Millions of overweight and obese people all over the world have tried and tried to lose weight, but with no success. Will paying them to shed fat give them the extra motivation to adopt a healthier lifestyle? The overweight mayor of the Italian town of Varallo thinks so, and he's put the community on a "group diet" with monetary rewards:
Meanwhile, in the United States—where $1 of every $6 spent is on healthcare—employers and health insurance companies are using both carrots and sticks to get workers to slim down. In Benton County, Ark., county employees' insurance deductibles can be reduced from $2,500 to $500 if they meet low height-to-weight ratios. Employees at the hospital chain Clarian Health Partners will be "fined" up to $60 a month if they can't meet weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure standards.
It seems odd that people might be more motivated by money than by a desire to be healthier, but with healthcare costs for obesity rising, governments, insurance companies, and employers are increasingly willing to try almost anything to get people to shape up.
In keeping with Passport's tradition of updating our readers about toilets in China, we have the latest news: There will be no more food stalls attached to public toilets in Beijing. The Beijing Municipal Commission has decided that "It is not proper to sell soft drinks or snacks right at the toilets," which up till now had been permitted. The city government is also planning to publish a toilet guide and offer telephone and Internet services containing information to help toilet users.
What's the motivation for these efforts? The 2008 Beijing Olympics, of course. China is making a huge effort to crack down on poor public hygiene and improve social etiquette. Earlier this year, China initiated an effort to curb public spitting, cursing and littering, and promote orderly queues. Even poorly-translated English signs in China are getting the boot. But for all the cosmetic changes, it seems that some things aren't changing so quickly: press freedoms and protection for human rights.
According to the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development, only three places—Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Monaco—remain on its list of "uncooperative tax havens" now that the Marshall Islands and Liberia have made certain reforms. (This doesn't mean that the Marshall Islands and Liberia are not tax havens anymore; it just means they aren't evil tax havens.)
One interesting thing about Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Monaco is that all three countries boast extraordinarily high life expectancy rates. Indeed, Andorra's, at nearly 84 years at birth, is the highest in the world. San Marino, Hong Kong, Guernsey, Gibraltar, and the Cayman Islands are also in the top 20, with Jersey not far behind at #22.
Granted, correlation does not, ipso facto, imply causation—Sweden, Japan, and Norway, also in the top 20, are hardly libertarian paradises, and Liberia and the Marshall Islands aren't exactly great places to raise your child—but it's a curious coincidence nonetheless.
UPDATE: Some informed comments here from British tax researcher Richard Murphy.
It has been many years since rival kingdoms sent each other messages via homing pigeon, but the latest development in the killer-export dispute between the United States and China offers a new take on that old-fashioned method of communication.
According to a Chinese government website, officials recently seized a shipment of 41 pigeons and executed every last one of them. The pigeons, which originated in the United States, were destined for use as both pets and gourmet food. Chinese inspectors, however, cited a litany of problems with the shipment, including an infestation of "parrot fever," a bird-disease that can cause mild symptoms in humans. So the birds were slaughtered and incinerated.
I have, in the past, defended the Chinese from allegations that they're out to poison us; I still think Americans tend to overreact when it comes to China. On the flip side, this pigeon business is utter silliness. It's clearly just tit-for-tat escalation of a dispute that need not cause any serious trouble. If China wants to keep an open, friendly market for their exports, they're better off acknowledging problems and working to promote safety, rather than going on the offensive to find flaws with U.S. exports.
Plus, think of the innocent pigeons.
American students who dream of being doctors often must take out enormous loans to pay for medical school. But eight American students from low-income backgrounds recently got their medical degrees without having to spend a penny. Through a deal between Cuban President Fidel Castro and members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, they received six-year scholarships to attend Havana's Latin American Medical School, which is recognized by the World Health Organization. Cuba paid for the students' schooling, accommodations, textbooks, and uniforms.
