Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

How mobile is transforming healthcare: Report

Immediately thought of my Liberian FB friends, a nurse and dean at a community college, a healthcare screener upcountry in a small town (my Peace Corps site back in 1980/81), and a Methodist deacon (one of my former students). All went above and beyond the call of duty during the Ebola crisis.
Back in 2009 I participated in a service project group in Liberia. Was taken aback by noticing that at least half of those over 18 seemed to have cell phones. Believed this was quite good. The roads overall are pretty bad, unpaved, and nearly impassible during the 3 month rainy season. So the cell phones really keep people connected, and relay information well. I get rather irked when I read comments (FB, editorials, etc) that say poor people should not have cell phones. Well, I strongly disagree, overall I believe they save money (think transportation costs for many information needs at the least!). How arrogant for some of “the haves” to believe “the have nots” are not using their scarce resources wisely.
Not sure what I can do to advance mobile health in Liberia, but I will do what I can.
Thanks for posting this, I have forwarded this to my Liberian FB friends. Most likely stuff they already know. The deacon obtained his PhD in theology in DC, the nurse/deacon is very aware of technology, and the healthcare screener is from Nigeria and has a good education and is very much a world citizen.


The Economist came up with a report about How mobile is transforming healthcare including infographics and analyses. You can download the report here.

According to a new survey, mobile technology has the potential to profoundly reshape the healthcare industry, altering how care is delivered and received.

Executives in both the public and private sector predict that new mobile devices and services will allow people to be more proactive in attending to their health and well-being.

These technologies promise to improve outcomes and cut costs, and make care more accessible to communities that are currently underserved. Mobile health could also facilitate medical innovation by enabling scientists to harness the power of big data on a large scale.


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February 7, 2015 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Did Nigeria Quash Its Ebola Outbreak So Quickly? – Scientific American

How Did Nigeria Quash Its Ebola Outbreak So Quickly? – Scientific American.

From the 18 October 2014 article

What we can learn from the boot leather, organization and quick response times that stopped Ebola from spreading in this African nation
ebola in Nigeria

Empty ebola ward in Nigeria.
Credit: CDC Global via flickr

On July 20 a man who was ill flew on commercial planes from the heart of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. That man became Nigeria’s first Ebola case—the index patient. In a matter of weeks some 19 people across two states were diagnosed with the disease (with one additional person presumed to have contracted it before dying).

But rather than descending into epidemic, there has not been a new case of the virus since September 5. And since September 24 the country’s Ebola isolation and treatment wards have sat empty. If by Monday, October 20 there are still no new cases, Nigeria, unlike the U.S., will be declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO).

What can we learn from this African country’s success quashing an Ebola outbreak?

Authors of a paper published October 9 in Eurosurveillance attribute Nigeria’s success in “avoiding a far worse scenario” to its “quick and forceful” response. The authors point to three key elements in the country’s attack:

  • Fast and thorough tracing of all potential contacts
  • Ongoing monitoring of all of these contacts
  • Rapid isolation of potentially infectious contact

October 19, 2014 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Richer countries have safer roads

This brought back memories of a road accident in Liberia back in 1980. It was late at night in a rural area.  Three of us (all sober!) were returning home after a Christmas get-together.  The main highway (a dirt road, barely two lanes) was unlit, as all rural roads are, even if they are main highways.  The driver swerved to avoid an accident, an oncoming car was straddling the middle of the road (not uncommon).  Our Chevy truck rolled over at least twice down a steep embankment. I was nearest to the door on the passenger side. My leg went out the open window. The truck landed on its side, and my leg was pinned underneath the truck.

A bus stopped. Several passengers came down the embankment. By that time Ann (a fellow Peace Corps volunteer) who was in the middle, and the driver (a Malaysian ex-pat who was managing a nearby farm) had got out the truck.  They raised the truck, and I pulled my numb leg out out. Miraculously my leg was not broken. (Could it be the gravel absorbed the shock?)
I did have some nasty gashes on the inside of my right thigh, and it was bleeding some.  The window had only been partially rolled down.  So the glass had shattered and ripped some of my flesh.

