Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fighting Cervical Cancer With Vinegar and Ingenuity

Not my normal field for posting, but I believe this illustrates that big pharma and big medicine aren't the only solutions to very real problems. Why are we paying millions to corporations when there are many simple solutions out there? Doctors need to be educated in alternatives before even basic medical costs are beyond the reach of the average citizen.

Fighting Cervical Cancer With Vinegar and Ingenuity 

Agnes Dherbeys for The New York Times

Anuree Talasart, a nurse provider in Roi Et Province, Thailand, teaches a group of women about the female reproductive system

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.Published: September 26, 2011

POYAI, Thailand — Maikaew Panomyai did a little dance coming out of the examination room, switching her hips, waving her fists in the air and crowing, in her limited English: “Everything’s O.K.! Everything’ O.K.!”

Translation: The nurse just told me I do not have cervical cancer, and even the little white spot I had treated three years ago is still gone.

What allowed the nurse to render that reassuring diagnosis was a remarkably simple, brief and inexpensive procedure, one with the potential to do for poor countries what the Pap smear did for rich ones: end cervical cancer’s reign as the No. 1 cancer killer of women. The magic ingredient? Household vinegar.

Every year, more than 250,000 women die of cervical cancer, nearly 85 percent of them in poor and middle-income countries. Decades ago, it killed more American women than any other cancer; now it lags far behind cancers of the lung, breast, colon and skin.

Nurses using the new procedure, developed by experts at the Johns Hopkins medical school in the 1990s and endorsed last year by the World Health Organization, brush vinegar on a woman’s cervix. It makes precancerous spots turn white. They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.

The procedure is one of a wide array of inexpensive but effective medical advances being tested in developing countries. New cheap diagnostic and surgical techniques, insecticides, drug regimens and prostheses are already beginning to save lives.

With a Pap smear, a doctor takes a scraping from the cervix, which is then sent to a laboratory to be scanned by a pathologist. Many poor countries lack high-quality labs, and the results can take weeks to arrive.

Women who return to distant areas where they live or work are often hard to reach, a problem if it turns out they have precancerous lesions.

Miss Maikaew, 37, could have been one of them. She is a restaurant cashier on faraway Ko Chang, a resort island. She was home in Poyai, a rice-farming village, for a brief visit and was screened at her mother’s urging.

The same thing had happened three years ago, and she did have a white spot then. (They resemble warts, and are caused by the human papillomavirus.) It was frozen off with cryotherapy, which had hurt a little, but was bearable, she said.

Since she has been screened twice in her 30s, her risk of developing cervical cancer has dropped by 65 percent, according to studies by the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention, a coalition of international health organizations funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The procedure, known as VIA/cryo for visualization of the cervix with acetic acid (vinegar) and treatment with cryotherapy, can be done by a nurse, and only one visit is needed to detect and kill an incipient cancer.

Thailand has gone further than any other nation in adopting it. More than 20 countries, including Ghana and Zimbabwe, have done pilot projects. But in Thailand, VIA/cryo is now routine in 29 of 75 provinces, and 500,000 of the 8 million women, ages 30 to 44, in the target population have been screened at least once.

Dr. Bandit Chumworathayi, a gynecologist at Khon Kaen University who helped run the first Thai study of VIA/cryo, explains that vinegar highlights the tumors because they have more DNA, and thus more protein and less water, than other tissue.

It reveals pre-tumors with more accuracy than a typical Pap smear. But it also has more false positives — spots that turn pale but are not malignant. As a result, some women get unnecessary cryotherapy.

But freezing is about 90 percent effective, and the main side effect is a burning sensation that fades in a day or two.

By contrast, biopsies, the old method, can cause bleeding.

“Some doctors resist” the cryotherapy approach, said Dr. Wachara Eamratsameekool, a gynecologist at rural Roi Et Hospital who helped pioneer the procedure. “They call it ‘poor care for poor people.’ This is a misunderstanding. It’s the most effective use of our resources.”

