Fall 2012 frontlines
[ Fall 2012 ]
Quick updates about the latest public health news from across the School and beyond.
HSPH Raises a Healthy Cup to Chef Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver—celebrity chef, TV personality, and “food revolution” activist—accepted HSPH’s Healthy Cup Award in May before an enthusiastic audience of more than 500 at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center in Boston. “Jamie Oliver has changed the way millions of people think about the importance of healthy eating and healthy cooking,” HSPH Dean Julio Frenk said at the ceremony. “He … continues to be tremendously influential in the battle against childhood obesity, which is of critical importance to the world’s present and future health.”
“We need a food revolution,” Oliver told the audience. “Imagine a world where children are fed real food and educated about it. Where I knew where my meat came from and animals were treated with respect. Where children and their parents eat and garden together. Where children get clean water. Where the biggest cause of death was not self-inflicted by food.” Read more
High Cost, Low Quality of U.S. Health Care Add to Woes of the Sick
A poll released jointly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Public Radio, and HSPH revealed that a large majority of the U.S. general public (87 percent) considers the cost of health care to be a serious problem for the country. The poll, entitled “Sick in America,” found that more than 40 percent of sick Americans (those requiring considerable medical care or overnight hospitalization within the past 12 months) experienced the cost of their care as a serious problem for their family’s finances. And one in six sick Americans reported that there was a time in the past 12 months when they could not get the care they needed—most often because they couldn’t afford it or because their insurers would not pay for it. In the poll, which was released in May, many sick respondents also reported problems with the quality of their care, with one in eight believing that they were given the wrong diagnosis, test, or treatment, and 26 percent feeling that their condition was not well managed. Read more
New Study of Bee Colony Collapse Causes Buzz
One of the most widely used pesticides in agriculture and the residential environment—imidacloprid—is the likely culprit behind the sharp decline in honeybee colonies worldwide since 2006, according to a new HSPH study, led by Chensheng (Alex) Lu, HSPH associate professor of environmental exposure biology. Lu has found “convincing evidence” of the link between the pervasive pesticide and colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon in which adult bees abandon their hives. Full study results are in the Bulletin of Insectology, June 2012. Read more
Arctic Mercury Rising as the Mercury Rises
Researchers have known that climate change and other atmospheric forces are causing dramatic increases in levels of mercury—a potent neurotoxin—in the Arctic. But now, a joint study by Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has found that much of the mercury accumulation in the Arctic actually comes from three huge Siberian rivers—the Lena, the Ob, and the Yenisei—that flow into the Arctic Ocean. The study suggests that mercury levels in the rivers may be rising because of permafrost melting and other climate-driven changes in the landscape. Co-principal investigator Elsie Sunderland, Mark and Catherine Winkler Assistant Professor of Aquatic Science at HSPH, said, “Understanding the sources of [the potent neurotoxin] mercury to the Arctic Ocean … is key to protecting the health of northern populations.” The bad news: Global warming may prolong the problem. Full study results are in Nature Geoscience, May 20, 2012. Read more
HSPH Alum William Foege Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom
Legendary public health epidemiologist William Foege, MPH ’65, has received the nation’s highest civilian honor—the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Foege’s distinguished public health career has been highlighted by groundbreaking work in the 1970s to eradicate smallpox; Foege developed the vaccination strategy that ultimately broke the transmission cycle of deadly infection. Foege served as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1977 to 1983. As director of the Carter Center, he has worked for universal basic immunization for children and for the elimination of river blindness and Guinea worm, two diseases that plague Africa. He is a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a professor emeritus at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and an affiliated professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Read more
HIV/AIDS Patients Living Longer, Presenting New Challenges as They Age
Health and social systems must better plan for the aging of the HIV epidemic, says Till Bäernighausen, HSPH associate professor of global health. That’s because antiretroviral drugs have changed the face of HIV/AIDS treatment and care: No longer an automatic death sentence, HIV/AIDS can now be managed as a chronic condition. The good news is that worldwide, “People infected with HIV … live to old ages,” says Bäernighausen. He led a team of researchers who ran national microsimulation models for the 43 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The team found that with the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment, the number of HIV-infected people older than 50 in the region will nearly triple over the next three decades, from about 3 million in 2011 to 9 million in 2040. Read more
HPH Editor Receives National Journalism Award
Madeline Drexler, editor of Harvard Public Health, won a prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for an article she had published in the October 2011 issue of Good Housekeeping, entitled “Why Your Food Isn’t Safe.” The story detailed flaws in the federal food safety system. The same week the story was published, the United States Department of Agriculture announced tough new rules to prevent E. coli contamination in the meat supply—one of the measures strongly recommended in the article. Drexler received the award for Public Service in Magazine Journalism (National Circulation) at a ceremony in July at the National Press Club, in Washington, DC.
