Honoring the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Eisenhower Institute is a distinguished center for leadership and public policy that prepares the successor generations to perfect the promise of the nation. A distinctive program of Gettysburg College with offices in the heart of the nation's capital and in the historic Gettysburg home once occupied by Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, the Institute combines top-level dialogue among policy-makers with a premier learning experience for undergraduates.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Leslie Varela Paintings: Bubble people

Les:  Your work is just fantastic!!  I love the blending of realism (i.e., the tiger's face) with impressionistic surroundings.  And your choice of subjects, for example, the wrestlers, is terrific, too.  I would probably be selecting golfers and politicians, but that just shows how mundane my perspectives are compared with yours!  You are truly a great, accomplished painter.  World class.  I love you, Dad

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu: Upgraded to WHO level 4

It is difficult sometimes to wait as an epidemic increases. Poor Mexico is being hit with this crisis and it will impact every part of their country for years in the future. Often epidemics have a bad effect on economies for many years after the actual epidemic is over. There is never an "ideal" place for an epidemic to  start, and frankly with influenza it can happen any time, anywhere. A virus just has to have the right conditions to mutate and it happens. Or in this case an animal--zoonotic--form of the disease transferred between species.

One quote struck me today in La Jornada-the prevailing newspaper in Mexico City. I'll translate:
"The secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, alerted saying that 'the poorest countries are especially vulnerable,' to the sprouting of swine flu and he insists to, '...demonstrate global solidarity...'" / El secretario general de la ONU, Ban Ki-moon, alertó que los países más pobres son especialmente vulnerables al brote de gripe porcina, e instó ademostrar solidaridad global...'  (http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2009/04/28/index.php?section=politica&article=003n1pol)
He mentions that the poorest countries are the most vulnerable to this epidemic. From our perspective this might seem odd, but it's a reality for all poorer countries.

Sadly poor countries are often developing countries. They lack much infrastructure--from public health to transportation--which makes managing any epidemic even harder.  To add to these problems, generally the people in developing countries have weaker immune systems in result of poorer balanced nutrition and may be afflicted with other conditions that make their immune systems weaker.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are one of the groups of diseases that afflict most developing countries and lower the ability of the immune system to function properly. To top that off, many of these regions are in risk of malarial disease--which won't be getting any better due to global warming and the expanding mosquito ridden regions. Malarial episodes cause a severe hit to the immune system, subsequently making them more vulnerable to common colds and flu. These are the things you do not want happening during an epidemic of influenza.

Between the lack of health infrastructure and weakened immune systems of people in the developing world, containing the swine flu within the country of origin is important, but almost impossible with how globalized the world is today. It's not as simple as cutting travel since imports and exports have to go in and out of countries. This is one of the many reasons why developed countries should be helping to eradicate the diseases in the developing world. Our lackadaisical attitude towards the elimination of these diseases could in the end cause our nation trauma. Getting our legislators to understand this is a different idea completely.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine Flu: Public Health Crisis 101

The news media today is all over the burgeoning flu epidemic that appears to have started in Mexico City, Mexico. Over the past several decades we have been quite fortunate not to have many of these virulent-influenza strains/outbreaks of influenza. We know from history that epidemic outbreaks can shape and influence history. Take for instance the NYC Influenza epidemic of 1918. We often forget that thousands of people die from the the flu each year in the United States. That's why its vital for everyone to be vaccinated. Once there's a certain proportion of vaccinated individuals within a system, an immunity for that disorder is conferred with that disease, known by epidemiologists as herd immunity. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that that will help us with this strain since its vaccine resistant.

From a policy end, public health officials always struggle a balance when preparing for health disasters. As we recently learned from Katrina, the best way to plan for natural and health disasters is not during the epidemic. However, time and again it's difficult for people to open dialogue about disaster preparedness before an epidemic happens. With influenza, this is a virus that has the ability to mutate quickly and spread rapidly.

With the world being more and more connected because of globalization, it is even more important that countries communicate and cooperate on prevention and elimination strategies. This is another example of a situation that does not improve by building a wall dividing countries. Toward this end, data sharing information is perhaps the most important foreign policy so all organizations involved can begin to see how far the epidemic may have spread. Using this information, organizations like the World Health Organization, Ministerio de Salud (mexico) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can begin to piece together the current epidemic to make better informed decisions about prevention a pandemic.

Until our government and researchers begin working on this epidemic, we shouldn't worry too much about this problem. However, as always, its best to keep our immune systems in top shape by eating a balanced diet, sleeping 8 hours a night for adults, exercizing, reducing stress, etc. This is better said then done during finals for students at Universities across America!