It's a clever twist on what FP editor Moisés Naím terms "rogue aid," but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of students from countries around the world attend the Latin American Medical School. Additionally, Cuba has sent tens of thousands of its doctors to developing countries over the years to provide medical assistance, writes Ignacio Ramonet in a recent FP debate with Carlos Alberto Montaner. The Cuban healthcare system was also recently cast in a positive light in Michael Moore's documentary Sicko, in which 9/11 rescue workers end up getting free medical care in Havana. (Though Moore's case for universal healthcare in the United States would probably have been stronger had he left Cuba out of the picture.)
Cuba's healthcare diplomacy reminds me of Hugo Chávez's efforts earlier this year to provide discounted heating oil to poor Americans, which haven't won the Venezuelan president any brownie points in the United States. Given how strong anti-Castro sentiment is here, it's doubtful Cuba's training of U.S. doctors will do much to win American hearts and minds, either.
When delivering their analysis of the latest stock market or economic growth figures, China hands often warn, "You can't trust any statistics coming out of Beijing, so take these numbers with a grain of salt."
Here's an example that shows why that's sound advice. Faced with an outbreak of rabies, Beijing city authorities introduced a "one dog" policy last fall. And now they're reporting a rash of pet attacks:
BEIJING, July 23 (Xinhua) -- More than 90,000 people in Beijing were injured by cats and dogs in the first six months of this year, up almost 34 percent from the same period last year, the local government said.
Unleashed pet dogs were blamed for most animal attacks, though a small
percentage of the victims were cat keepers suffering from scratches, with symptoms including swollen lymph nodes and fever, said the Beijing management office for pet dogs, where pet dogs are registered and vaccinated.
So where did they get this number? I suspect they just made it up. I mean, are we supposed to believe that people in Beijing call up the government to report that their cat scratched them?
In some parts of China and India, rodents are taking over.
In China, an estimated 2 billion field mice have been driven out of their nests by floodwaters from Dongting Lake. Swarms of the tiny critters are blanketing entire hillsides in black, eyewitnesses say. Meanwhile, residents are killing the ravenous crop-devouring rodents in just about anyway they can, with poison, traps, and good ol' shovel smacks. Local officials say more than 90 tons of rodent—which translates to 2.3 million mice—have been killed.
Meanwhile, Mumbai, India, has been dealing with an overpopulation of rats and a shortage of rat catchers. In this megacity of 17 million people, more than half live in shanties filled with trash—banana peels, coconut halves, butter wrappers—a veritable cornucopia if you're a rat.
Catching rats was a good gig 30 years ago when India had a more socialist economy and municipal jobs were relatively well paying and secure. Plus, Mumbai had fewer people, less trash, and therefore fewer rats back then. Now though, private-sector work at software companies and call centers tends to attract more people than the job of rat assassin, which pays one 33-year rat-catching veteran just $210 a month. And so, Mumbai's rat explosion may be just another unexpected consequence of globalization.
A freelance reporter for a Beijing television station has been detained for faking a hidden camera report about street vendors who used chemical-soaked cardboard to fill meat buns, local media said. [...]
Beijing Television explained that an investigation revealed that in mid-June, Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Zi ''gave them the idea'' of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.
Let's assume this is true. Does it let the migrant workers off the hook? Or does it provide further evidence that Chinese food-safety standards are hopelessly lax?
I ask because this incident reminds me of—bear with me here—the FBI's efforts to nab al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Undercover FBI agents have run several sting operations wherein they target people whom informants have identified as having extremist tendencies and recruit them into fake al Qaeda cells. The FBI then catches them expressing sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, buying weapons, or sending money to terrorists abroad, and then arrests them. Critics of these operations say they amount to entrapment. These people aren't really joining al Qaeda at all, the critics say, and are being prosecuted for mere "thought crimes." Supporters of the sting approach counter that at the end of the day, guys like Tarik Shah and the Lackawanna Six are making clear their intention to commit terrorist acts, so we might as well get them off the streets while we can.