Urban Environments Depressing? Just Add Trees
It’s common wisdom that block after block of unrelieved streetscape can be oppressive. With backgrounds in architecture, HSPH visiting scientist Morteza Asgarzadeh and research scientist Anne Lusk, both from the Department of Nutrition, teamed up with architectural researchers from the University of Tokyo to explore the psychological effects of high-rise urban environments. Studying the influences of trees, buildings, and sky on emotions, they found that the distance between a viewer and high-rise buildings, as well as how large a solid object appears, influence stress and depression in street observers. They also showed that trees have a measurable mitigating effect on urban “oppressiveness.” The scientists went on to develop a mathematical tool for urban planners that gauges environmental cheerlessness. Full study results appear in “Measuring Oppressiveness of Streetscapes,” Landscape and Urban Planning, July 2012.
HSPH Gathers World Health Ministers
Sixteen of the world’s ministers of health gathered at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in June for the Harvard Ministerial Health Leaders’ Forum, sponsored by the Ministerial Leadership in Health Program, an initiative launched by HSPH and HKS in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. With the forum focused on improving the health, growth, and development of the world’s children, HSPH Dean Julio Frenk—Mexico’s health minister from 2000 to 2006—told participants that this is a time of opportunity to make gains in child and maternal health. Frenk emphasized that the 2015 deadline for achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching, and that many nations not currently on track to reach their goals could be encouraged to renew their efforts. Frenk advocated focusing on health priorities—smallpox eradication being the greatest historical example of international coordination—to drive future improvements in the health care system. Read more
Our Bodies, Our Bugs:
Microbial Genes Outnumber Human Genes 100 to 1
New studies led by HSPH researchers in the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) have helped identify and analyze the vast human “microbiome”—the trillions of single-celled microbes and millions of microbial genes that exist inside the human body. Researchers are studying the role that these microbes—bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut, mouth, skin, and elsewhere—play in normal bodily functions, such as development or immunity, as well as in disease. In a healthy individual, the microbial metagenome, or total complement of genes, can carry about 100 times as many genes as does our own human genome. The HMP, a consortium of 250 members from 80 research institutions, estimates that more than 10,000 microbial species live in humans, including several opportunistic pathogens—microorganisms that typically coexist harmlessly with the rest of the microbiome and their human hosts, but can trigger disease under the wrong conditions. HMP research appears in Nature, Nature Methods, and several Public Library of Science (PLoS) publications. Read more
Off the Cuff
Associate Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
In May 2012, you resigned from the editorial board of Genomics, protesting the exorbitant subscription fees that scientific journals charge. Researchers and institutions in poor nations often cannot afford to pay and are effectively shut out of new science. You called for a system of open-access scientific publications. What’s been the fallout since your resignation?
For one thing, I was ranked in the top thousand tweets in Twitter for a couple of days, based upon this announcement. Why did it go viral? Because my resignation got to the basic issue: Why must scientists, by virtue of the fact that they were born in the wrong place, be excluded from doing science the way that colleagues in the West do it? Why must they put out their hats and beg by email to get PDFs from authors? They will never be able to compete intellectually if they are artificially excluded.
I didn’t resign with a marketing strategy or a political agenda in mind. I resigned because my heart told me this practice was wrong. The only way we’re going to change the system is through the people who supply the publishers: the researchers who submit papers, the reviewers, the journal editors. We also need to say to governments in the West, which are funding access to these journals: You are perpetuating the scientific divide between rich and not-rich nations.
Over the next year, you’re going to see more defections like mine. The more we talk about this to the cognoscenti who want to listen, the better. Scientists need to stop being ashamed of our relationship with the journals and start making a change.