Stigma faced by Ugandan women with breast cancer | 

Stigma, misinformation and poverty all conspire against women suffering from breast cancer, reports Denise Grady for the New York Times.

Her excellent story profiles some of the women in Uganda who are suffering from breast cancer and are trying to seek treatment. One of the people is Jessy Acen, a thirty year-old mother of two whose husband abandoned her after she was diagnosed.

Cancer had caused immense, painful swelling on the left side of her face, and in her left arm and hand. The disease had also spread through her skin from one breast to the other and erupted into oozing sores that she treated by wrapping her chest in bandages. She often sat with the swollen arm cradled in her lap, a position one comes to recognize among women here with advanced breast cancer.

The disease was diagnosed in 2008 when she was only 25. She had a mastectomy at a hospital near home and began chemotherapy, but could not afford the full course of drugs. Within a year, the cancer sprang back, invading her armpit, blocking lymph nodes and causing the swelling in her face and arm.

“When she made contact with us, she had advanced disease,” said Dr. Fred Okuku, an oncologist at the cancer institute. “Straight to the lung, straight to the liver. And what we’ve been doing is to try to prolong her life, and also give her treatment with the aim of reducing the pain.”

Watch Jessy’s story above, read more about it here and read another article about stigma and poverty’s affect on cancer in Uganda here. It is worth your time to read both.

Providing alternatives to drugs may disrupt addiction in the poor | 

What if addicts were not really addicts? What if they were given other options than drugs?

Researcher Dr. Carl Hart says that people will respond to alternatives like cash in lieu of drugs. His findings turn the long held belief that drugs trapped the poor. He posits that drug use is more of a coping mechanism than it is a trap of addiction.

Some will not be surprised that Hart found that poverty, rather than drugs, is far more damaging to families and communities. From the New York Times:

Yes, he notes, some children were abandoned by crack-addicted parents, but many families in his neighborhood were torn apart before crack — including his own. (He was raised largely by his grandmother.) Yes, his cousins became destitute crack addicts living in a shed, but they’d dropped out of school and had been unemployed long before crack came along.

“There seemed to be at least as many — if not more — cases in which illicit drugs played little or no role than were there situations in which their pharmacological effects seemed to matter,” writes Dr. Hart, now 46. Crack and meth may be especially troublesome in some poor neighborhoods and rural areas, but not because the drugs themselves are so potent.

Hart is making the news rounds to promote his new book, High Price. It is being described as a equal bit autobiography (the crack epidemic that wrecked his community motivated his research into stopping drug use) and research study.

“If you’re living in a poor neighborhood deprived of options, there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure,” Dr. Hart to the NYT. “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats.”

Might this give pause to the idea of excluding men from microfinance programs? Could it be possible that well-designed loans could reduce alcohol consumption and drug use?

Bornstein calls out charity: water for simplifying clean water solutions | 

Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.


Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.

Despite what some may say, solving the world’s water crisis is not so simple.

David Bornstein picks up on a recent New York Times Magazine article that profiled a trip of high profile philanthropists with charity:water. The organization that has managed to move millions for clean water receives a rather soft treatment from the piece that raises some questions for Bornstein. He points to promising examples of clean water solutions and criticizes the way that charity:water has simplified the problem.

The organization’s fundraising is guided by the imperative of giving its donors a satisfying experience. However, to do this, Charity: Water has had to simplify the problem and narrow in on one piece of the solution — the piece with the most potential to deliver that experience: individualized water projects, like wells or purification systems, that can be photographed, located on Google Maps, and commemorated with plaques featuring donors’ names. To get the work done, the organization identifies partner organizations across the developing world with track records of delivering results, and provides flexible funding to meet local needs.

To be fair to charity:water, the organization has undergone a lot of learning since it was founded. Founder Scott Harrison is working closely with veterans in the clean water space and the organization made changes in the past to its claims in order to more accurately reflect its impact. Further, charity:water is getting in on the tracking game by installing computer chips to track whether wells are actually working and being used. Continue reading

The collateral damage of US immigration wars | 

As politicians like John McCain and others call for stronger border protections between the US and Mexico, the people who are trying to enter the US are undertaking strenuous journeys. Cities like Tucson, Arizona saw the scale up of security along the border in order to capture and deter illegal immigrants. The thought was that desert areas would serve as a sufficient buffer, but it isn’t the case.

This short OpDoc from the Marc Silver in the New York Times shows that people are enduring the harshest parts of the desert to get into the US.

