The fight against Antimicrobial Resistance: Important recent publications

One of my previous blogs discussed the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). I concluded that antimicrobial resistance is a growing and complex threat involving multifaceted legal, socio-economic and scientific aspects. This requires sustained and coordinated action on both global and local levels.

A recent medical review on drug resistant tuberculosis supports these findings and provides further fodder to the debate. In their study, which was published in April 2014 in The Lancet – Respiratory Medicine, the authors analyzed the epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, management, implications for health-care workers, and ethical and medico-legal aspects of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis and other resistant strains. In particular, the authors discussed the increasing threat of functionally untreatable tuberculosis, and the problems that it creates for public health and clinical practice. The paper concludes that the growth of highly resistant strains of tuberculosis make the development of new drugs and rapid diagnostics for tuberculosis—and increased funding to strengthen global control efforts, research, and advocacy—even more pressing.

This was also recognized in the recent WHO’s Global Surveillance Report on AMR, which was published this April. It is the first WHO report that studied the problem of AMR on a global level. Noting that resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents, the report concentrates on antibiotic resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea. The results demonstrate a wide-spread growth of resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics. In particular the report reveals that this serious threat is no longer a mere forecast for the future. AMR is a contemporary problem in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Consequently the WHO report concludes that antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health that needs to be tackled on a global level.

Continue reading

Weight Status: When Ignorance May Not Be Bliss

By Deborah Cho

A recent data brief summarizing a national survey spanning from 2005-2012 on the perception of weight status in U.S. children and adolescents highlights one major finding — many children and adolescents who are overweight or obese don’t know it.  Key findings were that about 81% of overweight (defined as having age- and sex-specific BMI greater than or equal to the 85th and less than the 95th percentile of the 2000 CDC growth chart) boys and 71% of overweight girls believe they are about the right weight.  Additionally, nearly 48% of obese (defined as having age- and sex-specific BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile of the 2000 CDC growth chart) boys and 36% of obese girls consider themselves to be about the right weight.  

As an article on the NPR blog noted, “Kids can be cruel, especially about weight. So you might think overweight or obese children know all too well that they’re heavy.”  But it seems that this is not the case, at least according to the survey.  Furthermore, not only do overweight or obese children generally seem to be unaware of their weight status, but the misperception rate appears to be higher in those children and adolescents whose families have a lower income-to-poverty ratio.  Non-Hispanic black and Mexican American children and adolescents were also found to have higher rates of misperception than Non-Hispanic white children and adolescents.

Continue reading

Serious Risks from New Prescription Drugs

by Donald W. Light

Based on http://www.ethics.harvard.edu/lab/blog/436-new-prescription-drugs-a-major-health-risk

Few people know that new prescription drugs have a 1 in 5 chance of causing serious reactions after they have been approved. That is why expert physicians recommend not taking new drugs for at least five years unless patients have first tried better-established options and need to. Faster reviews advocated by the industry-funded public regulators increase the risk of serious harm to 1 in 3. Yet most drugs they approve are found to have few offsetting clinical advantages over existing ones.

Systematic reviews of hospital charts by expert teams have found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients given drugs have serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million. Further, the expert teams attributed as many deaths to the drugs as people who die from stroke. A policy review done at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University concluded that prescription drugs are tied with stroke as the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. The European Commission estimates that adverse reactions from prescription drugs cause 200,000 deaths; so together, about 328,000 patients in the US and Europe die from prescription drugs each year. The FDA does not acknowledge these facts and instead gathers a small fraction of the cases.

Perhaps this is “the price of progress”? For example, about 170 million Americans take prescription drugs, and many benefit from them. For some, drugs keep them alive. If we suppose they all benefit, then 2.7 million people have a severe reactions, it’s only about 1.5 percent – the price of progress?

However, independent reviews over the past 35 years have found that only 11-15 percent of newly approved drugs have significant clinical advantages over existing, better-known drugs. While these contribute to the large medicine chest of effective drugs developed over the decades, the 85-89 percent with little or no clinical advantage flood the market. Of the additional $70 billion spent on drugs since 2000 in the U.S. (and another $70 billion abroad), about four-fifths has been spent on purchasing these minor new variations rather than on the really innovative drugs.

In a recent decade, independent reviewers concluded that only 8 percent of 946 new products were clinically superior, down from 11-15 percent in previous decades. (See Figure) Only 2 were breakthroughs and another 13 represented a real therapeutic advance.

