The Boston Globe published a letter-to-the-editor written by HUGHF members Hannah Smati '18 and Anthony Zhong '21 that urges President Trump to back up his public health emergency declaration for the opioid epidemic with federal action. Read the letter here.
As part of our study of the opioid epidemic, HUGHF viewed the 2013 documentary The Hungry Heart. The Bess O'Brien film explores the impact of the opioid epidemic on the small town of St. Albans, Vt., and tells the story of one physician's efforts to give addiction treatment to patients in need. Here are some reactions from members of our group:
"The film transformed the opioid epidemic form an issue that seemed distant and hard to fully understand to one that felt close to home -- addiction to opioids is a disease that can affect anyone. I was extremely encouraged by how many people really want to fight their addiction and seek help, but shocked to learn that many cannot find an available doctor or center to go to." - Caroline Diggins '20
"I found the documentary to be both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Though addiction is often stigmatized, the film made it clear that addiction is a disease, not a flaw or weakness in character, and that addicts should be treated with respect as any other patient. It was also surprising to see the emotional toll that the patients had on their doctor (that's a side of medicine that we don't often see) and touching to see that so many of them looked up to him as a father figure." - Anthony Zhong '21
"The documentary opened my eyes to the suffering that addiction causes addicts and their families. It is heartbreaking. I am inspired by the work of physicians like Dr. Holmes who are doing everything they can to treat their patients for this devastating disease." - Natalie Swartz '20
HUGHF is beginning the fall semester by studying the U.S. opioid crisis. We opened our conversation on the topic with a "crash course" on the epidemic at our last meeting. We discussed the startling number of lives ended too soon due to drug overdoses, which now kill more Americans yearly than car accidents and gun homicides combined. Yet even the mounting tally of drug deaths - of which there were over 50,000 in 2015 - does not capture the extent of the opioid epidemic's devastation. In 2015, 2 million Americans reported an addiction to prescription opioids while 12 million reported abusing them within the past year. The epidemic has left children without parents, treatment centers without enough beds to care for those in need, and law enforcement without the resources they need to protect and help their communities.
Over the course of the semester, we will further study how the prescription drug epidemic developed over the past 20 years, how government and health care providers should respond to the crisis, and how pain-management and drug-addiction treatment approaches vary around the world.
As the Trump administration reviews business proposals for building the president's promised border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, the Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum would like to call attention to the serious harm that the administration's insistence on closing U.S. borders and withdrawing American foreign aid will cause to global health.
The U.S. is the country best positioned to help coordinate responses to global epidemics. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015 demonstrated that U.S. aid and coordination can save hundreds of thousands of lives. In September 2014, at which point 3,700 Ebola cases had been confirmed in the region, the Centers for Disease Control predicted that the number of cases would rise to 1.4 million by January 20, 2015, if the existing trends in transmission continued without additional intervention. Spearheaded by the CDC, a bolstered U.S. response that contributed training, equipment, labs, and personnel decelerated the spread of the virus. The coordinated international response limited the spread of the disease to roughly 22,000 cases by January 14, 2015.
President Trump joined the ill-informed chorus of public figures at the time calling for an air travel ban to and from Ebola-affected countries. This demand was one of the most misleading public health claims during the epidemic. A travel ban would have created an air traffic bottleneck, preventing much-needed equipment and personnel from reaching West Africa and slowing Ebola's spread.
Trump's political agenda to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to ban travel from six Muslim countries, and to shrink the size of the State Department is indicative of a dangerous mindset that prioritizes isolation over the leadership and cooperation needed to coordinate a response to global health crises.
