Can the World Trust the United States on Public Health?

Anyone who follows public health issues in Venezuela probably knows that publication of the Boletines Epidemiológicos has been subject to serious delays or suppression since 2014 under the administration of Nicolás Maduro. The Boletines for 2014, 2015 and 2016 are finally available after significant delays. By the way, the Boletín Epidemiológico in Venezuela is analogous to the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR) in the United States.

I have known about the issues with Venezuelan health reporting for several years, and have associated the suppression of epidemiological information with the political motives of the Chavistas.

A year or two ago, I was optimistic that maybe US and European and other Latin American public health experts would be able to help Venezuela deal with its significant public health problems, that include infant mortality, malaria, measles, and diphtheria.

That was before COVID-19…

Regarding COVID, Venezuela has fared quite a bit better than the United States, which has the worst situation in the world, followed by India and Brazil. Although Nicolás Maduro has been terrible regarding malaria, at least he has been seen wearing a mask against COVID.

What’s more, there is an emerging scandal over attempts at suppression of epidemiological information in the United States. This time, the political motives are those of conservative Republicans, rather than Chavistas.

Articles in Scientific American and in POLITICO detail the actions of HHS assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo and his underling Paul Alexander in attempting to alter or suppress COVID reporting in the MMWR. Alexander no longer works at the agency, and Caputo has taken a leave of absence.

The articles detail how these politically-motivated actions undermine trust of North Americans toward their own public health infrastructure.

Not only that, but these attempts to suppress epidemiological data and information also undermine the trust of people in other countries regarding the once-excellent public health system in the United States. They undermine the future ability of the United States to help other countries with public health issues. The withdrawal of the United States from WHO only serves to further undermine the US’s reputation in public health. Even if another Administration takes over in January and rejoins WHO, as Biden has promised to do, the trust factor is slow to be repaired.

Apostasy Within the Catholic Church?

Vaccines save millions of lives.

This is an undisputable fact of public health.

Just one vaccine, similar to the very first developed by Edward Jenner in the 1700s,  served to eradicate smallpox and has saved millions of lives.

Other vaccines like the ones against yellow fever, measles, diphtheria, and even the rabies shots given to dogs and cats, save millions of lives.

Yellow fever is deadly and there were epidemics of yellow fever in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Mobile, and other US cities as late as 1905. Yellow fever still occurs in countries in tropical Africa and South America. If you travel to or between these countries, you get a vaccine against yellow fever.

It is almost certain that vaccines, which have a number of components including the crucial active biological ones that generate antibodies to deadly diseases, have saved the most lives of any human inventionEdward Jenner is the man credited with saving more lives than any other person.

Very sadly, there are certain people who claim to be pro-life but who are against vaccination. Their pitiful claims are based on falsehoods, rumors, conspiracy theories, and politically-motivated lies.

Shamefully, one of these people is known anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Even more shamefully, another of these people is the Catholic bishop of Tyler, Texas who signed a letter full of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Strickland is an apostate who should not be called Bishop. He is an apostate for neglecting to protect human life by protesting against quarantines that are designed to slow down exposure to coronavirus to a pace that allows treatment in hospitals rather than the utter collapse of hospitals from massive influxes of patients.

Secondly, Mr. Strickland is an apostate for conspiring against the protection of human life by collaborating with known anti-vaccine activists who base their arguments on retracted papers, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and lies.

I have only seen one set of condemnations of the letter come from church officials. The condemnations come from bishops in Germany.

German Catholic bishops have rightfully condemned the letter that Strickland signed. German bishops are aware of the harm that conspiracy theories during pandemics have caused in their history.

I am praying to see a Catholic Church militant and triumphant that vigorously supports public health, rather than a church that cowers under the influence of lies and conspiracy theories that threaten human life.

 

The Enemy Within the United States That Threatens Us All

The United States has an internal enemy that threatens global public health in this age of COVID-19.

That enemy is determined to do all it can to destroy the health of people not only within the United States, but anywhere that is linked to the United States by international travel.

The enemy screams denunciations of science and of scientists. The enemy clings to crazy conspiracy theories about personages as widely different as Bill Gates and the Queen of England.