If you agree with that logic, do you also think the bun-makers are guilty of knowingly stuffing buns with cardboard, and should be punished? Email Passport with your thoughts.
We once thought of obesity as the quintessential symbol of wealth and decadence. A problem of the rich West. Not so anymore: Fat is taking over the developing world as well. Around the globe, 1.6 billion people are overweight, 400 million of whom are obese. In fact—along with bird flu and HIV/AIDS—fat is the next global health threat of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organization. The problem? Trans fats, sugars, and a sedentary lifestyle form an often lethal cocktail that can result in diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
It's true, in countries where being able to stuff your belly is still a privilege (Mauritania, for instance), chubby is usually considered sexy. But the standards the WHO uses to measure obesity around the world have nothing to do with the Western notion that thin equals beautiful. This is science, and its verdict is clear: 30 percent of the population is overweight in India, Brazil, Thailand and Russia. China leads the rankings of child obesity. And according to the BBC, if we keep chowing down, by 2015 there will be 700 million obese people worldwide. My advice? Invest in Chinese fat camps now, while shares are still cheap.
I know it's the man's 89th birthday, and he did lead the fight against the crimes of apartheid, but I can't resist pointing out that the halo around former South African President Nelson Mandela ignores his shoddy record on many aspects of governance, and especially HIV/AIDS.
A recent article (free registration required) in the Lancet by Dr. Paul Zeitz, head of the Global AIDS Alliance, lays out the damning history. Although then-Vice President Thabo Mbeki (for years, an AIDS denialist) deserves most of the direct blame for South Africa's 1990s AIDS disaster, it was Mandela who was ultimately in charge at the time. In 1996, his government spent 20 percent of its annual AIDS budget on "a contract for a theatre company to produce a show with questionable public-health messages," according to Zeitz. Following that error in judgment, Mbeki pushed Virodene, an AIDS medicine produced in Africa, through the government's approval process. Virodene was later deemed to be "unfit for human consumption."
When Mandela turned over the reigns to Mbeki in 1999, 11.7 percent of South Africa's adults had HIV/AIDS. Mandela has since expressed his regret over his government's failure to grapple with this problem, and that's welcome. His own son even died of AIDS in 2005, and the elder Mandela has become a fervent advocate for AIDS causes. So what's the issue? Well, as noted in this morning's Brief, Mandela is setting himself up, along with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, as one of the world's wise men. Backed by Richard Branson's millions, Mandela's "Elders" will rain down rhetorical thunderbolts from their Olympean heights in order to highlight the world's ignored causes. But let's not forget that when he had real power to do something, it was Mandela himself who did the ignoring.
Relax, folks, you can all go back to brushing your teeth with Chinese toothpaste: The government in Beijing has just outlawed juicing the stuff with diethylene gylocol (DEG), an industrial solvent. DEG-laden toothpaste has yet to kill anybody, but the Chinese have been feeling cautious lately. In addition to the recent ban, Beijing is gearing up to institute national food safety checks, and just executed the former head of food and drug safety. You know, just to be on the safe side.
Just when I thought the coast was clear, however, I came across the disturbing news that two new phony products have cropped up in China: Dumplings stuffed with cardboard shavings, and bogus Rabies vaccines. Talk about putting the "dim" in dim sum.
But before anybody goes back to shrieking about how China is out to kill us all, take a look at this interesting report from the New York Times. It compares the number of food shipments the United States has turned away from various foreign countries over the past year, and it turns out that China is surpassed by both India and Mexico. And if you think Chinese seafood is bad (391 shipments rejected), you'd better stay away from Danish candy (520 rejections).
So if Beijing isn't all the devil incarnate, then what's behind the hype? Sure, China has exported a few particularly nasty products in the last few years, but the "ChiComs" are no worse than some of the other top U.S. trading partners. I'd say all this hullabaloo has a lot to do with the sad fact that Americans just love to hate China. It's not a new phenomenon, but it has been magnified by China's dramatic rise. At this point, Americans (and their congressmen) will take any shot they can get at Beijing. The ultimate goal? To control the Chinese while that's still even remotely possible.
