Saturday, April 9, 2016

Consortium of Universities for Global Health

Having been active in global health for over a decade I have witnessed and experienced many alterations of plans, and many episodes of project failure. Most have been easily attributable to single causes e.g. an individual’s incompetence, a lapsed grant, or a political coup. However, a recent collaborative failure in which I was involved was less easily explained. There could have been many reasons for the abandonment of what had been a very productive and successful partnership. This uncertainty drove me to academically investigate the theoretical basis of successful and failed collaborations.
I am presenting this review, entitled "An Exploration of Collaborative Failure", as a poster at the 7th Annual CUGH conference. It's a fairly large, intricate topic, and a poster truly doesn't do the subject justice. Therefore, I thought I would upload the essay from which my poster is derived. There will be a QR code linked from the poster itself.

Feel free to download the essay at your leisure.

Friday, February 27, 2015


China is pushing the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to place ketamine on a schedule of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

As many of you know, ketamine is the only available anesthetic in most rural areas of low resource countries, and is the anesthetic of choice in disaster relief.
Placing ketamine on any schedule will leave these populations with no alternative surgical anesthesia, and will further deepen the already severe crisis of global surgery.

For more information, please read the fact sheets here. If persuaded, please lend your personal / organizational weight to 57 major NGOs and medical associations by endorsing the work of the WHO - to do so please contact the group behind these factsheets.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Extreme Affordability Conference 2015

Rice Eccles Stadium Conference Room
© 2014 The University of Utah

Save the Date!

Extreme Affordability Conference: Collaborations for Surgical Care

Location: Rice Eccles Stadium,
Salt Lake City,

When: April 10th & 11th, 2015

Registration and Call for Abstracts will be open soon.

@UUCGS (and others) will be tweeting with #ExAff

(If you missed the talks from the 2013 conference, here they are)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Recovering one by one.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” - Isaac Asimov, "A Cult of Ignorance" 1980
Unfortunately Dr. Asimov’s assertion is as true today as it was over 30 years ago. Overcoming this committed obliviousness is a key step to addressing our cultural schisms and societal inertia.

© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0
The reasons are myriad for such steadfast blindness to all but what confirms our extant opinions. Ironically, the Internet’s ready availability of information (albeit of variable veracity) challenges viewpoints with a frequency undreamed of by Asimov. Historically, self-affirmation was enough for individuals to deny that which conflicted with their self-image of morality, adequacy and worth. In this era of the ‘global village’, cultural cognition (self-affirmation for one’s entire culture, if you will) drives a willingness to conform one’s individual beliefs to those of one’s culture. There is a growing body of literature exploring this phenomenon,  and some approaches toward increased open-mindedness may develop therein.
"A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind." - George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism", 1945
At the very least we must change the way we discuss important issues, and what we expect of our leaders. We must decrease the polarizing rhetoric of our causes, our politicians and our nations. We must stop demonizing those with whom we disagree. Such vilification merely reduces our opponents to contemptible caricatures, and their arguments to pitiable confirmations of their absurdity. It does nothing to advance our understanding of the issue at hand, nor contribute to any workable compromise.

As it stands, societal priorities are dictated by the institutions directing the discussion. We can regain control of the debate. To do so, a sociocultural shift must occur wherein ignorance is no longer valued as highly as learning. Unfortunately, education does not always lead to epiphany. Nyhan et al [1] describe the phenomenon whereby correcting a previous political misperception may lead to further solidification of false or unsubstantiated beliefs.  Is this tendency to hear only that which we want to hear so engrained in our individual and cultural behavior that any attempt to encourage sincere, knowledgeable discussion is doomed to failure?

I believe not.

Dr. Asimov also stated, “Self-education is... the only kind of education there is.”[2] Here then is the solution. Moreover, it is facilitated by that great threat to self-affirmation. The Internet provides the ultimate knowledge-resource humanity has ever known. However, we are going to have to learn how to seek, evaluate, synthesize and apply knowledge. There are many available resources on interpreting science - from the lay press, from science journals and even from comedy websites. One of the best is from Dr. +Jennifer Raff, called 'How To Read Scientific Papers'.

All that is required is the motivation for us to use these skills. I would suggest that the stability of our societies and maintenance of humanity's progress is motivation enough.

