The what, why and how of health and development

Free online global health courses

Since leaving London and setting up as a freelancer here in Vienna, I’ll admit that I’ve found myself with much more time on my hands than I’ve been used to. But having this extra time means I can browse the internet at a much more leisurely pace, resulting in the discovery of some fantastic free online resources. This ‘Daily German’ website’s online course has given a great kickstart to my German learning. And just last week I also signed up to this free data journalism course from the European Journalism Centre, starting in January.

Online resources health blog

A keyboard and an internet connection is all you need for an online course!

On a more health related note, health sector professionals in low income countries or working with limited resources might find this online course useful:

Called eSCART, it’s a 4 month distance learning course that aims to provide people with the knowledge they need to treat HIV patients with antiretroviral therapy (ART) in resource limited settings. It’s tutor-led, and also provides access to a discussion forum where those who signed up can discuss their learning with other ‘classmates’. It has 13 modules including an introduction to HIV, HIV and TB, side effects and monitoring and evaluation of an ART programme. Not bad for a free course that just needs an internet connection and a computer with speakers (and a brain connected to it might help too!).

For other free online global health courses check out this handy resource called Global Health elearning. From family planning and childhood development to health logistics and infectious diseases, this is a gold mine for professors or students looking for global health education resources, or just health professionals wanting to bolster their knowledge or train other staff.

Tackling the trade in counterfeit medicines

Last month, I joined Public Health Perspective (PHP) Nepal as a contributing writer. PHP Nepal is a public health online newsletter that publishes articles about health information, ideas and innovation from around the world and I’ve just written my first piece for them on the global pandemic of counterfeit medicines. Pop across to PHP Nepal to find out about some of the interesting technologies being used to tackle this trade:

For countries already struggling under the burden of multiple health problems, counterfeit  and  sub-standard medicines are a dangerous and very unwelcome addition. Although many drugs that get counterfeited are lifestyle drugs, such as Viagra, it is the proliferation of fake anti-malarials and medicines for other infectious diseases in low income countries that can devastate lives… (continue reading on Public Health Perspective Nepal)

Strengthening African health systems with palliative care

Early last month, I was thrilled to hear that an article I wrote for Think Africa Press about access to medicinal opioids had won first place in the APCA Palliative Care Journalism Awards. Part of the fantastic prize was a trip to the APCA and HPCA conference on palliative care in Africa, taking place in Johannesburg. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear stories from people working around the continent and further to get palliative care on political agendas, provide access to pain treatment, and help provide essential palliative care to thousands of patients in need. The first article I’ve written following the conference was about strengthening health systems with palliative care and can be read in full on ehospice:

Often misunderstood as care only for patients at the end of their life, the diversity and breadth of what palliative care can offer African health systems can regularly be overlooked. Other myths, for instance that palliative care is just about relieving physical pain or only takes place in a hospice, mean that the broader benefits of integrating this care into health systems are usually only known by those who provide it.

In fact, from reducing hospital admissions to helping prevent illness, integrated palliative care is uniquely placed to bring many advantages to health systems…(continue reading)

Uganda: No Country for Old Men

It’s cheap, easy to administer, and incredibly effective at taking away someones pain. Morphine, the main medicinal opioid used for pain management and in palliative care, is listed as an essential medicine by the WHO. It should, therefore, be kept in stock by hospices, hospitals and health departments around the world.

But in poorer countries, people are being denied their right to a life without pain because of strict narcotic control laws that prevent the easy importation, production and distribution of opioids. Often coping with weak drug regulatory systems and stretched resources, these countries don’t have the capacity to develop systems that would allow morphine to be imported whilst adhering to the strict international regulations on the distribution of opioids. Coupled with a misunderstanding of morphine by some health professionals due to unfounded fears of patient addiction, access to these essential drugs is limited. It’s estimated that 80% of the world’s population lacks access to this medicine, many of whom live in low and middle income countries. These countries account for 70% of cancer related deaths and 99% of HIV related deaths, yet they consume just 6% of the world’s medicinal opioids.

This award-winning documentary from Declan MacErlane shows how the denial of morphine impacts on people living with cancer and their families in Uganda. Interviewing leaders in the field of palliative care and pain management, Declan also showcases some of the pioneering work being done to change the situation in the country. Watch below and please share far and wide, folks!

Uganda: No Country for Old Men

Hospital objects and human emotions: exploring patient identity with art

Downstairs at the William Morris Gallery on Forest Road, Walthamstow, a small but captivating set of photographs are displayed in a room in between the cafe and the entrance hall.

The photography exhibition is called ‘Person as Patient’ and features portraits – head and shoulders shots – of patients taken by hospital artist in residence Emma Banard. In these images, Banard explores the relationship between a patient being observed as a medical subject and as a human being. The result is a peculiar blend of hospital objects and human expression. Over laying on top of the face of one young woman is what looks like an embroidery of veins, blue strings of fabric placing the tubes that normally sit under the skins above the surface. Another holds a section of an x-ray in-front of their face, making their own body appear foreign, a familiar feeling for anyone who had spent hours, days or weeks sitting in a hospital bed.