At a workshop, nurse trainees pored over flash cards showing cervixes with diagnosable problems. They did gynecological exams on lifelike mannequins with plastic cervixes. They performed cryotherapy on sliced frankfurters pinned deep inside plastic pipes. Then, after lunch, they broke into small groups and went by minibus to nearby rural clinics to practice on real women.

Because cervical cancer takes decades to develop, it is too early to prove that Thailand has lowered its cancer rate. In fact, Roi Et Province, where mass screening first began, has a rate higher than normal, but doctors attribute that to the extra testing. But of the 6,000 women recruited 11 years ago for the first trial, not a single one has developed full-blown cancer.

VIA/cryo was pioneered in the 1990s simultaneously by Dr. Paul D. Blumenthal, an American gynecologist working in Africa, and Dr. Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan in India.

Dr. Blumenthal said he and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins medical school had debated ways to make cervical lesions easier to see, and concluded that whitening them with acetic acid would be effective. Freezing off lesions is routine in gynecology and dermatology; the challenge was making it cheap and easy. Liquid nitrogen is hard to get, but carbon dioxide is readily available.

Thailand seems made for the vinegar technique. It has more than 100,000 nurses and a network of rural clinics largely run by them.

Also, while poor rural villagers in many countries go to shamans or herbalists before they see doctors, poor Thais do not. Thailand has a 95 percent literacy rate, and doctors are trusted. The king is the son of a doctor and a nurse; his father trained at Harvard. One of the royal princesses has a doctorate in chemistry and an interest in cancer research.

But the real secret, Dr. Wachara said, is this: “Thailand has Lady Kobchitt.”

Dr. Kobchitt Limpaphayon to her colleagues at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University medical school and “Kobbie” to her classmates long ago at New York’s Albany Medical College, she is the gynecologist to the Thai royal family. “Kobbie is a force of nature,” said Dr. Blumenthal, who has taught with her. In 1971, as a young doctor, she moved from Albany to Baltimore to help start the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics.

In 1999, she read one of Dr. Blumenthal’s papers and asked him to introduce VIA/cryo in Thailand. Without her connections and powers of persuasion, said Dr. Bandit, it would have been impossible to get the conservative Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to give up Pap smears, or to persuade Parliament to allow nurses to do cryotherapy, a procedure previously reserved for doctors.

The free screenings at public clinics are crucial to people like Yupin Promasorn, 36, who was part of Miss Maikaew’s group.

She sells snacks in Bangkok, and her husband drives a tuk-tuk motorcycle taxi. With two children, she has no time to wait at Bangkok’s jammed public hospitals, and she is too poor to see a private doctor. So she and her husband drove the 12 hours here, to her native village, in his tuk-tuk. When she found out she was negative, she sat in a chair fanning herself.

“I feel like a heavy mountain is gone from my chest,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 27, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Fighting a Cancer With Vinegar and Ingenuity.

Carbon-Credits System Tarnished by WikiLeaks Revelation

Carbon-Credits System Tarnished by WikiLeaks Revelation

Emissions trading is the foundation of climate policy, but documents further reveal how problematic it is
Baglihar dam, india 
INDIAN CARBON-CREDIT CLAIMS, such as those for the Baglihar Dam, are under scrutiny. Image: A. Gupta/Reuters/Corbis

As the world gears up for the next round of United Nations climate-change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, in November, evidence has emerged that a cornerstone of the existing global climate agreement, the international greenhouse-gas emissions-trading system, is seriously flawed.

Critics have long questioned the usefulness of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established under the Kyoto Protocol. It allows rich countries to offset some of their carbon emissions by investing in climate-friendly projects, such as hydroelectric power and wind farms, in developing countries. Verified projects earn certified emission reductions (CERs) — carbon credits that can be bought and sold, and count towards meeting rich nations' carbon-reduction targets.

