Monday, February 16, 2015

No, I Don't Think So

According to a recent article in Maclean's magazine:

When a group of doctors and professors from Nova Scotia took a trip to Cuba in 2006 to study how the country managed infectious diseases, they were struck by how knowledgeable the average person was about vaccines, and decided to conduct an informal experiment: Quiz random passersby on the streets of Havana about their basic knowledge of their country’s vaccine safety program (the process by which vaccines are created and made safe) and their personal immunization records.

“Without fail, everyone knew exactly what immunizations they already had, the scientific evidence behind them, and at what ages they needed to be updated,” says John Kirk, professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Dalhousie University, whose research focuses on Cuba’s health care system. “I certainly don’t know my own vaccine history off-hand.” The research team also asked the Cubans their opinion on anti-vaccine movements in countries such as Canada and the U.S. “They were dumbfounded. They thought we were joking,” Kirk recalls. “I guarantee you won’t meet a single person there who has doubted vaccines for a moment. For Cubans, vaccines aren’t only seen as a basic human right, but also as an obligation.”

Upon their return, Kirk and his colleagues wrote an article for the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases, in which they conclude Canada can learn a great deal from the Cuban approaches to vaccinations and health care.

This is according to... the Cubans.

In 2010, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, praised North Korea's health-care system following her official visit to this totalitarian and rogue nuclear-armed police state. ...

Also from the VOA story, apparently "Dr. Chan says the [North Korean] government has done a good job in areas such as immunization coverage, effective implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions, in providing effective tuberculosis treatment and in successfully reducing malaria cases." Another quote of concern by Chan following her trip: "'Based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have something that most other developing countries would envy,' [the head of the UN's health agency] told journalists, despite reports of renewed famine in parts of the country."

I was at a hotel on the edge of Kyongsong when I jolted awake with the worst stomach cramp I'd ever experienced. Next came the chills, so numbing I threw on my thickest jacket, a sweater, and two more shirts under that. It was almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Severe headaches followed and then diarrhea that wouldn't stop.

I was rushed to the regional capital of Chongjin, about half an hour away by car, where I was ushered by several people into a small room at the back of a place called the Seamen’s Bar, which, yes, serves as both bar and medical facility. Forced to lie down, I was hooked up to an IV tube. Needles have always terrified me, but I was even more frightened because I didn’t know what was happening. Eventually, the swarm of doctors and nurses left me alone with a single nurse, who kneaded my sweaty forehead. Somehow I fell asleep. ...

Though the diarrhea would last for a few more days, I would not need another IV treatment. I was out of North Korea three days later, flying from Yanji, China to Beijing before continuing on to Berlin. Once back home, I visited a doctor to see if I needed any follow-up treatment. I had heard the word “dysentery” repeatedly while I was sick in North Korea. The doctor said though it was possible that was what I had been afflicted with, since I was retaining fluids again, I did not require follow-up treatment.

And has difficulty handling outbreaks:

The World Health Organization says it won't explain details contained in an internal document obtained by The Associated Press in which the U.N. health agency said it fumbled early attempts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

So when one touts the efficiency of the Cuban system and I see things like this:

Researchers said an aggressive HIV strain in Cuba progresses into AIDS so fast that treatment with antiretroviral drugs may come too late.

I tend to be skeptical.

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