It's well known that exposing kids to lead is bad. Scientific studies have shown that it shaves off IQ points and increases impulsivity. And more impulsivity can mean more crime because impulsive people act first and think later.
In the United States, a number of studies have established a correlation between childhood lead exposure and sociopathic behavior when children turn into teenagers and young adults. A 2001 study found that the murder rate in U.S. counties with high lead levels was four times the rate in counties with low lead levels, even after controlling for socioeconomic and environmental variables.
Most recently, economist Rick Nevin has hypothesized a neurochemical theory that lead poisoning explains variations in violent crime. His research has found a decades-long correlation between lead poisoning and crimes rates in not just one, but nine, countries. Nevin even argues that lead abatement accounts for New York City's famous crime drop during Rudy Giuliani's tenure as mayor from 1994 to 2001.
But, since when has terrorism been driven by impulsivity and low IQs? Terrorist cells spend weeks, months, even years, planning their violence, and many recent high-profile terrorist acts have been carried out by highly educated men.
Lead = terrorism? Methinks not.
When last year's UNAIDS report came out, India appeared to have overtaken South Africa as the country with the greatest number of HIV/AIDS cases—an incredible 5.7 million. But in new data released Friday, UNAIDS has more than halved that figure, to just 2.5 million Indians living with the virus.
The sharp revision has to do with a larger population sample and new methodology for data. Earlier estimates had tested blood from small samples of pregnant women and high-risk groups like prostitutes, and then extrapolated out to the general population. That method is widely accepted, but clearly problematic in determining nationwide infection levels. The new numbers put India behind South Africa, which has at least 5.5 million people living with HIV, and Nigeria, with 2.9 million.
The lower estimate is obviously great news for India. But there's a risk that Indian health officials, long accused of being in denial about the scale of the problem, might take these new results and use them as evidence that India's problem is confined to specific areas and high-risk populations. That would be a huge mistake—2.5 million infections is still nothing to sniff at, and studies have shown that the virus spreads rapidly once it gains a foothold in the general population.
So, what should Indian health officials do with these revised statistics? My advice: Breathe a sigh of relief, and then get back to work so that last year's overestimate never becomes a reality.
|12%||Percentage of the global trade in fruits and vegetables enjoyed by China's agricultural exports [link]|
||China's agricultural exports to the United States in 2006 [link]|
||Percentage of U.S. food imports that come from China [link]|
|13 million||Tons of Chinese grain contaminated by heavy metals, according to China's Ministry of Land and Resources [link]|
|30.4 million||Acres of China's arable land that are contaminated by pollution [link]|
|10%||Percentage of China's arable land that is contaminated by pollution [link]|
||Multiple by which the rice grown in Nanning, China, exceeds the allowed level of cadmium [link]|
|1.3%||Percentage of U.S. food imports inspected by the FDA [link]|
Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
It's hard enough running a marathon when the air is cool, crisp, and pristine. Add coal smoke, ozone, and particulate matter to the mix, and you'll have runners wheezing their way to the finish line—if they even make it that far. Unfortunately, that's exactly the type of air that will clog the lungs of more than 10,000 athletes next year at the Olympics in Beijing.
On days when there is no rain or wind, ozone and fine dust are often two to three times the maximum levels suggested by the World Health Organization, making the Chinese capital one of the world's dirtiest cities. Endurance athletes such as marathoners and cyclists will have the toughest time—they inhale up to 150 liters of air per minute, more than 10 times what an office worker does. Spectators who are elderly, very young, or chronically ill may also encounter problems, including asthma, sore throats, and allergic reactions, all of which occur even among healthy visitors.
"I wouldn't expect a world record in the marathon in Beijing," says a physician who advises the British Olympic Committee.
The Beijing Olympics won't be the first time athletes will have to contend with poor air quality. More than 20 percent of U.S. athletes had breathing problems due to smog in Athens in 2004, says a manager of the U.S. Olympic team. British runner Steve Ovett said Los Angeles's air pollution made him collapse in the 1984 Olympics.