"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." — Charles Mackay.[3]


[1] Nyhan B, Reifler J. When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions. Polit Behav. 2010;32(2):303–330. doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2.

[2] Asimov I. (1975) Science Past, Science Future. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[3] Mackay, C. (1852). Memoirs of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. London: Office of the National Illustrated Library.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Global Health Credentialing

Yale medical diploma awarded Asaph Leavitt Bissell, Class of 1815

There is a trend in the global health literature calling for an authority to credential those who undertake medical humanitarian missions in low-income countries (LICs). The argument is that there is no oversight as to the medical or cultural competencies of these providers, and that harm ensues from well-intentioned but incompetent individuals.

Of course, patients in LICs deserve the same standard of care as those in high-income countries (HICs), accepting the different infrastructure, equipment, drugs etc. However, I feel that there are several arguments against a global credentialing hegemony.

In the US, licensed physicians can legally perform any medical procedure no matter their training. Hospitals require credentialing, but a physician can set up a private clinic and practice plastic surgery despite having trained as an ENT doctor. How can we insist on higher standards for those giving their time and skills to help those overseas?

Although there are anecdotes of incompetent visiting practitioners practicing sub-standard medicine in LICs, these incidents are rare. Conversely, incidents of malpractice are relatively common in the US despite our rigorous licensure process. More harm is perpetrated by well-funded, well-publicized organizations without a coherent perspective on global healthinternational development, or ethics

Medical volunteers are usually self-financed, and take time away from families and jobs. To add bureaucratic requirements for further training, examinations and paperwork would add further financial burden to volunteers and/or their organizations, and undoubtedly dissuade many from engaging.

In these financially strained times, charitable donations are increasingly limited. Endowing an overarching organization with standards-setting power is inviting manipulation of the global health agenda to one party’s financial advantage or philosophy. Patients gain much from a diversity of groups offering a broad range of services and philosophies.

How could such a credentialing institution actually prevent an individual or organization from travelling and treating patients? It is paternalistic to imagine that HICs need to protect the citizens of LICs. The governments of LICs are best placed to institute appropriate restrictions on an organization or individual’s scope of practice. For example, The Republic of Ghana requires visiting medical practitioners to obtain a Ghana medical license before they can participate in medical care - a perfectly reasonable and achievable standard, set by the nation and citizens concerned.

I believe a more reasonable alternative to a credentialing agency is an extension of the system currently practiced by many of the more successful humanitarian groups. Such organizations use an in-house credentialing process that mirrors that of an American medical institution. This prevents those few cases of ‘cowboy’ surgeons, and protects the organization from accusations of malpractice. I would suggest that these organizations could share credentialing information. If they agree to a credentialing standard, then once a practitioner is credentialed with, for example IVUMed they could work with ReSurge without further paperwork. Such a cross-credentialing service would encourage new volunteers to enter into this work with a well-established, philosophically coherent endeavor, and not the inexperienced groups that generate such bad press.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Despite being involved in global health for over a decade, I have only just read "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. I had seen some criticisms of Dr. Paul Farmer and his model, and I think I expected the book to be a glossy overview of Partners in Health (PIH) and their good works. I was pleasantly surprised that it went into much more detail about Dr. Farmer's philosophy and development of the PIH approach to "curing the world" (perhaps explained by his interesting childhood).

Here is the thing that struck me about Dr. Farmer's work and the PIH model (this may be old hat to everyone else, but it was a bit of an epiphany for me). 'Public health' endeavors address community-level issues, and in this indirect way benefit individuals. Dr. Farmer's model attacks problems from the opposite direction - find the best way to treat individuals and that will benefit the community. For example, PIH's success in developing an effective approach to treating MDR TB in low-resource settings sprang from the desire to treat one or two individuals. This approach is now benefitting thousands through community-based programs in Europe, South America and Africa. It seems that Dr. Farmer is what Professor Easterly would describe as a 'searcher' rather than a 'planner'.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Dr. Farmer is clearly a dedicated, charismatic and laudable character. While his projects may have deficiencies, some have been successful in situations where others have failed. In the diverse and chaotic field of global health, it is worth paying attention to one who has had success in the "long defeat".