We Need to Treat Violence as Public Health Issue

By Art Caplan (cross-posted from his Vitals column on NBCNews)

The mass murder of 20 children and six adults Friday in Newtown, Conn., has provoked yet another round of recrimination, finger pointing and breast-beating. Was the shooter mentally deranged? If there was more gun control, would this have happened? Did violent video games play any role? What we fervently want as we continue to reel from a story whose misery seems to know no bounds is to find a clear cause – a reason why this happened – so that we can fix it.

We hope to see something in all the stories, analyses, commentaries, Facebook postings and Twitter speculation that gives us the reason behind what happened and thus a guarantee that if we understand and act on it then no 6 year old or her parent need to worry ever again what might happen at their school. We hope that no college, hospital or mall will ever again have a reason to practice drills for “shooters” and no play or movie-goer grow anxious over who has snuck into the theater with evil intent.

But, there is no simple answer. We have ourselves to blame for where we find ourselves in terms of mass shootings. Our culture is too far down the road of tolerating and even extolling violence. We do so in our popular entertainment, we permit the mass marketing of violence to young kids, and we thrill to it in too many of our sports. A lot of people make a lot of money selling violence. I doubt that will change.

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Conference: The Governance of Tobacco in the 21st Century, February 26-27

The Harvard Global Health Institute will be co-hosting a conference on The Governance of Tobacco in the 21st Century: Strengthening National and International Policy for Global Health and Development at Harvard on February 26-27, 2013.  The conference program is available here, and additional information can be found here. Space is limited.  Please register by January 10.

For further information, contact Monique Bertic mbertic@hsph.harvard.edu

2012 Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest

By Adriana Benedict

The 2012 Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest has just come to a close in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The conference brought together global leaders in intellectual property-related fields like access to medicines, access to knowledge, internet freedom, innovation and development, and open educational resources.  I was invited to participate in the various sessions concerning access to medicines, which focused on two sides of this global health challenge.

The first part of the access discussions focused on best practices and threats in the use of TRIPS flexibilities in developing countries.  Participants emphasized the need to look beyond the usual focus on compulsory licenses to set new priorities for understanding and leveraging less-developed flexibilities such as patentability criteria, patent opposition mechanisms and parallel importation.  An important overarching theme in these discussions was reframing flexibilities as rights, as they carry the same legal status as the intellectual property rights which make them necessary.

The other side of the discussions focused on innovation and research and development (R&D) for the developing world, primarily through recent advances by the WHO CEWG report in promoting a binding convention in this realm.  At the forefront of these proposals is the notion that incentives for innovation should be de-linked from product prices in order to address the needs of the developing world.  Participants emphasized that, moving forward, advocates should be careful to ensure that public and institutional debates on alternative R&D models do not narrow their focus from neglected populations to neglected diseases.

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