Beijing is committed to making its Olympics the "Green Games," and is investing more than $3 billion to clean the air, but it's unclear if it can succeed. Areas outside the city are responsible for a substantial amount of the pollution, and over 1,000 new cars hit the streets each day.
In the end, athletes may be left gasping for glory.
[Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images]
Conservative Muslim dress codes may be causing vitamin D deficiency in women by limiting their exposure to sunlight, humans' main source for the vitamin, according to new research.
Scientists had previously found high rates of vitamin D deficiency in Arab and East Indian women living in the United Arab Emirates. A follow-up study investigated the effect of vitamin D supplements on 178 UAE women, many of whom covered themselves entirely, faces and hands included, when outside their homes. Only two of the women did not have vitamin D deficiency prior to receiving supplements. The results were published by a team of scientists in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
One of the researchers concludes, "When sunlight exposure … is limited, much higher dietary intake of vitamin D is needed than currently recommended," particularly for those who breast-feed.
At least one commentator, though, is saying it's not higher doses of vitamin D that are needed, but rather, lower doses of fundamentalism.
After tomorrow, Tony Blair is going to have a lot more time on his hands, especially if—as seems increasingly unlikely—he heeds the advice of Blake and the FT's Gideon Rachman and turns down the thankless job of Middle East envoy.
Here's an idea. Why not leverage his star power by taking on the world's most neglected causes?
Al Gore already has dibs on carbon emissions. Bill Clinton has taken on HIV/AIDS. And so, Passport humbly submits five other worthy causes that Tony Blair may want to make his own:
A new computer virus was identified last week that spreads via USB flash drives and other removable media on Windows PCs. This method of propagation is about as old as computers themselves. So what's the big deal? It's the content of the program that makes this particular virus so special.
The worm doesn't infect a computer with maladjusted software or erase important system files. Instead, it spreads educational information about HIV/AIDS. Security experts have been quick to point out that the worm, called "liarVB-a," does no explicit harm to the user's computer, but it's still a potential security threat. Graham Cluley, a senior senior technology consultant at the security firm Sophos, explains:
Even though the hackers responsible for this worm aren't set on filling their pockets with cash, and may feel that they are spreading an important message, they are still breaking the law. In the future we might see more graffiti-style malware being written on behalf of political, religious and other groups looking for a soapbox to broadcast their opinions."
Personally, I'm very curious to see the contents of this worm. Is the information contained in the worm about HIV/AIDS accurate? What was its original source? Wikipedia? So far, copies of the program are hard to find. If your computer becomes infected with the worm, let us know.
The president of Gambia can cure AIDS, but just on Thursdays, the only day when his healing powers work. The cure includes applying a green sludge to the skin of the patient, sprinkling a mystery liquid, having the patient swig a brown broth, and topping it all off with a banana snack. Whirling about the patient and uttering verses from the Koran are also part of the treatment.
President Yahya Jammeh says this treatment, with its seven secret herbs, can cure AIDS "with absolute certainty" if patients meet two requirements: 1) abstaining from alcohol, tea, coffee, sex, and theft during the multiweek course of treatment, and 2) ceasing to take antiviral medications.
Oh, the president also claims he can cure asthma and diabetes.
Speaking seriously, though, this "cure" for AIDS highlights the misinformation that surrounds the disease in many countries. In Africa, many aren't aware that condoms protect against HIV infection. Even if they are told, they also face anti-condom messages: Condoms are a conspiracy by whites to lower African birthrates; condoms are tainted with HIV to decrease the African population. On top of it all, traditional healers, tribal leaders, and the Catholic Church warn against using condoms. What is one to believe?
The meeting of the world's eight most powerful industrialized nations (if you don't count China) has come to an end, and the global development community isn't too happy about the outcome. At issue is the G8's pledge to give $60 billion to fight HIV/AIDS and other heath crises. It appears to be little more than Enron-style accounting.
