ACCESS Expands Medical Network in Middle East

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By ACCESS

adnanhammad Over the past two weeks, Senior Director of the Community Health & Research Center, Dr. Adnan Hammad, embarked on a trip to the Middle East to spread ACCESS’ medical research knowledge to universities and institutions in Jordan and Morocco. The trip served to educate others as well as expand and strengthen ACCESS’ existing networks with health professionals and medical establishments around the world.

Highlights of the trip included a new partnership with the School of Medicine in Fez, Morocco, which could include potential research collaboration and the establishment of a national cancer screening initiative with the Moroccan National Institute of Public Health (MNIPH). Thanks to ACCESS, MNIPH will also be linked with the American Cancer Society and the National Institute of Cancer.

In Amman, Jordan, Dr. Hammad and other professionals provided a one-day workshop at the King Hussein Cancer Center. The workshop included discussions on cancer control and prevention based on extensive research. Also, after meeting with the leadership of Jordan University of Science and Technology, ACCESS has agreed to help them plan a regional public health conference slated for June 2010. This conference will focus on comparative research between Arab and Arab American health outcomes, such as diabetes, cancer, tobacco use, and environment.

Finally, Dr. Hammad met with Questscope and ANERA, organizations whose mission is to educate and help Middle Eastern youth overcome poverty, abuse, and injustice. Discussions are now ongoing over the establishment of a “Train the Trainers” program for the 5,000-6,000 Iraqi children whose parents have been victims of torture. ACCESS has committed to sending some of it mental health care professionals to provide training workshops this fall.

“ACCESS was proud to contribute its knowledge, experience, and talents in helping the well-being of our community overseas,” said Dr. Hammad “I am a believer that epidemiology does not recognize borders and I am glad I had this opportunity to serve ACCESS and the Arab American Community.”

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His Maternal Instinct

July 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times

shershah syed

Dr Syed with Ashrafi Akbar.

Nicholas D. Kristof (The NYT)

She is an illiterate woman from the tribal areas of Pakistan who almost died in childbirth a year after marrying at the age of 12. She suffered a horrific injury during labor called a fistula that left her incontinent and smelly, and for the next 13 years she was confined to her house — never stepping outside for shame at the way she was leaking wastes.

He is a famous Pakistani ob-gyn who was educated in Ireland. After spending eight years there, he returned with plans to set up a fertility clinic for rich patients and zip around in a Mercedes-Benz. But he was so shattered by the sight of women dying unnecessarily in childbirth that he decided to devote his career instead to helping impoverished women like her.

So they met in one of the hospitals established by the doctor, Shershah Syed, and he has been helping the young woman, Ashrafi Akbar. She is scheduled to undergo a final repair of her fistula in that hospital today.

People in the West are properly outraged by Taliban oppression of women in parts of Pakistan. But some of the greatest suffering of women here isn’t political or religious. It comes simply from the inattention to maternal health care.

Here in Pakistan, a woman dies every 35 minutes because of problems from pregnancy or childbirth, according to United Nations figures.

The underlying reason is that maternal health has never been a priority globally, either to poor countries or to foreign aid donors like the United States. The only exceptions are Britain and Norway, and I hope the Obama administration will back them up.

In this part of Pakistan, Sindh Province, there is a saying that goes: If your cow dies, that is a tragedy; if your wife dies, you can always get another.

“This is simpler than an atomic bomb,” Dr. Shershah said, speaking of improving maternal health in Pakistan. “We have an atomic bomb, but we haven’t done this because the government isn’t interested. The day the government decides it doesn’t want maternal deaths, we will have no more mothers dying.”

Ashrafi’s case was typical: She tried to deliver at home with the help of an untrained birth attendant. But her pelvis wasn’t big enough to accommodate the baby’s head, so four exhausting days of labor produced nothing.

Finally, the family took Ashrafi to a clinic, and the baby was delivered dead. Then she found that she was dribbling urine and stool through her vagina. She smelled, and the salts in her urine left sores on her thighs.

Ashrafi had heard that doctors in Karachi might be able to cure her, and she asked if someone could take her. Instead, Ashrafi’s husband divorced her. Embarrassed and humiliated, Ashrafi fell into a deep depression. She locked herself up in her parents’ home and refused to see anyone.

Thirteen years passed. Ashrafi says she didn’t leave the house once. I asked her, and a cousin of hers whom I reached by telephone, how she spent her days. The answer: sewing, caring for her sick mother — and crying.