The enemy has a widespread political movement, holds rallies, and enters state houses armed to the teeth.

I am not talking about the pirates of Somalia, ISIS, or al Shabaab.  Neither am I writing a history of 1930s Germany.

What am I talking about?  I am talking about the anti-vaccine movement, usually shortened to anti-vaxx.  This scurrilous movement is intertwined with the “Open Up America” protests against COVID-19 shutdowns and is connected with the movement to delegitimize the US government.  Antivaxx is also involved in similar protests in Germany that include far right elements .

The health of a nation is fundamental to its strength, prestige, and wealth.

Anti-vaxxers are scoundrels who wrap themselves in the United States flag all the while they threaten the health and wealth of the United States, as well as the health of anyone who lives anywhere connected by commercial flights to the United States.  This is even more the case currently than in the last few years, when the major threat linked with anti-vaxxers was a set of sporadic measles outbreaks. The public acceptance of a safe and effective future coronavirus vaccine will be crucial to control of the pandemic.

A naive guess would place anti-vaxxers across the political spectrum from left-wing hippies who love organic food to conservative.  Although people at both political extremes are drawn to the anti-vaxx movement, the influence of liberal or progressive elements is less in today’s anti-vaxx movement than it was in earlier years.

The current reality is that there are few crunchy granolas left in the anti-vaxx movement except for Democratic family scion Robert F. Kennedy, Jr and actor Jim Carrey.  The majority are right wing and are infatuated with conspiracy theories, some of which are anti-Semitic.  Political affiliation is connected with attitudes toward vaccinations.

The traditional Republican Party evolved from the party of Abraham Lincoln during the 1850s and 1860s to the party of commerce, industry, and scientific progress during the 1880s all the way through the 1980s. You would never recognize that Party in today’s Republican Party infested with anti-vaxxers and nutjobs.

Principled conservatives must go back to ideals of national strength and civic pride. The must reject elements that fly Confederate flags in places like Wisconsin (you’d have to go to Maine or da’UP of Michigan to get further North of the former Confederacy) while spouting anti-vaxx propaganda.

 

 

Elizabeth Warren’s College Proposal

As a degreed entomologist (M.S.), I maintain an interest in what is happening in universities from the United States.

At first glance, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for free college tuition and for refunds of existing student loans sounds good, but in reality it has worrisome implications.

The most serious implication is the flood of students who would show up in lecture halls during the first semester of “free” college.

America’s universities are already crowded, in large part because few new universities have been built in the United States since the 1970s, despite a near doubling of the population. In California, UC Merced (2005) is the only campus built in the UC system since UC Irvine, which opened in 1965.

Making college free would massively worsen the crowding problem on campus. It would probably increase housing costs in college towns because of increased numbers of students renting in these communities.

To relate this issue to Venezuela, let me mention the “Bolivarian universities.” These were conceived as a separate and parallel system to existing Venezuelan universities, such as UCV.  They have politicized university education in Venezuela and have dramatically polarized the student and academic community in that country. Meanwhile, UCV, known as the “Harvard of Venezuela,” has suffered drastic funding cuts and numerous robberies.

 

 

An Estimated Million Cases of Malaria in Venezuela

The malaria situation in Venezuela continues to worsen and now threatens regional malaria elimination efforts including Ecuador’s participation in the G-2020 group of countries that hope to eliminate malaria by next year – 2020.  Malaria has returned in small case numbers to the Tumbes Region of Peru and El Oro Province on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador near the border with Peru. Most of the cases were in Venezuelan migrants, with a few autochthonous cases in local residents.

On April 16th of this year, Drs. Adriana Tami and María Eugenia Grillet presented a talk at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam where they estimated that Venezuela experienced around one million new malaria cases during 2018.

An article in Outbreak News Today includes an informative interview (background noises in the audio) that notes that Venezuela is suppressing reporting of malaria cases.
A Letter by Rodríguez-Morales et al. in Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases documents the situation with imported malaria, mostly from Venezuela, in Colombia.
An article at Caracas Chronicles notes that the region of Northern South America needs urgent intervention from PAHO and WHO regarding the unchecked spread of malaria originating in Venezuela.