At least half of the $60 billion figure, for instance, comes from the $30 billion U.S. President George W. Bush had already pledged last week to combat AIDS over the next five years. And, unlike the Bush administration, the G8 isn't specifying a time period during which it will deliver the aid. The development advocacy organization Oxfam had this to say:
The headlines sound impressive but ultimately mean precious little. Instead of delivering what they promised the G8 has tried to get the biggest possible headline number out of the smallest possible aid increase.... Oxfam's calculations, based on the assumption that the money will be delivered over 5 years, show that by 2010 overall aid will only have increased by $23bn."
That's well shy of the $50 billion the G8 had pledged in Gleneagles, Scotland, way back in 2005.
Democracy has proven tough enough for many African nations—poor, riddled with corruption, and bereft of functioning institutions as they are—to achieve. Now we can add one more inhibiting factor to the list: HIV/AIDS. Not only does AIDS leave voter rolls bloated with the names of people who have died, a recent study of six southern African countries found, but the disease robs political parties of their most able campaigners and deprives constituencies of their MPs. A BBC article summarizing the study reports:
In Zambia for example, in the first 20 years from 1964 to 1984 only 6% of by-elections were held as a result of death. But in the next 10 years, 60% of by-elections were because MPs had died. In Malawi, the speaker admitted that 28 deaths of MPs were Aids related.
The study, which was conducted by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, points out that these vacancies sometimes stay open for a year, leaving parts of the population without a voice in government. And the unanticipated economic burden of special by-elections can be just as damaging—one by-election costs Zambia more than US$200,000—since the resources need to be reallocated from other parts of the national budget. Moreover, it's hard to mobilize apathetic voters during by-elections, so smaller parties with fewer resources end up losing out to the ruling party.
Most disturbingly, though, the study finds that the stigma attached to AIDS makes it extraordinarily difficult to get good data from political elites. How can you fix a problem if you can't measure it? Reporting these figures and calculating these costs is a vital first step towards greater openness and public disclosure about the disease. If African democracy is to avoid becoming the next victim of the AIDS pandemic, the conspiracy of silence among the continent's leaders will have to end.
Soviet Russia was never overly concerned with nuclear waste disposal. For decades, the Soviets simply dumped radioactive materials into the Arctic Ocean or erected temporary storage facilities for such materials. Those facilities are now beginning to age, and are becoming a serious environmental problem. Frighteningly, one of these facilities may even be in danger of exploding.
Norwegian researchers have obtained an alarming report from Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, about a site on the Kola Peninsula, an ore-rich area near the northern border with Norway. Since 1982, 21,000 spent uranium fuel assemblies have been stored there in three concrete tanks right next to the coast. Inside the tanks, large metal pipes contain the rods. Unfortunately, the concrete has begun to leak and allow sea water in, corroding the metal tubes.
Leakage is a problem because spent rods contain many types of fissile isotopes, and salt water could cause them to disintegrate relatively quickly. Essentially, those fissile isotopes will dissolve in the water, creating a radioactive slurry inside the tubes.
This could be dangerous because, in the right conditions, enough fissile material concentrated in a small space creates a lot of heat—the same principle we exploit for nuclear power generation. Uncontrolled, this heat could cause steam to build up in the tubes, eventually leading them to explode. If concentrations of fissile material are high enough, dangerous chain reactions could occur, releasing more intense (and potentially explosive) "bursts of radiation and heat." The risk of such explosions is small— both Russian and Norwegian nuclear officials have accordingly "downplayed the danger"—but still significant given the potential for widespread fallout.
And while an actual atomic explosion is probably impossible in this situation, even steam explosions could send huge quantities of dangerously radioactive material into the environment. Rosatom claims there is no danger of that happening, but given the Russian track record on waste disposal, we should watch sites like this very carefully.
The answer could be poor health care and a weak welfare system.
