Tagged: advocacy

Five Women’s Health Organizations that Deserve Your Love

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope you are full of hearts (as my son says). This morning we had heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast and he brought a box of heart-shaped cookies for his preschool classmates. I made dozens of cakes and cupcakes and delivered them to other people’s sweeties around town. It’s a sweet day.

You know what else I love? Organizations that really advocate for women’s health. They deserve your love. They work hard on tiny budgets trying to do things like change Medicare eligibility and revise FDA guidelines for Plan B.

So this Valentine’s day, check out these fantastic organizations. Send them your money, forward the links to your friends, donate your time, subscribe to their mailing lists:

1.  Breast Cancer Action. “The Bad Girls of Breast Cancer Activism.” They focus on environmental causes of cancer, refuse to be wooed by the empty promises of the pink ribbon, and create some really thought-provoking materials.

2. RH Reality Check. For when you want a dose of reality with your news about reproductive health.

3. National Women’s Health Network This one’s been around since the 70s and you don’t hear about them enough. They are always working on policy initiatives, and are a great resource for information about women’s health in general.

4.  Big Push for Midwives A fantastic grassroots organization that is working tirelessly to pressure states to pass legislation that allows midwives to be certified and practice independently throughout the country.

5. The Mautner Project. Originally focused on providing resources and services to lesbians with cancer, this organization has expanded to address a wide range of health issues and is tailored specifically to the concerns and priorities of women who partner with women.

Share the love!

 

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Silence still equals death

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Did you know that Saturday was World AIDS Day?

I wasn’t paying attention. Like so many Americans, I have the luxury of acting as if the virus doesn’t exist.

But AIDS is still a major problem in the US. I live in the South, the region of the country that experiences the highest rate of the disease. But most of the time (or even all the time) it’s completely off my radar. There are lots of reasons for this, one of which is the fact that people living with HIV/AIDS are largely invisible. For all I know, my neighbor could be HIV positive, but I would have no idea. Unlike breast cancer or even depression, HIV is so stigmatized that people with the disease remain completely hidden.

Remember that old mantra, silence= death? It still does.

When was the last time you saw a “I’m HIV positive” bumper sticker? Or even a red ribbon?

HIV continues to be a disease that highlights social inequality. According to a new report:

  • Black women account for 64% of all new HIV diagnoses in the country
  • Nine of ten of the states with the highest death rate of HIV are in the South
  • Approximately 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime

If these numbers make you shudder, they should.  I know 16 Black men, many of whom are family. Statistically, one of them could have HIV, but if they do, I wouldn’t know it. We don’t talk about it.

One innovative  strategy for addressing this issue developed by the NAACP in partnership with Gilead Sciences is to engage Black churches as partners in preventing the onslaught of this disease. They’ve  developed a training manual for pastors in Black churches, guiding them on how to address HIV/AIDS in their communities and emphasizing that it is a social justice issues.

Highlighting the interconnectedness of social inequality to health disparities is one of the most crucial ways to improve public health. The training manual encourages pastors to be inclusive to gay and lesbian congregants, and to exercise compassion as part of a mission to save lives.

It’s an unlikely partnership in some ways, but one that is meaningful and that will hopefully prove to be effective.

What do you think? Has HIV/AIDS affected you at all? Have you heard of other unlikely partnerships aimed at preventing other diseases?

 

 

 

 

Getting a mammogram won’t save your life

Actually, no it doesn’t. And just FYI, this campaign is sponsored by the American College of Radiology.

For almost two decades, breast cancer has been a very visible public health issue. Women over the age of 40 (or sometimes 50) are pressured by doctors, health advocacy organizations, friends, family and pop culture to submit to a yearly mammogram. It could save your life, we’ve been told.

We’re told not to worry about the discomfort or pain, the strangeness of having your boob squished like a pancake in a giant X-ray machine, the possibility of false positives. We’ve been reassured that the level of radiation to which we are exposed is minimal.

