The Violent Conflict in Sudan

Michael Omidi discusses the violence in Sudan, and the toll it has taken on the thousands of refugees who are now living a dangerous existence in undersupplied refugee camps. 

For the past 10 years, Sudan has experienced violent internal conflict over rights to oil reserves and gold mines, and even the rights of non-Arab citizens, many of whom – it has been alleged – have been captured and sold into slavery by Arab militias as far back as the early 1990s. There had been an inkling of hope that a resolution could be achieved recently, as thousands of displaced Sudanese who had been languishing in refugee camps began to stream back into the townships in order to reassume their lives. However, there has been a spike in fighting within the past few months, and now hundreds of thousands of Sudanese find themselves shunted into overburdened refugee camps with nothing but the meager provisions they managed to salvage after being ejected from their homes by government-sponsored militias.[1]

The camps are speckled with refugees that have occupied them for so long that they have erected semi-permanent dwellings. The aid is stretched so thin that the refugees are not guaranteed access to even clean water. Foraging is incredibly dangerous; women who venture out for fire wood or provisions are all too frequently assaulted and raped. Medical care is sparse at best; diseases ravage the camps, and with little food or clean water, the residents do not have the physical stamina to withstand the bacterial onslaught.

The amount of humanitarian aid has diminished significantly, as the conflicts in Syria have overtaken the strife in Darfur in the headlines, and United Nations representatives acknowledge a degree of “donor fatigue.”  Many camp residents have languished in their makeshift living spaces for nearly the length of the conflict.

The situation in Darfur, as it is in much of Sudan and South Sudan, is dire. There are new rebel groups sprouting up all the time, contributing to the violent unrest. The exact number of people who were killed in the decade-plus long conflict isn’t exactly known; the United Nations estimates the death toll at several hundred thousand, while the Sudanese government insists that it is closer to 10,000.

The United Nations and the local humanitarian officials are pleading for additional funding. The situation is exceptionally difficult for women, who, in addition to suffering from the expected hardships of living in an impoverished camp with no amenities, are often victims of sexual assault and extreme violence. It is critically important to continue offering assistance to the refugees and all those who have suffered as a result from this violence, and we at No More Poverty hope with all our hearts that the world will step up and help the thousands of people who so desperately need it.

[1] Kushkusk, Isma’il: New Strife in Darfur Leaves Many Seeking Refuge 5/23/2013 New York Times


Idaho Announces Improved Oversight On Compounding Pharmacies

Nearly nine months after the public became aware of the outbreak of fungal meningitis among patients who had received epidural injections from a contaminated batch of steroids, the State of Idaho has announced that it will attempt greater oversight of compounding pharmacies within its state.

The outbreak of fungal meningitis last fall has caused many lawmakers to re-evaluate their regulations (or lack thereof) over compounding pharmacy practices. The state of Idaho, as a result, has taken measures to create laws and procedures for the compounding pharmacies operating within its state. [1]

Idaho did not report any deaths from the meningitis outbreak, but even before the tainted steroids were identified as the culprit, there were plans underway to establish some measures regarding compounding pharmacy practices. The reports of illnesses and death due to the fungal meningitis infections spurred the lawmakers into action.

The federal government is also trying to establish national guidelines for compounding pharmacies. At the time of the outbreak, there was no real federal oversight over compounding pharmacy operations. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration could inspect compounding facilities, but it was very difficult to enforce any kind of penalties for procedural infractions, since all authority lay at the state and local levels. However, states were often so overburdened that they simply didn’t have the resources to inspect and police compounding pharmacy practices. It was just these series of loopholes that allowed the tainted batch of steroids that caused the meningitis outbreak to be released to the public.

However, even though it was up to the individual states to regulate compounding pharmacies, Idaho didn’t have any rules in place at all. Now that it has become clear that the compounding industry, historically, hasn’t done an adequate job policing itself, oversight over the individual centers has become necessary.

The new regulations haven’t become law, but according to MedCity News, the Idaho Pharmacy Board will begin taking public comment starting in August 2013.

Many conscientious pharmacies are beginning, of their own initiative, to take measures regarding certification. Custom Rx, a small pharmacy in Treasure Valley, Idaho, has taken it upon itself to seek certification from the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board. Accreditation is yet not legally required for a pharmacy to compound medications, even though it is an extremely delicate procedure, and often similar to the actual manufacture of drugs.

The fungal meningitis outbreak is not yet entirely contained, in the sense that there are still new cases being diagnosed, albeit considerably fewer than there were in the fall of 2012. Fungal meningitis can lay dormant for months before becoming evident or symptomatic. As of July 1, 2013, the death toll from fungal meningitis is 61, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The count will be updated August 5, 2013.

[1] Dutton, Audrey: After 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, rules change in Idaho for compounding pharmacies 7/9/2013 MedCity News

Compounding Pharmacy

Mediterranean Diet May Have Benefits on Brain Health

Can the health of the brain be affected by what we eat? Researchers from the University of Athens believe they have uncovered evidence that the Mediterranean diet can help reduce the likelihood of dementia by nearly 20 percent.

