Doing Good Globally: Médecins Sans Frontières, The Doctors Who Did Away With Borders

MSF Doctor's Day
Photo Courtesy of MSF

Today is National Doctor’s Day, and we would like to recognize those who have made a difference by bringing better health to communities all over the world. One particular group, Médecins Sans Frontières, has impacted the lives of millions throughout the globe and forever changed the face of international public health and humanitarian aid. A key tenet of the organization is that borders are political boundaries, and we must prioritize people’s health and rights above these boundaries.

MSF TimelineImage courtesy of MSF. Click here to view an interactive timeline of MSF’s work and history.

In 1968, a series of protests broke out all over the world in response to social conflicts, and many of these protests were rebellions against military and bureaucratic elites. The Parisian protests in May of that year were some of the most significant in history. Ten million workers and students took to the streets of Paris, France, in an effort to overthrow the government of General Charles de Gaulle. Amid these upheavals, a group of young doctors came together and decided to do something about the worldwide issues of war and famine. They sought out to recreate the concept of emergency aid.

They decided to travel around the world to find and help victims of war and disease. Not only would they reinvent the idea of emergency aid, but they also succeeded in creating a new brand of humanitarianism. This group would later become known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders.
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Ebola Could Lead to Measles Epidemic in West Africa

Ebola-Measles Connection

A new report published in Science shows that up to 300,000 additional people could contract measles this year due to the West African Ebola crisis.  The report, release in March, based its statistics on vaccination rates throughout the region, and it projected that anywhere from 2,000 to 16,000 measles-related deaths could occur.

According to the report, before the Ebola outbreak, 900,000 people were at risk for contracting measles in the region.  After 18 months of limited vaccinations, more than 1.2 million people could now contract measles.  A significant measles outbreak could portend thousands more deaths, taking yet another toll on the region.

“The secondary effects of Ebola — both in childhood infections and other health outcomes — are potentially as devastating in terms of loss of life as the disease itself,” said study leader Justin Lessler, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a release. “While the downstream effects of Ebola are many, we can actually do something about measles relatively cheaply and easily, saving many lives by restarting derailed vaccination campaigns.”
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The Flu Report: 3/25/15

Flu Report Map March 25
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 
The influenza infection rate is still declining but new influenza B cases nearly doubled those of influenza A, what does this mean for the end of flu season and for people in general?

Overview:

Influenza is on a steady decline as 37 of 54 jurisdictions are reporting widespread activity, the lowest since near the beginning of the 2014-2015 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease . Though 1,685 cases were officially confirmed during the week of Mar. 8-14, the majority of states show minimal to low influenza infection rates. The only states that remain at a high level are Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana as well as the territory of Puerto Rico.

The Northeastern United States shows the lowest levels of influenza activity while the southern midwest shows the highest. According to FluNearYou’s user based reporting, the majority influenza cases are happening along the West coast. But, that being said, the website is showing that only about two percent of users have flu-like symptoms. Being as that FluNearYou is live and active reporting, while the CDC releases numbers after the fact shows that we may have further decline in influenza infection.
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What will be in the 2015-2016 flu shot?

2015-2016 Flu Vaccine Strains

The World Health Organization recently announced the strains that will be used in the flu vaccine for the 2015-2016 flu season.  On March 4, the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted to use the strains noted below, which include two updated strains of the influenza virus.

Trivalent Vaccines:

  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus.

Quadrivalent Vaccines:

  • In addition to the 3 strains mentioned above-
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus

The influenza vaccine virus strains selected by the WHO for the 2015-2016 northern hemisphere influenza season were chosen with the goals of offering the broadest possible coverage and making the vaccine more effective than the 2015 vaccine was.
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The Time is Now: Eradicating Poliovirus in Nigeria

description of image

 
January 24, 2015 marked six months since the last polio case had been reported in Nigeria. The country has been aggressively working toward eliminating polio, and has shown a 92 percent decrease between 2013 and 2014. Polio is a viral disease that if not vaccinated for, can lead to paralysis, difficulty breathing, and in certain cases, death. There are two types of polio that can be contracted from the poliovirus, these include: non-paralytic polio and paralytic polio. In the case of non-paralytic polio, flu-like symptoms are most commonly displayed for a period of around 10 days. Paralytic polio is rare, but can affect the spinal cord, brainstem, or both. Post-polio syndrome includes many disabling symptoms, which can occur at an average of 35 years after the initial poliovirus infection. As of 2015, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan were the only places in the world had not completely eliminated polio.
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The Flu Report: 3/18/15

Flu Near You Map - March 18th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

Influenza infection rates are leveling off in the US as the northern hemisphere’s flu season concludes, but influenza B infections continue to rise as we look at this week’s flu statistics.

Overview:

Once again, we saw another fall in influenza cases throughout the United States over the past week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.  Less than 2,000 cases were reported in the organization’s most recent release, but it does appear that the rate of decline is beginning to slow.  It is typical for cases to decline during this period of the year, but the increase in influenza B cases, while not troubling, is of note.

Influenza B has accounted for less than nine percent of all influenza cases this season, but the number of cases due to this virus strain has slowly been rising and now comprise the majority of week-to-week influenza cases.  Although there is unlikely to be an epidemic of the B strain, it is possible that it will spread a bit more before the flu season is officially declared to be over.
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Can I Travel on Dialysis?

