Thursday, November 20, 2008

2008 Universal Children's Day

When we think of the sad situation of having a child die, we usually imagine a fatal disease or horrible accident. Sadly though, millions of children die every year from preventable illnesses, sometimes as simple as diarrhea. Other illnesses, like malaria and pneumonia are usually quite easy to treat and very inexpensively. Yet, the children are still dying.

The United Nations General Assembly established Universal Children's Day in 1954 in order to promote the welfare of children all over the world.

According to a press release issued by US Fund for UNICEF:

"These children are not dying from incurable diseases or causes. These children are dying from diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malaria---things that cost pennies to treat or prevent," said Caryl Stern, President and C.E.O., U.S. Fund for UNICEF. "It is unacceptable and inexcusable that defenseless children continue to die when the technology, expertise and solutions to save them exist right now."

In 1980, the annual rate of under-five child deaths hovered at 14.6 million, which totaled 40,000 children a day. By 1990 that number was reduced to 12.7 million children annually. Last year annual child deaths declined to about 9.2 million, in spite of rapid population growth, many prolonged civil conflicts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

There are ways that we can help. My 17-year-old has been involved in raising money for mosquito nets. He plays in a floor hockey league - actually, this year he's an assistant coach. Every year his program exchanges small gifts but last Christmas, it was decided that instead of exchanging 10.00 gifts, they would donate the money for mosquito nets. I don't remember how many they bought, but it was a good number.

Back in June, there was an article in the New York Times about mosquito nets: A $10 Mosquito Net Is Making Charity Cool.

Let's remember and see if we can help those children - and those parents who are losing their children - in whatever small way we can.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stem cells make trachea transplant possible

Organ transplants are risky. First, you need to be put on a waiting list that may be too long to find you a donor. Then, once a donor is found, there is always the chance that the organ will be rejected by your body. It only makes sense; we have no way of telling your body that it's ok, this foreign thing is something we want in there. The medications that people take after organ transplants are many and also have side effects. But then, there's the bright side: a life saved and a second chance. So, despite the many drawbacks, there are more benefits and the research continues to make transplantation more effective.

Now, there may be just the kind of breakthrough that scientists need. A 30-year-old woman in Spain has received a trachea (windpipe) to replace one that had collapsed and couldn't be repaired with surgery. The actual trachea came from a donor, but the cells in the trachea that would/could have triggered a rejection were removed or stripped from the trachea so they could no longer have that effect. The doctors then took some adult stem cells (the building block for producing bone marrow and blood) and other cells, and grafted (attached) them to the donated trachea. The stem cells came from a healthy part of the woman's airway.  The trachea was then left to "grow" the new cells and then transplanted into the woman.

Of course, this is the first of its kind and it's only been four months since the surgery, so long-term results aren't available. But researchers are happy with what has happened so far. The patient is now able to walk and care for her children without running out of breath.

How cool is that? And if they can do this with a trachea, can this be done for life-saving organs? One can only hope.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Medical tourism - what do you think?

I've heard about medical tourism but I don't know anyone who has participated in this. Do you?

South Korea is building its own medical tourism industry to offer some competition to other countries, like India and Thailand. The South Korean resort island, Jeju, is welcoming Chinese and Japanese tourists who are taking a break from touring to have a little surgery done.

What some people may be surprised to hear is that the surgery is not only cosmetic but much more serious procedures, like heart bypasses and spinal surgeries. Joint replacements, particularly hips, are a big draw as well.

Who are these medical tourists?

The people range from patients from the United States who can't afford treatment at home to those from socialized medicine countries, like Canada or the United Kingdom, who don't want to wait.

What are the drawbacks?

The appeal of having surgery in such an environment is obvious. These hospitals are catering to you so you get the best of everything. In some places, transportation is arranged from the airport to the hospital, with luxury rooms waiting for you and your companion. Special diets and comfort amenities are all part of the tourism experience. But what about the drawbacks?

Many of these countries don't have the malpractice protection that countries like United States, which could cause financial difficulties if there are problems. Also, doctors in countries where the patients live are warning that if anything happens as a result of the surgery in another country, the cost of treating the complications become the burden of the home country.

What about payment?

For sure, these out-of-country surgeries are not cheap. But, in some places, the government is actually able to help you. In Canada, provincial health boards will provide you with some of the costs if you can prove that the procedure you are going for is not available in Canada or the waiting list is excessively long and could cause irreparable harm.

So, what do you think? Would you do something like this if it was available to you?

Today at Help My Hurt:

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