Using Maps to Track and Control Infectious Disease: Five Online Resources

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The recent Ebola outbreak has brought the the tracking and containment of infectious disease to the forefront of global consciousness. Indeed, tracking and monitoring the spread of disease is one of public health’s most important (and oldest) tasks. Ever since John Snow removed the handle from the Broad Street pump his hand-drawn maps indicated were at the center of a Cholera outbreak, epidemiologists have appreciated the importance of effective mapping tools. Modern online resources build upon this tradition. This post illustrates some of the best cutting-edge, publicly available mapping tools being used to track infectious diseases.




The best of the comprehensive trackers, Healthmap.org, is a project of Boston Children’s hospital. The site automatically compiles data from a broad range of sources (e.g. WHO, Google News, and PROMed Mail), displaying reports of disease on a map of the world. It also features a fascinating Ebola timeline, showing the progression of the epidemic (including a map overlay showing Ebola’s zoonotic niche).


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Posted in Global Health; Tagged: , , , .


Harnessing the power of advertising to promote health: 6 of the best public health ads

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Photo courtesy of Get Yourself Tested

Marketing and advertising are powerful tools to influence behavior. A good ad can have profound effects on our decisions – making us crave the latest gadget, causing us to switch away from a brand our family has trusted for generations, or to vote for a candidate we know little about. When it comes to health, marketing and advertising have traditionally been monopolized by industries promoting unhealthy habits and behaviors. Big tobacco’s advertising strategies are legendary. Their tactics have been dramatized in movies such as Thank You for Smoking, and documented by plaintiffs’ attorneys and judges.

In her judgment and opinion in the US government’s landmark lawsuit against the tobacco industry, Judge Gladys Kessler found that major US tobacco companies have misled and defrauded the American public about the health risks of smoking and about their marketing strategies targeting youth. In order to help prevent the tobacco industry continuing to deceive the public, Judge Kessler ordered tobacco companies to make corrective statements in advertisements on television, in newspapers, on their websites, and on cigarette packets. Judge Kessler’s findings recognize the powerful harmful effects of tobacco industry advertising. Her orders for corrective statements aim to correct the harms by harnessing the power of advertising against the industry that has used it so effectively in the past. Although tobacco advertising is now more strictly regulated, the alcohol, fast food, and sugary drink industries are following in big tobacco’s footsteps. In 2012, the fast food industry spent a whopping $4.6 billion on advertising in the United States. Read More

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Counterfeiting Ebola: Fakes, Frauds and other Malarkey

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Photo Courtesy of Reuters
Photo Courtesy of Reuters


This Oped was written by Michelle Ratpan and originally appeared on OpedSpace. Michelle works as a Litigation Specialist for the Integrity Vice Presidency of the World Bank and is a graduate of the Global Health Law and International Institutions LLM Program (2010).

In the following Oped, Michelle examines the current Ebola outbreak and the concern around the proliferation of counterfeit medications to treat the symptoms of Ebola. The article suggests that we should rely on the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNCTOC) and its implementation and enforcement in order to ensure that fraudulent medications are not put into legitimate supply chains.

The complete article can be viewed here.

Posted in Uncategorized; Tagged: , , , , .


How Public Health Can Help Tackle the NFL’s Domestic Violence Epidemic

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footballOctober marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In the wake of the National Football League’s (NFL’s) ongoing Ray Rice scandal and several incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by its players, this pressing issue is finally starting to grab the nation’s attention. To recap recent events, the NFL has been under fire for its mishandling of several domestic violence cases, and in particular for issuing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice a mere two-game suspension after he assaulted his partner in an elevator so brutally that she was knocked unconscious. Compare this to Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon’s initial 16-game suspension for allegedly smoking marijuana.

The domestic violence problem is not unique to the NFL, as other professional sports leagues such as Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have all struggled with domestic violence issues. Indeed, the problem occurs across virtually every segment of society and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women in the United States will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. However, reports show that the NFL has led the way in arrests in domestic violence issues. Since 2000, 48% of all violent crime arrests made in the NFL have been for domestic violence, which is more than double the national average.  Read More

Posted in Uncategorized; Tagged: , , .


Recalling our First Fears about HIV—Can We Do Better with Ebola?

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Jeff Crowley 2This post was written by Jeffrey S. Crowley, O’Neill Institute Program Director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative. Any questions or comments about this post can be directed to jsc26@law.georgetown.edu.

Last week, CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, likened the health threat caused by Ebola to the growth of the global AIDS crisis. It is a parallel that offers critical lessons.

Before we knew it as the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, even before we knew it as acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, we talked about the four H’s.  The earliest cases of this new condition were concentrated among homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users, and Haitians.  So before we knew that HIV/AIDS was caused by a virus, we defined the disease by the people who were most heavily impacted.  We stigmatized the marginalized.

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New Online Resource: “The Ebola Outbreak: A Global Conversation and Resources”

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Ebola Colon


The current outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever has captured the world’s attention for the past several months.  Centered in West Africa (with a few isolated cases in the United States and Europe), this ongoing crisis has been deemed a “public health emergency of international concern” as well as a global security threat.  As national governments and international bodies struggle to contain this outbreak, a number of issues have come to the fore – which include global and national governance, health systems strengthening, public health preparedness – and more fundamentally, questions of ethics, human rights, and social justice.

To respond to some of these questions, the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, and Georgetown University Law Library are pleased to announce the launch of “The Ebola Outbreak: A Global Conversation and Resources.”

