Frontlines Fall 2011
[ Fall 2011 ]
Quick updates about the latest public health news from across the School and beyond.
Attorney General Speaks on Youth Violence
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder advocated a public health approach to addressing youth violence at a May 6, 2011 Forum webcast. The event was moderated by Jay Winsten, Frank Stanton Director of the Center for Health Communication at HSPH. Watch video and read coverage in the Harvard Gazette.
Organized Chaos: Tracking Cellular Crowds
Like racers jostling for position, groups of cells push and pull as they migrate through the human body—even while they’re moving cooperatively in the same intended direction. A new study by HSPH and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia found that cell groups migrating toward a task—say, healing a wound, creating an embryo, or forming a malignant tumor—are far less orderly than once thought. Understanding how and why cells behave as they do in large groups may lead to ways to control or interrupt diseases such as cancer that involve abnormal cell migration. Learn more
Listen Up: Kids Get Fewer Ear Infections in Smoke-Free Homes
In the first study to show the public health benefits to children of the increase in smoke-free homes across the U.S., researchers from HSPH and Ireland’s Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society quantified a decline over the last 13 years in middle ear infections among children. The study attributes the drop—which reverses a long-term upward trend—to the rise in U.S. households that have adopted voluntary no-smoking rules: from 45 percent in 1993 to 86 percent in 2006. Lead author Hillel Alpert, research scientist in HSPH’s Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, says that if parents avoid smoking at home, they can “protect their children from [ear infections], the most common cause of visits to physicians and hospitals for medical care.” A seminal paper published by the School’s Dimitrios Trichopoulos in 1981 was among the first to establish a link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. Learn more and read another study led by Alpert on the effects of secondhand smoke on children’s health.
The Heat is On
A new study by researchers at HSPH and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at how heat waves—predicted to increase in number and intensity with global climate change—may affect city dwellers. Currently, according to American Red Cross statistics, heat waves cause more deaths than all other weather events combined. (In just one week in 1995, a summer heat wave in Chicago caused nearly 700 excess deaths.) The HSPH/Johns Hopkins research, led by Francesca Dominici, HSPH professor of biostatistics and associate dean for information technology, estimated that in the years 2081–2100, Chicago could see 166 to 2,217 additional deaths annually—“a profound impact,” according to Dominici. Learn more
Clinton and Sebelius Visit HSPH-affiliated Clinics in Tanzania
SPH faculty are engaged in various research and training initiatives in Tanzania, with the ultimate aim of improving maternal and child health and reducing the risk of infectious diseases such as HIV, TB, and malaria.
On June 12, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Buguruni Health Center in Tanzania. That facility, associated with HSPH, offers reproductive and child health services. Learn more
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius attended the opening of the Mnazi Mmoja Center for Excellence in HIV Care and Education in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 22. The Center, for which HSPH Dean Julio Frenk helped lay the foundation stone earlier this year, provides a general outpatient clinic with services for family planning, reproductive and child health, HIV care and treatment, and tuberculosis care. It also serves as a site for training in HIV management to develop nationally recognized leaders in the field, and to conduct research to advance knowledge related to management of HIV/AIDS. Funding for the Center comes from the United States via the School’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in Tanzania, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and an agreement with Management Development for Health (MDH), an independent organization in Tanzania established with support from HSPH, that aims to sustain and expand existing public health service programs. Learn more
Women’s Height Declining in Developing Countries
Over the last 40 years, adult women’s height in economically deprived countries has either declined or stalled. The findings come from a new HSPH study that tracked this key indicator of the health and well-being of a population, and a predictor of children’s chances for survival. The declines are thought to reflect poor nutrition, exposure to infections, and other environmental factors that may stunt or hamper children’s growth. The study, whose lead author was S.V. Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography, tracked women’s height in 54 countries between 1994 and 2008. Learn more
Seeing Patients through the Lens of Impoverished Lives
Day after day, the medical histories of the young patients Nadine Burke, MPH ’02, treated at her clinic in San Francisco’s impoverished Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood followed strikingly similar patterns. Childhoods marred by stress and trauma were followed by a host of adult physical ailments such as asthma, scabies, and weight problems. As described in a March 21 profile in The New Yorker, Burke realized one day, after treating a teenage mother: “What if [the patient’s] anxiety wasn’t merely an emotional side effect of her difficult life, but the central issue affecting her health?” Today, the Bayview Child Health Center addresses the physiological effects of patients’ childhood traumas—and Burke hopes to eventually develop a protocol much like those that doctors use for treating patients with cancer and other diseases.
Governor Patrick Describes Next Phase of Health Care Reform
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick spoke about the next phase of Massachusetts health care reform—controlling costs and improving quality—at an April 28, 2011 Forum event. The governor’s speech was followed by an expert panel moderated by John McDonough, HSPH Professor of the Practice of Public Health. Watch video and read coverage in the Harvard Gazette.
Study Reveals Racial Differences in Stress Levels
An HSPH team led by research fellow Michelle Sternthal found that African-Americans and U.S.-born Hispanics suffer higher stress levels than whites and foreign-born Hispanics—and that this stress contributes to these groups’ frequently poorer health compared to whites. The investigators studied 3,000+ Chicago blacks, whites, and Hispanics ages 18 and older. According to senior author David R. Williams, HSPH’s Florence and Laura Norman Professor of Public Health, “This study underscores the importance of safety-net programs—unemployment benefits, cash assistance, housing, child care, and transportation benefits to low-income working families—to promote the economic well-being and the health of families faced with high levels of stress.” Learn more
Off the Cuff:
Bill Hanage, Associate Professor of Epidemiology
Why are we seeing so many deadly new forms of E. coli in our food?
Bacteria are a bit like a Mr. Potato Head®. You have the core DNA—which is the potato—and then onto that are stuck all kinds of other genes that help it adapt to its niche. In bacteria, the promiscuous interchange of genes is happening all the time, so new combinations constantly emerge. And our globalized food chain helps new combinations of genes to reach and colonize new niches. People often say, ‘Bacteria are a primitive life-form.’ No, they’re not. They’ve been around longer than we have and they’ll be around after we leave. It’s estimated that the number of bacterial cells on the planet is five times 1030—that’s a 5 followed by 30 zeroes. To put that in context, that’s more than the number of stars in the known universe. So in terms of our knowledge of bacteria, we haven’t scraped the tip of the iceberg, not even the thin sheen of ice melt in the midday sun on the top of the iceberg. We’ve seen maybe the top few layers of molecules about to evaporate. Causing foodborne disease is not the primary function of E. coli. It’s just that we tend to notice that quality in them. We’re humans, we’re self-centered, and what happens to us is the most important thing in the world.