Somehow I got up the embankment with help.  We went into the bus, which did a U-turn and took us to the hospital, about 10 miles away.  Found out later, this was the second time the bus had stopped to pick up an accident victim and transfer them to a hospital. No ambulances in the country that I know of.  [Just realized, we never gave the bus driver any money to cover his expenses, or properly thanked anyone, some of the passengers probably had two hours tacked on to their travel time.]

Anyways, I got stitched up (about 34 in the leg, another 8 or so around my right elbow). Thankfully no complications. Although when I do go hiking, I have to use a walking stick when going downhill.  Word traveled fast about the accident in the Peace Corps community. Several weeks later I got a letter from the Peace Corps nurse (at HQ- 120 miles away) to get down to her office.  Didn’t want to go, I was healing fine,  and it meant a 5 hour taxi ride over bumpy dirt roads, but went anyway where I got chewed out royally.  Well, I got X-rayed. Confirmed nothing was broken, and the other tests also confirmed what I knew – that I was OK.  The nice thing- Peace Corps paid for my travel and medical expenses when I went down to HQ.

From the 29 October 2013 Michigan News press release

ANN ARBOR—Wealthier nations, whose residents own a majority of the world’s vehicles, have the lowest roadway fatality rates, say University of Michigan researchers.

In a new study on road safety in 170 countries, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute found that the average fatality rate per million vehicles is 313 in high-income countries, 2,165 in middle-income countries and 6,040 in low-income countries.

Further, the average percentage of pedestrian deaths out of all roadway fatalities is lower in high-income nations (21 percent) compared with middle-income (31 percent) and low-income (35 percent) countries.

Using data from the World Health Organization on countries with populations of at least 100,000, Sivak and Schoettle examined differences in road safety based on gross national income per person: high (more than $12,275), middle ($1,006 to $12,275) and low (less than $1,006).

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 7.44.14 AM

“The goal was to identify relevant commonalities that may assist in the creation of road-safety policies common to countries at a similar level of development,” Sivak said.

The researchers also found income-level effects for 31 aspects related to institutional framework, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post-crash care.

According to the results, low-income countries are less likely to have national road-safety strategies; standard vehicle regulations; laws on the installation of safety belts, airbags and electronic stability controls; laws on the use of safety belts, child restraints, motorcycle helmets and mobile phones; strict driver penalty systems; effective drunk driving enforcement measures; universal emergency access phone numbers; and policies to promote walking, cycling and public transport.

Interestingly, maximum speed limits on rural roads and near schools tend to be lower in low-income countries, but the effectiveness of speed-limit enforcement is higher in high-income countries.

Related Links:

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nurturing May Protect Kids from Brain Changes Linked to Poverty

Seems the key is not poverty per se, but parental stress. Not that poverty is OK!
Thinking back to my Peace Corps days in Liberia, West Africa.  Almost all the villagers lived in poverty (according to American standards). Yet I observed very little depression and much resilience in dealing with stress.  I attribute it to the support network  (largely nurturing)  of family, kinship and tribal ties. While there was some behavior that seemed petty to me, there was a strong sense of community where people’s basic needs were largely met.  Don’t have any studies to back me up on this, just personal observation.

An MRI scan highlights the hippocampus (pink) in a child’s brain. Washington University researchers found that poor children with parents who were not very nurturing were likely to have a smaller hippocampus than those raised by more attentive parents. (Credit: Washington University Early Emotional Development Program)

From the 28 October 2013 article at ScienceDaily

Growing up in poverty can have long-lasting, negative consequences for a child. But for poor children raised by parents who lack nurturing skills, the effects may be particularly worrisome, according to a new study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Among children living in poverty, the researchers identified changes in the brain that can lead to lifelong problems like depression, learning difficulties and limitations in the ability to cope with stress. The study showed that the extent of those changes was influenced strongly by whether parents were nurturing.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that a nurturing home life may offset some of the negative changes in brain anatomy among poor children. And the findings suggest that teaching nurturing skills to parents — particularly those living in poverty — may provide a lifetime benefit for their children.

