exit of his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The Times – ‘The war is over’:

AFTER years of anger, South Africa yesterday commemorated World Aids Day, confident for the first time that the government is responding effectively to the epidemic.

Mark Heywood, deputy chair of the SA National Aids Council, said: “The war is over. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be disputes and that the Treatment Action Campaign will be muted when we have issues to raise — but it means that the level of resistance that we once encountered is over…

Last month The Times reported that a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US had found that more than 330000 lives had been lost because of the failure of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang in the provision of HIV-Aids drugs between 2000 and 2005.

  • The Harvard report blamed the deaths on the reluctance of the Mbeki-led government to implement a feasible and timely antiretroviral treatment programme.

  • The study found that almost 35000 babies were born with HIV between 2000 and 2005 because Mbeki and his health minister had failed to make widely available the drug nevirapine, which prevents mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
  • The new Health Minister, Barbara Hogan, is taking action to turn this around.

    But the Mbeki government’s failure to deal adequately with HIV/Aids has led to another health crisis:

    Al Jazeera English – Focus – South Africa’s hidden epidemic:

    Once on the wane, tuberculosis is again resurgent, especially in countries facing major HIV/Aids epidemics.

    In 2006, it killed an estimated 1.7 million people, according to the UN. An estimated two million died of HIV/Aids, but for many the immediate cause was tuberculosis; TB is the number one killer for people with Aids.

    Unlike Aids, TB – once known as the white plague – is a curable disease, but proper treatment is complicated and requires at least a six-month course of antibiotics.

    However, HIV attacks the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections like TB, and as a result, there are high-levels of co-infection.

    One of the consequences of this has been the evolution of new strains of drug-resistant TB.

    This is my contribution to the Bloggers Unite on World Aids Day campaign.

    It’s a day late, because yesterday was also the synchroblog on Mythical Monsters, which, though it seemed to me to be an interesting topic, only got three contributions. Anyway, better late than never, for both the Aids Day one and the mythical monsters one.

    Muti murders and ritual killing

    The Daily Dispatch has a good article on the growing number of muti and ritual murders.

    Daily Dispatch Online:

    THE use of human body parts for medicinal purposes – “muti”, derived from the word meaning tree – is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption of another. Medicine, or muti, murder appears in several countries across Africa, with ethnographic evidence going back to the early nineteenth century in South Africa. Research indicates that an estimated 80 percent of South Africans regularly use traditional herbs and medicines for muti.

    Not all traditional healers make use of human body parts as an ingredient in their medicines, but those who do place an “order” with a person hired for this specialist purpose. The orders include private parts, tongues, hands, heads, eyes and lips which are used to ensure economic prosperity, sexual potency and to promote romantic matters amongst others.

    These are the type of self-centred motives that leads to murder.

    The use of human body matter does, however, not always involve killing. F or example, a living person’s nail clippings or hair cuttings may secretly be collected by a jealous neighbour or friend and used in potions targeted against that person. Body parts can also be harvested from corpses, with mortuary workers and hospital staff implicated in this aspect of the trade.

    Lest this be thought to be a problem related only to African culture and African traditional medicine, the following report indicates that Western medicine also suffers from this kind of abuse:

    News – Crime & Courts: Spotlight on organ transplant scandal:

    A decision is to be made this week on who is to be prosecuted in the alleged international kidney transplant trafficking scandal which allegedly involved St Augustine s Hospital and eight KwaZulu-Natal doctors specialists and staff.

    And a decision will also be made on what the proposed charges ‘the participants’ should respond to said Advocate Robin Palmer a law professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who has been called in to prosecute the case.

    Charges were provisionally withdrawn two years ago against the doctors and Netcare transplant unit staff to allow the State time for further investigations.

    Harvesting organs in this manner, whether for African traditional medicine or Western scientific medicine, turns healing into a zero-sum game, in which the health of one person can only be improved at the cost of the health of another.

    The Times – Few will turn 50 in SA

    According to this report, South Africa’s life expectancy has dropped drastically in the last 10 years.

    The Times – Few will turn 50 in SA:

    MOST South Africans will not live to celebrate their 50th birthday, just like people living in strife-torn Somalia and impoverished Ethiopia.

    A UN Population Fund report puts the life expectancy of the typical South African man at only 48.8 years; women are not expected to live longer than 49.6 years.

    This is drastically lower than a decade ago, when the US Census Bureau’s international database put life expectancy at 55.5 years for South Africans.

    The most recent estimate of South African life expectancies was less than for people living in Brazil, the murder capital of the world, or for people in war-torn Iraq.

    The report, UNFPA State of World Population 2008, states that South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with 21.8 percent of all women aged between 15 and 49 being HIV-positive — the fourth-highest rate globally. Only South Africa’s less populous neighbours — Swaziland (32 percent), Botswana (28.9 percent) and Lesotho (27.1 percent) — have worse prevalence figures.

    So Southern Africa generally is the region suffering most from HIV/Aids.

    In view of this, one wonders why South Africa seems to attract so many immigrants, legal and illegal.

    Circumcision and Aids

    clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

    Circumcision is a cultural practice and should not be used as a preventative measure in the fight against HIV-Aids, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said yesterday.

    It had therefore sought to discuss the matter with traditional leaders to “inform and enlighten all concerned”.

    Tshabalala-Msimang told traditional leaders and healers that cultural practices should not be used for “purposes other than those for which they were meant for at the beginning”, her department said in a statement.

    “She also called on all role-players to guard against sending confusing messages that would encourage people to get circumcised with the hope of not getting HIV infected,” it said.

    The minister again called on traditional leaders to “assert their role” in the fight against HIV-Aids.

    blog it

    The Minister’s ideas on what should and should not be used in the fight against HIV/Aids have been pretty weird in the past. Circumcision has been practiced for various reasons, and male circumcision has often been practised because it was believed to be “healthy”, though this is in itself a cultural belief.

    One of the problems with using it in the fight against HIV/Aids is that it is believed to reduce the incidence of male infection, though does nothing to reduce the spread of infection from infected males. Thus circumcision could in fact encourage male promiscuity (because males think they are “safe”) and do nothing to stop the general spread.

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