I came across Elizabeth Pisani‘s recent book via a TED-related post on the notoriously interesting Brainpickings. Wisdom of Whores is a book that will pretty much pull your head apart with mindblowing stats about HIV and AIDS and the insider’s knowledge about how NGO and governmental HIV and AIDS politics work with this issue around the world. The book is superbly well written given Pisani’s long-term journalist work and her passion for the ideas she’s filled her professional life with. Easily one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in my life.
I’m only half-way through it now and so far the reading has been unrepetetive, insightful and engaging. HIV prevention and AIDS topics can make really dramatic if mundane storylines – the collective narratives make us think we know all about this issue, but we really just don’t. The HIV story is spiced with money, politics, religion, sex and drugs and the interests of all the groups engaged in this affair can differ so much as to bring the best intentions to a halt. So yes, whether you want to read this book for its insights into field research in Indonesian brothels, the workings of the US AIDS support (that spends 30% of its money on abstinence programs that fail 75% of the time), or just want to read a fantastic personal account of a female journalist dealing with one of the biggest killers in human history, give it a go.
Hans Rosling explains facts about the HIV spread around the world that will hopefully clear some of the common misunderstandings of the disease. This TED talk is not only hugely informative but also stunning to watch because of Rosling’s fantastic data visualisations.
Yesterday I attended my third Thishappened, a series of events at the intersection of new technologies, arts, design and innovation. Thishappened was establised by 3 friends Chris O’Shea, Joel Gethin Lewis and Andreas Müller and is held pretty much every three months. The event is free, but really hard to catch, as the tickets fly out in seconds (literally, this time it hit a record 40s before they were gone). The projects and their creators hosted at Thishappened are inspiring each and every time, whether through their creative flair or dedication to a good cause. Currently all the talks are also available online, so for those who can’t make it to the events, you can always catch up on their site as well.
One of the most inspiring things I saw last night was Heartworks, a project created by Glassworks, a London-based award winning post-production company. Approached by the Heart Hospital of London and supervised by its top medical experts who direct a course in peri-operative transoesophageal echocardiography, Glassworks spent the last two years creating a 3D digital human heart in motion that allows students to learn about the heart before putting a scalpel on anyone. Apart from being able to see it from different angles, zoom in and out of it, students can also dissect the heart with a virtual sheet that can literally slice the heart open or provide ultrasound images of the chosen section. Students can also experiment with a mannequin that allows them to learn about the tube insertion procedures that allow for ultrasound imaging diagnostics.
Initially Heartworks was meant to be a small project for the London hospital, but the interest it has received from foreign universities has turned it into a larger scale commercial venture. The success breeds potential not only for students around the world to be able to learn more about the human heart in a better way, but also gives potential for developments of such imagining for other organs be it the brain or other difficult to access areas of the body.
[Image courtesy of Heartworks and Thishappened]
No, this post isn’t about the credit crunch. I thought a lot of people out there must be feeling the effects of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and so I just started randomly browsing the US and the UK statistics for depression, antidepressant drug use and general drug use. If true, then it’s pretty impressive data, especially considering its change over the past few decades. For years now I have been annoyed with the doctors’ relaxed attitude towards handing out medication. I remember once calling a local surgery in Kent, UK, to get advice on treating my flu-like sympthoms. I was prescribed antibiotics over the phone within minutes and they were to be picked up the next day. I imagine similar handing applies to the distribution of antidepressants both in the UK, US and other developed countries.
According to HHS, the US Department for Health and Human Services, ‘adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between 1988 and 2000. Ten percent of women 18 and older and 4 percent of men now take antidepressants.’ In the UK the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002. Using antidepressants has also spread across age groups and it is now not unusual to hear of preschoolers as young as 3 popping Prozac. Psychiatric medication is banned for children under 3, so perhaps that’s why the still younger ones aren’t on medication. Almost 500 people die every year in the UK from antidepressant drug use and overdose related poisonings. Antidepressants can also cause or increase suicidal tendencies as a side effect and perhaps as a result of these side effects over 5000 people have committed suicide in the past decade while using antidepressants.
So is the society indeed suffering from more conditions both psychological and physical alike, or is our knowledge of conditions bringing on a negative placebo effect, or are we just being led by institutions to treat our conditions with chemicals purely for the sake of that creating more profit for pharmaceutical companies and less hassle for the health care system? Almost half of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug at any given time. I think the health care systems need to commit more time to educating the public not just on the conditions they may have, but also to the ways of avoiding them in the first place and stop dispensing medicine as widely. NHS is finally making the first steps in sending out a message about how irrelevant antibiotics are in treating flu and cold. Better late than never, I suppose, but it still a long way to go.