Is this any way to fight an epidemic? The Zika virus, which if contracted during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect of the brain, has been reported in at least 45 states, including Connecticut. There is no treatment for the infection, neither in patients who are pregnant and those who aren’t—though work continues on a vaccine. Of course, that work could go more quickly if there was adequate funding. Federal officials have known about the seriousness of the Zika virus for more than a year, yet important funding has been tied up in the worst kind of Washington impasse.
By 1900, there had already been some three-dozen deaths by motor vehicles. This was at a time when the top speed of the Columbia, made by Hartford-based Pope Manufacturing, was 13 miles an hour. Cars got faster, and ubiquitous. Just a half century later, the number of motor vehicle deaths had reached epidemic proportions, 53,000 and rising. All along, safety features were being added, from turn signals in the ‘20s to padded dashboards in the ‘40s.
Officials at St. Mary’s Hospital and Waterbury Hospital began negotiations in 2011 to merge and join a Texas-owned company. But the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women—with MergerWatch, a hospital watchdog group—successfully argued against the merger by making the case that since the new hospital would honor Catholic religious directives, a significant portion of patients would be left vulnerable—because God help you if you are a woman and need emergency reproductive services at a Roman Catholic hospital. Medical professionals at Catholic-owned or -sponsored hospitals operate under directives—known officially as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. These directives come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and take 43 pages (plus footnotes) to describe what constitutes appropriate Catholic health care.
The incidence of suicide in nearly all age groups has increased by 24 percent since 1999—and by 200 percent among girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Theories behind such astounding unprecedented increases, reported recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vary. Some research says that among older Americans, the recent recession may have played a part, though the correlation is not a simple one. As for why so many more young girls are killing themselves, the answers there, too, are complicated. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 showed the greatest rise in suicide of any age group since 1999, from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1.5 per 100,000 in 2014, according to last month’s CDC report.
Several times every month, protesters come to the New Haven Planned Parenthood of Southern New England office to hold signs and pray the rosary. Planned Parenthood serves about 64,000 Connecticut patients a year, though according to a recent annual report, abortions are only about six percent of its services. Most of the services revolve around providing contraceptive services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration eased restrictions on the so-called abortion pill, also known as RU-486. The new rules allow women to use the drug later in their pregnancies with less visits to the doctor.
For more than 20 years, the Citadel of Love, a Pentecostal church, has anchored one of Hartford’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods in the city’s North End. In its outreach ministries, the church offers clothing giveaways and free meals. Under the leadership of Pastor Marichal Monts, a Hartford native who grew up just down the street, a church committee met recently to discuss some of the flock’s health challenges. Many of the members come from the area, where the U.S. Census says the median household income is just $20,434. (Compare that to the state’s median household income that hovers around $70,000.)
High on the list of health challenges discussed by the leaders was Type 2 diabetes, which was once called adult-onset diabetes.
As we open the book on 2016, here are a few things to watch for in the field of women’s health and well-being. In no particular order, from the Office of Healthcare Prognostication—a department I just made up—comes these predictions for the new year:
1 • The use of mobile health apps, or so-called “health wearables,” will increase, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s 10th annual survey on fitness trends. Already, the adoption of smartphone health apps has doubled in the last two years, from 16 percent in 2013 to 32 percent of consumers saying they have at least one health app on their mobile device. 2 • Beyond measuring one’s fitness, health care in general will begin a “shift into the palms of consumers’ hands,” according to PwC’s 2015 Health Research Institute’s annual report. It’s happening already in primary care and the management of some chronic diseases, though programs such as Omada Health’s online program called Prevent are pushing into fields such as behavior modification.
About 650 U.S. women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth, or shortly after giving birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Compared to other countries – and not just newly developing ones – that figure is abysmal. In fact, according to a new study from the World Health Organization and others, the U.S. is one of just 13 countries where the maternal mortality rate has actually risen between 1990 and 2013. Other countries on that list include North Korea and Zimbabwe. The gross domestic product of Zimbabwe is $13.5 billion.
For all of recorded history, the contraceptive of choice for men—short of sterilization, withdrawal or abstinence—has been the condom. How ubiquitous are condoms? The federal government says 18 billion condoms will be used worldwide this year alone. They’re sold in latex, lambskin (good for pregnancy prevention, not good for prevention of STDs or HIV), and ribbed with something called “tattoo-inspired textures.”
The choices are dizzying, but only within an extremely small field that involves placing an expandable sheath over an erect penis. Not a single new form of male contraceptives has been introduced on the market in this century—or the last.
When the American Cancer Society announced new guidelines for mammograms a week ago, the response on the organization’s Facebook page was swift. “For adoptees, this just adds 5 more years of potential unknowing,” wrote Angela from Connecticut. “Without a medical history, we are denied mammograms through insurance carriers.”
And then Dr. Henry Jacobs, a Hartford area longtime OB-GYN who, among other duties, serves as the Connecticut State Medical Society president, took to Facebook, too, and posted a message that summarized the general rage: “It is clear that rationing care is the new sales pitch and sacrificing women that could live out their lives is considered acceptable. I think it is UNCONSCIONABLE!!!!!!! We can afford athletes, entertainers, CEOs, hedge fund scammers that make upwards of a 100 million $$$$$ a year, but we can’t provide decent medical care to people???