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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Children, Espionage, and Pain

Here’s what was important this week…

If you have a child abroad, and you’re a U.S. citizen, you can get your child U.S. citizenship as well. However, as Tori Marlan investigates  “the rules that determine what babies can become citizens seem to be butting up against the modern circumstances under which Americans are having babies.” Most notably, modern practices that involve children being born before marriage, or through fertility treatments, or to same-sex couples. Proof is needed to prove that the child is “born of” the U.S. citizen–implied in heterosexual couples, but not as much for homosexual couples. Alexis Madrigal explores further implications that the future of reproductive technology will have for how we define parenthood.

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. indicted 5 members of the Chinese military on economic espionage charges.

As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, we’re guilty of nearly the same:

“The only difference between the U.S. and China’s actions is that the U.S. doesn’t engage in direct industrial espionage. That is, we don’t steal secrets from Chinese companies and pass them directly to U.S. competitors. But we do engage in economic espionage; we steal secrets from Chinese companies for an advantage in government trade negotiations, which directly benefits U.S. competitors. We might think this difference is important, but other countries are not as as impressed with our nuance.”

And James Surowiecki writes for the New Yorker on the fact that the U.S. got its start as an industrial power by engaging in just that kind of espionage, to the point where “State governments financed the importation of smuggled machines.”

As Surowiecki concludes,

“engaging in economic espionage is something developing countries do. When you’re not yet generating a lot of intellectual property on your own, you imitate. These days, China is going to try to steal, and the West is going to try to stop it. But the tactic of using piracy to leapfrog ahead? That looks like an idea it stole from us.”

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