Inflammation and stories on medicine

Art and Medicine
History reflects the intersection of medicine and the arts. The world’s medical community has always been at the forefront of creatively viewing and solving maladies while weaving altruism and expertise. The works of classically trained professionals like Alberto Burri, Charles Bell and Constantin Brancusi are some of the finest examples of the outreach potential for art and medicine. In the present, artists and doctors are still merging medicine and the creative arts, spreading their healing practice through mediums as unexpected as their duality. This article highlights four individuals who gracefully balance this duality.

Emtithal ‘Emi’ Mahmoud

Sudanese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emtithal Mahmoud is the embodiment of a multi-disciplinarian, balancing her dual degrees in Anthropology and Biology with a win at The Slam Poetry World Championship in 2015 with her poem “Mama.”

Mahmoud and her parents fled Darfur, arriving in the United States in 1998. The blending of poetry, biology, anthropology and activism may seem unlikely. The poet described her thoughts on the synergy in an interview with NPR, “I study people from the inside and people from the outside.”

Through her charitable outreach and activism, Mahmoud brings awareness to the plight of refugees and, more recently, to those the pandemic impacted. Mahmoud performs and hosts poetry workshops, while also visiting field camps. Additionally, Mahmoud is pursuing a career in medicine. However, she plans on continuing her advocacy for awareness about diseases like sickle cell anemia and for refugees.

Dr. Gbadamosi “FolaDavid” Adefemi

Dr. Gbadamosi Adefemi is a speed painter and visual artist, as well as a medical doctor based in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi fuses the studies of art and medicine to change social beauty standards. Dr. Adefemi has a fascination with the conditions he treats, particularly those visible on the skin of his patients. His eye for the unique leads him to create artistic representations of wrinkles, freckles, stretch marks and other skin features. Dr. Adefemi hopes to make everyone feel good about themselves and their bodies.

The Lagos native began drawing in medical school and eventually became the foremost speed-painter in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi continues to practice medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to continue influencing his patients and people everywhere to love themselves through this globally difficult time. In February 2020, he explained the melding of art and medicine to Face 2 Face Africa, “I mainly use my hand to take care of people, to heal them, treat them and make life a lot easier for them. And the same thing I do with my art.”

Dr. Venis Wilder “V. Tiarra”

Dr. Venis Wilder, medical director and performance artist, embodies the concept of bold fusion. Her medical career culminated into a passion for social justice in her South Florida community, and eventually, into her unique sound as V. Tiarra. She creates a blend of hip-hop, pop and R&B elevated with quick social commentary about politics, feminism and relationships. Her career as a medical director allows her to see the social problems in her community firsthand. Dr. Wilder discussed her choice to pursue music, stating, “I feel that sharing through music is a way to affect a larger number of people than I could see day-to-day in my office.”

V. Tiarra describes music as “healing,” and she continues to draw on music’s healing qualities during the pandemic. Most recently, she was a featured performer at the 2020 Blue Gala in Florida and released an album titled “Digital Love” in August 2020.

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur or Sharan, to her friends and family, brings optimism to her patients and to her thousands of fans. The dentist from Delhi describes herself as introverted by nature. Dr. Kaur found that art was a way to connect and motivate people. She feels spreading positivity and a feeling of connectivity is especially important during the pandemic.

Thus, positivity is the force behind Dr. Kaur’s pieces, even those highlighting stressful subjects. “I went through several bad patches. It was during one such bad phase that I found art,” said Dr. Kaur in an interview with eShe. Dr. Kaur is currently splitting her time between clinical hours and illustration. One can view some of her illustrations from her Instagram account titled, the_blue_frenchhorn.

These doctors and artists are paving the way to a brighter future for the global community. Hopefully, more people will aspire to spread positive messages of their own and to pursue interdisciplinary careers.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Medicine in Africa
54gene, an Africa-based research project, is reshaping medicine in Africa. It emerged in 2019 with the monumental goal of developing a database of African genomes that researchers could use to generate new vaccines for diseases unique to Africa. The organization’s targeted research focuses on genomic studies of non-communicable diseases, like cancer and sickle cell disease, and infectious diseases, like bacteria and parasites. To develop a genome reflecting Africa’s genetically diverse population, the 54gene biobank in Nigeria contains biological samples from the surrounding area.

