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Advances in mobile technology help save lives

Photo by Angela Shupe

Cell phones are highly prevalent, with 70 percent of the 5 billion cell phone subscribers in the world living in developing areas, according to an article on Medical News Today.  With their high prevalence, mobile phones are becoming a more common avenue for advancing health care.

Mobile technology like cell phones can be used to save the lives of mothers in childbirth and to help improve the care of newborns. This is especially useful when it comes to reaching populations in remote areas.

Cell phones have been used for a variety of health applications, such as checking in on patients, assisting in treatment, providing consultation and keeping records. However, additional elements such as check lists, protocols and steps to ensure a safe birth can be added, said Julian Schweitzer, Ph.D. and former chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Care, in the article.

Midwives in rural and isolated areas can attach cell phones to diagnostic devices for remote fetal monitoring or remote wireless ultrasound. This can help the midwife to monitor the mother and know when to get her to a clinic.

Cell phones are one way advanced technology is contributing to health in developing countries. What are some other ways you can think of? What do you think are some benefits of this type of service? What are some drawbacks?

As Daylight Saving Time ends, health worries begin

Daylight Saving Time U.S. government propaganda poster from 1918

This U.S. government poster from 1918 promoted the idea that farmers would benefit from an extra morning hour of sunrise in the winter, but today many scientists and health practitioners say we need sun in the evening instead.

As people move their clocks back an hour on Sunday at 2:00A.M., scientists worry the lost hour of afternoon daylight in northern countries is leading to increasing energy use (to turn on lights in the late afternoon), and health problems (lack of Vitamin D from the sun exposure). An article by Reuters‘ reporter Kate Kelland notes that countries like Britain and Russia are considering policy changes in order to combat the problems caused by DST;

“It must be rare to find a means of vastly improving the health and well-being of nearly everyone in the population — and at no cost,” said Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute in Britain, where a bill on DST is coming up for consideration in parliament soon. “And here we have it.”

Sports groups are supporting the policy change, which would provide more daylight hours for frolicking outside after school and work. Scientists estimate that just by switching to Central European time, British citizens would see 300 more hours of daylight a year. Given that nearly half of the world’s population is lacking in Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, such an easy policy change could have profound health, and environment effects.

Is it worth it change the clocks? Across the pond from Britain, Dr. Robert Graham of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Reuters that yes, it is worth it. Dr. Graham hopes an extra hour of daylight would encourage people to exercise more, possibly leading to lower rates of chronic illnesses.

“As a society we are always looking for accessible, low cost, little-to-no harm interventions,” he said by telephone. “By not putting the clocks back and increasing the number of accessible daylight hours, we may have found the perfect one.”

Is keeping DST through the winter a reasonable policy for improving public health? If a change were proposed, could it actually make its way through Congress given the current lack of bipartisanship in American politics? What are the downsides to switching from our current system?

Taking the happy out of the Happy Meal?

child eating McDonald's Happy Meal in a high chairYesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to ban giving away toys with Happy Meals or similar children’s meals. San Francisco is the first major city in the US to implement this kind of ordinance.

Under the ordinance that will take effect in December 2011, restaurants may only provide a toy if the meal (including drink) contains less than 600 calories and if less than 35% of the fat comes from sugars. It would also require restaurants to offer fruits and vegetables with any meal that comes with a toy.

McDonald’s, not surprisingly, has been leading the opposition to this ban. Scott Rodrick, McDonald’s franchise owner, told the San Francisco Chronicle that “restrictions could hurt business and cost jobs if customers cross the San Francisco border for a traditional Happy Meal experience”.

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Introducing Dr. Brian Southwell: Mentor, collaborator, IHC scholar

Brian G. Southwell, Ph.D.

Dr. Brian Southwell will make a transition to UNC-Chapel Hill this winter, just in time to escape the cold weather at the University of Minnesota, where he currently serves as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and as an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Health.   Dr. Southwell is the newest addition to the group of Interdisciplinary Health Communication scholars at UNC.  Upon arrival in early January, 2011, he will begin a joint appointment as a research professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JOMC) and as a senior research scientist at RTI International at Research Triangle Park.