The correlation between wealth and height has long been established in health circles, so researchers at Princeton University and the University of Munich set out to reveal why Americans—citizens of the richest country in the world and among the tallest in the world until the Second World War—have been getting shorter while Europeans have been growing taller. Backed by demographic and health data collected between 1959 and 2002, John Komlos, co-author of the study, explained:
We surmise that the health systems and high degree of social security in Europe provide better conditions for growth than the American health system, despite the fact that the system costs twice as much."
He added, "There are also indications that American diets are deficient in several areas." Americans are now between two and six centimeters shorter than their European counterparts; the average Dutchman is six centimeters taller than the average American. In the mid-19th century, this figure was exactly the opposite.
So is the link between wealth and health broken? Not necessarily, you may be thinking. Another hypothesis is that immigration from Latin America and Asia has pushed down the average height in the United States. The study is not freely available online, but according to the abstract, the research team looked only at "trends for the physical stature of the non-Hispanic white and black U.S. adult population," and "regression analysis is used to estimate the trend in U.S. heights stratified by gender and ethnicity, holding income and educational attainment constant." In plain English, that means that the researchers did take immigration into account.
In poor countries, lack of clean drinking water means that 1.6 million people, most young children, die of diarrhea. But adding a special bleach solution called Clorin to a jerrycan of water can make it safe to drink. This raises the controversial question: Should some of the poorest people in the world be charged for Clorin?
Many nongovernmental organizations argue that when you hand out something for free, it won't be valued or used. And recent research seems to validate this view. In the experiment, survey teams went door to door in Zambia. They offered Clorin at a random price to each household. Households that agreed to buy at that price were then offered a random discount.
When survey teams returned to the homes a couple of weeks later and tested water supplies, they discovered that people who had agreed to a higher original price were more likely to be actually using their Clorin. (The discounted price didn't have a meaningful effect on usage.) The conclusion: Higher prices channel the product to households more likely to use it in the first place, and screen out those who wouldn't be intensive, regular users.
Of course, one is left wondering, what about those people who turned down the original offer? What if some of them really wanted to use Clorin, but simply couldn't afford it? Perhaps any profit from selling it to the richest of the poor could be somehow used to subsidize it for the poorest of the poor. In all, it's a difficult ethical question that applies to everything from charging people school fees for their children's education to making them pay for antimalarial mosquito nets and antiretroviral drugs.
Google Earth is fast becoming a tool of choice for looking at big problems like genocide in Darfur. The latest innovative use of the 3-D mapping software? Tracking bird flu.
Researchers led by Daniel Janies, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Ohio State University, used Google Earth to create a color-coded "evolutionary tree" of the avian flu virus (H5N1) over a 10-year time period. They published their findings in the latest issue of Systemic Biology, a bimonthly journal. By showing the data in new ways, the mapping tool could help other researchers and public health officials develop better strategies to fight the virus. (If you've seen the latest episodes of the television show Heroes, it looks somewhat like Hiro Nakamura's map of the past. But in this case, the map's colors refer to different types of hosts for the H5N1 virus.)
A new study of the walking pace in 32 cities around the world has found that Singapore is the "fastest" city, with people taking 10.55 seconds on average to walk 60 feet. Copenhagen followed at 10.82 seconds, while Madrid came in third at 10.89 seconds. Surprisingly, New Yorkers only came in eighth with an average speed of 12 seconds across 60 feet, and London pedestrians didn't even make the top ten.
People all over the world have been walking an average of around ten percent faster than a decade ago, when the pace of city walkers was last measured, the study found. Does this mean that people are fitter and healthier on average? Definitely not, according to Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hartfordshire, which conducted the study along with the British Council. Wiseman explains:
At one level, walking quickly is good, but if it's a way of life - if you're doing it simply to get from A to B as quickly as possible - then it goes with a whole load of other behaviours which are not quite so good for you ... not eating properly, exercising or seeing friends and family. It can lead to all kinds of things, especially heart attacks."