But a diplomatic cable published last month by the WikiLeaks website reveals that most of the CDM projects in India should not have been certified because they did not reduce emissions beyond those that would have been achieved without foreign investment. Indian officials have apparently known about the problem for at least two years.

"What has leaked just confirms our view that in its present form the CDM is basically a farce," says Eva Filzmoser, programme director of CDM Watch, a Brussels-based watchdog organization. The revelations imply that millions of tonnes of claimed reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions are mere phantoms, she says, and potentially cast doubt over the principle of carbon trading. "In the face of these comments it is no wonder that the United States has backed away from emission trading," Filzmoser says.

The cable, written on 16 July 2008, was sent by the US consulate in Mumbai, India, to the US secretary of state, and summarizes a discussion of the CDM involving representatives of the consulate and the US Government Accountability Office, along with Indian officials and executives of large Indian companies. At the time, 346 Indian projects had been registered with the CDM's executive board. Today, more than 720 Indian projects have been approved and have gained some 120 million tonnes' worth of carbon credits, a large fraction of the 750 million tonnes issued since 2005 (see 'Cleaning up').

Yet on the evidence of discussions at the meeting, most of the carbon-offset projects in India fail to meet the CDM requirements set by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The cable also describes the UN's validation and registration process as "arbitrary".

Indian authorities were also criticized in the cable. All CDM projects must be validated nationally, then verified independently by an accredited firm. But the cable quotes R. K. Sethi, then chairman of the CDM's executive board and member-secretary of the Indian CDM authority in New Delhi, as admitting that the authority simply "takes the project developer at his word for clearing the additionality barrier".

"This will not invalidate carbon trading, but it does go to show that the CDM has serious flaws," says Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London. "In India and China, the multiple levels of governance which you need to have in place to make carbon trading work are simply not there."

Martin Hession, head of global carbon markets at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, and chairman of the CDM executive board, says that the critical remarks in the cable date from a time when "people were complaining a lot" about problems with the CDM. Controversies over whether specific projects reduce net emissions are still common, he says. But since 2008, the board has followed more stringent guidelines for verifying the eligibility of projects and for enhancing the overall efficiency of the scheme.

"The CDM is much more transparent and predictable than the tenor of these remarks might suggest," he says. "We reject many projects in India and China because they fail to meet the required criteria, and we do in fact often get the message that project validation has become too stringent."

Others argue that the rules are still not rigorous enough. In some circumstances, the CDM may actually have encouraged the production in developing countries of the coolant chemical HFC-23, an extremely potent greenhouse gas (M. Wara, Nature 445, 595–596; 2007). Critics have demanded harsher sanctions against validating companies found guilty of lax oversight, together with clearer conflict-of-interest policies and tighter rules on what qualifies as an additional clean-development project.

International Rivers, an environmental campaigning group based in Berkeley, California, is now calling on the CDM executive board to reject the 412-megawatt Rampur hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh, India, which is awaiting CDM approval. The project could earn some 15 million carbon credits from 2012 to 2022, amounting to an estimated US$150-million windfall for the Shimla-based developer Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited, the group says. But the decision to finance that project was taken long before the CDM was even created, says Himanshu Thakkar, director of the Delhi-based South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, clearly invalidating its application.

The company stands by its claim that the project qualifies for the CDM, and says that the Indian government approved the investment proposal for the project in 2007, when the CDM was already in place. As Nature went to press, the CDM's executive board, which met in Quito, Ecuador, this week, had not yet decided whether to approve the Rampur project.

Despite the controversy, the European Union seems determined to continue its mandatory emissions-trading system, which it sees as crucial in tackling climate change. There's little doubt about the urgency of that goal: global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 45% since 1990, reaching an all-time high of 33 billion tonnes in 2010, according to a report released last week by the European Commission.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ratigan Delivers a Wakeup call to Congress

 Since the world revolves around the burps and hiccups of the USA here is one of the finest analyses I've heard so far.  Does Obama have the balls to do something like this?  And the answer is... I doubt it. And Canada, where do we sit in like circumstances? What do we know about that front? We seem to change governments every ten years or so for the last three decades but nothing changes.  Why? Is it that we too are slaves to the greedy banking system?  Take a look a this:

Monday, August 08, 2011

Mark Cubans Suggestions on Patent Law

 A great blog post by Mark Cuban on patent law reform, something we could benefit from here in Canada as well. 