Continue reading

Good news for many South African HIV patients—with a big glitch

On Wednesday, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that, as of January 2015, HIV-positive patients in the country would start receiving free antiretroviral treatment once their CD4 count fell below 500, instead of current threshold of less than 350. Some patient groups would start receiving antiretrovirals immediately upon being diagnosed with HIV infection, regardless of their clinical stage.

Last month, Till Bärnighausen, Dan Wikler and I predicted in PLoS Medicine that sub-Saharan nations would move in the direction that South Africa is now moving, and pointed out a big complication. This policy change might make several gigantic trials of so-called treatment-as-prevention in sub-Saharan Africa impossible to complete successfully. As we explained, these trials remain important for assessing the potential of treatment-as-prevention to curb the spread of HIV in general populations (with many different relationship types and different levels of care delivery and support).

In treatment-as-prevention, antiretrovirals are offered to patients immediately upon their diagnosis with HIV. The hope is that very early treatment would be better for these patients and prevent them from infecting others. We also offered some ways out of this mess, but they involve untraditional approaches to research conduct and to policy. Our piece was featured in the June issue of UNAIDS’ HIV This Month.

When you Can Shed Blood for your Country but not Donate it

Portsmouth, Va. (Jan. 5, 2005) - A hospital corpsman assigned to USS Bataan (LHD 5), donates a pint of blood during the blood drive held by the Blood Donor Team. The Blood Donor Team stationed at Portsmouth Naval Hospital visits multiple commands throughout the area in efforts to boost the blood supply for the U.S. Armed Forces around the world. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

A hospital corpsman donates a pint of blood. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

I have a new article in JAMA this week, “Reconsideration of the Lifetime Ban on Blood Donation by Men Who Have Sex With Men,” co-authored with my former student Jeremy Feigenbaum and my frequent co-author Dr. Eli Adashi (former Dean of Medicine at Brown). In the article we show that FDA’s current policy is morally, ethically, and legally problematic. We are out of step with our peer countries (including the UK, Canada, South Africa) who do delay when men who have sex with men can give blood but not for a lifetime, the way the U.S. does. It is remarkable that if you have sex with a female prostitute or a woman who is HIV+ you face only a 12-month deferral in the U.S. but if you have had sex with a man, just once, ever, no matter his HIV status you face a lifetime delay.

We are in a world where the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down as unconstitutional, where Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been struck down so that gay men and lesbians can proudly serve their country and shed blood (their own, others) on the battlefield. It is time to change a 30-yr old policy prohibiting them giving blood. What’s more, given the the Windsor decision and the recent Ninth Circuit application of heightened scrutiny to the exclusion of gay jurors for jury duty, we think there are serious constitutional questions about FDA’s policy as well.

My preferred approach, and the one I think FDA should move towards, is the Italian “test and assess” which has no blanket classification of MSM but instead does individualized risk assessment. As we describe in our paper thus far has not increased the risk of HIV+ blood making its way into the blood supply.

The Williams Institute in 2010 estimated that 6% of men had at least once had sex with another man, meaning there are potentially 7.2 million men who could become blood donors but are excluded by FDA’s rule. We owe it not only to these men, but also to all those who could benefit from their blood donations to revisit this rule.

Religious Freedom and Access to Health Care

SCOTUSfrontCheck out the “hot off the press” New England Journal of Medicine Perspectives piece “When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care” by Petrie-Flom Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen, Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch, and NEJM Executive Editor (and PFC Faculty Affiliate), Gregory Curfman.  We review the legal background for SCOTUS’ Hobby Lobby decision, summarize the majority and dissenting opinions, and clarify some key implications of the case, including further problematization of the employer-based health insurance system, reduced likelihood of future attempts to offer religious exemptions to health care mandates, and expanded religious challenges in the health care space.  We close by noting that although the public’s ire and praise has been directed at the Justices, they were applying Congress’ statute – and Congress could (but is very unlikely to) amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be less stringent, or otherwise intervene to ensure that women have affordable access to contraceptive services regardless of their employer’s beliefs.

Take a look and let us know what you think!

Open Clinical Ethics Positions at Boston Children’s Hospital

Interested candidates should apply at www.childrenshospital.jobs.

 Temporary Clinical Ethicist

The Clinical Ethicist provides formal and informal ethics consultations and collaborates with clinical teams, patients and families, managers, and consultants to address ethical issues in pediatric health care and research. Documents ethics activities. May participate in clinical ethics rounds and other educational activities.

