Wednesday, September 27, 2006

INJECTION! Documentary about AIDS and the Tripoli Six

In my last post about the Tripoli Six, I talked about the Mickey Grant documentary INJECTION! In this post, I will go into greater detail. The film is about the plight of the Tripoli Six; but it's really about the state of health care in Africa and Asia. The film is about how Khaddafi is scapegoating those innocent medics to cover up the abysmal health care conditions in his country; but it's really about how the WHO is allowing similarly bad conditions persist throughout the developing world. Most importantly, the film is about how syringes are being reused, and millions are dying as a result.

After a brief introduction about the folly of preaching abstinence, the documentary gets right into the syringe issue. One point I found quite interesting, is that it turns out that a few years back, the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded a study to develop a single-use syringe. They actually came up with one and made several batches. Unfortunately, nobody is using them, and people are dying because of it. The clip below is from the movie INJECTION! and shows Mickey Grant demonstrating how one of these devices works.

I find it amazing that these syringes aren't the norm in Africa and Asia. I personally think that they should be widely distibuted not only on those two continents, but to drug addicts back here as well. I believe that syringes that cannot be reused would make the perfect complement (not substitute) for the needle exchange programs that many of our more progressive cities have.

Yes, someone who was desperate and clever enough could find their way around the safety and reuse the syringe, but what I got from the movie was that it is seldom the case with the doctors and nurses in Africa. In fact, most rural clinics don't even realize that they're buying black-market used needles. Switching to these new syringes would go a long way towards ending this practice.

Certainly these syringes cost more than the traditional type--a retractable needle isn't exactly a trivial addition. But can they be SO much more expensive as to justify the current death-toll? I can't possibly see how!

See the movie! It is informative, shocking, thought-provoking, and yet very even handed. It showed how Mickey repeatedly tried to talk to either Khaddafi or any of the surviving children (alleged victims of the Tripoli 6) to get the another side of the story, but was ultimately rejected. I even think he was more than fair with the anti-Tripoli6 demonstrators. One man actually seemed quite articulate and polite (for an ill-informed, close-minded demonstrator). I'm sure that if the film makers actually wanted these people to look like wild-eyed, crazy zealots, that would've been too easy (they actually did briefly show one of those at the begining, preaching fidelity). I'm guessing that they had to sift through the interviews to find the best face to put on that crowd.

This is a great documentary. Everyone should see it and don't forget to take action regarding the Tripoli Six.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Save the Tripoli Six!

After talking about it for a few days, I've finally sent off my letters to Congress and written this post. The injustice that is being perpetrated against these medics is horrific, but this case is symbolic of what is wrong with the "health care system" in Africa. For a quick summary, check out this Nature editorial.

Another great source of information is Declan Butler's (a repoter for Nature) personal site.

His latest post has a link to the movie Injection on Google video. This is an 82 minute documentary by Mickey Grant about HIV transmission in Africa and the case of the Tripoli 6. Here is the description that comes with the video:

AIDS is a global tragedy, striking Africa especially hard. Rampant reuse of disposable syringes is responsible for as many as seven million cases of AIDS in Africa alone. Substandard Health care continues in Africa while AIDS spirals out of control. Public health officials are reluctant to discuss this problem, perhaps in fear that Africans will avoid critical medical care, such as inoculations for malaria and other virulent diseases. The thrust of AIDS prevention campaigns is on safe sex, and healthcare risks are critically overlooked. In Libya, five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were arrested in 1999 and convicted of infecting over four hundred Libyan children with HIV in a Benghazi hospital. Libyan prosecution, operating at the discretion of infamous dictator Moammar Kaddafi, has maintained at trial that the nurses conspired with the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad to maliciously infect the children.

In this hard-hitting film, Mickey Grant travels to Kenya, Bangkok, Sofia, Libya, Rome and London in an attempt to discover the hidden truths. He follows the trail of syringes from hospital to garbage dump, and then back into Africa's health care system. He interviews leaders of the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, government officials, the Kaddafi opposition, Bulgarian journalists, medical scientists, and health care workers. We also hear from two imprisoned Bulgarian nurses, the son of Moammar Kaddafi, and families of the infected children.

Could these healthcare workers have committed this horrific crime? Or, are they scapegoats to divert attention from institutional shortcomings? Is Moammar Kaddafi ultimately responsible for this tragedy? Is syringe reuse common in Libya and the rest of Africa? If syringe reuse is spreading HIV, why is it allowed to continue? Bottom line, millions more will continue to die unless the world health care community addresses these issues.


Produced, Directed and Photographed by Mickey Grant Co-Produced by Jim Curtis and Cindy Grant Edited by Jim Curtis and Mickey Grant Music by Callen Clarke and Jamal Mohamed Written by Cindy Grant and Mickey Grant Story Editor - Ramona Dea Lucero Art Director - Nick Curtis

This is a great film! I not only recommend that you watch it, send it to everyone you know.