The study is published online Oct. 28 and will appear in the November issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that poor children with parents who were not very nurturing were likely to have less gray and white matter in the brain. Gray matter is closely linked to intelligence, while white matter often is linked to the brain’s ability to transmit signals between various cells and structures.

The MRI scans also revealed that two key brain structures were smaller in children who were living in poverty: the amygdala, a key structure in emotional health, and the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is critical to learning and memory.

“We’ve known for many years from behavioral studies that exposure to poverty is one of the most powerful predictors of poor developmental outcomes for children,” said principal investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, a Washington University child psychiatrist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “A growing number of neuroscience and brain-imaging studies recently have shown that poverty also has a negative effect on brain development.

“What’s new is that our research shows the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus, are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses that the children experience.”


Luby’s team found that parents living in poverty appeared more stressed and less able to nurture their children during that exercise. In cases where poor parents were rated as good nurturers, the children were less likely to exhibit the same anatomical changes in the brain as poor children with less nurturing parents.

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Psychiatry | , , | Leave a comment

Does Technology Really Widen the Gap Between Minorities, Poor and the Disadvantaged?

When I was in Liberia, West Africa a few years ago it was hard not to notice how many Liberians had cell phones.
Have read quite a few articles since then on how just basic cell phones without apps can facilitate better health services, better communication about health prevention, screening, and such, and better health stats


health communication source

I saw this comment posted last week on a federal government health office group page in response to their announcement of their new app, the use of technology and the release of open data and big data on their website:

Screen Shot for Blog

Posts like these are not unique. It is a common argument for not using any technology methods for some health communication campaigns because of limited reach in populations without Internet access. In the case of the example above, reaching migrant workers is a challenge, no argument there. But is it really technology’s fault?

I’m a big advocate of boots-on-the-ground campaigns, but coupling a digital presence is better, even if it takes on a minor role. Of course no one can reach 100% of a population, whether online or offline. But we can improve reaching communities outside of the Internet by using the Internet.

Herd Immunity

While there is a lot said about the shortcomings…

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July 14, 2013 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘One Billion Hungry’ Peak Missing From New FAO Numbers‘One Billion Hungry’ Peak Missing From New FAO Numbers

The article seems to point out that progress is probably being made in addressing world hunger, despite problems with reporting and statistical “number crunching”.  Still, hunger is directly related to government policies (as subsidizing export crops).

From the 10 October 2012 article at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

A revised estimate of the number of hungry people in the world was released yesterday, classifying 870 million as undernourished between 2010-12. Missing from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s figures was any reference to the one billion mark that the agency had claimed was reached in 2009 due to high food prices and the economic crisis. The new report cited a change in methodology and improved data as reasons for the shift…


Finding that there are 132 million fewer people hungry in 2010-12 than 1990-92, the report insists that the Millennium Development Goal of halving the prevalence of hunger in developing countries by 2015 is within reach if the trend continues.

The share of undernourished people in the developing world has fallen from 23.2 to 14.9 percent over the aforementioned 20 year period. Achieving the MDG would mean cutting that number to 11.6 percent, while current projections suggest that 12.5 percent is possible…


Those directing policy interventions, he argued, must know who the malnourished are, where they are located and when they are malnourished to be effective.

Gains made between 1990 and 2007 have since stalled due to the impact of the global economic slowdown. The report calls for safety nets for the most vulnerable, along with broad-based economic growth – particularly in agriculture – as a way of reducing the number of hungry.