The Need for African Genome Research

Currently, Caucasians are the most genetically researched, despite being a minority in the world population. At the time of 54gene’s launch, it had collected only 3% of genetic testing from Africa. The organization’s African genome research creates an opportunity to develop medicine unique to the African population. With technological advances, genetic testing is creating more precise and personalized medicine. It is 54gene’s mission to create a more equitable research pool and to include Africans in medical advances.

54gene’s recent funding has brought the project over $19 million, expanding its lab capabilities. The project received $4.5 million in seed funding and another $15 million in Series A funding. The cash flow into the project demonstrates the importance of their research the potential impact of this medical discovery. By funding this research, there is an acknowledgment of the gap in genetic testing and a means to address the disparity. The significant growth of the company is an investment in African healthcare and a phenomenon in global health advancements.

The Benefits of Genetic Mapping in Africa

The genotypes of Africans are the most genetically diverse in the entire world, and 54gene’s research has the potential for massive breakthroughs in developing new drugs tailored to their genome. The exclusion of Africans from genetic research has resulted in the exclusion of an entire continent from personalized medication. Fortunately, 54gene’s genetic mapping uses collected DNA samples to build drugs tailored to specific populations. The project has the potential of revolutionizing healthcare in Africa, with its long-term value increasing with technological advances in the medical field.

The organization aims to create research and co-develop drugs for diseases that disproportionately affect Africans. For example, records have determined that 92% of the world’s malaria cases occur in Africa. Customized medicine could lessen the effects malaria has on future generations of Africans. 54gene aims to not only produce research and drug trials but to also make it affordable. Its founder has a commitment to balancing the for-profit side of the business with the need to enhance medicine in Africa. Since the arrival of the pandemic, 54gene has also directed efforts to COVID-19 testing and screening for more immediate needs.

54gene is addressing major issues of inequality in the medical field and improving medicine in Africa. The organization’s African genome research is making strides in African healthcare. Its research has the potential to target non-communicable and infectious diseases that affect the African population on a larger scale. Not only is this research imperative, but it is a movement towards leveling the quality of medical treatment on a global scale.

Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Herbal Remedies
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many discussions and debates, especially when it comes to treatments. Though it may take more than a year to create a vaccine, many countries and individuals are using herbal remedies for COVID-19. These remedies have been in their cultures before the new coronavirus and now aid in the prevention and treatment of it. For centuries, especially in countries where medications, prescriptions and hospital visits are inaccessible and/or expensive, people have been creating their remedies. They then pass them on, generation to generation. This article discusses such remedies, both ancient and newly discovered.

Traditional Remedies

When the coronavirus broke out in December 2019, many people in China used various traditional remedies. For centuries, Chinese medicine has been popular across the world. Whether it is with more serious viruses and illnesses, such as COVID-19, or something more common, such as a sore throat. They are believed to alleviate symptoms, reduce the severity of the virus, improve recovery rates and reduce the mortality rate. Herbal remedies for COVID-19 (commonly used) include jinhua qinggan capsules, lianhua qingwen capsules and shufeng jiedu capsules.

In Madagascar, the president endorsed the launch of Covid-Organics, claiming that it was safe enough for children to drink. A key ingredient in these herbal remedies is sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which is a traditional ingredient that gave rise to the antimalarial drug, artemisinin. According to the WHO, about 87% of African populations use traditional medicine. This is especially prevalent in poor and rural areas where hospitals, pharmacies and health care professionals are difficult to find. It is common to use herbs and roots as replacements for these medications in many countries in the southern hemisphere. Additionally, modern medicine is often unaffordable, which is why many Malagasies and other African populations use traditional medicine.

Modern Remedies

In Kenya, many people are drinking fruity, gingery dawa as a remedy for the coronavirus. In Kiswahili, dawa means medicine. This drink has become especially popular in Kenyan street markets and vendors arrange the ingredients. They include lemon, ginger and garlic. However, each drink is different — some have aloe vera and some have turmeric. Despite the popularity of this remedy, people have still been taking proper precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands. In a time of uncertainty, dawa brings comfort to many Kenyans. Markets flood the streets of Kenya, with vendors selling various versions of dawa. Understandably so, it is one of the most popular items.

In the U.S., many people are turning to elderberry, zinc and vitamin C. In fact, along with toilet paper, these vitamins were in the top items consumed on Amazon. Elderberry has long been known to be an immune-boosting vitamin. However, it is unclear whether or not it is effective in treating coronavirus. It may, however, bring a sense of comfort — especially in a time of such uncertainty. Many grocery stores now have their vitamin sections cleared out.

