Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Medicinal plants in the news

Posted by on December 11th, 2007 |

Filed in Ethnomedicine, News | 1 Comment »

Traditional medicine — and medicinal plants in particular — have been in the news of late. Two weeks ago, for example, the New York Times reported that “Dragon’s blood” is good for you:

Researchers have discovered that a plant widely used in traditional Chinese medicine contains compounds that slow the growth of the germ that causes most peptic ulcers.

The chemists, led by Weimin Zhao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, isolated 22 compounds from the treelike plant, Dracaena cochinchinensis, which gives off a dark-red resinous substance called dragon’s blood. They found two that were effective against the ulcer bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, and eight others that worked as blood thinners.

Their report appears in the October issue of The Journal of Natural Products.

Earlier this year, NPR ran a series on “Sacred, threatened plants of the Himalayas.” The series includes a report on Tibetan medicinal plants, which are increasingly endangered by global climate change and by global demand for the plants.

As you read or listen to these stories, keep in mind some of the different perspectives we encountered from medical anthropology this semester. How can we understand the ecological relationships between plant biodiversity and ethnomedical knowledge? What factors at a global and local level influence the use, distribution, and ownership of medicinal plants? How do U.S. media outlets depict traditional healing practices and the medicinal plants, relative to Western biomedicine? What values underlie the standards of evidence used to evaluate the efficacy of traditional healing practices?

Debate over climate change and health

Posted by on December 5th, 2007 |

Filed in Global health, News | No Comments »

Today the Boston Globe reports on a debate between scientists over whether climate change is associated with the spread of infectious disease. The debate took place during a workshop on global climate change at the Institute of Medicine, the health-related branch of the National Academy of Sciences.

The skeptical voice, according to the Globe, was Donald S. Burke, Dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Burke argued that there remains a lot we don’t know about the effects of climate change on health. He expressed caution about limits to existing data and argued that we can’t yet establish a causal relationship between climate change and increasing rates of infectious diseases like dengue fever, influenza, and West Nile virus.

Paul R. Epstein, from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard, disagreed. He argued that climate change was involved in changing disease ecologies related to the spread of infectious disease.

The Globe article points out that the scientific debate parallels debate between the Bush administration and several states, and that it relates to policy deliberations on Capitol Hill and around the world. What are some of the different ways that medical anthropologists might approach this debate?

Politics, climate change, and health

Posted by on October 24th, 2007 |

Filed in News | 3 Comments »

Thanks to David for bringing my attention to this story about the politics of climate change and health. Yesterday Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She reportedly told Senators that climate change “is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans.” But the written testimony she entered into the record contains few details to support that claim. According to the Associated Press, here’s why:

The White House significantly edited testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on the impact of climate change on health, deleting key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate, documents obtained by The Associated Press showed Wednesday.

The White House on Wednesday denied that it had “watered down” the congressional testimony that Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had given the day before to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

But a draft of the testimony submitted for White House review shows that six pages of details about specific disease and other health problems that might flourish if the Earth warms were not delivered at the hearing.

In a Wall Street Journal report, Dr. Gerberding denies that the White House diluted her testimony, calling such allegations “ridiculous.” It’s hard to know what really happened, but at least the media coverage of this controversy highlights the political context of scientific debates.

Anthropology on the War Front

Posted by on October 22nd, 2007 |

Filed in News | 2 Comments »

The New York Times recently ran an article describing a U.S. Department of Defense program that embeds groups of anthropologists and other social scientists with combat brigades deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. This article suggests that combat operations, and civilian casualties, have dramatically decreased since the arrival of anthropologists, leaving the military more time for security, peacekeeping, and reconstruction efforts.

Anthropologists have always worked in some capacity with the U.S. government, which has led to numerous ethical crises within the discipline in the last century. Franz Boas, considered a founder of American anthropology, was famously censured by the American Anthropological Association for writing a letter to political journal The Nation in 1919 exposing the spying activities of anthropologists in the field. Anthropologist David Price describes the story behind Boas’s censure, anthropology’s role in the history of American intelligence activities, and the state of contemporary anthropological ethics on this matter.

However, the anthropologists described in the New York Times piece are presumably not pretending to conduct research while actually spying for clandestine services. The article describes some of the ways that anthropologists have contributed to military goals by investigating the problems (poverty, land disputes) facing communities caught in a war zone.

What are the ethical decisions related to working under the aegis of U.S. Army brigades in a combat environment? What if your training contributes to the death and injury of others, but contributes to the military’s success? What if your insights are responsible for decreasing the need for combat operations? How might medical anthropology serve the good of all in a war zone?

Mom’s diabetes and kids’ obesity

Posted by on September 5th, 2007 |

Filed in Life course, News | 10 Comments »

Yesterday in class I mentioned a study that has been in the news this week about the links between mother’s diabetes during pregnancy and their children’s risk of obesity five to six years later. This study is the latest in a growing body of research that shows how health is influenced by early-life experiences, including exposures in utero and even in previous generations.

This work draws on life course epidemiology and on research in developmental plasticity and health. It’s a thoroughly interdisciplinary field and has a new professional society to show for it. This area of research is fertile ground for biocultural approaches to medical anthropology, because it helps us to understand how sociocultural factors impact human biology over the life course and even across generations.

Of course, news coverage of this week’s study focuses narrowly on the links between gestational diabetes and children’s subsequent weight. It doesn’t address the sociocultural factors that put women at risk of developing gestational diabetes in the first place. Where would you begin to look for answers to that question?

Racial inequalities in exposure to tobacco advertising

Posted by on August 28th, 2007 |

Filed in Health inequalities, News | 7 Comments »

Today’s New York Times has a short article about racial inequalities in exposure to tobacco advertising. The article is based on a new paper (PDF; subscription required) in Public Health Reports by Brian Primack and colleagues.

Racial inequalities in exposure to tobacco advertising

Among other things, Primack et al. identified five peer-reviewed studies that provided enough information to compute the density of tobacco advertisements by race. Pooling across these studies, Primack and colleagues found that there were 11.8 tobacco advertisements per 10,000 African American residents (95% CI 5.0-28.3), as compared to 4.5 per 10,000 white residents (95% CI 1.3-15.2). In other words, there were 2.6 times as many tobacco advertisements in predominantly black neighborhoods as there were in white ones. The confidence intervals on these estimates are large, mainly because one study of Boston neighborhoods observed a relatively small racial disparity. But even that study showed that tobacco advertisements are concentrated in predominantly poor, African American, and Latino neighborhoods.

This new paper by Primack and colleagues is important, because we know from other studies that smoking is the leading cause of disease burden in the United States. Primack and colleagues’ meta-analysis hints at how institutional racism shapes the distribution of disease in ways that people often overlook.