SOFI cautions that growth in the agricultural sector, if policies fail to focus on crops grown widely by smallholders or those vulnerable to hunger, is not sufficient to improve food security. It cites Tanzania as a particular case where export-oriented cash crops, such as cotton and tobacco, received government research and extension support instead of assistance that is more directly tied to undernourishment – maize, root crops, pulses, and oilseeds…

The new SOFI paints a picture of global hunger that has gone from a worsening situation to a “steady improvement,” Svedberg observed in an exchange with Bridges. This has turned the “hunger problem” on its head, he added. Older estimates showed the hunger condition deteriorating, while the new numbers suggest that things are improving or stable…


Policy extends to a country’s infrastructure. For example, if roads are not in good condition, this leads to an increase in food prices.
I am a Facebook friend with a nurse in Liberia (met during a 2009 service project trip with the Friends of Liberia).  Recently he remarked on how much prices are increasing overall on consumer goods. This didn’t surprise me because of images I’ve seen within the past few months on Liberians roads, which are mostly dirt ..turning to almost unsurpassable mud during the 3 month rainy season.

While the UN commendably is working on improving road conditions, the problem remains for the present.
A few pics and images.
(Back when I was in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 80’s, I was only on the road once or twice in similar conditions.
Not sure why it is worse now, perhaps an increasing population and/or greater demand for goods).

This was taken about 15 miles from where I was stationed while in the Peace Corps. To be honest, I don’t remember ever being this bad.
Click here for related article.


“The road condition is causing serious shortages of basic goods around Tappita, Saclapea, Bahn as well as other towns and villages around Ganta,” said one of the local traders.

The bad road condition has caused transportation fares from Ganta to Tappita to go up to L$ 1200 from L$ 600 recently,” he added.

The bad road condition has also stalled movement from Ganta to Sanniquellie answer as far as the Loguatuo border in the Gbehlay Geh District


Harrison Wongbay, a store owner in Ganta and member of Ganta Trade Union proclaims, “Nimba County comes second in revenue collection in Liberia and in terms of food production again, Nimba is number one.  So [we don’t understand] why this piece of road between here and Gbarnga cannot be rehabilitated.”

“Because of this piece of road, he added, “truck owners are charging heavy fees to transport our goods to Nimba from Monrovia.”

If you search YouTube with the phrase Liberia roads, the results will include..


October 21, 2012 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sending Your Recycled Glasses To Developing Countries Costs Twice As Much As Giving Them Ready-Made Glasses

A pair of reading glasses with LaCoste frames.

A pair of reading glasses with LaCoste frames. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2009 I went to Liberia with the Friends of Liberia on a 3 week service project mission.
Some of us “tagged along” with the folks from an upcountry hospital that was conducting eye checkups to teachers at three rural schools. (Unfortunately no photos of this sidetrip at the above link.)
The teachers were given eye exams and prescription glasses immediately if needed.

From the 7 April 2012 article at Medical News Today

You might feel good sending your old reading glasses to a developing country. But a recent international study, led by the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), a collaborating partner in the Vision CRC, in Sydney, suggests it is far better to give $10 for an eye examination and a new pair of glasses if you want to help someone in desperate need, and it is far better for building capacity in these communities. ……


April 9, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Jobs and Livelihoods Get Fistula Survivors on their Feet

New Jobs and Livelihoods Get Fistula Survivors on their Feet

[Editor’s note: While in Liberia 2 years ago, our Friends of Liberia group did service projects at the Methodist Mission Hospital in Ganta, Nimba County. One patient was suffering greatly from a fistula condition that was difficult to treat. ]

From the United Nations feature story

DRC/ LIBERIA/REPUBLIC OF CONGO — It takes more than an operation to get fistula survivors on their feet. First there’s a recovery period, two weeks on average, so that the patients can heal after surgery. But it’s often a job or a livelihood that really helps them reclaim their lives.

Because so many fistula survivors have been abandoned, excluded or shunned – often for years — a job or a business opportunity can mean renewed social connections and a sense of purpose, as well as a much needed livelihood.