Requires working knowledge of theories, principles and concepts typically acquired through completion of a graduate degree in ethics, bioethics, or moral philosophy; a working knowledge of health care and hospitals or clinical degree in a health professional field; and extensive experience in clinical bioethics, preferably in hospital or health delivery systems. Work requires excellent interpersonal, organizational, oral and written communication skills in order to mediate moral disagreements or concerns and develop consensus, compromises, or other ethically acceptable resolutions. Work requires sensitivity in speaking with parents, patients, staff and others in stressful circumstances, in discussing ethical decisions regarding life support, dying and death, disclosure of bad news, participation in research, organ donation and transplantation, and other potential conflicts of interest and values. Work requires demonstrated ability in multidisciplinary collaboration and the ability to initiate, prioritize, and manage multiple projects, working across multiple departmental lines of authority and accountability and under pressure to meet deadlines.

 Clinical Ethicist

Provides formal and informal ethics consultations.  Organizes and participates in clinical ethics rounds, and collaborates with clinical teams, patients and families, to address ethical issues in pediatric health care and research. Develops ethics resources and education and serves as a facilitator for change directed toward strengthening the Hospital staff’s sense of moral responsibility and moral community.

Work requires at least 5 years clinical inpatient experience in a staff physician or nursing role with substantial prior ethics education and experience derived from completion of an ethics fellowship or other advanced ethics training and/or significant ethics consultation experience.  Preference for a clinical degree in a health professional field and graduate level preparation in this discipline, clinical ethics fellowship completion, graduate degree in bioethics or related field, a strong understanding of acute care pediatric health care, and five or more years of experience in clinical bioethics, preferably in a pediatric hospital or health delivery system. Significant focus on inpatient pediatric ethics consultations with active collaboration with nursing, social work, medical staff, and other internal and external individuals and groups.

Continue reading

NY Court Upholds Social Distancing Policy Requiring Unvaccinated To Stay Out of School

By: Ross D. Silverman, JD, MPH (Twitter: @phlu)

Fairbanks School of Public Health and McKinney School of Law, Indiana University, Indianapolis.

This has been a big year for outbreaks of Vaccine-Preventable Illnesses (VPIs) in the United States. While we are only halfway through 2014, there have been more measles cases this year than we have seen since before 2000, when the Federal government officially declared the United States “measles free” (in other words: there are no more domestically-generated measles cases; all of our outbreaks are imported). We’ve also seen large mumps and whooping cough outbreaks. You can follow all the disease outbreak action, both here and worldwide, via the Council on Foreign Relations’ very cool interactive map.

States use their police power authority under the Constitution to try to minimize our risk of exposure to VPIs. First, every state requires that children demonstrate proof of immunization against many VPIs as a condition of entry into schools, preschools and day cares. States also permit exemptions to these laws – every state allows a child who may be medically susceptible to injury from vaccines to receive an exemption (with proper documentation of vulnerability), and most states allow parents to apply for an exemption based on either religious or broader philosophical grounds. A combination of factors, including: a nearly two decade trend of increasing numbers of families obtaining exemptions and clustering in particular communities (or avoiding vaccine requirements by taking advantage of law loopholes, such as if a state’s vaccine law does not cover private schools); waning effectiveness of vaccination protections over time (as has been seen with whooping cough); increased international travel facilitating ready reimportation of VPIs from abroad; and many more immunocompromised individuals living in our communities; have slightly weakened our overall protection against VPI outbreaks. Continue reading

Public health in the shadow of the First Amendment

The First Amendment has been repurposed as a powerful deregulatory tool, especially in health care (NEJM on data privacy) and public health (NEJM on smoking). Amy Kapczynski at YLS has put together a timely and powerful conference, Public Health In The Shadow of the First Amendment. October 17-18 in New Haven. Register here.

@koutterson

 

“Isn’t Incarceration Better than Death?”

Katherine L. Record, JD, MPH, MA

Shortly after criticizing Massachusetts for incarcerating innocent individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) when drug rehab facilities are full, I received an email from a woman who lost her son to a heroin overdose just four months ago.

“Is preventing an overdose by detaining the SUD sufferer not a better alternative than leaving them to languish?” she asked.

She had found her 24 year-old son cold and blue, just hours after kissing him goodnight. He had been evicted from his sober living home for testing positive for drugs, but his mother did not know he had relapsed when he arrived at her front door. He was, in hindsight, a clear danger to himself – so why did his step-down house let him wander away? Why didn’t anyone call the authorities? Is jail not better than death?

