Three Types of Health

Public health in the U.S. tends to focus on chronic diseases (like cancer or diabetes), but in other parts of the world, much of the focus is on drugs that either no longer afflict the U.S., or aren’t cost-effective to treat.

Sickle cell anemia can be treated when it’s identified early. But that doesn’t happen much in the developing world, it is still a serious issue. So a diagnostic test that is simple, fast, and cheap is ideal, and currently in development.

Malaria isn’t a disease most Americans think of unless they’re going somewhere in Africa for a trip. A new diagnostic test (developed with technology that is also used in missile detectors) can diagnose malaria in four minutes in patients that don’t even show symptoms yet, and doesn’t even need a specialist to interpret the results.

Ebola is yet another disease that is more of an edge case–devastating, but rare, especially in the United States. For pharmaceutical companies, this means that it isn’t fiscally worth it to produce a treatment for ebola:

“When pharmaceutical companies are deciding where to direct their R. & D. money, they naturally assess the potential market for a drug candidate. That means that they have an incentive to target diseases that affect wealthier people (above all, people in the developed world), who can afford to pay a lot. They have an incentive to make drugs that many people will take. And they have an incentive to make drugs that people will take regularly for a long time—drugs like statins.”

Cancer is widespread across the globe, and has been around for millennia. For some kinds of cancer, however, genetic treatment is experimentally promising. Rather than attempting to destroy the cancerous cells, targeted treatments have been shown to cause cancerous cells to mature into non-cancerous cells.

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Memorials, Public Health, and Empathy

Here’s what was important this week…

The museum memorializing the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks opened this week. Steve Kandell wrote about visiting it: The Worst Day of My Life is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction. The photographer and people-person-extraordinaire behind Humans of New York spoke to someone who also went through the museum. It opened early for survivors and family members of victims. Everyone agreed that the gift shop was in bad taste.

One of my favorite blog of odds and ends, Futility Closet, had two posts recently that speak to the difficulty of colonizing a country. When the Spanish conquered the West Indies, the conditions they imposed on the natives were so poor that they were committing suicide in great numbers. So great, in fact, that:

 “In the end the Spaniards, faced with an embarrassing labor shortage, put a stop to the epidemic of suicides by persuading the Indians that they, too, would kill themselves in order to pursue them in the next world with even harsher cruelties.”

In Puritan New England, conditions were so bad for the conquerors (I mean settlers…) that children who were captured by Native Americans often didn’t want to come back. This was a somewhat popular theme for historical fiction novels like Calico Captive (which I read when I was younger). One possible reason for this, mentioned in the post, is that “The Mohawks were much more indulgent of children than the colonists, and women were counted equal to men and played an integral role in society and politics.”

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