That’s why UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports programmes that give former fistula patients skills to achieve real freedom from the legacy of fistula.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, former fistula patients are becoming skilled beauticians and dress makers.

In Liberia, fistula survivors are making and selling soap, flowers, baked goods, dresses and fabric.

In the Republic of Congo, there’s an individualized approach with a focus on business and management skills.

In all three countries, the women also receive coaching on the life skills that can help them become successful and overcome their tragic pasts.

“I lost all hope. I was abandoned by every member of my family. Now, some of them are beginning to relate to me,” says Nyamah Kollie, 39, one of the fistula survivors who benefited from the programme in Liberia after living with fistula for almost 20 years.

The difference a job makes

The change in Rebecca Mambweni’s life is striking. She was just 23 when she went through days of agonizing labour before a dead foetus was pulled from her uterus. The trauma to her birth canal left her incontinent .

“I lived for a year with fistula. I just stayed at home with my mum. Sometimes I could see her crying. No one wanted to be around me. My in-laws abandoned me,” she says. “They didn’t want to pay for an operation to fix me. All I could do was stay home. I couldn’t go outside just in case I urinated on myself. When I went outside people would laugh at me, pointing. It was like a prison. I sometimes felt it would just be better if I died and just be quiet somewhere else.”

Now, following her surgery and training as a beautician in DRC, she is employed and optimistic about her future:  “I work in this salon, the Salon of Hope. One day I’d really like to have a salon of my own. I’d really like all those people that laughed at me to see me now. I just want to live a normal life,” Ms. Mambweni says.

More than 350 fistula survivors have benefited from the social reintegration programme that has been put in place in DRC with UNFPA support, many of whom have been able to improve their living conditions with the training received.

In 2011, UNFPA will work with other UN agencies in DRC, like the International Labour Organization, to create a cooperative of women and girls that can generate more opportunities and bolster their enterprises. The efforts are part of the global Campaign to End Fistula, an initiative spearheaded by UNFA with a vast array of partners in 49 countries.

Baking up cakes and livelihoods in Liberia

Korpo Nelson, 39, a fistula survivor from Tubmanburg Bomi, Liberia, learned how to bake pastry while in the fistula training centre. She now sells her products to the patients in the same hospital where she was treated in 2009, after living with the condition for 23 years.

After her fistula was repaired, Lorpo Sumo, 40, needed a way to maintain herself and her three children. She learned how to bake and sells cakes to the local community. In the first two weeks after returning from the fistula rehabilitation centre in Monrovia, she earned $30, twice the national average monthly income.

More than 50 women have so far graduated from the social rehabilitation and reintegration programme in Liberia. Already one result is that about half of graduates are reunited with their husbands, whereas in the past the figure was closer to 25 per cent.

An individualized approach in the Republic of Congo

A fistula survivor receives a social reintegration kit.
Photo: UNFPA, Republic of Congo, 2010

Fistula survivors in the Republic of Congo can become seamstresses, learn how to market smoked fish, or develop a soap-making business. Those that come into the programme with existing skills get the help they need to build on them.

One of the key elements of the programme is the individualized approach. Clients sign an agreement to work with a tutor who can help them build a business based on their existing or desired skills. The signed agreement entitles them to a bank account and training in business and financial literacy, so they know how to keep their books.

Start-up kits provide them with essentials to begin a business of their choosing. For example, a seamstress might be given a sewing machine and fabric.

Social reintegration activities also help to ensure that there is proper follow-up and development.

As part of the training options offered by the programme in Liberia, fistula survivors can learn how to make soap, flowers, dresses and fabric. They can also become beauticians or learn backing techniques.

—Etienne Franca with support from the Country Offices in DRC, Liberia and Republic of Congo

Related Links

Campaign to End Fistula (with videos and fact sheets)

MedlinePlus- Fistulas

Friends of Liberia Travellers Gallery (photos from the Service Projects trip to Liberia in 2008, including hospitals & an album by this editor)

February 17, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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