If you'd like to write letters, Mike Dunford tells how to do it here. Here's who I've written to so far:
Relations and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

Committee Chair: Richard Lugar
Ranking Member: Joseph Biden

Mailing Address:
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225

Majority Phone: (202) 224-4651
Minority Phone: (202) 224-3953

Chair: Henry Hyde
Ranking Member: Tom Lantos

Mailing Address:
House Committee on International Relations
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Other contacts:
Phone: (202) 225-5021
Fax: (202) 225-2035

Here's what I wrote (though I slightly personalized each hand written letter--especially to Biden since I went to the same high school as him)

Dear Senator (or Congressman X),
I am writing you to urge you to please put diplomatic pressure on Khadaffi to release the Tripoli 6. I am refering to the 5 Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor who have been falsely accused of infecting 400 Libyan children with HIV, and are sentenced to die by firing squad. This is not just about 6 innocent people--though that should be enough for a call to action--if the Libyans don't face up to their problems and are allowed to get away with scapegoating foreigners, many more children will needlessly die!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A glorious day for Kazakhstan!

Today we have a new leader in the Vuelta a España: Spain's equivalent of the Tour de France. It is none other the charismatic Kazak rider Alexandre Vinokourov. The stage was won by Tom Danielson, a rider a met a few years back when he broke the record at Mt. Washington. But the racer wearing the golden jersey of race leader is the fan favorite affectionately known as "Vino." He now holds a 9 second lead over Spaniard Alejandro Valverde. Vino saw a moment of weakness in the Spaniard who had been so strong throughout the race, and pounced to take the lead.

Now I know what you're thinking. You think he's on the juice, don't you? After all, doping cyclists have been in the news quite a bit lately. There's the two ex-teammates of Lance Armstrong who've admitted doping while riding for Armstrong. (one of them, Frankie Andreau, I've met and done a bike ride with). Another ex-teammate of Lance's, Roberto Heras, is serving a two year suspension after being caught doping then getting disqualified from winning last year's Vuelta. Ivan Basso, winner in spectacular fashion of Italy's grand tour, il Giro d'Italia, is under investigation for his role in Operación Puerto: cycling's version of the BALCO scandal. Because of his implication in the scandal, Basso wasn't allowed to start the Tour de France this year, leaving the door wide open for American Floyd Landis to win ... that is until Floyd is officially disqualified for doping. Speaking of not being allowed to start this year's Tour, Vino was one of those riders who wasn't there to go wheel to wheel with Floyd. No, our Kazak friend wasn't implicated in Puerto, but so many of his teammates were that his entire team was banned from the race.

That was the Tour; this is the Vuelta! I'm sure he's on his best behavior in Spain. Well, except for that small incident three days ago where he and fellow Kazakhstani teammate Andrej Kashechkin missed doping control. But hey, it wasn't his fault. It's still a glorious day for Kazakhstan!

Moving to politics, it seems that Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev will be coming to America to speak with president Bush. Can you guess what important issues they'll be discussing?

President Nazarbayev will visit the White House and the Bush family compound in Maine when he flies in for talks that will include the fictional character Borat.

That's right! It seems the Kazakhstanis are upset about British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and they're pulling out all the stops to show how upset they are about the new Borat movie.

Anti-Borat hard-liners have pulled the plug on, Borat's Kazakhstan-based Website after his frequent displays of anti-Semitism and his portrayal of Kazakh culture.

Nurlan Isin, President of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies took the action after complaints.

He said: "We've done this so he can't badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name.

"He can go and do whatever he wants at other domains."

And so that is how Borat has become the subject of a presidential summit. It is indeed a glorious day for Kazakhstan!

UPDATE: Today's stage was won by Kazakh rider Andrej Kashechkin while Vino retained the lead. And yes, that is the very same Kashechkin that missed doping control a few days back. I'm not one to make accusations, so let me just say: It's been another glorious day for Kazakhstan!

UPDATE #2: Vino won Saturday's penultimate stage on his 33rd birthday. With the cushion he just put on his lead, the final stage into Madrid is now pretty much ceremonial. He will be crowned champion on Sunday. Another glorious day for Kazakhstan!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you ... but bad for me

Great news! It turns out that "rabbit food" is actually good for you. Who'd a thunk it?

A new UCLA/Louisiana State University study of dietary data on more than 17,500 men and women finds consumption of salad and raw vegetables correlates with higher concentrations of folic acid, vitamins C and E, lycopene and alpha and beta carotene in the bloodstream.

Published in the September edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the study also suggests that each serving of salad consumed correlates with a 165 percent higher likelihood of meeting recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for vitamin C in women and 119 percent greater likelihood in men.

Wow, a shocker! So maybe an apple a day actually does keep the doctor away. Unless you're me, that is.

You see, I'm allergic to raw apples. You read that right: raw apples. I'm perfectly okay with cooked apples. I could eat apple pie until I get sick (from eating too much pie) without having even the slightest reaction. But pop a thin slice of Granny Smith (for some reason McIntosh apples don't bother me nearly as badly) in my mouth, and within seconds my lips and gums will itch and throb while my throught will itch worse than if I had a feather stuck back there. I'm the same way with carrots. I could easily live on soups and stews that are overloaded with carrots, but raw? No way.

