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Mr Epidemiology

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Five for fighting, three to six for mumps: Controlling disease outbreaks in the NHL (Part 1)


Editorial note: This piece was co-written by Atif Kukaswadia, PhD, and Ary Maharaj, M.Ed. Atif is a writer for the Public Health Perspectives blog on the PLOS network, and Ary is a writer for Silver Seven, an SBNation blog about the Ottawa Senators hockey team. This piece is being cross-published on both platforms. Enjoy!

INTRODUCTION

When we think of places for disease outbreaks, a few examples quickly come to mind: classrooms, college dorms, crowded trains. Another suggestion? The confines of the National Hockey League, where players are surrounded by literal blood, sweat, and tears. When you watch a hockey game, you’ll routinely see players spitting, swapping saliva through the sharing of water bottles, sweating — either through playing the game, using the same towel to dry themselves off, or rubbing their sweaty glove in another player’s face during a scrum. Add to this the intense travel and training schedule, along with the close quarters players are in between games, and this means that, among other things, the NHL is a breeding grounds for illness, even rare ones that do not generally permeate the public sphere.

 

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The only way to save Obamacare is to expand it

The Affordable Care Act was a landmark piece of legislation for the United States. While most other G-20 countries already have some form of universal healthcare (either through a single payer system, or mandatory insurance coverage), the US was one of the few countries that did not have one. Arguably, however, it didn’t go far enough, and therein lies its biggest problem.

One of the key provisions in Obamacare was that insurers could not deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. This was a hugely important for those with serious or chronic illnesses, who would normally be denied coverage. For example, diabetes can cost someone approximately $7900 a year in direct medical expenses, which is a hefty sum if you don’t have insurance coverage. Obamacare mandating that these individuals, and others with similar conditions, have to be able to purchase coverage, is an excellent step forward. However, the business of insurance relies on those who enrol but do not require services subsidising those who enrol and do. In terms of healthcare, this would be low risk people paying and not using services, ensuring high-risk individuals are able to access services. As you can imagine, there is very little incentive for low risk individuals to enrol; a phenomena known as “adverse selection.”

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Basic Income: From an idea to reality

Our current way of dealing with poverty is inefficient at best, with mountains of forms, paperwork, weighed down by bureaucracy and procedures. At worst, it’s stigmatising and judgemental, keeping people in poverty rather than giving them opportunities to break free and elevate themselves out of poverty. One possible solution is providing individuals with a Basic Income (click link for my previous post on the subject).

A selling point for Basic Income is that it can save the government money. By streamlining select government services into one agency, it can reduce inefficiency. In fact, this is something that people on both sides of the political spectrum can agree on – both those who want small government and those who want the government to support our most vulnerable citizens. One example is in Ontario, where a recently published report titled “Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario” by Hugh Segal reported that a basic income guarantee would replace Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, giving everyone an income of $1320 a month, with an extra $500 for those with a disability. This would effectively replace those two programs with one larger, more comprehensive program that doesn’t require the same intensive oversight and monitoring.

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Which diseases do we get to “fight”?

About two weeks ago, the Hospital for Sick Children, also known as SickKids, launched their new ad campaign. For those who aren’t from Canada, SickKids is based in Toronto, Ontario, is the second largest children’s hospital in the world, and does some truly amazing and inspiring work. I highly recommend watching the ad, as the messaging and production quality is absolutely amazing. The imagery and symbolism is strong, and shows these children as fighters who will vanquish their foes. It shares more in common in terms of tone and imagery with NBA and NFL commercials than typical hospital advertisements.

I have mixed feelings on this ad campaign. On the one hand, it is meant to provide a strong, motivational message to children undergoing treatment, and to help raise funds for the SickKids Foundation. In this, it is wildly successful, with an ad that has been viewed almost half a million times (as of this writing), and one that has sparked lots of discussion. However, while the ad is motivational and empowering, it is not without fault.

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Perhaps there is a drug that can prolong your life. It’s called money

A wise man once said that “mo’ money, mo’ problems” (Wallace, 1997). However, despite increases in supposed problems, one of the major benefits is increased life expectancy.

New research published in JAMA last week examined how big a difference earning more money makes in life expectancy, as well as how this changes by geographic location across the United States. Researchers collected tax records from 1.4 billion individuals from 1999 to 2014 aged 40 to 76. Of these, around 4 million men died, compared to 2.7 million women (mortality rates of 596.3 and 375.1 per 100 000 respectively). They examined these data to look at what predicted life expectancy at age 40, after adjusting for race and ethnicity.

What makes New York different to other US cities? | Photo credit Kah-Wai Lin
What makes New York different to other US cities? | Photo credit Kah-Wai Lin (click for more)

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Basic Income: A radical idea for eliminating poverty

The Watson Arts Centre in Dauphin, Manitoba (photo from Wikipedia)
The Watson Arts Centre in Dauphin, Manitoba (photo from Wikipedia)

I imagine most of my readers have never heard of Dauphin, Manitoba. A small, farming community in Canada, Dauphin is a town that was part of an experiment back in the 1970s. The “mincome” project was launched in 1974, and offered everyone a minimum income. Unfortunately, the project was shut down in 1979 with a change in the government, and so the effects weren’t long term enough. The purpose of the mincome project was to see what would happen if a “top up” was offered to everyone. Dr. Evelyn Forget has been studying records from those years, and following up on people to see how it impacted their life. Would people stop working? Would there be higher rates of employment? How would people respond?

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The Zika Virus – what do you need to know?

zik-world-map_active_01-26-2016_web_2
Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission (CDC)

The more I read up on a topic, the more complicated it ends up being. As you start trying to unravel the ball of yarn, every thread leads to three more, and each of those lead to three more. The Zika virus has highlighted that in a very tangible way.

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