Continue reading

Sunstein Keynote at Petrie-Flom Annual Conference featured in Harvard Law Today

sunstein-atlanticHarvard Law Today has posted a feature on Cass Sunstein’s keynote address at the 2014 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.” Sunstein, who is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and the co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, addressed the opening day of the conference on May 2, 2014, on the subject of “Choosing Not to Choose.”

Full video of the conference will be available soon via the Petrie-Flom Center’s website. In the meantime, you can read about and view Sunstein’s keynote address here.

A Drug Epidemic’s Silver Lining

By Katherine L. Record

Can there be a silver lining to a drug epidemic that is so extreme it is deemed a public health emergency? As prescription opioid (painkiller) addictions drive individuals to heroin, there just might be.

Heroin use has surged recently – seizures of supply increased by nearly 70% over the last few years in New York (the epicenter for imports into the United States). In Boston, overdoses increased by nearly 80% between 2010 and 2012. This has followed a rising trend in prescription opioid addictions – 4 out of 5 users are addicted to prescription painkillers when they first try heroin. Turning to the street opioid is often a move of desperation; prescription opioids are now harder to abuse, more expensive, and harder to obtain than heroin. In other words, heroin provides a cheaper, easier to score, and stronger high.

This surge in use is changing the face of heroin; the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s director recently described the drug as a former “inner city problem” that has become classless, affecting “all populations and all ages.” To be blunt, white people – many with high paying jobs and fancy apartments – are now doing 8 to 10 bags a day.

Continue reading

A Tale of Two Polities (Revisited)

By Hosea H. HarveyPh.D., JD

About a year ago, my colleague Scott Burris blogged on this forum about the two polities of public health that compete for our visions – one view sees public health as “incredibly popular with citizens and lawmakers” and the other as the despised “nanny state.” Burris suggested that the former view is largely the truth, but the latter view is driving budgets and policymaking. His action plan centered on mobilizing public support for public health initiatives rooted in sound science, and engaging battles over public health law budgets and lawmaking. To do so, he recommended, among other things: a) that ideological or economic arguments against public health initiatives be challenged with data and science, including collaborations with state public health agencies, b) that legislators be supported more vigorously with real public opinion data and evidence, and c) improved normative work by law professors to develop a proactive intellectual, cultural, and political framework to evaluate, and perhaps influence, public health law interventions.

With respect to my own area of expertise, three recent developments seem designed to provide responses to Burris’s clarion call. First, the LawAtlas policy surveillance web portal has expanded significantly over the past year and has become a one-stop shop for public health law advocates and lawmakers to objectively evaluate existing public health law interventions and to learn about key elements of such laws. LawAtlas, as readers of this blog know, has expanded from an initial public health law surveillance of four broad public health law regimes to more than 20 datasets covering laws at a variety of levels – some statewide, as in my work on youth sports TBI laws, and some at a county or community-level such as the Seattle and King County public health law surveillance tool, which tracks policies adopted by local governments, public sector institutions, and private organizations in King County, Washington. My own policy surveillance portal, which has been substantially revised and re-launched this week, is one tool that contributes data to conversations that can too often be overrun by politics and emotion. Whether on LawAtlas, or in other forums, perhaps countering political noise with raw data will help reduce the level of misinformation in this policy space and promote a more reinvigorated evidence-based approach to public health lawmaking.

Continue reading

The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study

In the U.S., the right to health is often held up as a utopian legal principle that other countries manage to embrace and that we shortsightedly spurn.  What I learned working on a new project is that the right to health does not always lend itself to admirable ends.  In some countries, a formal right to health is not used to advance equity but rather for the opposite.  In other words, having a right to health can lead to a less equitable distribution of health care resources because, for example, people who are better able to navigate the legal system can claim more resources for themselves.

This insight and others are featured in an excellent book that just came out from Cambridge Press, The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study, edited by Colleen M. Flood, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law and Aeyal Gross, Tel-Aviv University, Faculty of Law.  This book is worth reading, in part, because it features chapters on countries that are not the usual suspects, including Hungary, Venezuela, Nigeria, New Zealand, and Taiwan.  Two of the chapters are by U.S. health care scholars: one I wrote on the U.S. system and the Affordable Care Act (A Vision of an Emerging Right to Health Care in the United States: Expanding Health Care Equity through Legislative Reform) and one Christina Ho wrote on China (Health Rights at the Juncture between State and Market: the People’s Republic of China).

In my chapter, I argue that while the U.S. does not have a formal right to health, the ACA could provide the vision and foundation for an evolving American conception of a right to health care.

High Noon for Population-Wide Mammography Screening?