Hiking a mountain

 
World Kidney Day is today, Thursday, March 12, and it offers an opportunity to discuss how to travel safely when dealing with kidney problems.  For individuals suffering from kidney issues, travel is still very possible, and it can be a huge morale booster.  In fact, many doctors encourage travel for dialysis patients, as long as their health is stable.

For many people with kidney issues, traveling can appear to be an insurmountable task and more of a pipe dream than a reality.  But, it is possible to travel and have fun while getting dialysis treatments.  Most patients who receive the treatments can travel safely and continue their treatments while away from home, but it is first necessary that each patient consult with his or her physician before taking a trip.

It is important to begin to make preparations well in advance of your departure date if you are on dialysis.  In fact, you should start planning at least six to eight weeks in advance, according to the National Kidney Foundation.  This planning includes finding a dialysis center in the location you are be traveling to as well as making arrangements for appointments while you are there.  This can be difficult during high traffic periods in certain areas or if you require a specific day or time for your treatments.  Work with your primary doctor to help you navigate these hurdles.

Your temporary dialysis location will need some information from you, and this information likely includes:

  • the dates you need dialysis treatment
  • medical history
  • recent lab results
  • recent EKG
  • recent x-ray
  • dialysis prescription with 3-5 recent treatment records
  • dialysis access type
  • insurance information
  • a list of medications you take during treatment and at home

This information should be sent to the center for review before you arrive.  It is important for the center to know as much about you and your situation as possible before your arrival to ensure the highest quality of care.

If you have kidney issues, be careful while you are traveling, and don’t go overboard!  Enjoy your trip, but try not to overexert yourself.  Be sure to watch what you eat and drink, and make sure that you have received any recommended vaccinations for your destination.  Vacations are a time to relax, so try to do so!

Finally, just in case, make plans for backup medical care.  If you are working with a dialysis center, a doctor may be assigned to you with whom you should stay in contact overseas.

For more information on dialysis and travel, see the National Kidney Foundation’s page on the subject.

For more information on which vaccinations or other travel health needs you may have, visit Passport Health’s Travel Medicine portal.

Have you traveled with dialysis?  Where have you gone and what has your experience been?  Comment below, on our Facebook page or via Twitter with your thoughts.

The Flu Report: 3/11/15

Flu Near You Map - March 11th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

Influenza rates declined again this week as we near the end of the 2014-2015 flu season.

Overview:

The rate of flu spread across the US is at a minimal level with less than 2,000 new cases having been diagnosed for the period from February 22 to 28, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control.  Forty states are experiencing minimal to low activity throughout the United States, and only three states (Oklahoma, Mississippi and Connecticut) still show high levels of activity.

According to FluNearYou.org, which uses real-time user-reported data, less than two percent of users are reporting flu-like symptoms, which is a great sign for the end of flu season!  The website lists overall activity as minimal, but it does show a few minor hotspots on the West and East coastlines.  It is very likely that the CDC data reported during the coming weeks will show very low activity and a possible end (unofficially, at least) to the flu season.

Flu cases may also be getting less severe as the influenza mortality rate is now down at the epidemic threshold.  If current data holds, it should be below this threshold by next week.

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Is motion sickness genetic?

Whale Watchers
Whale watching is just one of many activities that can make travelers motion sick.

 

Motion sickness affects one in every three people. This means that chances are you or someone you know suffers from cold sweats, uneasiness, nausea, and vomiting whenever hitting the road or venturing out at sea. A recent study shows that it’s not just pure luck that determines whether you are going to sail on smoothly by, but rather that some people are genetically predisposed to motion sickness.

“Until now there’s been a poor understanding of the genetics of motion sickness, despite it being a fairly common condition…These findings could help provide clues about the causes of motion sickness and other related conditions, and how to treat them, which is very exciting.”
-Bethann Hromatka, scientist at 23andMe and lead author of the study

The first ever genome-wide study conducted on motion sickness estimates that up to 70 percent of variation in risk for motion sickness is due to genetics. The genetics company behind the study, 23andMe, has published numerous genome-wide association studies; however, this was the first of the company’s research to include association results across a broad set of phenotype, the observable physical characteristics of a person or other species.

Prior research on motion sickness had suggested that the feelings of illness could be hereditary, and the new study confirms this with its finding that several genes may be linked to the nausea associated with movement in a car or on a boat.  In fact, 35 genetic factors can now be tied to motion sickness.
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What Will Your Journey Be?

Project CURE

 

Why do you travel?  Pleasure and business are common reasons to take a trip, but one, perhaps less familiar, type of travel has become increasingly popular.  Mission trips and other types of “PhilanthroTravel” are occurring with increasing frequency as people work to give back while they see the world.  Recently, Passport Health teamed up with Project CURE, the largest provider of donated medical supplies in the world, to deliver lifesaving supplies to a hospital in Panama.

In the videos below, you’ll see interviews and highlights of this trip to Panama that Passport Health was fortunate enough to help with.  During this mission to the Central American country, volunteers delivered a cargo container of medical supplies to a hospital in need to help the local people.

Remember, a key part of any travel to any region is keeping yourself safe and healthy before, during and after your trip.  Let Passport Health be a part of your journey; schedule an appointment at a Passport Health travel clinic before leaving on your trip so that we can help you stay healthy with proper vaccination, medications and health advice.  Taking care of your health is important so that you are best able to help others!

Just one question remains:  What will your journey be?