My Suggestion on Patent Law

Posted: 8/8/11 01:29 PM ET
It is easy to complain. Much harder to come up with solutions. Many won't like what I propose, but who wants to make lawyers happy anyway?
The solution?
1. End all software patents. Don't make them shorter, eliminate them.
I have no problem with software being copyrightable just as it always has been. That is more than enough protection and keeps enough lawyers un-gainfully employed.
2. End all process patents. They serve absolutely no purpose. None.
If you create a new process, use it. The benefit is from creating the idea and using it in a business to your advantage. Afraid that some big company might steal the idea? That is life. When you run with the elephants there are the quick and the dead. That is a challenge every small company faces. A process patent is not going to make your business successful. The successful execution of business processes will. If we had process patents or the culture of software litigation in the 1980′s as we have today current technology would consist of running terminals on DEC and Wang Computers at the local library for $10 per hour and there probably would not be a world-wide web.
No doubt that by the mid 90′s someone would have sued Marc Andreessen and his friends at the University of Illinois long before Mosaic could ever turn into Netscape. My guess is that the patent attorneys at British Telecom would have been all over them contending that hyperlinking was protected, but for $10 per download they could use them in their new browser...
Some of the benefits of eliminating process and software?
a. Reduce the court room costs associated with process and software patent litigation. That is taxpayer money saved.
b. Improve the efficiency of the Patent Office.
Process patents are a magnet for everyone who has ever dreamed of being awarded a patent. The flood of applications not only slows the speed at which inventions that deserve patents are awarded, it reduces the quality of investigation into applications. That is a lose lose situation. Patents that shouldn't be awarded are awarded, which in turn creates more work as those patents are challenged.
c. End the ridiculousness of the current Patent Arms Race.
Companies are buying patent collections as a way to defer litigation or to support their litigation efforts rather than to benefit from the intellectual property purchased. Billions of dollars are being spent on this arms race. Billions of dollars that without question impact consumer prices from these companies.
d. Patent costs cost jobs.
Uncertainty is never good. Certainty of risk is even worse. What I mean by that is that almost every major corporation is this country has ongoing patent litigation and many, many small companies (my companies included) have ongoing patent litigation as well.
How does this impact jobs and job creation? The thing about patent litigation is that it is unlimited and unquantifiable. There is absolutely no way to look at your business and say "this is where and what my risk is." Because of software and process patents any company could be sued for almost anything. It is impossible to know what the next patent to be issued will be and whether or not your company will be at complete risk. It is impossible to go through the entire catalog of patents issued over the last 10, 15, 20 years and determine which will be used to initiate a suit against your company.
It's impossible to quantify just how much and how often you will be sued and what the costs associated with those lawsuit(s) will be.
The risks are unlimited.
Unlimited risk in any environment will force a company to hold back resources in an attempt to protect itself. In the case of several of my companies, it means that we have held off hiring people so that we have cash in the back to deal with current and future patent litigation.
It's a joke, but that is the reality of doing business in this country.
e. Look overseas
Pick any country that is currently doing well, China is a perfect example. In China the Intellectual Property Laws are so weak that someone thought it was a good idea to completely replicate Apple retail stores. Compare their economy to ours. As much as I hate to compare other economies to ours, it's worth taking a look .
It is time to change. This country needs the change.
Eliminating software and process patents won't end patent litigation, but it certainly will be a good first step. And while it may only be a step, it will be a positive step towards improving the economy and adding jobs.
Update: I wanted to re post a comment from my last post. I think it is important. It obviously doesn't go as far as I would like, but if you care about patent reform let your representatives know.
Unfortunately, the patent reform bill that President Obama just encouraged Congress to pass, does nothing to address the problem of patent trolls. (The full text of the bill, H.R. 1249, can be read here.
This bill passed the House 304-117 and it's companion bill (here) passed the senate 95-5, vitally assuring that the two bills will be reconciled and signed into law in early September, once congress returns from recess. This is "reform" in name only, as the bills will do nothing to discourage the job-killing litigation tactics of the patent trolls that Mr. Cuban references above.
If you care about the issue of patent trolls, you have one month to encourage your Congressperson to amend S.23 and/or H.R. 1249 to include limiting damages from "non-practicing entities" (aka, trolls).