For centuries, herbal remedies have treated viruses and infections, including the common cold, influenza, fever, herpes and more. People around the world rely on traditional medicines, which is understandable given the  inaccessibility of modern medicines or medical care in many areas. Though there may be benefits to traditional medicine, it is still unclear whether or not there are any real remedies to the coronavirus. Yet two important factors that these herbal remedies for COVID-19 bring are comfort and hope.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Wikimedia

traditional healers in africaTraditional medicine, while not as popular or widely accepted as Western medicines, is a vital part of African communities. Traditional healers in Africa are more accessible, affordable and culturally and spiritually relevant for many African people. This contributes heavily to their popularity, and it also enables them to play a role in helping respond to COVID-19.

What Is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization describes traditional medicine as a practice or skill resulting from cultural beliefs and ideologies. Similar to Western medicine, traditional medicine prevents and treats physical and mental illnesses; however, traditional medicine usually uses herbs, plants or even spiritual therapies.

While traditional medicine may seem ineffective and useless to some, it is the main source of medicine for many. Due to its convenience and affordability, over 70% of Africans use herbal treatments. Given that one third of the African population does not have access to essential medicines, traditional medicine plays a central role in their health. A study in 2011 illustrated the accessibility of traditional practitioners. While most medical doctors practice in urban areas, rural areas are less fortunate. For this reason, many people rely on traditional health providers and their medications. These three countries reveal a large gap between how many traditional healers and doctors are available in a community:

  • Zimbabwe: There is one traditional practitioner for every 600 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 6,250 people.
  • Ghana: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 20,000 people.
  • Mozambique: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 50,000 people.

Affordable and Culturally Relevant Medicine

Not only are traditional healers in Africa more accessible, they also have affordable medicines that don’t always require payment upfront. A study conducted by the WHO in 36 middle- and low-income countries revealed that medications were too expensive for a large majority of the population. Similarly, a study on healthcare in Zimbabwe reported that traditional healers are usually the main source of care for poor communities because they have no other options.

Furthermore, traditional healers in Africa and their medicines are widely accepted by African people and culture. Even if people can afford Western medicine, then, many prefer traditional medicines. For example, some healers say that they can channel the ancestral spirit through their patients’ bodies. This is one service that professional doctors cannot provide.

How Traditional Healers in Africa Help with COVID-19

While traditional healers in Africa provide many benefits to African communities, health officials strongly advise against the use of untested traditional medicine to treat COVID-19. The WHO encourages people to wait until medicines have been tested and investigated before consuming them. In South Africa, traditional healers have been advised to refer patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to a higher level of care. However, the role of traditional healers during the pandemic is not limited to referrals. Here are eight jobs traditional healers in Africa perform:

  1. Referring patients to correct and suitable levels of care
  2. Educating the public to combat the spread of false information regarding COVID-19
  3. Teaching about prevention methods
  4. Helping to spread public health messages
  5. Informing people about the necessities of personal hygiene
  6. Providing counseling services
  7. Postponing large gatherings
  8. Working with the Department of Health to aid screening and messaging

Health Officials and Traditional Healers: Better Together

To effectively combat COVID-19, experts believe that health officials and the government need to work with traditional healers and not against them. Because traditional healers live in the same community as many of their patients, they have the advantage of possessing important relationships with them. Patients may therefore disregard the advice of a doctor and trust a traditional healer instead. This points to the necessity for cooperation between healers and doctors.

An example of this cooperation comes from Tanzania, where scientists are working with herbalists to help with HIV/AIDS symptoms. Some of the herbs the group is testing are known for strengthening the immune system and increasing appetites. While the team recognizes that herbal remedies won’t cure HIV, they can lessen patients’ symptoms.

With regard to COVID-19, the WHO, which accepts both traditional and alternative medicine, is doing similar tests. For example, it is currently testing plants like Artemisia annua to see if they could possibly aid in the fight against COVID-19. If more scientists, governments and health officials can work with traditional healers like this, all of their patients and communities stand to benefit.

– Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran is an ancient country with a special geostrategic location in the Middle East and West Asia. Iran throughout its history has faced revolutions, wars and periods of instability that might make people believe that its healthcare system is underdeveloped. Additionally, sanctions from the West have had a direct effect in the medical field, specifically in the access of certain pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, in the last decades, Iran’s motivation to improve the healthcare infrastructure has resulted in surprising figures and has contributed to rural poverty alleviation. Today, Iran’s healthcare system includes both public and private facilities and services. Here are eight facts about healthcare in Iran.

8 Facts About Healthcare in Iran

  1. Healthcare is a constitutional right. After the 1979 Revolution, Article 29 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran established that every Iranian citizen has a right to enjoy the highest attainable level of health. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education is responsible for providing the enjoyment of this right by designing and implementing coordinated health policies and plans at a national level.
  2. Iran’s health investment has increased significantly in the last 10 years. The country’s focus on expanding and improving its healthcare system is evident. In 2014, when initiatives had already started, the health expenditure was 6.89%. By 2017, it increased to 8.7% out of a Growth Domestic Product of $1.64 trillion. Comparing this figure to a Western country to place it in context, the United Kingdom’s health expenditure that same year was 9.6% out of a GDP of $2.93 trillion.
  3. Public facilities are the main provider of healthcare. During the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran was in miserable conditions and it was difficult to visualize progress in the Iranian health system, especially the access of health services to rural areas. Nonetheless, the Iranian government has made many efforts to reduce rural poverty, extend the healthcare structure through health houses and provide primary, secondary and tertiary services, especially to rural areas. Today, more than 90% of Iran’s 23 million rural population has access to free healthcare services such as prenatal care and vaccination.
  4. Health houses are the principal access point for rural residents to receive health services. Health houses are small public medical facilities that provide health services to the rural areas surrounding them. Generally, trained medical workers that manage vaccinations, maternal health care and child health care integrate these facilities. There are approximately 17,000 health houses in Iran or one for every 1,200 residents. Health Houses have had a tremendous impact on Iranian rural societies since they have improved the health infrastructure and reduced the distance that people need to travel to receive medical care. Health Houses have become an efficient and cost-effective healthcare network that has met the needs of rural communities that can sometimes experience neglect.
  5. Urban residents can choose between public and private services. In 2016, there were 773 hospitals in Iran, which is one for every 92,100 residents. These are located mainly in cities, so urban residents have the advantage of having access to specialized healthcare. Additionally, the private sector plays an important part in the healthcare provision, focusing principally on secondary and tertiary health services in urban areas. Urban residents can decide between public and private facilities, even if the private sector tends to offer higher quality care, it is still more expensive.
  6. The urban-rural disparity has declined significantly. The country has almost eliminated basic public health indicators, such as the neonatal mortality rate, infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. Four decades ago, the urban-rural disparity was significant due to inadequate coverage of the population and general instability. In fact, in 1974, the infant mortality rate in urban areas was double the rural numbers with 76 versus 130 per 1,000 inhabitants. By 1996, the indicators were almost identical with 27.7 versus 30.2 per 1,000 inhabitants. The Health House system, which has permitted access to improved healthcare around the national territory, has softened this gap dramatically.
  7. There are many non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) active in health issues in Iran. Many NGOs are operating inside the Iranian territory offering care for more specialized issues like childhood cancer, breast cancer and diabetes. MAHAK, for example, is a nonprofit, non-political and non-governmental charity that works toward the reduction of pediatric cancer by offering comprehensive and advanced treatment services to children with cancer and their families. In 2007, MAHAK established a Pediatric Cancer Hospital that by 2014, had diagnosed and treated over 23,000 cancer-stricken children; today, this hospital plays a major role in the region for its access to the latest technology of the field. Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education supervises and supports the NGOs’ efforts to help them obtain the necessary permits in providing medical care to the Iranian population.
  8. Medical tourism has boosted in the country. Another of the facts about healthcare in Iran is that it has become a leading country for medical tourism in the region. Many people travel to the country for its high-quality health services and advanced equipment and affordable medication and treatment compared to other countries of the region. In 2016, around 100,000 travelers visited Iran to receive medical treatment that varies from rhinoplasty to infertility treatments. Every year, healthcare in Iran is growing and calling for more patients from regional countries due to its expanded system and infrastructure.