Not only is the Mediterranean diet excellent for cardiovascular health and the prevention of obesity and type 2 Diabetes, new research has indicated that it also seems to be beneficial to the health of the brain. [1]

In a study conducted on more than 17,000 participants over the age of 45, the subjects were ranked on their adherence to the Mediterranean diet, made to fill out periodic questionnaires and also tested for mental function. After four years, approximately 1,200 subjects experienced cognitive impairment. However, the subjects with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet were determined to be nearly 20 percent less likely to experience similar cognitive deterioration. The study was published in the medical journal Neurology.

The population with type 2 diabetes — about 2,900 subjects — didn’t experience any difference in cognitive deterioration, even when adherence to the Mediterranean diet was factored, however. It isn’t clear why there seemed to be no effect upon this group.

Although this study provides some interesting insight, the results of observational studies are often difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate. Clearly, clinical research is needed to substantiate the theories posited by the study authors. While the question of the Mediterranean diet affecting the possibility of suffering from mental decline is tenuous, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the body to follow the diet’s guidelines.

The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, with minimal red meat and dairy, and no sweets or processed carbohydrates. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study which determined that adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of death from heart disease in people at high risk for heart attack by 30 percent.  The results of the study were so startling that the medical researchers terminated it early because they felt it would be medically irresponsible to encourage the test group not on the Mediterranean diet to continue to deprive themselves of the benefits after the results had been so clearly indicated. [2]

By Michael Omidi

Mediterranean Diet and Brain Health

[1] Bakalar, Nicholas: The Mediterranean Diet’s Benefits New York Times 4/30/2013

[2] Kolata, Gina: Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke New York Times 2/25/2013

Outbreak of Tuberculosis in Australia

A strain of drug resistant tuberculosis is being recorded in different border regions around the world, and most recently in Australia, where neighboring Papua New Guinea is suffering a massive outbreak. Michael Omidi discusses the recent tuberculosis fatality in Australia – the first drug resistant tuberculosis fatality ever in Australia – as well as the outbreak among the homeless in Los Angeles. 

An extremely dangerous form of tuberculosis has reached Australia, and caused its first fatality.[1]

A woman who visited Australia on a tourist visa in 2012 became ill with the strain of tuberculosis and was subsequently isolated by health officials until her recent death.

The strain is almost entirely drug resistant, and although it has swept the islands of Papua, New Guinea, this recent case is the first extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) fatality to be seen in Australia.

The Papua New Guinea health service has been overrun by cases of tuberculosis; so much so that tuberculosis patients cannot be quarantined, and other patients mix with them, potentially spreading the infection.

The treatments for XDR-TB are aggressive, expensive and uncertain.  Australian health officials are not yet certain how to respond to this potential medical threat.

In the United States, a resistant tuberculosis strain has been found in the Downtown area of Los Angeles, in what is commonly known as the Skid Row district among the large homeless population.  Because many of the homeless are mentally incapable of recognizing symptoms or having themselves tested, it has been difficult to identify the carriers and subsequently administer treatment.  The homeless are especially vulnerable due to their mental and emotional disorders, their living conditions and their compromised immune systems due to substance abuse or existing diseases.  The aid workers are also susceptible, as are their families.[2]

Tuberculosis has been a major killer in the United States and Europe for centuries, up until approximately the middle of the twentieth century, when advanced medical treatments managed to nearly eradicate the disease in the developed western world.  However, it still lingers in under developed nations, and pockets of drug resistant strains of tuberculosis do tend to pop up in border regions such as the areas between the U.S. and Mexico, and Russia and Finland.

Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs (pulmonary), but it can attack the spine, the lymphatic system and even the skin (extrapulmonary).  The early symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis are similar to the common cold; patients experience coughing, chest pains, fever, chills and fatigue.  As it progresses the cough may become deeper, blood will be produced and the patient will experience significant weight loss.

The Australian patient was 20 year old Catherina Abraham, and she spent nearly a year in isolation before finally succumbing to the disease on March 8th.  Her treatment was said to have cost $500,000 AUD, and would have totaled more than $1 million had she lived.  Australian health officials believe that there could be an outbreak of XDR-TB in Australia within the next five years.  There have been only two recorded cases of XDR-TB in Australia in the past 8 years.

By Michael Omidi
Tuberculosis in Australia

[1] McNeil, Donald: Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Knocks at Australia’s Door New York Times 3/25/2013

[2] Kirby, Tony: Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Hovers Threateningly at Australia’s Door the Medical Journal of Australia

Will Energy Drinks Encounter Regulation

Even though adults do occasionally feel the need to consume a caffeinated beverage as a pick-me-up, is it a good idea for growing children to do the same? Dr. Michael Omidi looks at the push to make energy drink manufacturers cap the amount of caffeine in their products and cease marketing their drinks to children.

Energy drinks have become extremely common on the teenage landscape. Even though the amount of caffeine a child should drink is considerably less than what an adult can safely consume, energy drinks are typically marketed to the teenage demographic, and it isn’t unusual for a high school aged child to drink several large-sized energy drinks per day.