This post originally appeared on Blog Maverick.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Alberta Creative Hub Receives City of Calgary Funding

Long-awaited funding is a major step towards development of permanent sound stage facilities in Calgary.

(CALGARY) - Today, the Alberta Creative Hub Corporation (ACH) is excited to announce that it has received approval from Calgary City Council for $10 million in funding through the Cultural Space Investment Process for the building of the Alberta Creative Hub, an innovative initiative by Calgary Economic Development.

“The approval from Council for $10 million in funding represents a significant step towards the development of the Alberta Creative Hub,” says Luke Azevedo, Calgary Commissioner – Film, Television & Creative Industries, Calgary Economic Development. “After completing extensive stakeholder engagement and due diligence, we are confident that this facility will enable Calgary to remain a competitive location for film and television production and grow our local industry.

Calgary is no stranger to the film and television industry. The city is well-known for its breathtaking scenery as well as its award-winning crews. To date, Calgary- and Alberta-based crews have amassed more Emmy, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations than any other jurisdiction in Canada. However, the city is also the only major film and television centre in Canada without permanent sound stage facilities. The Alberta Creative Hub will address this concern, along with providing collaborative space and opportunities for training and mentorship.

“The support of Calgary City Council through the Cultural Space Investment Process highlights the City’s ongoing commitment to arts and culture spaces,” says Bruce Graham, President & CEO, Calgary Economic Development. “The Alberta Creative Hub will allow Calgary to continue to attract foreign projects while ensuring the next generation of local filmmakers have opportunities to train and work without moving to another jurisdiction.”

The City of Calgary’s funding will be released over a two year period, starting in 2011. The Alberta Creative Hub has also applied for funding from the Provincial and Federal Governments through applicable granting programs. An offer to purchase has been presented to WinSport Canada for land at Canada Olympic Park.

For more information contact:
Calgary Economic Development


Iceland's On-going Revolution

Here is an article that should be taken to heart by every nation that is not the USA. I would also urge everyone to watch the documentary narrated largely by Matt Damon called "Inside Job". Capitalism is not a bad thing as is evidenced by its seemingly natural tendency to rise to the top regardless of the society or political system that exists - the best examples being the former USSR and now China. Corporatism on the other hand can pretty much be described as evil. Corporations only exist to serve themselves, they have no ethics or conscience beyond that of profit for its shareholders. It is the worst form of a bastardized version of free enterprise. In the USA corporations have all of the rights of a citizen of the realm but have none of the responsibilities. The USA has been hijacked by profiteers. The corporations themselves have been plundered by unscrupulous executives who, while looking to further the bottom line are more often than not only looking for ways to increase their personal bonuses and salaries and the corporation be damned. The world needs to get back to individual and corporate accountability as is expressed in the article below. Yes we all need a revolution. Citizens should not be paying the debts of the worlds greedy bankers.


Iceland's On-going Revolution

by Deena Stryker

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt. The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors. But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt. In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent. The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro. At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution. But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures. The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros. This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country. As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF. The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North. But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt. The IMF immediately froze its loan. But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution. And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

Originally posted to Deena Stryker on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Class Warfare Newsletter: The Plutocracy VS the Working Class and Community Spotlight.