Despite the challenges in the fields of sustainability of resources and health governance, these facts about healthcare in Iran show that it is exceptionally modern in different ways. Overall, Iran has managed to improve health indicators, reduce the urban-rural gap and develop a system that grants basic healthcare to almost every geographic area in the territory. These efforts have improved the quality of life, contributed to the development of human capital and played an important role in helping rural areas alleviate poverty and health insecurity. In recent years, Western sanctions have made it more difficult, but still, Iran’s health-related figures have improved dramatically and health expenditure has increased. Thus, Iran is becoming a leading nation in the region for its healthcare system because many consider it a secure destination for patients from countries nearby.

– Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Unspash

m-Health in developing countriesMobile healthcare, known colloquially as “m-Health,” just may be the key to revolutionizing healthcare and access to medicine in developing countries. m-Health allows anyone with a mobile device to access various facets of healthcare such as educational resources, notifications about nearby testing and vaccination diagnosis and symptom help and telehealth appointments.

Lacking access to healthcare is one of the major drivers of poverty across the world. The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that “at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.” This inaccessibility perpetuates the existence of infectious diseases specific to developing countries. Similarly, poverty itself is a public health crisis. As indicated by the WHO, poverty directly causes sickness “because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.”

In addition, healthcare expenses cause 100 million people to fall into “extreme poverty.” Extreme poverty is defined as less than two dollars a day each year. Thus, even if people in developing countries can access to medical care, the expenses often put them into another devastating health situation.

However, m-Health may decrease these numbers. Read below for some key benefits of m-Health in developing countries.

m-Health is Adaptable and Available

m-Health is becoming more and more accessible to developing countries due to widespread mobile phone use around the world. A study from the PEW research center on global mobile phone ownership revealed that mobile phone ownership is growing in countries with developing economies. Around 83% of citizens in emerging economies (South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Tunisia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and India) own a mobile phone. Another PEW study found a majority of adults own their own mobile phones in a separate group of 11 developing countries.

67 countries in the world have less than two hospital beds per 1,000 people. However, many of those countries (including countries from the PEW research studies) have high rates of mobile phone ownership. Therefore, some developing countries would have better access to telehealth than in-person health.

In addition, m-Health is adaptable. WHO reported that the most widely-used m-Health initiatives around the world are “health call centers/ health care telephone helplines (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), emergencies (54%) and mobile telemedicine (49%).” This shows that different regions can implement different programs depending on the need.

m-Health Can Track Disease Outbreaks, Epidemics and Natural Disasters

Tracking disease outbreaks and natural disasters is a huge advantage of m-Health. WHO reported high implementation rates of this m-Health initiative in South East Asia and the Americas. Africa uses this feature of m-Health the most for public warning systems.

m-Health Avoids Poorly Maintained Health Clinics

In an article by the World Economic Forum, the author described how many health clinics in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Indonesia, may be doing more harm than good. If low-income countries rush to build multiple health facilities, the quality of these pop-up clinics is often low. They tend to be “lacking in the equipment, supplies and staff needed to deliver vital health services effectively.” In addition, the sheer volume of poorly-constructed clinics often competes for resources. Medical equipment is often left unsanitized, therefore becoming dangerous. This contributed to Ebola killing more people in health facilities than outside areas during the West African epidemic in 2014-2016.

However, m-Health reduces the need for going to an in-person clinic. In this model, concerned individuals can schedule a “virtual first” consultation and then attend an in-person appointment only if needed.

m-Health Raises Awareness and Mobilizes Communities to Receive Vaccines and Testing

Many countries have also implemented mass SMS alerts to alert their citizens of nearby testing sites for HIV. These alerts educate recipients on health concerns related to HIV and other infectious diseases. They also outline why it is necessary to receive testing and treatment. Similar alerts exist for vaccine knowledge and care.

As m-Health is a new and continuously developing idea, there are still problems with its potential to provide widespread care. For example, even though virtual appointments and care are possible through m-Health, many developing countries lack a sufficient number of health workers to keep up with m-Health services. One study affirms this, stating, “There are 57 countries with a critical shortage of healthcare workers, [creating] a deficit of 2.4 million doctors and nurses.”

In addition, different health conditions may receive disproportionate care through m-Health. For example, women’s and reproductive health is at a large deficit in the developing world and globally. One study revealed that “women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and this difference is higher in South East Asia.” Another study in Kenya also reported that “ownership of mobile phones was 1.7 times and SMS-use was 1.6 times higher among males than among females.” This ownership deficit, coupled with the fact that women are more likely to be in poverty than men due to gender inequality, makes m-Health more accessible to men’s health or less gendered health issues.

