Junior doctors’ strike in the UK

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health, has urged the junior doctors’ representatives to return to the negotiation table.  This followed the most successful “junior doctors’ strike” in the UK. Doctors are complaining about the working conditions especially the new junior doctors’ contract to be introduced by the government. The contract in its essence increases the workload on doctors and puts patients at risk. There has been worldwide support to the junior doctors’ strike and all efforts have been made to ensure patients’ safety on that day.

CIA black sites: offshore interrogation centres and an increasingly aggressive CIA

With details of the newly published report by the US Senate coming out, this 4 year investigation is shining light on some of the questionable interrogation techniques and the medical staff involved in the “safe keeping” of the detainees of the US Government.

Whilst much of the attention has been focused on the legality and usefulness of the interrogation techniques, many within the medical community have expressed concerns over the role of medical personnel in these interrogation sites.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are a Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation that investigate and help uncover abuses around the world. They have called for an in depth investigation into the role played by the medical staff employed within the various US governmental departments that use interrogative techniques.

In the original version of the Hippocratic Oath physicians swore to work at the “convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood”. Whilst the Hippocratic Oath is not legally binding, it is a guide and ethical convention that most physicians consider extremely important. This empathetic and caring responsibility seems not to sit well with the roles played by physicians in the CIA ‘black sites’ or even in Guantanamo Bay. This role is quite simple; ensure that the detainee does not die.

There have been several key personalities that have come to light as a result of the investigation, James Elmer Mitchell being one. Mitchell is a former US Air Force psychologist, where he trained interrogators in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. Along with former USAF psychologist Bruce Jessum, he was paid a reported $80 million to design and implement an interrogation programme aimed at detained suspected terrorists.

From what has been leaked of the report so far, it seems that physical and mental harm are not necessarily negatively viewed. Reports of 180 hours of sleep deprivation and hours of stress positions involving standing on broken or damaged lower limbs are emerging.

Dr Mitchell has been reported as saying: “I am just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Appealing to patriotism is a popular move in avoidance tactics, but with the amount of noise coming from the medical community, this looks to be an issue that won’t blow over quickly.

World Hunger: Crisis and a plan of action

According to UN food and agriculture agencies, the number of hungry people in the world has fallen over the past decade. However, the number still stands at 805 million, a figure representing one ninth of the global population.

Some countries have been able to improve their domestic figures, but the number of undernourished people is a still a problem that needs urgent international attention.

Crisis

The fight against world hunger in 2014 has had numerous setbacks. For instance, the Ebola virus has taken its toll on food supplies reaching the affected countries.

Elsewhere, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic have increased hunger in those countries; with the need for aid clear to see.

Plan of action

Solving the issue of world hunger is not just in the interests of those affected, but is also good for the rest of the world. When a country is suffering from hunger throughout its people, this can cause a basic lack of productivity.

Economically, this hinders trading opportunities, costs millions of dollars and is eventually leads to even worse poverty. The desperation caused by such situations can lead to conflict, an issue, which can cost intervening parties millions of their own.

Looking after our own

However, it is not merely out of self-interest that it is important to try and fight world hunger. Humankind must learn to protect each other from all harm. Is world hunger an issue you want on your conscience? Or do you want to beat it?

We can help

There is no straightforward solution to combating this issue, every suffering country has troubles to contend with, and privileged nations must be willing to help.

Countries affected by disease must receive more medical attention. Only by getting the healthy back on their feet can the fight against hunger begin.

Development

In underdeveloped countries, where there is not enough food to go around, aid packages are a necessity; it is also important to promote sustainability.

We must make sure that people are taught how to gather their own food and treat their sick, so they can survive once the aid packages cease to arrive.

Finally, governments must learn to stand up to those who oppress their people. The issue of countries with economic wealth, yet a huge divide between rich and poor, need to be addressed. There is no reason for millions of people to be starving every day.

Stem cell breakthrough for Parkinson’s disease

Swedish scientists from Lund University have found that stem cell treatment can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease. The disease, which affects body control and movement, is caused by loss of nerve cells which control the chemical dopamine – essential for these cognitive functions. Parkinson’s UK have come out to say that the research is at a very early stage, but the news is a welcome breakthrough for advocates of stem cell research.

Ethical dilemma
One of the reasons that stem cell research is only now becoming a viable research technique is the ethical issues which have surrounded it for so many years. Up until 2007, stem cell research used tissue from aborted embryos to obtain material to study. This obviously posed an ethical dilemma as it involved obtaining aborted foetuses for scientific use, a process which caused significant outrage. Thankfully, in the last 7 years stem cell researchers have started using a new technique called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). This method allows scientists to obtain the cells they need, without the need for an aborted embryo, placating many critics.