This university-wide resource on the current Ebola Outbreak highlights the expertise across all campuses within Georgetown University to inform and assist our university community, members of the interested public, and those working to contain, treat, and prevent Ebola.

Georgetown faculty are exploring the impact and implications of the crisis from various perspectives, including infectious disease control, global health law, national security, human rights, epidemiology, and public health preparedness.  Read More

Posted in FDA, Global Health, Health reform, Human Rights, National Healthcare, Resources, Trade, WHO; Tagged: , , , , , , , , .


Medical evacuations for West African Ebola patients: The unspoken possibility

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Time and again, the global community finds a way to express its collective view – the view of the powers-that-be – that some members of our community are worth less than others, that lofty rhetoric and human rights law to the contrary, your life means less to the world if you are poor. And so we see it again in the response to Ebola.

I refer to policies on medical evacuations of Ebola patients from West Africa. Foreigners who are infected are evacuated to their home country, where they have an enhanced chance of surviving. Citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, though, have no such lifeline. Medical evacuation is not an option even if there is no bed for them in a treatment center, and they are to be sent back to their community, more likely than not to perish. Home they will go, to communities where they will be shunned, and where lack of isolation means that they may further spread the virus, contributing to the exponentially growing number of deaths and infections in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the hardest hit countries.

medical evacuation plane inside CDC Reuters Sept 2014

Inside of jet equipped for medical evacuations of Ebola patients. Image courtesy of CDC/Reuters.

The possibility of medical evacuation of West Africans does not appear to be receiving serious consideration. Even as the United Nations has, to its credit, recently stepped in to fill a leadership gap, its September 16 overview of requirements to confront the epidemic includes medical evacuations as among the non-financial needs, but explicitly for international staff. Likewise, the UN Security Council includes the need for medical evacuation facilities in a section of its September 18 resolution that is about international medical and humanitarian relief workers.

I find it hard not to conjure up images of Western troops swooping into Rwanda in 1994 to rescue their nationals, leaving behind the Rwandans who were their friends and co-workers, who were seeking shelter in the same places, and who left behind had little chance of escaping the ongoing genocidal slaughter.

Yet particularly for a world that was devastatingly slow to respond, and with the number of new infections in Liberia and Sierra Leone continuing to rise quickly, medical evacuation of citizens from those two countries, and if needed those of other countries in the region, deserves serious consideration – and I would say, action. There are at least four reasons; you, the reader, might think of more. Here they are:

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Posted in Global Health, Human Rights; Tagged: , , , , , .


Ebola in the US: A Single Case Should Not Distract Us from the True Crisis in West Africa

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The author wrote this post in collaboration with Lawrence O. Gostin, Faculty Director, O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

Image courtesy of the humanevents.com

Image courtesy of humanevents.com

On September 30, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first diagnosis of Ebola made in the United States (previous US cases were medical evacuees, who were already known to be infected). The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, had traveled from Monrovia, Liberia to Dallas, TX to visit family.

On Mr. Duncan’s first visit to a hospital emergency room, he was advised to return home after being diagnosed with a “low-grade, common viral disease”—despite informing a nurse of his recent presence in West Africa. After two symptomatic (and thus contagious) days in public, he returned to the emergency room after his symptoms worsened. Here, finally, the hospital recognized his possible Ebola infection and isolated him. It seems likely that his infection was contracted while helping transport an Ebola-infected woman in Liberia to and from a hospital.

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Posted in Global Health; Tagged: , , , , .


From TIME: Ebola Co-Discoverer Peter Piot: ‘This Was an Avoidable Catastrophe’

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Professor Peter Piot (LSHTM)

This post originally appeared in TIME on October 1, 2014.  Professor Peter Piot is Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and former Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. He co-discovered Ebola in 1976.  The text is re-posted here, in part, with the permission of the author.  The full text can be found here.

The international community took too long to react to the outbreak. We must now put in place mechanisms to handle better the next inevitable epidemic.

The news from Dallas that the first Ebola case outside of Africa has been diagnosed on U.S. soil is a stark reminder that epidemics on the other side of the world are a threat to us all. No epidemic is just local.

As long as this still expanding Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues, there is a constant source for it to spread to other countries – in the first place to neighboring African countries. This outbreak is the largest and longest ever, with 7,157 cases and 3,330 deaths so far. It is the first outbreak that involves multiple and entire countries, and the first one that affects capital cities.

With increasing global mobility, it was always possible that someone traveling from an infected country would be carrying this deadly virus with them, and it will happen again. Fortunately, the U.S. and other high income countries have robust infection control measures and clinical practices to stop the onward spread of the virus within the country. Health services are well equipped to isolate the patient, to trace everyone he has been in contact with, and to put those contacts under surveillance for signs of fever. Health workers need to be alert for anyone with early symptoms of Ebola by always asking about people’s travel history (which is good practice any way). The risk to citizens is extremely small.  Read More

Posted in Global Health, Human Rights, National Healthcare, Resources, Trade, Uncategorized, WHO; Tagged: , , , .


3 Issues to Consider before Voting in November

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On November 4, many Americans will go to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. And like all election seasons, issues threatening public health are chief among this nation’s top concerns.






In researching for this post, I came up with a fairly long “short-list” of pressing public health issues – women’s health and contraception, states that have not expanded Medicaid, food insecurity, domestic violence, immigration, climate change, tobacco control – to name a few. Each of these issues is socially and politically complicated, nuanced, and frankly not new. We will be fighting these issues this year, in four years and sadly in eight and twelve.

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Posted in FDA, Health reform, National Healthcare, Uncategorized, Updates; Tagged: , , , , , , , .

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