A longer form documentary on the issue of immigration by Silver called Who Is Dayani Cristal? will see wide release later this year. Efforts to determine the identity and family of a dead man tells the story of immigration to the US. Silver adds in the text accompanying his video:

Some may argue that the latest proposals for tighter border security could save lives — by flooding the border with guards, cameras and drones that could spot and help intercept migrants in dangerous areas. Yet recent history shows that even when border security is tightened, people will still find a way to cross — as long as there is a demand for low-wage jobs. Even as fewer people are believed to be crossing the border illegally, the number of migrant deaths has remained high (the remains of at least 116 people have been found this year in Arizona), and a greater proportion is likely dying.

As a British filmmaker, I don’t perceive this as a uniquely American issue, even if the politics are local. Similar migrant deaths have recently resulted from capsized boats in the Mediterranean Sea, filled with migrants from Africa and the Middle East, and in the seas north of Australia. Around the globe, it’s clear that economic disparity, political instability and harsh immigration policies are a combustible mix — one that plays out tragically along national borders.

Volunteers cause homelessness, claims Hedge Fund Manager | 

4950640437_f1d6997864_nAndy Kessler, founder of the billion-dollar Palo Alto investment firm Velocity Capital Management, thinks that homelessness in the United States is caused by the people who volunteer at homeless shelter. The hedge fund manager took to the Wall Street Journal to condemn volunteering.

He opens with the story of a couple he meets at an airport in San Francisco. They are waiting to pick up their daughter who just traveled to volunteer in Guatemala, not to attend camp much to Kessler’s dismay. He criticizes the millions spent on volunteering projects and says the money could have been invested in a local entrepreneur.

Kessler then wags his crotchety old man finger at the younger generations who have it all.

I understand that overbearing parents encourage their children toward such do-good interludes, hoping that it will get them into Brown, but why does this generation go along with it? My take: Because they have it all. The baby-boom generation gave way to the slacker Gen-Xers, followed by Gen-Y and now we’ve moved up the alphabet to Gen-G—for Guilty.

It is not the first time Kessler has voiced his disdain for things that are new. He took a swipe at Wikipedia in an OpEd for the New York Times in 2007.
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China’s Great Leap towards Rapid Urbanization | 

Here’s the plan. China wants to move 250,000,000 people out of its rural areas and into cities within the next 15 years.

There are 316 million people in the United States. China’s plan is to move nearly as many people as the world’s third most populous country.

To do so, China is undertaking a massive construction effort to expand, improve and build new urban centers. Reporting from the New York Times reveals that the effort to transform the country has the potential to rapidly propel China or saddle it with long term and harmful problems.

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The dilemma of eating locally and hurting others globally | 

Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit:  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Want to change the world? Many tell you to start at the grocery story…or with your local farmers market.

Eat less meat, go organic, eat local and eat healthier. Such recommendations can be heard just about anywhere and they often end with a call to demand support for American farmers, or politically, renewal of the US Farm Bill. The argument sounds sensible on a quick glance and certainly so from a US-centric, self-serving perspective. But it may not be so sensible and good.

Modern food production and distribution systems are today international in scope and affect almost everyone, everywhere – and in many ways that may surprise you.

As the same time, eating local – locavores – has increasingly become a popular trend in the United States. Farm-to-table restaurants are popping up touting that they source all their products locally. The appeal is that consumers can get fresh (often organic) produce at nearly the same cost while supporting local businesses and reducing the massive carbon footprint produced by shipping food across the United States.

The trend has come with wider public recognition of the downside of industrial food production: The antibiotics used for livestock protect against disease (and boosts production) but this also builds drug resistance that has negative ramifications for people’s health. The high overall consumption of meat hurts the environment – from the methane produced by cows to the amount of land and water needed to care for them. Policies by governments and purchases by consumers have an impact on farmers from Arkansas to Haiti to the Horn of Africa.

The choice between eating cheap supermarket food versus being a sustainable locavore is not really as simple as it looks, at least if your goal is to make the world a better place. Continue reading

Cholera Concerns Mounting in Sierra Leone | 

A cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone that made its way to the capital city of Freetown is spreading at an alarming rate. MSF reported an estimated 1,500 cases and 17 deaths in a July 31 press release. The WHO released new numbers yesterday that cholera has infected 5,706 people since the start of August. They single out Western Aread and Tonkolili as areas with the greatest burden.

Right now, the response is being led by major players such as the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, MSF, UNICEF and the WHO.  At the same time, neighboring Guinea is dealing with its own cholera outbreak.  According to MSF, the shared resivor  near the coast is a ‘breeding ground for the disease.’

“This ‘coastal cholera’ has already killed some 250 people,” says MSF epidemiologist Michel Van Herp. “The water reservoir allows the Vibrio cholerae bacteria to survive and go on to infect the population.” To respond, organizations are turning their focus onto improving hygiene.

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