This insistence on yearly screening has seemed problematic to me for many years, in part because of my  own observations working in the healthcare industry.

For a year, I had a job at the Family Medicine clinic at the University of Washington. My job was to check in patients, call in referrals, file their paperwork and be the friendly face they saw at the front desk.

One of the things I noticed was the number of scans that women were being asked to undertake. Full body bone density scans. Mammograms. Abdominal x-rays. Pap tests. The doctors offered (and sometimes directed) women toward an onslaught of screening tests.  On the other hand, male patients were rarely sent for routine screening exams.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that this might be an issue. After all, we have no reason to think that researchers or clinicians take women’s health more seriously than men’s health. Yet there is a history of putting women’s bodies under the microscope, of seeing them as breeding grounds for disease, of poking and prodding and monitoring.

This annoyance and irritation at the way female patients were treated by the medical field t propelled me into graduate school. Why was there such an interest in promoting mammography? What were women really getting out of it? What did the pink ribbon really mean?Do mammograms really save lives?

Turns out, the answer is no.

A new observational study published in the New England Journal of Medicine oncluded that mammograms don’t work. In his beautifully argued op-ed in the NYT yesterday, David Newman points out that although observational studies are not the gold standard, in this case the approach was strategic. The study confirms the conclusions drawn from a series of clinical trials: Mammograms might increase diagnoses and may increase treatment, but they don’t save lives. You’re just as likely to die from a breast cancer detected from a mammogram as you are from breast cancer you detect yourself.

So why do doctors and health advocates persist in pushing women to get the test?

Newman puts in this way:

[T]he trial results threatened a mammogram economy, a marketplace sustained by invasive therapies to vanquish microscopic clumps of questionable threat, and by an endless parade of procedures and pictures to investigate the falsely positive results that more than half of women endure. And inexplicably, since the publication of these trial results challenging the value of screening mammograms, hundreds of millions of public dollars have been dedicated to ensuring mammogram access, and the test has become a war cry for cancer advocacy. Why? Because experience deludes: radiologists diagnose, surgeons cut, pathologists examine, oncologists treat, and women survive.

While Newman doesn’t bring in a feminist or gendered analysis of this issue, it’s sitting right there, the pink elephant in the room. Just like the continued marketing of hormone replacement therapy, or the lack of non-invasive methods to detect cervical cancer, mammography has been accepted practice for so long because culturally,  it’s perfectly fine to expect women to submit themselves to poking and prodding and examination.

What do you think? Have you had a mammogram? Will you get one (or stop getting one) after hearing about this study?

 

Getting naked for social justice

Back when I was young and idealistic, there was nothing I loved more than a good protest.

I vividly remember the first time I attended a demonstration — it was on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada and were were protesting the incarceration of Nelson Mandela. After that, I was hooked.

I’ve  marched against police violence in Seattle, white supremacy in Montreal, and sexual assault in Iowa City. I’ve taken back the night more times than I can count, and I’ve  faced off against loggers (one of whom was wearing this T-shirt)  in British Columbia’s Clayquot Sound as part of a protest against clearcutting.

I once demonstrated against impending restrictive abortion regulations in Seattle, and carried this sign:

On my way home, a young boy stopped me and asked me to explain what the sign meant. Awkward.

I used to get goosebumps and a thrill at the first sound of a good chant. I loved rousing speeches promising social justice, peace and equality. During the Bush reign of terror administration, I took a bus from Iowa to Washington,DC to protest the invasion of Iraq. The experience was thoroughly exhilarating at the same time that it was extremely depressing. Enormous demonstrations were held all over the world, but we all know what happened in the end.

It was this lifelong interest in social justice that propelled me to seek employment in the non-profit women’s health field. When I finally got a full-time job writing for a major reproductive health and HIV organization, I was beyond excited.

But instead of rousing speeches and radical movement toward social justice, I found career climbers and male dominated board rooms. Public health initiatives seemed top-heavy and destined to fail, success was measured in tiny percentage points. People talked about “stakeholders” and “gender champions” and said things like “scale-up” and “roll-out” and “capacity building.”