Did you know April is Autism Awareness month? And that Tuesday, April 2nd, was World Autism Awareness day? Organisations all over the world held various fundraisers and events to help spread the word and raise money to help fund research and support groups. “Light it up blue” is the signature campaign of Autism speaks, an organisation dedicated to finding solutions for individuals on the spectrum and their families through advocacy and support and individuals dressed head to toe in blue to do their part to raise awareness. And while the fundraising events are often high energy and fun, it is important to remember the reason for holding them, and the sobering reality of living with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is thought to affect as many as 1 in 68 children in the US. As suggested by the name, it refers to a range of conditions generally characterised by poor social skills, repetitive behaviours and speech and behavioural impairments, which are often accompanied by other medical challenges. It is most often first seen in young children who initially develop slower than average in their ability to. Their inability to interpret or show emotions conventionally often leaves them to be misunderstood but more and more research is helping us to understand how they see the world and how we can help them best.
On the high functioning end of the spectrum, individuals can manage alone or with minimal help on a day-to-day basis, although understanding social norms and interactions can be a far more daunting challenge for them. Low functioning individuals however will need constant care and monitoring. This care will usually come from their parents, which can be a big time and financial burden, especially if they are unable to find supportive schools and services. Therapy and specialised education is essential, however 50,000 teens with autism will lose their school based autism services each year as they grow to be adults. It is a lot harder to find accommodating services as adults.
Understanding of the causes and development of ASD is limited. Some individuals grow out of the disorder and significantly improve while others don’t and it is unclear why. The chances seem to be higher for those who are diagnosed early and so it is so important for people to be able to recognise the signs. In order to improve the prognosis and development of the disorder, it is imperative to further our understanding of the genetic/environmental basis through research.
And for this reason, we need to make sure we continue to fundraise and hold events to raise awareness. Every little bit counts! So tell your friends and family about autism awareness month, hold a bake sale, or even donate through the autism speaks website. Do your bit and make a difference.
For more information on ASD and how you can get involved, visit the autism speaks website at https://www.autismspeaks.org
Harvard's Undergraduate Global Health Forum (HUGHF) will host the "Global Health Challenge: Consequences of Climate Change" case study competition for high school students this Saturday. Working in groups, students will analyze a Boston-specific impact of climate change on public health and will propose a solution to a panel of judges.
HUGHF conference co-direct Do Hyun Kim '19 said he looks forward to working with high school students to address pressing challenges at the intersection between global health and climate change that affect life in Boston.
"By offering these kinds of opportunities, we're able to expose [high school students] to serious concerns our world is facing and help them understand that only with their passion and with their cooperation will our world be able to change," Kim said.
Participating students will work with collegiate HUGHF members and graduate students at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health to develop their proposals.
"We want to foster an environment where people can communicate freely between high school students, college students, and graduate students and to help prepare these high school students to make a difference in their communities," Kim said.
Students will also hear from keynote speaker and head judge Dr. Ramon Guinto, whose public advocacy work focuses on the role public health experts can play in improving planetary health.
The event will take place Sat. April 15 in Harvard Hall 201 from 9am-5:30pm. Students are encouraged to register here in advance but are also permitted to join the morning of the event. Visit our website for more information. Please email co-conference directors Do Hyun Kim '19 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Cameron Comrie '19 (email@example.com) with any questions.
Wonder what we talk about at HUGHF? Here is a peak into our discussions from this semester.
Welcome back, all! We hope you've had a great first week back at school.
We have a few events this month that we hope to see you at:
• Sun, Sep 4th from 3-4pm in Boylston Hall, Room 105: Get Involved Weekend Meeting! Drop by to welcome freshmen and play some global health trivia games. Refreshments will be served.
• Sun, Sep 18th from 8-9pm in Ticknor Lounge, Boylston Hall: First Official Meeting! Come by to meet our officers, get involved with a committee, and have a good time.
Hope to see you at these events, and welcome to all freshmen joining us!
We hope you are enjoying your winter break! We are excited to work with you and hear your ideas for the upcoming year.
As a reminder:
Please feel free to contact Melanie (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Eda (email@example.com) with any questions, suggestions, or concerns.
We look forward to seeing you on campus soon!
Melanie and Eda
2016 HUGHF Co-Presidents