The transition to life and work in North Carolina is a welcome opportunity for Dr. Southwell, his wife Jessica, and son Gavin.  As he told us by email,

“In a nutshell, the move to North Carolina not only makes sense for my family but also will allow me to balance two major interests of mine: continuing to work with students and applying theory to improve health communication practice.  The Senior Research Scientist position at RTI will allow me to intersect with policymakers and practitioners at all levels of health and science communication and the UNC Research Professor faculty appointment will allow me to mentor and collaborate with newly rising scholars, which I really enjoy doing.”

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Grassroots participatory development: More than just buzz words

Kids in Kiberia

Photo from the CFK website

These words can have a variety of definitions depending on where you look. According to the literature, participatory approaches provide the people in a community with power over decisions that are made in the social change process.  Grassroots means that such programs come from the ground up.

In a slum of Nairobi, Kenya, through the program Carolina For Kibera, grassroots participatory development is shown through actions. Carolina for Kibera, or CFK, is an international, nongovernmental organization that provides a number of programs that have been developed with and for the people there.

For example, a few years after the program was founded, two undergraduate volunteers from the United States helped young women in Kibera create the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United) Center that created a safe place for young girls to address issues  such as HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, a lack of reproductive health care, and many other issues.

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Need some PR help for the cause of the month? The CDC will help

November is right around the corner, and that means soon it will be American Diabetes Month.

The CDC provides public health organizations with PR toolkits for causes of the month, but are these generic messages effective?

The CDC provides public health organizations with PR toolkits for causes of the month, but are these generic messages effective?

The CDC has a National Health Observance Toolkit ready to help health organizations promote American Diabetes Month. There are toolkits for every month (e.g. a breast cancer awareness toolkit for October).

Each toolkit contains sample press releases (with “insert your organization information” at the bottom), sample Twitter posts, e-cards, web badges (icons to insert into your own website promoting the cause), and lists of resources and hyperlinks to information. One sample tweet in the diabetes toolkit reads:

“You can do a lot to prevent diabetes, such as eating healthy and getting active. Learn more: . #nho”

The “Get Active” e-card says “Let’s pick activities we like that fit into our lives” on the inside.

These prefabricated press and social media materials may be welcomed by many overworked and understaffed public health groups; but, given their generic nature, how effective can they be? Would there be a way to alter the CDC toolkits to make them easily tailorable to specific populations?

Loco for the Four Loko

four lokos on ice

courtesy of ghostdad/flickr

$2.50. 24-ounces. Caffeinated malt beverage. 12 percent alcohol content.  Available in fruity flavors. Alias: ‘Blackout in a Can’. You have just been introduced to the “Four Loko”.  

The “Four Loko” most recently took the spotlight after the hospitalization of nine Central Washington University students. Investigators had initially thought these students had been drugged, but now police say overconsumption of “Four Loko” is to blame. However, this isn’t the first time this alcoholic energy drink has been in the news. It made headlines earlier this month when “Four Loko” was banned on the campus of New Jersey’s Ramapo College after it sent 23 students to the hospital within a number of weeks. It also appeared months ago when the marketing tactics of it and similar drinks were questioned. Perhaps we should have listened then…

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Telemedicine provides inmates with specialists

Photo taken from the outside of a prison

Photo by Dana Gonzales. From Creative Commons.

HIV is very prevalent in the prison population (four times more than the overall population), yet prisons aren’t especially easy to access for health care screening. Because of this, prisons in Illinois are taking a new approach to making health care professionals available: telemedicine.

Telemedicine is only one aspect of a new Illinois program that was awarded $7 million as part of a National Institute on Drug Abuse grant program. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Cook County Jail are going to examine the impact of using telemedicine to provide inmates with HIV care. According to a Chicago Sun Times article by Monifa Thomas,

“Two months ago, UIC launched a pilot program with the Illinois Department of Corrections in which UIC specialists see inmates at prisons via a secure video link. A nurse is in the room with the inmate, and doctors have access to an exam camera and a stethoscope that allows them to remotely hear a patient’s heart rate.”

In the article, one of the lead researchers in the study pointed out that previously inmates only had access to generalist physicians and did not have access to specialist care. This program combats that.

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