The employees at this non-profit didn’t protest, in fact, they found protestors to be quite threatening. I was enlisted to help write a paper about the travesties committed by ACT-UP. And yes, dear readers, I did it.

This morning, there was an article in the L.A. Times  about a group of young people disrobing in front of John Baynor’s office in protest of cuts to domestic AIDS funding.  I found myself thinking about the importance of this type of dramatic, confrontational action. There’s no worry about funders disapproval or concern that you might be burning bridges with potential allies. This kind of action  reminded me that there are still plenty of people who are able to concoct creative ways to engage with the political process, to express rage at inequality, and yes, even to demand social justice.

I’m not much of a sign-holder anymore, perhaps those kinds of actions are best left to the young and idealistic. But while I might not be one of the people who strips naked on Capitol Hill, I’ll always be sitting on the sidelines, silently cheering them on.

What do you think? Do you go to demonstrations? Do you think that protests like these are good tools for political change, particularly when it comes to health policy?

You are not a loan

As Obama eases into office for his second term, and the economy seems to take a turn for the better, there’s still one thing that’s hanging over our heads.

Debt, debt, debt.

I’ve lived my life pretty simply. I have no desire to be rich, just happy. I don’t pine after a bigger house or nicer clothes, I don’t want a new car or a new iPhone.  I just want a stellar life. I want experiences, travel, and time with friends, family. I want time to think and read and putter around. I want to write and bake cakes and watch weird movies, and lie on the beach and take road trips.

And mostly, I’ve been able to do this. I drive an old car. I buy my clothes at thrift shops. I cook dinner from scratch every night, and we eat a lot lentils and sweet potatoes. We don’t have cable or smartphones or new computers. Our television is ten years old, I have a prepaid Tracfone, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater.  I get my CDs, DVDs and reading material from the library, and buy my son’s toys at garage sales.  It’s a simple life, but it’s a very good one.

But there’s always this nasty thing hanging over my head. Debt, debt, debt.

I have $40,000 in student loans, racked up when I was a graduate student. And if I do say so myself, I was a great student. I got excellent grades, I won three awards and I finished two graduate degrees in five years. I taught ten undergraduate classes, was busy every minute of the day. But somehow, I still came out drowning in debt.It just doesn’t seem right that I have these loans hanging over my head for my education. It’s not like I went out and bought thousands of dollars of shoes, or a car I couldn’t afford, or went out to fancy restaurants every night.

I’ve decided to not let it stop me from living the life I want, but it’s still there, this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. Debt, debt, debt.

So when I read that about the Strike Debt movement, I was intrigued. The movement attempts to organize people as debtors.  According to Jodi Dean, a professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges:

“Debilitating medical and student debt are the result of a market approach to medicine and education. So if Strike Debt grows, we could see demands for free healthcare and free universities. Once people stop thinking of banks as entitled to interest and fees, then we may also decide as a society that public sector workers, pensions and basic infrastructures are more important than playing the bankers’ game.”

What does this have to do with health? Everything.

I don’t have any medical debt, but my student debt obligations gobble up a distressingly large portion of  my fairly measly income, making it financially impossible for me to purchase my own health insurance. I’m self-employed, so no one is going to provide it for me. I’ve been lucky so far, no major medical catastrophes since I’ve been uninsured, but really I’m just one bad pap test or car accident away from medical bills that could push me into financial ruin.

What about you? Do you have medical or student debt? Is it affecting your health? Have you heard about the Strike Debt movement? Let me know!

Appropriate technology?

Yesterday my post about post-partum depression was featured on the BlogHer website! Wow!

This morning on my morning drive to work,  I heard a report on the BBC about a non profit called Global Advocacy, One Laptop Per Child.