Which brings me to a necessary tangential tirade. Why does practically everyone insist on puttng shredded carrots in their salads? That really pisses me off! Do you have any idea how hard it is to pick out every little shred of carrot from a salad? I'll tell you: it's not even worth trying. But roughly 90% of the time that I eat out, I have to pass on the salad. And I LOVE a really good salad. It's not fair!

To varying degrees, I'm also allergic to various other raw fruits and vegetables, including almonds, peaches, pears and cherries. Cherries are kind of funny for me. I can't stand any of the "denatured" varieties, be it Marachinos or that sickeningly sweet and sticky topping some people put on their cheesecakes (strawberries or blueberries are far superior). But I actually like raw cherries ... at least for the few seconds before my mouth explodes into a volcano of itching and swelling.

The common thread with all my food allergies seems to be that cooking gets rid of the allergen. And the worst reaction that I've had is merely irritation (albeit major irritation). On three separate occasions, I've witnessed people being taken away in ambulances after going into anaphylaxis from eating shellfish and peanuts (the third was a bee sting). Luckily, I've never gone anaphylactic. I'm also lucky to have the cooking solution; people with peanut or shellfish allergies don't have this option. I always thought of my food allergies as being somewhat unusual.

My seasonal pollen allergies are anything but, though. I get really bad springtime allergies. It turns out I'm allergic to just about every variety of spring-blooming grass that grows wild in fields and is planted on peoples lawns. It sure sucks to be me. Surprisingly, I'm not allergic to such common allergens as mold spores and dust mites. I am allergic to birch, though. I remember when I was a child, coming home from the doctor's office where I had just had a skin scratch test, asking my parents what a birch was. After being shown the offending white-barked tree, I proceeded to naively avoid it from then on, as if it was poison ivy.

It might seem odd that I've spent as much space as I have on birch. I seem to recall that I had a pretty big reaction to the birch skin scratch, but being that birch is not anywhere near as ubiquitous as all the grasses I'm allergic to, it really has to be considered a minor player in my allergy profile. Or maybe not?

Just this weekend I found out about oral allergy syndrome, or OAS (I promise not to tell the Western hemisphere alliance about this). It turns out that allergies to raw fruit and vegetables is closely related to pollen allergies. Go figure!

OAS symptoms are the result of a "cross-reactivity reaction" between allergy antibodies directed toward target pollen proteins with similar proteins found in other parts of plants. Common symptoms of OAS included an itchy mouth and throat with mild swelling immediately after eating fresh fruits or vegetables.

I was pretty fascinated by all this, but I was absolutely floored by the what came next.

OAS can also occur in people with birch tree allergy symptoms when they eat peaches, apples, pears, cherries, carrots, hazelnuts, kiwis, and almonds, the AAAAI said.

Generally, cooking foods will eliminate an OAS reaction, according to the AAAAI.

THAT'S ME!!! And my allergy even has a special name. All of a sudden I don't feel like such a freak anymore.


Since I get several hits a day to this page from people Googling "itchy, mouth, raw, vegetables" etc, I thought I would add a few extra resourses for OAS.

Here's the Wikipedia page for OAS. It has a nice chart showing which vegetables relate to which pollens.

Here's the CHOP (Children's Hospital Of Pennsylvania) OAS website. It's an all-around good resourse.

And finally, here's a link to AllAllergy's OAS page. It contains links to 5 separate articles on OAS as well as a ton of comments that express the same sentiments as this post and those who have commented here.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you who have commented on this post so far. When I first wrote this, I saw it as just a personal revelation. I never imagined that I would actually be helping people find out the truth about what was happening to them.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Cringely was Right!

Robert X. Cringely (host of PBS’s NerdTV) wrote an interesting op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. In it he argues that when it comes to designing rechargable batteries, consumer safety takes a back seat to battery power. He explains how Sony (the manufacturer of the lithium-ion batteries that have recently been recalled) knew about the exploding potential, but charged ahead anyway. He shows how safety standard used by industry, the M.T.B.F. (mean time between failure) is a sham measurement that tells you nothing about the likelyhood that your battery will explode.

However, industry is not the lone, uncaring villian here. They are merely responding to market forces.

One might think that we'd be working on safer technologies, and we are, up to a
point. Safer lithium-ion batteries are available, but computer and mobile phone
manufacturers, now duking it out in a market based on talk time and battery
life, have decided that we don't really need them. And judging from the reckless
way we use these devices while driving cars, the manufacturers are probably
correct about our risk tolerance.

This, to me, is just another example of why the libertarian think tanks are wrong when they say that market forces will eventually lead to better safety.

After reading that, I saw this little article over at ScienceDaily. It talks all about a new advance in electrode technology for lithium-ion batteries. It reviews the basic science of how a li-ion battery works and then explains what the new technology does differently. It hypes how the new technology will lead to batteries that hold more charge and last longer.

And then at the very end, almost as an afterthought, it says:

There's an added bonus in that replacing a proportion of the cobalt used in the
traditional lithium-cobalt-oxide electrodes with manganese improves safety by
reducing the risk of overheating.

While a better performing battery that’s also safer is what we ultimately want, I find it sad that safety isn’t one of the top selling points. It looks like Cringely was right!