Still, m-Health in developing countries is an extremely promising enterprise to relieve the developing world of its widespread healthcare deficits. As this study concludes “m-Health has shown incredible potential to improve health outcomes” – and it can only continue to progress from here.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: PXFuel

Healthcare in VietnamIn the fourth century BCE, China became the primary ruler of a northern section of Vietnam. Before this period, northern Vietnam and southern China shared multiple ethnic groups, many of which held traditional healing beliefs. As a result, traditional forms of medicine in Vietnam are very similar to those in China. Shared herbal medicine practices and theoretical frameworks continued to spread when China began its 1,000-year occupation of Vietnam, in 111 BCE. During this time, Vietnam’s medicinal use of plants and China’s theoretical framework around traditional healing merged to create an alternative form of medicine that persists today in healthcare in Vietnam.

Traditional Medicine in the East

Alternative, or traditional, medicine is often overlooked in Western contexts and seen as less effective or taboo. This is because of medical hegemony, or “the dominance of the biomedical model [and] the active suppression of alternatives,” as defined by the International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. Medical hegemony indicates an underlying power dynamic between the East and the West. While many people in the West believe that Western medicine is best, many others around the world believe that traditional medicine is legitimate. People in Vietnam, China and other countries have used traditional medicine for over 4,000 years. It actually inspired the growth of Western practices, though its treatment methods are now entirely distinct from biomedicine.

Since its origin, traditional medicine has been prescribed by healers and traditional medicine doctors primarily for its preventative properties. Healers commonly use herbal medicines in an oral or topical form to treat developing symptoms of a certain ailment. Traditional healing can also commonly include physical exercise, massage or acupuncture to promote the flow of blood and energy. In addition to the physical effects of treatment, traditional medicine is theorized to have hormonal and energy-balancing properties, like the Chinese concept of yin and yang.

Vietnam’s Healthcare System

While the use of traditional medicine is still common throughout cultures that partake in traditional healing, it is often not used on its own. In contemporary Vietnamese medical culture, individuals seeking care consult both traditional and biomedical practitioners for treatment. The two systems can be complementary: biomedicine aims to physically eradicate an illness, while traditional medicine treats the symptoms and psychosocial harm of the ailment. For example, if a person develops cancer in Vietnam, they might consult a biomedical physician for chemotherapy and a traditional medicine doctor for a remedy that counters the symptomatic effects of chemotherapy.

Gaining a dual perspective from biomedicine and traditional physicians in Vietnam is so common that this practice is reflected in the country’s health insurance system, which makes both kinds of medicine accessible. The payment method for healthcare in Vietnam varies based on the sector in which a person obtains treatment, whether public or private. Treatment in the public sector is covered in full, with an occasional co-pay expense, as public health insurance is compulsory in Vietnam. Private health insurance is paid out of pocket. Both public and private insurance can cover traditional medicine hospital expenses, though the costs for traditional medicine are generally paid privately.

However, when a person is unable to pay for either public or private insurance, they are still able to access traditional forms of medicine. In Hanoi, a major city in Vietnam, there is a full street of vendors that sell traditional medicinal herbs. These vendors can even help to fill prescriptions from hospitals at a reduced price, making traditional medicine more accessible to the public.

Improving Public and Personal Health

The accessibility of traditional medicine with and without health insurance fills gaps in healthcare in Vietnam, making the population healthier overall. In addition, the Vietnamese prioritize preventative medicine because the population is familiar with traditional health values. With ready access to health resources, along with a generalized understanding of the values of self-care, healthcare in Vietnam excels.

Lilia Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Chinese Herbal MedicineThe country of China is geographically diverse, from coastal foothills to desert basins to lush mountains. China’s beautiful, towering mountains are home to many rural villages and rare plants, like huanglian, that don’t grow anywhere else in the world. These are some facts to know about how Chinese herbal medicine helps poor farmers.

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Huanglian, also known as Chinese goldthread, is a bitter Chinese herbal medicine. Its uses include treating ailments such as vomiting, jaundice and eczema. It is one of many herbs used in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a natural method of healing that has changed little in the thousands of years it has been practiced.

TCM is based on restoring the vital life force, called Qi, in the body. Imbalances between the yin and yang that make up Qi are purported to cause diseases and illnesses. Herbal medicine is just one aspect of TCM. Other practices that have made their way into the Western world include acupuncture, fire cupping and massage.