Finally, she prevailed upon her brothers to take her to Karachi, where she was examined by Dr. Shershah. At 56, he is one of his country’s best-known doctors and is president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan. But three times he has been pushed out of his job, he said, for saying that resources would be better spent on education and health than on atomic weapons or F-16s.

With government support nine years ago, Dr. Shershah started a top-level maternity wing in a public hospital in Orangi, an impoverished Karachi neighborhood that by some reckonings is the largest slum in the world. The hospital now handles 6,500 deliveries a year — yes, 6,500 — and accepts women from hundreds of miles away. Several years ago, a half-dead woman came from Baluchistan Province — by camel.

In addition, Dr. Shershah is hitting up friends to try to build a new maternity hospital on the grounds of a former madrassa on the edge of Karachi. So far, he has built a wing to repair fistulas free of charge and to train midwives. He says that in five years or so, as the money trickles in, the hospital will be complete. (Friends in America have set up a tax-deductible charity, National Health Forum. For more information, please go to my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground.)

In addition to his regular work, Dr. Shershah repairs fistulas there every Sunday, and that is how he encountered Ashrafi. Her case turned out to require a series of operations because of the long wait. But after six months of surgeries, she should be repaired and ready to go home by the end of this month.

Already, the nurses say, she is different from the shy, morose young woman who arrived. Now she smiles and sometimes laughs, and she spends her days outside in the hospital courtyard, bathing in the sunlight that she missed for 13 years.

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Modern DC Corruption … from “the select few”

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout

greedy

If you want to know what really matters in Washington, don’t go to Capitol Hill for one of those hearings, or pay attention to those staged White House “town meetings.” They’re just for show. What really happens – the serious business of Washington – happens in the shadows, out of sight, off the record. Only occasionally – and usually only because someone high up stumbles – do we get a glimpse of just how pervasive the corruption has become.

Case in point: Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of The Washington Post – one of the most powerful people in DC – invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors covering the story.

But CEOs and lobbyists from the health care industry were invited, too, provided they forked over $25,000 a head – or up to a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor a whole series of these cozy get-togethers. And what is the inducement offered? Nothing less, the invitation read, than “an exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will get it done.”

The invitation reminds the CEO’s and lobbyists that they will be buying access to “those powerful few in business and policy making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No.” The invitation promises this private, intimate and off-the-record dinner is an extension “of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard.”

Let that sink in. In this case, the “stakeholders” in health care reform do not include the rabble – the folks across the country who actually need quality health care but can’t afford it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night of this little soiree, the bouncer would drop kick them beyond the Beltway.

No, before you can cross the threshold to reach “the select few who will actually get it done,” you must first cross the palm of some outstretched hand. The Washington Post dinner was canceled after a copy of the invite was leaked to the web site Politico.com, by a health care lobbyist, of all people. The paper said it was a misunderstanding – the document was a draft that had been mailed out prematurely by its marketing department. There’s noblesse oblige for you – blame it on the hired help.

In any case, it was enough to give us a glimpse into how things really work in Washington – a clear insight into why there is such a great disconnect between democracy and government today, between Washington and the rest of the country.

According to one poll after another, a majority of Americans not only want a public option in health care, they also think that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power over policy, that money in politics is the root of all evil, that working families and poor communities need and deserve public support if the market system fails to generate shared prosperity.

But, when the insiders in Washington have finished tearing worthy intentions apart and devouring flesh from bone, none of these reforms happen. “Oh,” they say, “it’s all about compromise. All in the nature of the give-and-take-negotiating of a representative democracy.”

That, people, is bull – the basic nutrient of Washington’s high and mighty.

It’s not about compromise. It’s not about what the public wants. It’s about money – the golden ticket to “the select few who actually get it done.”

When Congress passed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, “the select few” made sure it no longer contained the cramdown provision that would have allowed judges to readjust mortgages. The one provision that would have helped homeowners the most was removed in favor of an industry that pours hundreds of millions into political campaigns.

So, too, with a bill designed to protect us from terrorist attacks on chemical plants. With “the select few” dictating marching orders, hundreds of factories are being exempted from measures that would make them spend money to prevent the release of toxic clouds that could kill hundreds of thousands.

Everyone knows the credit ratings agencies were co-conspirators with Wall Street in the shameful wilding that brought on the financial meltdown. But when the Obama administration came up with new reforms to prevent another crisis, the credit ratings agencies were given a pass. They’d been excused by “the select few who actually get it done.”

