A Cause for Celebration: The Americas Lead the Way on Health for Older Persons

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This post was co-authored by Ana Ayala and Lois Sheng Liu.

On June 15, the 45th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, the very first legally-binding instrument that directly protects the rights of older persons, including their right to health and other health-related human rights. It has set the Americas apart from the rest of the world.

From: The Dalles Chronicle

From: The Dalles Chronicle

The convention promotes, protects, and ensures the equal acknowledgement of all human rights and fundamental liberties of older people so that they can be fully included and integrated, as well as participate in the community. As the first international binding instrument to strengthen the human rights of older persons, the convention provides specific measures to regulate areas related to health and healthy aging, such as the protection of older people's right to health, to have consent and information related to treatments, to palliative care, and against isolation, discrimination and abuse.

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


King v. Burwell: An Exercise in Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

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westmoreland-tim_1This post was written by  Tim Westmoreland, a Professor from Practice at Georgetown Law.  His courses include legislation and statutory interpretation, health law, and the federal budget process.

Everyone within reach of an electronic device already knows that the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA) again today. Tax subsidies can continue to assist low-income people in States that do not establish their own insurance exchanges. The death spiral has been dodged. Insurance pools will still be big enough to spread risks. Just turn on a TV and you’ll hear all about it.

So now maybe it’s time to say out loud that this was a stupid case. However much I disagreed with the plaintiffs in NFIB v. Sebelius two years ago, I never would have said that there were not important legal questions at stake. But King v. Burwell and its siblings were just pointless politicking. These cases were not about the fundamentals of statutory interpretation or of health and public health. They were just another attempt to take down the ACA by any means possible.   Read More

Posted in Health reform, National Healthcare; Tagged: , , , , , .


Subway supports the American Diabetes Association in more ways than one. Starting with Soda.

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Diabetes Hand VI went to Subway for lunch yesterday. When I checked out I was offered the chance to get a second sub for free, if I made a donation to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) AND bought a 30-ounce soda. In other words, contribute to fight diabetes while drinking about 20 teaspoons of sugar!

The irony of this pledge is better left to Jon Stewart. Or John Oliver (if you haven’t seen his bit on sugar, you should).

It’s almost unbelievable that the ADA endorses this campaign at all, but it does. Subway’s “Stop Diabetes Hands” campaign is in its fifth year and has raised over $1.4 million dollars.

On its own website, the ADA calls out soda as a leading cause of type II diabetes:

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people should avoid intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes. Sugar-sweetened beverages include beverages like...regular soda...[which] will raise blood glucose and can provide several hundred calories in just one serving!

Amazingly, Subway is not the first diabetes foundation to tie corporate sponsorship to soda. In 2011, a KFC in Utah did the same thing for the Juveniles Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) (see KFC Shows They Don't Give a Cluck About Juvenile Diabetes). In fairness to JDRF, the affiliation was limited to one store and not a national campaign, though the organization’s response to a national outcry over connecting a juvenile diabetes foundation with drinking soda was alarmingly weak.

I understand the profit margin that soda promises fast-food restaurants and why Subway's business team came up with this campaign. But tying charitable giving to one of the most notorious causes of the very disease you are trying to support is just wrong.

Subway (and by extension the ADA) is missing an opportunity to be part of diabetes prevention. The company has already built a strong reputation in offering lower-fat, lower-carb options within the fast food industry. “Jared” was one of the best fast-food marketing campaigns of all time. More recently, Subway added a heart healthy section to its menu, boasting the first endorsement for heart healthy meals from the American Heart Association. I can’t help but wonder how much good Subway could do in helping to educate the public and how much money the ADA could save in outreach dollars if Subway encouraged people to donate the money that they would have spent on that 30-ounce soda towards diabetes research in the first place.


Posted in Global Health, National Healthcare, Resources, Uncategorized; Tagged: , , , , .


Trans fat: it’s time for global elimination

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Last week, USTrans fat consumers received the good news that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require manufacturers to remove artificial trans fat from food products within three years. From a domestic perspective, the public health benefits of the FDA’s move are irrefutable. Through a global lens however, the impacts are less clear. Often, transnational companies respond to public health regulation in developed countries by dumping unhealthy products and expanding their markets in the developing world. In light of mounting national bans and increasing consumer awareness of the dangers of trans fat, it is timely to ask whether industry will take the opportunity to reformulate products destined for developing countries and improve health outcomes for everyone.

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Posted in Uncategorized; Tagged: , .


Why health should be the new orange: the toxic state of women’s prisons

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enhanced-31257-1424273399-16Starting to binge watch the third season of Netflix’s acclaimed ‘Orange is the New Black’ might make us think we know what women’s prisons in the US are like. However, as enjoyable (or cringe worthy at times) as the show may be, it misrepresents the real women’s federal prison population and gives us only a glimpse into the problems these women face day to day.

Currently, there are about 148,200 women in state and federal prisons; one third of the world’s female prison population and 10 times as many as there were in 1980. While the state is allowed to take away their right to freedom, it does not mean we can deny them basic health needs. International law states that no person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Additionally, the UN Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners state that all “all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”—including the right to health.

While no prisoner should have to face a situation where their health is being put in risk, it becomes even more concerning when we look at who the women in our federal prisons actually are. The majority of women in prisons aren’t the dangerous criminals media might make them out to be. According to the US Department of Justice, only 7% of adult women in federal prisons are there for committing violent offenses. Six out of 10 women in federal prisons are there for nonviolent drug crimes (and not the high level international drug smuggler type of drug crimes either). The show underrepresents the nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, mothers and abuse victims who dominate the prison system. It also fails to show the concerning health problems that these women are threatened with the moment they enter the system. Read More

Posted in Uncategorized; Tagged: .