Oh, and in case you missed it earlier: Get your flu shot and other recommended vaccines.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Public Health Policy - Shaped by science, opinion, or politized?

Over the past century, rigorous safety and ethical standards have been developed in order to prevent patient harm in research with humans and animals. In fact all institutions doing research with humans or animals need to have an Institutional Review Board (IRB) in order to conduct research. A perspective in today's New York Times suggest that NYC may attempt to be their "own" IRB, which adds to many articles written about this directive over the past several months.

NYC has been trying to make several community level changes in order to improve the health of its city. Many of the mandates have been very controversial. One instance was the requirement that all restaurants need to have the nutritional value posted for their food items. The indoor clean air quality act was one in order to prevent exposure to second hand smoke. Another example is the trans fats ban.

The risk in the most recent idea to require restaurants to cut the sodium levels in half. Mr. Tierney points out is that there is very controversial evidence that this is an effective strategy to prescribe a widespread mandate for lower sodium in NYC. Moreover, the fact that there has been controversy within the medical community is worrisome since its the basis of this public policy initiative.

It's very alarming that this could be rolled out across a city without large agreement within the scientific community. Normally, as the article mentions, this would have to be exposed to the rigor of scientific safety standards to protect the individual. On a community level, this would mitigate the normal well intended safety standards.

I think we can all agree that science and policy must become more united in order to reduce the incidence of obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in the United States. However, I'm not sure that this is the best way to approach it. Creating increased access to mass transit, constructing additional bike lanes, constructing running lanes in parks, encouraging citizens to walk and excersize, removing soda and vending machines from schools,  etc, all seem like better, longer-lasting solutions. 

It's tricky to get an overweight country to become more active and to make better decisions about what to eat and to become more active. On the other hand, doing nothing isn't trimming down the epidemic, its expanding just like the waistlines of Americans. What do you think about this reform strategy?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Re: Sad week for Argentina

As a follow-up to my last post about Argentina, there was a very good article in the New York Times this week about the legacy of Alfonsín. I hope you take the time to read it:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sad week for Argentina

On March 31, 2009, Raúl Alfonsín died (82) years old. He was the first democratically elected president of Argentina after the series of devastating military dictatorships that ravaged Argentina for decades. This is a sad week for Argentina and South America because Alfonsín represented in many ways hope for the future of South America in a post-dictator world. Alfonsín is lauded for bringing many people to justice that committed various crimes during the military dictatorships in Argentina. He was highly criticized during the time because he brought many of his own political party (los radicales) to justice.

Sadly Aflonsín stepped down in result of rapid inflation and defaulting on foreign loans. But the contributions that this president made with negotiating and mitigating human rights violations in Argentina cannot go unremembered. In the US we have heard little about this important leader's death, which is sad since this man was a stalwart support of justice, equality and the virtues of Human Rights.

See the NYTimes Article Below:
New York Times Article

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Media of Negativity

If you've turned on the news in the last 3 months, you surely have noticed the onslaught of negativity. News is a very central part of policy-work gets completed in Washington--I know few who will argue this point. However, it troubles me that all of the shows are focuses on how "bad" the economy is, instead of any marginal good out in the world. The world is in a reset period. Anyone who has studied anything about economics knows that there are cycles, and that this storm will be weathered. I personally think this economic downturn is in someways good for US citizens.

Our country for most of my existence has lived under the facade that we could live beyond our means on borrowed money. The "spend it now, pay it later" attitude was viral for the past decade. Credit flowed to the point that banks started making sloppy decisions. It is no more evident than in the real estate market: People bought houses they could not afford and banks permitted them! Consumption was rampant. Our country is addicted to things. We see things. We buy them. And we're not satisfied, so we want even more things.

Through this whole mess, I think it's difficult to point the finger at one person. It's convoluted. The banks were at fault. The government was at fault (especially at deregulating derivatives). Corporate America was at fault--there clearly is a ceiling of CEO's salaries. Individuals were at fault--we know better than to live on borrowed money and spend beyond our means. Lastly, the media was to blame--the writing was on the wall and the media did not scream loud enough.

Now they screaming. We hear them complaining about how bad things are and interviewing countless people about the "...deepening recession." Well if they keep preaching this message, the media and public perception could forecast a deeper recession on us.

Take home message that we all could live by: Live within your means. If you have extra money: Spend, save, or donate it to charitable organizations--they are all hurting right now. Support local small business. Buy local food. Try to live sustainably.

If we all followed this simple advice I learned from being raised on a farm, we would all be better off. Trouble is, it's terribly tough to implement.