PSAs Two Ways: Zika Virus

 

I saw this bus-shelter PSA about the Zika virus recently and thought it was interesting for a couple reasons.

  1. It’s an ad about the sexual transmission of Zika, but does not mention actual sexual transmission.
  2. There are kind of a lot of instructions  (1. Love your partner. 2. Wait to get pregnant. 3. If pregnant, use condoms to protect the baby. 4. Prevent Zika) and without knowledge that Zika can be transmitted sexually, it may seem kind of confusing.

There might be some rules about what can and cannot be said in public-space ads like bus shelters, but the coyness of this particular PSA in avoiding saying the words sexually transmitted seems maybe a little too coy.

A few days later, I saw a targeted ad on Facebook from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health with a slighty different picture and different text. The link makes it clear that it is about the sexual transmission of Zika and the 2 sentence caption is clear and informative.

The exact wording here and the sentence format may not work for a large bus shelter ad, but it seems much more direct and easy to follow than the bus shelter ad.

 

Racism is a Public Health Issue

“Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call “race”, that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.” —APHA Past President Camara Jones, MD, PhD, MPH

The news out of Charlottesville this weekend is sickening. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how racism impacts individual and societal health. Experiencing racism is stressful, and stress impacts health. In a 2013 article in the Atlantic, the impact of racial discrimination on health is described thusly:

Discrimination has been shown to increase the risk of stress, depression, the common cold, hypertensioncardiovascular diseasebreast cancer, and mortality. Recently, two journals — The American Journal of Public Health and The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — dedicated entire issues to the subject. These collections push us to consider how discrimination becomes what social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger, one of the field’s leaders, terms “embodied inequality.”

Embodied inequality. When you examine health outcomes by race, it is really striking how far-reaching the divide goes, from infant mortality rates, to life expectancy, and disease rates. Then there are the psychological impacts of dealing with racism. Trauma has devastating impacts on physiological health. On top of that, medical professionals have exploited racial minorities for centuries, from slavery to eugenics to medical experiments to discrimination in medical practices. These gross racist, exploitative practices have happened and continue to happen, and I recommend that anyone who is interested in the history of racial discrimination in healthcare read Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington.

I’ve linked a bunch of articles in this post, and it’s all good reading, but I’d urge anyone who is interested in public health to consider anti-racist work as an integral part of improving society-level health outcomes. It is not and should not be the responsibility of Black people, or Latinx or any other racial and ethnic minorities to “fix the racial divide.” Racism is perpetuated by systems and the white people who benefit from them, even when they do not individually work to maintain them. It is all our responsibility to dismantle racism and the toxic effects it has on society.

How can we support anti-racism? There are many organizations that are in need of donations, like the Charlottesville Solidarity Legal Fund, which fights white supremacy in Charlottesville, VA.  We can also have conversations with our friends and family to challenge racist assumptions, attend protests and physically show up for anti-racist events. I think particularly for white people, it is important to listen and educate ourselves as much as possible. Read and watch media created by people of color. When you feel like your own beliefs are being challenged, listen and wait. Really listen. It’s uncomfortable and hard to think about our own biases, but it’s not more uncomfortable or hard than receiving racist treatment and dealing with racist systems every day. Our society is better when everyone has access to the things they need to live healthy and stress-free lives, and it’s essential that we treat racism like the public health issue it is.

 

Links Roundup: Opioid Addiction

Opioid abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States, and frequently makes headlines. I think it’s particularly hard to get nuanced stories about the opioid epidemic because drug use is highly stigmatized and many journalists, even sympathetic ones, frequently write stories pumped with *shocking* details and descriptions, which is less humanizing than what they’re probably hoping for.

That said, it is a significant issue, and one that is tied to the over-prescription of opioid painkillers. Prescriptions are down since 2010, but even short-term prescriptions for opioid painkillers increase one’s risk of developing an addiction. In 2015, drug overdose was the “leading cause of accidental death in the United States,” with 38% of those drug overdose deaths from prescription pain killers and 25% from heroin.

I find reading stories about the opioid crisis, especially in my home city of Philadelphia, to be particularly difficult not because of the subject matter, but because of many people’s total disdain and disgust for people who use drugs. Reading comments on the internet is always a (mentally) dangerous endeavor, but people are particularly cruel about drug addiction, and this simply does nothing to help the crisis.

The above video from Vox is a really helpful primer on one of the reasons why heroin deaths are spiking, but I also read 2 articles this week that I thought offered some really important, nuanced perspectives on what the lives of opioid drug-using women are like:

Sex Workers and Drug Users Speak Out in Philadelphia – The Fix

Establishing a sense of empowerment and community is crucial – even lifesaving –for sex workers, said Amanda Spitfire and Aisha Mohammed, Project SAFE volunteers and the evening’s organizers.

“A lot of the stories were really painful, involved a lot of pain and sadness and hardship and difficulty, and I think that that’s really important to recognize that that’s a part of it, too,” Mohammed said after the event. “But that’s not a reason to abolish the sex industry altogether. Those are the reasons to make it safer – to make conditions safer and better and more lucrative for people who are doing it.”

Getting An Abortion In Alabama Is Hard. The Opioid Crisis Is Making It Even Harder. – Huffington Post

Although the patient Parker and Johnson were talking about was from Birmingham, she was 21 weeks and 1 day pregnant, which meant her procedure would have to be a dilation and evacuation, or D&E. Parker would have to use drugs to soften her cervix to conduct the abortion procedure in order to be able to insert his instruments into her uterus and remove the fetus.

…The clinic wouldn’t be open again until the following Wednesday, by which point she would be perilously close to the 22-week cutoff. … To add to the patient’s concerns, Alabama has been aggressive about prosecuting women who use drugs while pregnant. Given the abortion restrictions in surrounding states, given the looming public holiday and given this woman’s desire not to become a mother, Parker and Johnson both knew they were her last best hope.

It’s a complicated topic, but I hope that when readings articles about opioid addiction that you look for articles that present facts in a neutral tone and with respect for the people they’re interviewing.