Playing God
The other issues that surround stem cell research surround all types of health research: should we be playing God? What will the information be used for? Divisive as it is, research into terminal diseases has helped save thousands of people and we probably can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that stem cells offer.

Clones
The second concern is that in the future scientists will use the aforementioned iPS technique to create human clones, and at the rate research is progressing this concern could become reality. Can we trust scientists to act morally? Would cloning necessarily be a bad thing?

Present versus future
These questions are difficult to answer, since they concern something that is not yet possible. However, it must be said that because stem cell research has the potential to save thousands of lives scientists have a duty to continue. This new Parkinson’s breakthrough is only the beginning and it is hard to argue against a form of research which can be so medically productive. When it does happen, we will have to ask ourselves if we can ethically justify the scientific creation of human life. The issue of clones is something that will need to be confronted when the time comes, but for the moment it is not the primary function of stem cell research.

Climate change: an urgent need to act

Climate change has become a global issue and residents of countries across the world are beginning to stand up and voice their opinions on perceived lack of action. The constant back and forth between world superpowers over the issue turned it in to a problem that many governments are too willing to place far down their list of priorities.

The problem
Global warming is happening because carbon dioxide and other gases produced by humans are collecting in the atmosphere, causing the world to slowly heat up. The effects of the problem are already beginning to show, with world temperatures rising in the past 50 years at the quickest rates ever recorded. Issues caused by the problem are likely to affect our water resources, agricultural capabilities, energy supplies, transportation and ecosystems.

Protests
On the 21st of September 2014, in over 200 locations worldwide, thousands of people came out to protest at lack of global action, with a 310,000 strong rally in New York attended by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. These demonstrations wanted countries to cut carbon emissions, but the question is did any world leaders take notice? Will they make a change?

World leaders
Next year the United Nations will meet in Paris to discuss a plan for a global agreement on climate change. For the first time in 20 years it is expected that countries, including the worst offenders for carbon emissions, will make a binding legal agreement on how to make a change.

The problem that is expected to happen at the conference is that superpowers such as the USA, India and Russia will make unreasonable demands for emissions allowances. In preparation for this, Mr Moon tried to organise an informal discussion on the 26 September 2014, but many world leaders failed to attend. Are countries not taking the issue seriously enough? What are the best solutions to the problem? Will the Paris conference make a difference?

Taking action
In the end, it is in the hands of the people of the world to make sure their governments are taking it seriously. For instance, in the UK, voters must make sure that a dedication to climate change is in the winning party’s manifesto at the 2015 general election.

Climate change is not an impossible problem, there are technologies being developed all the time which will harness natural resources to create energy. Wind farming, solar power and hydroelectricity are underused; it is a global dedication to change which is needed to move away from fossil fuels.

Whether or not the Paris conference has a positive outcome, or leaves the worst culprits of carbon emission in a position to continue poisoning the earth remains to be seen.

Ebola death toll: are we doing enough?

Since March this year, over 3500 people in western Africa have been affected by the Ebola virus, with over 1,800 people suffering fatalities. The virus, which is contagious, has affected the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in this most recent outbreak.

Discovered in 1976, the causes for Ebola are not clearly defined, but are said to involve contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids. Amongst humans, the disease is spread by bodily fluids and secretions – and because there is no vaccine, measures must be taken to slow contagion.

What more can we do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), £360m is the very least needed to combat the current outbreak. They have warned that up to 20,000 people could be infected before the virus is brought under control.

Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF), the international medical aid group, has stated that the global response to the crisis has been inadequate and that military intervention is necessary in the fight against Ebola. MSF believe that the only way to bring the outbreak under control is for military and civilian teams capable of dealing with a biological disaster to be immediately deployed.

These calls have been heeded by the French, who have sent 20 experts to the infected area – the UK must follow suit.  Although the foreign office has already donated well over £3m to the relief effort, more expertise and personnel is needed in the region.

Will there ever be a cure?

Ebola outbreaks have been sporadically appearing across Africa for over 35 years, yet the search for a vaccine is still ongoing. New medical research has uncovered possible ideas for trials, but there is no answer yet.

How can we stop the death toll?

If Western powers join together to provided financial aid and personnel then the death toll will slowly decrease. As the disease is not spread by regular everyday contact (such as shaking hands), in theory it is relatively simple to slow the transmission of the disease. This has not proved to be the case, primarily because the people in the region are afraid and do not know the correct preventative measures. These residents should be educated in how to stop the spread of the disease.

World superpowers should be investing their resources in Western Africa, because there is no telling how far the virus could spread. The region needs to be able to both treat and educate its people, and they cannot do it on their own.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.