Controversy Around TCM

Many people regard TCM as a pseudoscience because it hasn’t undergone as much scientific testing as Western medicine. However, many people experience benefits from using alternative therapies alongside Western medicine. Organizations like the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine regulate and certify practitioners of TCM in the U.S. While not understood to the degree that prescription drugs are, TCM works for many people as complementary therapy or treatment for lesser ailments.

Identifying the Problem

Southwest China’s mountainous regions are some of the poorest in the country. Since China started its fight against poverty, one of the big questions was how to reach and help remote villages like Zhongyuan and Huangshan. These small mountain villages have barren soil, few industries and little access to the outside world. Their populations are small, with only a few hundred residents. Most are very poor.

Jun Wu is an associate professor from the Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Wu was appointed as a poverty-alleviation Party official for the Zhongyuan Village in 2018. He and his team encouraged the villagers to grow white lotus and gualou, crops used in TCM to treat various health issues.

Herbal Medicine Provides Industry

Zhongyuan Village’s white lotus plantation reached nearly one million yuan — or around $150,000 — in revenue in 2019. Gualou is grown by individual farmers rather than in a plantation. The plant also brings in about 30,000 yuan or around $5,000 per hectare each year. Per capita disposable income for villagers in Zhongyuan grew 21.3% over the past year as a result of the Chinese herbal medicine industry.

Huangshuan has also seen similar economic growth to Zhongyuan, growing herbs like lily bulb, turmeric and hogfennel root. The TCM industry has also created jobs for villagers in related work such as washing harvested herbs, weeding farmland and keeping away insects and other pests. Households are expected to have their income increased by at least 5,000 yuan or $700 this year.

The Chinese herbal medicine industry promises a brighter future for everyone involved. Unused land is given a purpose, household income increases and more job opportunities emerge. The village as a whole becomes more prosperous. Growing crops for TCM is an innovative and effective way to help China’s most impoverished and isolated citizens become economically self-sufficient.

– Kathy Wei
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in Jamaica
In the tourist’s eye, Jamaica is an enticing island with constant summer sun and alluring beaches. However, behind this guise, Jamaicans face a complicated reality. Healthcare in Jamaica is in desperate need of improvement. There is an increasing obligation to balance public access to health services with the practitioners’ ability to keep up with the enlarged workload.

Health Problems in Jamaica

Jamaica has many health issues that require an effective healthcare system. The top health issues that lead to premature death in Jamaica include stroke, diabetes, neonatal disorders, Ischemic heart disease and HIV/AIDS. Along with these issues, mental illness and STDs disproportionately affect Jamaica’s youth, and these often correlate with social and economic factors. The 2017 Global School Health Survey found that 24.8% of students seriously considered suicide and 18.5% of students attempted suicide over a 12 month period. In terms of STDs, only 31% of Jamaicans over the age of 15 and 51% of Jamaicans under 15 living with HIV were receiving treatment in 2018.

In order to try to make healthcare accessible to all Jamaica introduced free public health services to its citizens in 2008 by removing user fees. On the surface, this appears to be a positive step in removing the economic barrier that prevents the poor from receiving adequate healthcare. However, this has revealed deeper issues for healthcare in Jamaica.

Issues with Free Public Health Services

With the increase in patients, health practitioners have found themselves experiencing overwork and extreme stress. This shift has negatively affected the performance of these practitioners as patient demand has increased, but facilities remain understaffed. In 2016, researchers evaluated how the removal of charges has directly affected the workload. The study found that before the instigation of the free services, 50% of health practitioners had satisfaction with their workload. By 2016, eight years after the introduction of free healthcare, only 14% had satisfaction with their workload.

Some doctors interviewed for the study indicated that both the clinics and hospitals were seeing more patients daily after the elimination of charges. The quality of care worsened as medical professionals did not account for waiting times and availability of resources. The size of health clinics and the number of staff pale in comparison to the number of Jamaicans seeking care.

Along with the insufficient number of health practitioners, Jamaica’s medical infrastructures often do not match the demand of patients. Those in rural areas especially must travel long distances to access health care. The expansion of health facilities is extremely expensive. With Jamaica’s financial debt, this is not a project that it can take on lightly.

