Archive for the ‘Culture and Health’ Category

By: Samantha Metlitz

Period, menstruation, time of the month, crimson tide, whatever you call it, most of us know something about periods and fifty percent of the world’s population have firsthand experience with it. Women get it once a month for the majority of their lives, yet all around the world periods are a taboo subject. People become uncomfortable talking about periods and women feel the need to hide when they get theirs like it’s something embarrassing and shameful to have. While in high school, I would try to hide tampons and pads in pockets or sleeves or bring my whole backpack to the bathroom. I felt the need to hide the fact that I was on my period as if it was shameful in some way. In other countries, the stigma surrounding menstruation and menstrual hygiene causes bigger issues. In some places, women are isolated during their periods or are forced to leave schools because of lack of proper sanitation and access to sanitary products. According to a World Bank blog post, girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss 20% of a school year because of menstruation (Lusk-Stover, 2016). Lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene products, water, and sanitation is a major issue for women. A study on this issue found that menstrual hygiene in refugee camps was not being properly addressed because the emergency response workers were uncomfortably about the subject, causing them not to properly address the issue (Schmitt et al., 2017). Menstrual hygiene and menstruation need to become normalized so that they’re no longer taboo.


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By Antonella Marcon

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stuck an unwrapped piece of candy in his mouth during his speech. He was addressing overseas foreign workers from Kuwait who were able to return home to the Philippines, a luxury only afforded to them after Duterte called for a halt on OFWs to Kuwait after a string of abuse cases and murders. However, sticking unwrapped candy in his mouth was not a blunder. He was trying to illustrate what it was like to use a condom.

At 1:41 in this video, Duterte says that women should opt for other methods of birth control so as not to limit their sexual abilities. While these actions are unsurprising from the candid Philippine president, they are unsettling when understanding the context of his mocking of condom use.


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By: Sonya Ajani

In 2008, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published an article entitled Cancer Health Disparities. It defined cancer health disparities as adverse differences in incidence (new cases) and prevalence (new and existing cases), mortality, cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer among various population groups in the United States. The NCI concludes that African Americans in the US are disproportionately diagnosed with breast cancer than their white counterparts.

Experts attribute this particular conclusion to two distinct factors: lack of access to health coverage and low socioeconomic status (SES). SES is primarily attributed to low income, low education, occupation, as well as most importantly built environment. As of 2014, the CDC[1] reports that the incidence of breast cancer among young African American females aged 25-45 is 125 cases per 100,000 people.

Upon reading the article from the National Cancer Institute and researching the epidemiology further, I was especially alarmed by the rates of breast cancer diagnosis among African Americans in the US. Although it is almost equal to the white population, the stark disparity of the two populations makes up for the difference. Supplementary analysis confirmed that built environment: the physical and geographical space where people live significantly contributes to the incidence and prevalence of the disease. In the age of chronic diseases the built environment can be an incredibly crucial determinant in community healthcare. I found it interesting just how much the built environment affects the incidence of breast cancer in African Americans with lower socioeconomic status.


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By Yanzie Chow

“How would your family treat a sore throat?”

This question, when I first heard it, made me chuckle. I remembered back to when my elderly Chinese grandmother, upon hearing the words “sickness,” would bustle into the kitchen and immediately begin concocting a cure-all brew. I’ve spotted bundles of tweed-like herbs, yellowish roots, even dried grasshoppers on the counter, waiting to be submerged into the mixture. For the sore throat in particular, she would simply hand me a jar of pei pa koa – loquat syrup, an extremely bitter and minty liquid with the consistency of tar. I wouldn’t be able to speak for an hour after swallowing a spoonful, but I would emerge as vocal as ever.

I wonder how my grandmother would respond to China’s rapid medical advancement, its movement towards Westernized practices, and the effects on the ancient remedies that she entrusts her health and vitality to.  The New York Times ran a fascinating article titled “Nobel Renews Debate on Chinese Medicine,” discussing the aftermath of Tu Youyou’s receiving China’s first Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline for extracting the malaria fighting compound Artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua.

 In 1969, Dr. Tu was recruited by Chairman Mao to “523,” a medical research project designated for the search for a natural malaria treatment that was killing North Vietnamese troops in southwest China. She and her team stumbled upon the usage of qinghao, sweet wormwood to treat malaria while studying the Manual of Clinical Practice and Emergency Remedies by Ge Hong of the East Jin Dynasty. She tested the effects of this treatment on humans successfully, and it soon became a major advantage in campaigns battling malaria in Asia and Africa.

The article, however, also touches on a conflict surrounding the implications of the evolving practice of Chinese traditional medicine. Some traditional physicians (associated with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) argue that artemisia, which has been used for centuries to fight malaria and other fevers, must be acknowledged through the lens of cultural heritage. More contemporary scientists (associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences), on the other hand, argue that future medical development must focus more on researching the value of herbs with a modern scientific approach. These debates reflect an emerging division among Chinese physicians and scientists over the desire to be recognized as major contenders in the medical field today, juxtaposed with a great pride in medical achievements of the past.

Ongoing considerations about the path that China should take remain, especially as a whopping 1.1 million Chinese health professionals are being trained in Western medicine, compared to 186,947 being trained as traditional doctors. What are the benefits of investing in the learning, teaching of traditional medicinal techniques and remedies, and incorporating them into practice? Would referring back to natural treatments be an effective way to take advantage of therapeutic knowledge that physicians years ago have already discovered?  At the same time, would traditional medicine and remedies be able to ward off – prevent, treat, and protect against– devastating modern epidemics without 21st century interventions? Would patients of this generation trust treatment grounded in ancient medicinal practices rather than technological ones?