And by the time an energy bill emerged from the House of Representatives the other day, “the select few who actually get it done” had given aw ay billions of dollars worth of emission permits and offsets. As The New York Times reported, while the legislation worked its way to the House floor, “It grew fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions and out-and-out gifts,” expanding from 648 pages to 1,400 as it spread its largesse among big oil and gas, utility companies and agribusiness.

This week, the public interest groups Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics reported that, “According to lobby disclosure reports, 34 energy companies registered in the first quarter of 2009 to lobby Congress around the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This group of companies spent a total of $23.7 million – or $260,000 a day – lobbying members of Congress in January, February and March.

“Many of these same companies also made large contributions to the members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation and held a hearing this week on the proposed ‘cap and trade’ system energy companies are fighting. Data shows oil and gas companies, mining companies and electric utilities combined have given more than $2 million just to the 19 members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee since 2007, the start of the last full election cycle.”

It’s happening to health care as well. Even the pro-business magazine The Economist says America has the worst system in the developed world, controlled by exe cutives who are not held to account and investors whose primary goal is raising share price and increasing profit – while wasting $450 billion dollars in redundant administrative costs and leaving nearly 50 million uninsured.

Enter “the select few who actually get it done.” Three out of four of the big health care firms lobbying on Capitol Hill have former members of Congress or government staff members on the payroll – more than 350 of them – and they’re all fighting hard to prevent a public option, at a rate in excess of $1.4 million a day.

Health care policy has become insider heaven. Even Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House health reform director, served on the boards of several major health care corporations.

President Obama has pushed hard for a public option but many fear he’s wavering, and just this week his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel – the insider di tutti insiders – indicated that a public plan just might be negotiable, ready for reengineering, no doubt, by “the select few who actually get it done.”

That’s how it works. And it works that way because we let it. The game goes on and the insiders keep dealing themselves winning hands. Nothing will change – nothing – until the moneylenders are tossed out of the temple, the ATM’s are wrested from the marble halls, and we tear down the sign they’ve placed on government – the one that reads, “For Sale.”

11-30

Muslim Health Advocates

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neveen Abdelghani

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) A delegation from American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP) visited Washington, DC on June 25-26 to advocate for health reform.  The group met with a number of congressional offices and partner organizations, including Faithful for Health Reform, which held a rally at Freedom Plaza representing a coalition of faith community leaders passionate about health access and equity.   

With domestic health care reform high on the President’s agenda, AMHP felt the time was right to move forward with more direct and reaching advocacy efforts. “Both the Senate and the House were all on the right track regarding eliminating certain health care costs,” explained Dr. Yasir Shareef, neurologist from Phoenix who had the opportunity to meet with congressional staffers. “Currently, there are over 120 million people either uninsured or underinsured, and this motivates us to work harder before the problem continues to get worse.”

Members of AMHP felt a trip to Washington was critical in order to voice their concerns during this short window of opportunity for comprehensive reform.  AMHP has been deeply engaged in issues of health reform.  Last year, AMHP Policy Analyst, Rabia Akram, drafted a health policy brief comparing the McCain and Obama plans for healthcare overhaul.  Since then, AMHP has led a grassroots effort to articulate a vision for change.  AMHP organized a number of health reform seminars across the country in March of this year.  “These seminars attracted experts in the field that were able to educate and empower our communities to understand the nature of this crisis and take action”, said Dr.Faisal Qazi, President of AMHP and architect of its policy program.

“From both an Islamic and an American background, it is our duty to support these grassroots efforts in order to get things going,” said Dr. Shareef, a member AMHP’s Task Force on Health Affordability.  Members of this team have been constantly evaluating the data and following the language and committee hearings closely.

The AMHP Washington, DC delegation was an extension of this process.  Dr. Imran Khan, a member of the Task Force said, “It was a tremendous learning opportunity and we realized that these laws, even if 800 pages long, are written by people like you and me, most of whom appreciate some help writing them.”
Khizer Husain, the lead Washington-based coordinator for this recent lobby day said, “Muslim Americans need to build relationships with legislators.  We can be a conduit to our communities and folks on the Hill appreciate this.”

Besides this commitment to political engagement and health reform, AMHP enjoys the unique position of having a comprehensive public health view and has become an organization focused on education, prevention, access, delivery and policy in the realm of healthcare. The organization’s work places an emphasis on public service to all members of the community.