Continuing and Accelerating the Conversation on Transgender Health

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Since June 1st, and the release of the first photos of Caitlyn Jenner in Vanity Fair, lgbt_iconit has been very hard to miss all of the media conversation about Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner and transgender individuals in America. I’ve been intrigued by the conversation and admit that I registered for a free 30 day trial of Vanity Fair on my Kindle just to read the article. As I read the article, I further realized the potential uniqueness of Caitlyn’s experience compared to other transgender individuals, and a paragraph on the last page of the article further accentuated this point. The paragraph points out that there are an “estimated 700,000 transgender women and men in the country, too many of them suffering from job discrimination and violence.” (Vanity Fair, July 2015, p. 106).

Based on the article and public conversation, I decided to research a bit on public health and health care concerns for transgender individuals. I will readily admit my knowledge of the topic was, and still remains, fairly elementary. However, I was left upset by what I found out, especially with regards to many of the statistics in the Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey that reflected negative social determinates of health. The following are some of the relevant facts I discovered: Read More

Posted in Health reform, National Healthcare;


Competing to smoke – when antitrust law undermines the public health

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What if I told you that while one government agency is tasked with reducing the prevalence of smoking in the US, another is making decisions that aim to keep cigarettes cheap and accessible? Well, this bizarre outcome is exactly what happens when antitrust law is rigidly applied to the tobacco industry.

This week, with approval from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), two of the three largest players in the US tobacco market will merge. Reynolds Inc, best known as the maker of Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes, will acquire Lorillard Inc, the owner of Newport, the best-selling menthol cigarette in the country. Together with Philip Morris USA, these three companies account for about 90% of all cigarette sales.

For antitrust lawyers, this scenario immediately triggers concern. The role of antitrust law, enforced by the FTC, is to promote competition and protect against highly concentrated markets where a few firms dominate (oligopolies). In simple terms, a market in which one player controls the production or distribution of a product (a monopoly) allows that player to maximize profits by raising prices and reducing production. The more players in a market, the more they have to compete for customers by offering a similar product at lower prices. In the case of cigarettes, where the products are very similar and advertising is heavily regulated, companies are forced to compete by lowering prices. Read More

Posted in FDA, Tobacco; Tagged: , , .


MERS in Korea: Why This Outbreak Can Be Stopped Soon

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Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 3.01.02 PMThis post was written by Daniel R. Lucey, Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and a Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. Any questions or comments about the post can be directed to drl23@georgetown.edu. The original post appeared on the CSIS Korea Chair Platform and can be found here.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by a mildly contagious virus that can cause a life-threatening pneumonia typically in persons with any of four pre-existing medical conditions: lung disease, kidney disease, immunodeficiency, or diabetes. Given the ongoing first MERS outbreak in Korea, beginning when a traveler returned home from the Middle East and then became ill one month ago, there are several key points to know about this virus and why it can be stopped in Korea soon.

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


O’Neill Institute Briefing: “Ebola, the World Health Organization, and Beyond: Toward a Framework for Global Health Security”

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Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.05.25 PMThe West African Ebola epidemic has demonstrated that the world remains ill-prepared to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. A host of institutions are now reviewing what went wrong, and new institutions are being considered, including an African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Bank-initiated Pandemic Emergency Facility. The World Health Organization itself failed in one of its core functions by allowing a preventable infectious disease to spiral out of control in the world’s poorest region. The 68th World Health Assembly (WHA), held in May 2015, provided an opportunity for the Organization to reflect on what went wrong and reform the organization to be better able to address the next epidemic. In this Briefing Paper we lay out the present landscape, including reforms needed of the International Health Regulations, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the outcomes of the 68th WHA, including integrating WHO’s outbreak and emergency response programs; creating a global health emergency workforce, deployable on short notice; and setting up a global health emergency contingency fund. We also consider the vital structural issues the WHA failed to effectively address, including bolstering WHO’s core funding, increasing coherence between the WHO headquarters and regional offices, and enhancing civil society engagement.

The complete briefing, written by O'Neill Institute Associate - Eric Friedman, Fellow - Daniel Hougendobler, and Faculty Director - Lawrence Gostin, can be found here.

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


What We Know (and Don’t Know) About the South Korean MERS-CoV Outbreak

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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has been circulating since at least April 2012. Since then it has been confined largely to the Middle East (with some notable exceptions).

The two weeks have seen the largest outbreak of the disease outside of the region, with at least 41 MERS-CoV cases and 4 deaths in South Korea. This post summarizes what we currently know about the outbreak and the disease more generally.

What is MERS-CoV, how does it spread, and how deadly is it?

MERS-CoV is part of a family of viruses, known as coronaviruses (the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are other examples). Diagnosis of MERS is complicated as its symptoms mimic those of other respiratory infections, including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

It is currently unknown precisely how MERS-CoV spreads. There appears to be an animal reservoir, most likely camels, and many cases have been zoonotic (passing from animal to human). Until recently, human-to-human transmission has been unusual, with most people infecting just one other person or none at all, leading to outbreaks that naturally die out quickly.

MERS-Cov appears to have a mortality rate of approximately 30-40%. Those with pre-existing conditions (such as chronic lung, heart or kidney disease, diabetes or cancer) are more likely to die from the disease. Read More

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

The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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