When reflecting on these questions, we must remember that medical innovation is a double-edged sword, both destructive and progressive for society. For example, China has been criticized for mishandling of antibiotics – from over-prescribing to patients to overusing antibiotics to treat livestock and fish – that has led to widespread microbial resistance, and there is much discussion about the need to return to building natural immunity and curatives, rather than reliance on chemical prevention. Perhaps moving forward, China and all nations, really, would be better off building a bridge between traditional and modern medicine, rather than glorifying one or the other.



Exclusive Interview: Did Tu’s Nobel Prize prove the credibility of Chinese Traditional Medicine?


Jarkowsky, Patrick. “Greetings, from the Post-antibiotic Era.” Global Health Governance.   Young Voices Blog, 19 Jan. 2016. <http://blogs.shu.edu/ghg/2016/01/19/greetings-from-      the-post-antibiotic-era/>.

Johnson, Ian. “Nobel Renews Debate on Chinese Medicine.” The New York Times. The New    York Times, 10 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/world/asia/nobel-  renews-debate-on-chinese-medicine.html>.

Phillips, Tom. “Tu Youyou: How Mao’s Challenge to Malaria Pioneer Led to Nobel Prize.” The      Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Oct. 2015. <https://www.theguardian.com/


prize >.


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By Sherylle Estrellas

Across the world, many developed countries supply universal health care, allowing everyone the health coverage and service he or she needs at no or little cost to the consumer. Meanwhile, America, among the most developed and richest countries in the world, still has yet to implement an equitable and efficient health care coverage system. Although the Affordable Care Act means to improve the system, one can only wonder why it has taken so long for America to change its ways. Economist Victor Fuchs suggests a few reasons why.


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-By Sarah Boyd

The Inuit population is an indigenous group inhabiting Greenland, parts of Artic Canada, and the United States (Alaska). Following centuries old tradition within harsh and chilling conditions, the Inuit obtain food through hunting, fishing, and gathering. This includes hunting fish, seal, caribou, whale, walrus, polar bear, musk ox, fox, and wolf (1). “Because the Inuit in Canada and Greenland eat top predators such as beluga whales and seals, they are among the world’s most contaminated human beings” (4). (more…)

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-By Chelsea Papa

Having an immediate family of mostly immigrants from southern Italy, I am no stranger to traditional medicine practices that deviate from the “western” biomedical model prevalent in the United States. Whenever I would express that I had a headache or showed signs of illness, my grandmother would tell me that she would do the “malocchio” (evil eye) for me to make whatever it was go away. She would lead me over to a bowl on the kitchen counter that she would pour oil into and begin whispering in Italian. Then she would cut the oil with a knife, making it swirl around the bowl in a unique pattern, and exclaim, “Chelsea! This is a bad one. Somebody is trying to get you.” When she was finished, she would tell me the discomfort would be gone soon. The idea of the evil eye as a malevolent supernatural force that others can send your way to inflict harm has permeated many cultures of the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. Admittedly, I never believed in the evil eye as a cause of misfortune and illness or that it could be cast away by the malocchio ritual, though I will never tell this to my grandmother. I always chuckle when my mom puts on her evil eye bracelet before a family gathering to ward off any malice directed towards her. Despite my disbelief, the ritual often left me transfixed, and I would gaze at my grandmother as if she had a deep connection to another sphere that I was not privy to. For this reason, I have long been interested in alternative healing methods, regardless of my skepticism of their effectiveness. (more…)

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-By Nicole Rapkin

Should terminally ill children have the right to end their own lives? On Thursday, February 13, 2014, Belgium voted ‘yes’ when its lower house of parliament passed the new “right-to-die” legislation by a significant majority. Belgium, which legalized adult euthanasia in 2002, is the first country to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age (Bartunek 2014). (more…)

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By Laura Kodack

I came across one article that caught my eye, not the title itself but more of the facts that were in the article. The article titled “Russia’s love affair with Vodka lures many to an early grave” was shocking but almost expected. Eastern Europeans are known for their consumption and love for vodka but the article revealed some interesting news I was not aware of. I was surprised to see so many Russians still drinking Vodka though they know high consumption of alcohol leads to early death. What surprised me the most was how drastic the changes in mortality rates were due to the restrictions or changes in government. After prohibitions on alcohol consumption in the mid-1980s and tighter restrictions of vodka sales in 2006, mortality rates decreased significantly. However, once the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in 1998, mortality rates rose drastically. “The first event of the free market was cheap vodka and cheap cigarettes.” (Zaridze). Without restrictions Russians do not have any control and actually drink themselves to death. I found this interesting because prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was doing well and mortality rates were low. (more…)

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By Kimi Sharma
As it was every Sunday morning, my e-mail inbox had been inundated with TED talks that my father thought would explore the untarnished brilliance of individuals in society and help incite my dormant passion to bring about change. I was expecting the usual group of talks by respected and inspiring doctors through which my father hinted at his burning desire for me to attend medical school despite my fervent rejection of the idea. So on that Sunday I watched a TED talk that largely reinstated my faith in an individual’s undying determination to aid others (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6qqqVwM6bMM). (more…)

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