Given that heart disease follows closely behind cancer as the leading cause of death in Singapore, is by far the leading cause of death in Denmark, and is a close second again in Spain, it may be time for walkers in those countries to start slowing down and smelling the roses.
In January, FP featured a piece about the International Breast Milk Project, in which American women who produce excess breast milk donate it for shipment to newborn orphans in Africa.
But what if the milk flow were to go in the opposite direction? What if women in developing countries were paid to ship their breast milk to moms in the West?
A recent article in Time magazine discusses wet nurses—women who are paid to breast-feed other women's babies. Apparently, the old custom is reemerging a bit in the United States. More American women work outside the home at jobs that don't make it easy to breast-feed. More women have breast implants. Some women adopt children.
As a result, a few American women have hired wet nurses through CertifiedHouseholdStaffing.com. Others buy bottled breast milk from nonprofit "milk banks." One company, Prolacta Bioscience, is the country's first for-profit processor of donated breast milk. (It sells to neonatal units, not individuals.)
But if the for-profit breast-milk industry grows (in 2005, demand for breast milk from one nonprofit association of milk banks grew 28 percent), where will companies get all their milk once altruistic donors run dry? If they follow the model of other American businesses, they might turn to the developing world for their raw material—in this case, breast milk.
It would be expensive to ship frozen milk across continents and oceans, but given that Prolacta last year was marketing milk at $35 per ounce, it's possible that paying low amounts to women in the developing world would make importing a viable business strategy.
Clearly, though, there are a lot of sensitive questions to be debated. Is this exploitation of poor women, or is it giving them income for a body fluid they supposedly can't use anyway? In India, women are already renting out their wombs to Western women. The next logical step, it seems, would be breast rental.
Mexico City's legalization of first trimester abortions—carried out by a legislature, not a court—should serve as an instructive reminder of how things might have been in the United States had the Supreme Court not intervened in 1973. Supporters of the Mexico City legislation say they hope Mexico's states will follow suit with their own liberal abortion laws. It's safe to predict that five years from now, despite the Church's vigorous opposition, that is exactly what will happen.
So here's a thought experiment: Imagine Roe v. Wade never took place. The United States would be on Mexico's abortion trajectory, just 40 years earlier. As the National Abortion Federation explains, "[b]etween 1967 and 1973, two-thirds of the states liberalized or repealed their criminal abortion laws." First and even second trimester abortions would probably have been legal in most U.S. states by 1980.
Just what did Roe accomplish, then? Well, by circumventing what would have been a gradual and temperate evolution of abortion policy, buttressed by democratic consensus, the decision begot a politicized Christianity, the Right's fixation with social issues at the expense of policy, and decades of public acrimony. Your mileage may vary, but I think it's a shame that Mexico's example came too late.
As Jeffrey Sachs, the world's most passionate economist, writes in the new issue of FP, malaria kills between one and three million children every year—around 7,000 a day. Ninety percent of those are in Africa. Yet the tragedy of the situation is that malaria is entirely preventable, Sachs argues:
A simple package of technologies could bring malaria under control by 2010 across Africa. By combining malaria prevention (through insecticide-treated bed nets and malaria treatment) with highly effective drugs known as artemisinin-based combination therapies, it is possible to reduce disease transmission markedly and to save lives.
Adding weight to Sachs' argument, the BBC reported just today that pregnant women in Africa can reduce their risk of miscarriage or still birth by up to a third just by sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, which cost about $4. And as Sachs emphasizes, these straightforward measures could not only reduce the prevalence of malaria illness and death by as much as 90 percent, but significantly and favorably alter Africa's long-term health and economic prosperity.
So, who should pick up the tab? ... [T]he total cost of comprehensive malaria control in Africa would be roughly $3 billion per year until 2015. That is too much for impoverished Africa, but it’s pocket change for the rich world. There are more than a billion of us in the high-income countries, so the cost is less than $3 per person.
Seems like an entirely reasonable request to me. And when better to start taking action than on Malaria Awareness Day, April 25?
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