This feeling of de-personalisation and loss of identity is a theme Banard is exploring as part of a larger project; the small exhibition at the WMG shows just a snippet of this work. Describing some of the positive benefits of this project, Banard explains that helping patients to visualise their experiences helps give them back their identity and can ‘reveal unseen thoughts and emotions of which a consultant may be unaware’. You can read more about this work here.

The exhibition is on until 22 September 2013 and is absolutely free, along with the rest of the gallery. The majority of exhibits are dedicated to the life of William Morris, who lived in the house in Walthamstow when he was young. For a Victorian who is remembered best for interior design and fabric patterns, Morris’ life was an interesting blend of socialism, writing, business and art. But I won’t spoil it for anyone interested – pay a visit to find out for yourself and make sure you pop your head in to see the more modern but equally interesting patient portrait exhibit.

Digital innovations in healthcare: Digital Medicine

Now here’s an idea that you should find easy to swallow. If we were lucky enough to still have ‘Tomorrow’s World’ on our TV screens, this invention from Proteus Digital Health would undoubtedly be featured. They’ve created technology that can be included in a regular pharmaceutical pill which, after swallowing, would send information from your body to a secure online platform. Through this ‘Digital Health Feedback System’, you could view information about your body’s physiological reaction to the medication, such as heart rate or blood pressure. The uses of this kind of product could stretch far. For health problems that require long term treatments, such as TB, being able to monitor remotely whether a patient is taking drugs could be a great way of monitoring drug use and effectiveness.

But as with any exciting innovation, it’s important to assess its limitations as much as its potential applications. These ‘Digital Medicines’, as Proteus calls them, could never replace face to face contact between a doctor and a patient. This physical connection is a fundamental part of healthcare, which I’m sure (hope) the company appreciates. This is evident more than ever in the NHS, where sometimes tragic problems have occurred because overworked staff didn’t have enough time to spend with individual patients. And if a doctor is able to measure a patient’s response to medication remotely, it could reduce the likelihood of the doctor meeting with the patient at all.

But it’s very early days. This product is yet to be FDA approved, although the company say they’re already working on projects within heart care, transplants and central nervous system healthcare. According to their website, Proteus also say they are soon launching a product, ‘Helius’, in Lloyds pharmacies in the UK that would include a ‘single sensor-enabled pill’ to be taken alongside medication along with a weekly patch worn on the torso. This one is designed around care giving and would allow patients to view and share information online with people involved in their care, such as family members who live far away. If you spot one, test it out – I’d love to hear about your experience or reactions!

Bring in the clowns: Sarah Silverman and Charlie Brooker show how comedy and campaigning can go hand in hand

If, like me, you’re an avid observer of goings on in the US sexual and reproductive health rights movement you may relate to the down-hearted feeling I sometimes get after an hour of being absorbed in news from across the pond. Do heavy shoulders, exasperated sighs and a feeling of pure disbelief feel familiar?

That’s the trouble you get when you sign up to so many campaigning non-profit newsletters. Campaigns are there to remind you that something bad is happening somewhere in the world and you should be doing something about it. But with messages as serious as these, it’s hard to stop them becoming boring, which is why it was refreshing to watch this short funny message from US comedian Sarah Silverman about men and reproductive health rights. Click on the link below to hear her ‘public service announcement’ calling for men to be ‘bro-choice’ on women’s rights (unfortunately I can’t seem to embed but make sure you come back to finish reading!).

Be Bro-Choice: A Public Service Announcement from Sarah Silverman from Sarah Silverman

Of course, using comedy to communicate a campaign message is nothing new. Over here in the UK, the annual Comic Relief TV show is probably the most famous, where popular comics show their sketches and spoofs throughout the show, with the occasional tearjerker video message shown in between to remind viewers that they’re not there just to have a laugh. Donations records from this show suggest that this format seems to work. On the night donations from the 2013 show were well over £70m suggesting that the right mix of comedy, celebrity and cause can work a treat.

But one of my favourite uses of comedy has to be the below video message from writer and presenter Charlie Brooker for the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan. A friend showed this to me a long while ago but whenever I’m thinking about effective campaign communications, which happens a lot in my day job, this always springs to mind. It’s a simple video message that kind of breaks all the rules – it is hand held piece to camera filmed in black and white that goes on for over five minutes. Brooker’s rant, which seems to be mostly adlibbed as he gets increasingly wound up about blood cancer, mixes comedy and campaign message at just the right amount. I got in touch with Antony Nolan to see just how good this mix was. Apparently it was successful enough for their website hits to jump from 1000 daily to 35,000 over the five days following the video message. More importantly, 2134 people signed up to the register in the first two days, which the charity says is the same as an entire month’s worth of recruitment. Of these, 35% were young men aged 18-30, their target audience. Not bad for a video that probably cost next to nothing to make.



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