The group gave tablet computers to poor children in Ethiopia with apparently stellar results.  In this particular region of Ethiopia, the children were particularly impoverished, did not read, and were not going to school. “We went in, gave them the tablets and walked away,” said Matt Keller, the Vice President of the Global Advocacy.

These kids are learning faster than they would be learning in school. When you give a child that tablet and all the other children in the community have the tablets, the children learn form each other, they teach each other, the dynamic is so intense that I have to say yes, it’s better than a classroom.

The story jumped out at me because as a parent, I am repeatedly warned against exposing my child to too much “screen time.” I just got an email from my child’s preschool teacher that cautioned television watching before bedtime, and in my social circles, dropping off a bunch of iPads to kids and then just letting them sit there and play with them all day would be seen as tantamount to child abuse.

What happens when toddlers zone out with an iPad? asks Ben Worthen in the Wall Street Journal, and concludes that the things aren’t good for his child because he goes into a sort of trance and it becomes a daily battle to get the boy to put the  thing down and go the fuck to sleep to bed.

Apparently they can be a great tool for kids with autism, cerebral palsy and various other disabilities. But table comptuers can also make it more difficult to sleep, and there is persistent concern about their effect on children’s brain development, attention span and learning ability.

In public health, we talk about providing appropriate technologies for the situation. Is dropping off a bunch of tablet computers to poor children an appropriate technology? Does it make sense in the context that they live?

Do we have different standards for the health of our own children and the health of other people’s children, poor children? Would we want this for our own children.

Paul Farmer talks about creating a preferential option for the poor, arguing that it is the role of the non-profit and charity world to charge themselves with offering the poor people of the world the same –if not better — medical care as wealthy patients in developed countries.

Idealistic? Yes. But it’s something that I always think about when new programs are rolled out or when a researchers is talking about their groundbreaking work in a poor country.

What do you think?

Have you heard about  One Laptop per Child ?Do you worry about whether too much “screen time” affects the health of your own child(ren)? Are there other programs that you know about that employ new technologies innovative ways? Tell me, I want to know!

Office space

 

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to earn a living as a freelance writer and editor. Sometimes it works, sometimes I run into lean times. Right now it’s lean. So this week, in an attempt to keep the lights on,  I’ve stepped out of my house and into a real office.  I’m working a temp job for the next three weeks, so my days are full of commuting, filing and data entry, with not much time for blogging.

The job’s not so bad – it’s a little boring, but the computer terminal I’m sitting at faces a wall of windows, and when I look up from the computer it’s like I’m sitting in a forest of glorious fall foliage. The weather is gorgeous, and there’s a little picnic table outside where I can eat my lunch…and think about women, work, and occupational health.

At this particular job, the feminization of office work is as clear as day. All the temps and all the supervisors are women. As far as I can tell, most of what the permanent folks do is file and do data entry.

It makes me wonder, do women have a higher rate of carpal tunnel syndrome? What kinds of occupational health hazards are common for women who work in offices? What kinds of health problems are caused by sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day? How much radiation does a computer emit? Is it dangerous? What is the data?

This office is miles away from any real restaurant.  There’s not even a vending machine. If you forget your lunch, you can drive to Bojangles or Arby’s if you drive really fast and eat your lunch in the car. There are, however, copious bowls full of Halloween candy on the filing cabinets. When I studied abroad  in Iceland, one of the  most incredible things about their work life was that all office buildings have beautiful cafeterias, and everyone eats together.  In the US it seems like working in an office is set up to make you have bad nutrition.

Michelle Obama wants you to put down that hamburger.

I’m lucky (for now) that this is just a temporary gig, which means I actually enjoy it. It’s a whole lot easier than writing and a whole lot easier than chasing a three-year-old around, but I wouldn’t want to do it every day.

What about you? Do you work in an office? What kinds of things do you find are good – and bad—for your health at work? What do you think are some occupational health issues that women face more commonly than men? What about other jobs?  Seems like service industry jobs and healthcare industry jobs probably come with their own set of occupational hazards.

What do you think?