Category Archives: epidemiology

The Poor Kind of Doctor

Yahoo! Finance has an article on the top 25 careers in the world, based on job growth, salary potential, education level, and room for innovation. Guess what #8 was? Epidemiologist! That’s right, we beat out athletes and actors!

Mind you, the article did make it a point to mention that despite the coolness factor of our jobs, we Epidemiologists make bupkiss. That’s why when people ask me what I do, I sometimes answer, “I’m the poor kind of doctor that can’t save your life.”

Why Tsunami Relief Matters

The unavoidable tsunami relief backlash has arrived. Commentators, such as this guy, are echoing the Rand Institute’s position that government money should not be spent on aid; and at many social gatherings I’m hearing frustrated mutterings complaining about tsunami aid overkill and overexposure. I myself no longer watch images of devastation on the news, and indeed my latest column explores assertions that tsunami aid is taking attention away from equally needy causes, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria control.

But let’s put things back into perspective, shall we? While it is true that the Asian tsunami has “only” killed 160,000 people (small compared to annual death tolls from war, hunger, malaria and AIDS), loss of life is not the only issue here. At least 5 million people remain homeless and suffering in refugee camps on the beaches of stricken countries. And yes, there are homeless in our own country, too, but our homeless problem can’t be solved with a few million dollars investment in reconstructed infratructure; ours is a much more economically and medically complicated phenomenon. The Asian case, however, is one than can be dramatically improved with sufficient initial investment in this brief window of time. These are peoples with skills and jobs, but no longer any industry infrastructure, such as a pier from which to fish. And unlike our situation, there is no social safety net large enough to absorb so many people for a prolonged period.

Additionally, it’s not just about loss of life and homelessness. The stricken nations are among the fastest recovering of Southern economies. The Indian economy was projected to grow by 8% this year, Thailand’s by 6% and Indonesia’s by 4%. (No figure for Sri Lanka, sorry, though the country was on its way to recovering from 20 years of civil war.) These nations are ripe markets for our exports and thriving environments for Northern/Western manufacturing —for better or worse. My point is that devastation in SE Asia means potential economic shrinkage in other parts of the world. And unlike malaria or HIV/AIDS, which at this point require sustained global efforts, sufficient and focused tsunami reconstruction/relief investment now might just head off calamnity later. Just imagine if we’d had the wherewithal to address the AIDS epidemic in the early days, well before it became a pandemic.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for the movement of HIV/AIDS funds to tsunami relief. Heck no– I consider myself a rabid AIDS fighter! Rather, I want you to understand that the tsunami affair is not overblown by the media. It’s a gosh darned honest to goodness catastrophe and a potential global nightmare.

Yet Another Op-Ed

Oh I need sleep like nobody’s business. I started writing another blog entry and it expanded and became another op-ed column called, Why Not Diarrhea?

I suppose part of my reason for writing it is to see if some magazine will actually publish something with such an unpleasant title. More importantly, the article explores an important question. I’ve been championing tsunami relief for days now, losing much sleep over it. After all, 160 thousand people have died. But more people die every month from each of diarrhea, malaria and HIV/AIDs (as was discussed in this week’s Diplomatic Immunity). To me, this doesn’t mean we should spend less on tsunami relief. Rather, it means we should triple the international aid budget! Please tell me what you think about the article.

My original tsunami articles (here and here) are getting a lot of attention. I’m rapidly becoming a fan of web publishing for op-eds, since feedback is much faster and much more likely. Also, your work lives on well past the publication date.