Recently, a team of 18 physicians, public health officials, and researchers wrote a letter to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, formally asking the body to force manufacturers of energy drinks to limit the caffeine content and disclose the amount on their product labels in order to protect children from the adverse affects of the over-consumption of caffeine. Dennis J. Herrera, the San Francisco city attorney who is currently investigating the energy beverage industry, also sent such a letter to the FDA regarding the caffeine content of energy drinks.[1]

The group stated that energy drink manufacturers had failed to provide sufficient data demonstrating that the drinks were safe for children and teenagers.

The manufacturers of energy drinks have long held that the energizing components of energy drinks were not necessarily caffeine, but a combination of herbal supplements held to increase energy. They have furthermore stated that the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is roughly the same as other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola.

The health officials’ concerns were sparked by the significant uptick in emergency room visits by teenagers who claim that the consumption of an energy beverage was the factor in their medical distress. The number of emergency room visits in 2011 wherein energy drinks were disclosed as the causal element increased by 50 percent since 2007. 

Monster Beverage, the manufacturer of the energy drink that was cited in a lawsuit as being the cause of the death of a 14 year old girl, plans to re-market its product as a beverage rather than a dietary supplement, a move that could exempt it from disclosing reports to federal regulatory boards about deaths and illnesses that were linked to the drink. Nonetheless, as a beverage, Monster Energy Drink will have to undergo more stringent manufacturing regulations that it did as a dietary supplement.[2]

Monster Beverage, the largest manufacturer of energy drinks in the United States, has also threatened to sue the author of an elementary school newsletter for stating that energy drinks were the cause of the deaths of children, and that kids should never drink them.  The author, nutritionist Deborah Kennedy, has stated that she was referring to sugary, caffeinated drinks in general, and that Monster Energy Drinks were never mentioned.

By Dr. Michael Omidi


[1] Meier, Barry: Doctors Urge FDA to Restrict Caffeine in Energy Drinks New York Times 3/19/2013

[2] Meier, Barry: In a New Aisle, Energy Drinks Sidestep Some Rules New York Times 3/20/2013

The Quantified Self and Its Potential Benefits

The Quantified Self is a trend that involves thorough tracking of health metrics in real time. Michael Omidi looks at whether this poses any benefits to overall health or if it is an extension of obsession. 

Personal monitoring devices have come a long way from the simple pedometer that people used to track how many steps they took in a day. Medical monitoring devices have gone from large, clunky objects only available in medical offices to accessories that can be worn and paired with any outfit. This has been leading to the trend of the Quantified Self, and measuring all of your health metrics in real time. 

Medical data such as sensors that track physiological information ranging from heat flux to the electrical conductivity and temperature of your skin to motion can all be collected by personal devices. These inventions pose an important question, however: Now that we have all of this data, what are we supposed to do with it?

At South By Southwest experts and designers have attempted to answer this question. In the case of BodyMedia, for example, their wearable body monitoring-systems collect data, with users uploading that data online where it is analyzed using the parameters the users pre-set. The eventual goal is to make monitoring these changes intuitive and easy for consumers. 

As they currently exist, consumers are gaining more benefits not from the devices themselves but from the online communities that are associated with them, which allow them to gain encouragement and incite through sharing their metrics with others. 

Whether or not people actually want this amount of data is currently up for debate, a studies suggest that too much data may be more intimidating than encouraging; studies conducted among those attempting to lose weight found that people were often overwhelmed by the task of calorie counting and calculating, leading dieters to lose interest in losing weight all together. 

Ideally, these new devices and the software that they are associated with could help those suffering from diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, and other types of chronic diseases monitor important metrics, but they rely on the response of the public to truly be effective. Only time will tell if people want an influx in health data and if they will truly utilize it. 

By Michael Omidi


Michael Omidi on Acts of Civic Duty in February

Michael Omidi discusses instances of individuals performing their civic duty by doing good deeds in their communities.

The goal of our new organization Civic Duty is to highlight some of the people out in the world that are performing good deeds, something that is not highlighted enough in the media. Here are a few acts of kindness that have been demonstrated this week.

Homeless Man Returns Diamond Ring

A homeless man in Kansas City returned a diamond engagement ring to a local woman who had accidentally lost it when giving the man change on the street.

Sarah Darling, who had put her rings into her coin purse after they had been bothering her all day, emptied the aforementioned coin purse into the cup of homeless man Billy Ray Harris only to discover the next day that her rings had gone with the change. Harris held onto the ring and returned it to Darling after she had returned for it, stating later to a local news station that, “My grandfather was a reverend. He raised me from the time I was 6 months old and thank the good Lord, it’s a blessing, but I do still have some character.”

Darling rewarded the man for returning the ring with all of the bills she had in her wallet.

Waiter Michael Garcia Gives Donations Away

In January waiter Michael Garcia refused to serve a family after they made derogatory and offensive comments about a young child with Down Syndrome. This act gained the waiter national attention and he also received monetary donations from individuals.

Garcia has decided that instead of keeping the $1,000 that was donated to him for his efforts, it could be better used to donate to the school of the young boy with Down Syndrome, Milo Castillo, that he defended. The money will be given to the Rise School of Houston for a scholarship fund.

By Michael Omidi

Homeless Man Returns Diamond Ring