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Indonesia Minister, Clerics Clash over Hajj Swine Vaccine’ Requirement

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

JAKARTA, June 15 — The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and the health minister are now at odds over a requirement for hajj pilgrims to take an anti-meningitis vaccine which allegedly contains a swine enzyme before travelling to the Holy Land, Antara news agency reported.

“Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari’s statement that MUI has no right to decide whether meningitis vaccine is ‘halal’ (allowed in Islam) or ‘haram’ (banned) can mislead and create unrest among Muslims,” MUI Chairman Amidhan, said yesterday.

According to the MUI chairman, the health minister as a state official should not have made the statement as it would create unrest among Muslims. The minister made the statement at a meeting of the Aisyiyah women wing of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation in Yoyakarta yesterday.

“I read her statement in the running text of a television broadcast Sunday morning,” Amidhan said.

MUI has the authority to decide whether or not a product is halal or haram based on Law No. 7 / 1996 on Food. One of its articles clearly stipulates that the halal certification of a product would be issued by MUI.

MUI is equipped with two institutions in this case. One is the Institute for Assessment of Food, Drug and Cosmetics (LPPOM) and the other one is the Commission on Edicts and Legal Affairs.

“Before MUI decides whether a product is halal or haram, its team will check it in the field and test it in a laboratory, the results of which would be taken to and discussed with the edict commission. We have the experience to handle such a problem for 20 years,” Amidhan said.

At the Aisyiyah meeting, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that Indonesian would-be hajj pilgrims were obliged to receive a meningitis vaccine before they left for Saudi Arabia because the Saudi government had decided to oblige pilgrims to have one.

“The Saudi government obliges all hajj pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine in order to protect them from cerebral membrane inflammation,” the minister said. She was responding to a rejection by a hajj pilgrim organiser group to provide meningitis vaccine as the vaccine was suspected to contain swine enzyme.

The minister said that the requirement set by the Saudi government to have meningitis vaccine for would-be hajj pilgrims was final. Pilgrims should be injected with the vaccine if they wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia.

“I have told the Saudi health minister about the pros and cons on the use of the meningitis vaccine which was suspected to contain swine enzyme but the Saudi government maintained its policy and required meningitis vaccination for hajj pilgrims,” the minister said.

Therefore, Indonesia’s would-be hajj pilgrims should receive meningitis vaccine injection in the first place before they could depart to Saudi Arabia. Without taking the meningitis vaccine, a would-be hajj pilgrim would not be allowed to go to the Holy Land.

“So far, there is only one kind of meningitis vaccine used by hajj pilgrims. This vaccine is produced by a US pharmacy. So far, no other pharmacy has produced meningitis vaccine,” the minister said.

The minister said that the US company was going to produce another type of meningitis vaccine. They claimed the new product was an innovative version of the previous one.

“Therefore, the price of the new vaccine which was claimed to be free from pig enzyme is far higher than that of the previous vaccine,” the minister said.

With regard to the present vaccine, the minister said that the institution that had the right to assess the substance of the vaccine was the ministry of health, not the MUI. So, MUI had neither right nor authority or competence to assess the substance of the meningitis vaccine and decided that it was halal or haram.

“MUI may decide that swine is halal or haram, but as far as a vaccine is concerned, the institution which has the right and competence to assess its substance is the health ministry,” Minister Supari said.

However, it was reported that MUI had received the very information on the swine enzyme substance in the meningitis vaccine from the health ministry itself, namely its Advisory Council on Health and Religious Legal Affairs (MPKS).

Amidhan said that MUI had the information from the MPKS which held a meeting with the meningitis vaccine producer. It was learnt from the results of a meeting between MPKS and the vaccine producer Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), that the vaccine contained swine enzyme.

The producer even admitted that the meningitis vaccine contained swine enzyme.

“That is why we say that the vaccine is haram,” the MUI chairman said. MUI has sent a letter to the Saudi government with regard to the requirement for pilgrims to have meningitis vaccine.

The highest Islamic regulating council took the step because all parties involved in the organization of hajj pilgrimage in the country had agreed that the vaccine contained pig substance.

“We are waiting for a response from the Saudi government. However, if the Saudi government insists on its decision to require pilgrims to take meningitis vaccine, then we will use it based on the principle of emergency. Of course this would continue to create unrest,” Amidhan said. — Bernama

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