Also revealed in this situation is the scarcity of resources available to health clinics. The flood of patients has caused issues such as a delay of bloodwork and a shortage of medication. There have even been situations where patients had to purchase the medical supplies necessary for their surgery, costing an extreme amount that counteracts the efforts of free healthcare.

Upgrading Health Facilities

However, the failings of healthcare in Jamaica does not mean that the country is beyond help. In fact, the Minister of Health and Wellness announced in 2019 that over the next five years, Jamaica will be upgrading public health facilities with the funds of $200 million. The Minister plans to upgrade nine public health centers and six hospitals, one of which is the Cornwall Regional Hospital, which will benefit more than 400,000 residents. The Minister also plans to build a new Western Child and Adolescent Hospital, in addition to developing more sophisticated healthcare technology.

NGOs such as UNICEF are also doing work. The agency has established a Health Promotion program that works to provide quality health services to babies, adolescents and young mothers. The two goals of this program are to enhance institutional capacity to deliver effective health services and to boost the access of adolescents to these health services. By partnering with groups such as the Word Health Organization and Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, UNICEF is carrying out its Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative, Adolescent-Friendly Services and Empowerment of Girls and Young Mothers.

Healthcare in Jamaica is lacking in many areas, but the country is doing continuous work to enhance health facilities and services. This progress shows that the country should see improvement in the future.

– Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Pixabay

3D Printing in Impoverished Nations
3D printing is a technology that has existed since the 1980s. Over time, additive technology has increasingly progressed where various medical applications can use it. 3D printing in impoverished nations has several benefits specifically in medicine and medical services relating to the affordability for the general populous of these nations. 3D printing for medical applications is the process of utilizing a digital blueprint or digital model, slicing the model into manageable bits and then reconstructing it with various types of materials, typically plastic. Here are three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations.

3 Examples of 3D Printing in Impoverished Nations

  1. Custom Surgical Elements: The use of 3D printing has significantly increased in the manufacturing of customized surgical elements, such as splints. Manufacturers can make these devices and components quickly at a relatively low cost, which would greatly reduce the price of sale to the consumer. The reason for the reduced cost of production compared to conventional manufacturing systems is primarily due to the additive nature of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing actually adds material onto each layer, rather than subtracting (cutting/slicing) and combining material. This results in smaller opportunities for error to occur and the wasting of fewer materials in the long run.
  2. 3D Printed Organs: Many know this particular field of 3D medical printing as bioprinting. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, bioprinting involves integrating human cells from the organ recipient into the “scaffolding” of the 3D printed organ. The scaffolding acts as the skeleton of the organ and the cells will grow and duplicate to support physiological function. Although this particular method is still in the experimental stages, there have been successful procedures performed in the past. Researchers at Wake Forest have found an effective method for bioprinting human organs; they have successfully implanted and grown skin, ears, bone, and muscle in lab animals. Further, scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can detect various frequencies, different than a biological, human ear. The researchers behind the creation of this bionic ear theorized that they could use a similar procedure for internal organs. Similar to surgical components, 3D printed organs would greatly reduce the cost of organ transplants. Additionally, it would increase the availability of organs, which are nearly impossible to find. Locating an appropriate match within a specific proximity of the patient has resulted in a global organ shortage. Whilst some have presented a solution in the form of international organ trade, WHO states that international organ trade could provide a significant health concern because of the lengthy trips the organs would experience. 3D printed organs may be a sustainable method to help impoverished nations with supply organs quickly and cheaply.
  3. Prosthetics: 3D printing in impoverished nations could also allow people to print custom prosthetics for those in need. The lack of access to current prosthetics creates a lot of obstacles for people living in impoverished nations. Creating prosthetics with 3D printing technology has the potential to provide a person the ability to accomplish basic, daily tasks in order to support a family. Not only are current prosthetics expensive, but they are also often inconvenient or they prohibit natural motion. For example, Cambodia treats a prosthetic hand as a cosmetic item, leading the majority of the population to refuse the prosthetic due to the lack of functionality. The Victoria Hand project is currently attempting to change this perspective by providing functional, 3D printed prosthetic hands to Cambodia and Nepal. The team has performed user trials, where the aim is to distribute the 3D printed hand to the general populace. Subsequently, the design will go to multiple fabrication services to maximize accessibility.

These three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations show just how important 3D printing is and will continue to be to aiding those in need. With further development, 3D printing should allow people to receive prosthetics and organ transplants more easily.

– Jacob Creswell
Photo: Wikimedia