By Prof. Dr. med. Dr. phil. Nikola Biller-Andorno

Director, Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Safra Network Fellow, Harvard University (13-14)

Visiting Professor, Div. Medical Ethics, Harvard Medical School (12-14)

It is amazing how much heat a report can draw that simply states what has been all over town for some time now: We do not know if mammography screening does more good than harm, we do not even know for sure if it does any good at all.

The Swiss Medical Board, an independent health technology assessment initiative that was started in 2008, stated that based on the empirical data availability the introduction of mammography screening all over Switzerland could not be recommended.

As could be expected the report drew fire. Curiously, one of the chief complaints was that it was “unethical” to upset women who might no longer know if screening was good for them or not.

This sounds just a little bit paternalistic – particularly given that we know that most women seriously overestimate the benefits of screening when making their decision, a point that my colleague Peter Juni and myself illustrate in a Perspective piece published on May 22, 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Continue reading

DUE 6/3: Call for Abstracts: Emerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

            PFC_Logo_300x300                    FDLI_Logo_380

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Food and Drug Law Institute are pleased to announce an upcoming collaborative academic symposium:

Emerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

Monday, October 20, 2014 

Washington, DC

We are currently seeking abstracts for academic presentations/papers on the following topics:  Continue reading

SAVE THE DATE: 9/18/14, Post-Trial Access to Medicines: Responsibilities and Implementation

pills_genericvariety_slide

Please join us for a day-long conference at Harvard Law School on September 18, 2014, which will include presentations by leading experts and varied stakeholders as well as small group discussion and break out sessions that will work toward developing consensus in this difficult area.

Key questions include:

  • How should post-trial access be defined?
  • What type of interventions should be included in post-trial access obligations?
  • What are the responsibilities of various stakeholders?

More information, including the developing agenda, will be posted on the Petrie-Flom Center’s website as it becomes available.

Cosponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center at Harvard University.

PFC_Logo_300x300MRCT

Art Caplan on handshakes in medical settings

Art Caplan has a new opinion piece up at NBC News on the suggestion, in a recent JAMA article, that handshakes should be banned in healthcare settings. From the article:

Now, the handshake ban might make sense if it were not for the fact that the constant touching of microbe-laden things by providers and patients is likely to go on and, handshake or not, they are still likely to fist bump, shoulder pat, rub noses or whatever else they think shows love, care and concern for one another.

Health care has gotten very sterile and impersonal as more technology appears, less time is set aside for talking and more health providers find themselves chained to their computers or handheld medical devices. While not every culture values a handshake, many do, and putting the kibosh on grip and grinning just adds to the perception that caring and curing are heading down different highways.

Read the full article.

Risks and Benefits

By Deborah Cho

We often determine the value of a particular medical intervention, product, or protocol by weighing its risks against its benefits. If the risks are outweighed by the benefits, then the measure is given the green light. However, risks and benefits are not easily measured nor are they readily comparable. Countless issues arise when calculating the risk, or harm, of a measure. Must we consider the potential risk to the specific individual in question, or is consideration of risk to the average individual enough? Similarly, should individual preferences be considered when deciding how much weight ought to be assigned to the risk? Are relevant harms only those that are immediate and occur proximately from the measure, or is any future harm, no matter how attenuated, that results to be a part of the equation? These questions and many more in the same vein can also be asked regarding benefits.

To these questions, there do not seem to exist satisfactory answers. Even more difficult is the determination of the overall value of a measure that is made after weighing its risks against its benefits, as risks and benefits are measured in incomparable units and manifest in very different ways. Despite these difficulties, this calculation is regularly done in medicine, public health, and research. Though I agree that benefits should outweigh risks and that probing questions ought to be asked before a measure is pursued, perhaps the current model centered around the risk-benefit analysis is too flawed to be useful.

Continue reading

Call for Abstracts: Emerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

PFC_Logo_300x300FDLI_logo_pink

 

 

 

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Food and Drug Law Institute are pleased to announce an upcoming collaborative academic symposium:

Emerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

Monday, October 20, 2014 

Washington, DC

We are currently seeking abstracts for academic presentations/papers on the following topics:

  • Stem cell therapies
  • Nanotechnologies
  • Genetic (and biomarker) tests
  • Gene therapies
  • Personalized medicine
  • Comparative efficacy research
  • Drug resistant pathogens
  • Globalized markets
  • Tobacco
  • GMO
  • Bioterrorism countermeasures
  • Mobile health technologies
  • Health IT
  • Drug shortages
  • Other related topics

Abstracts should be no longer than 1 page, and should be emailed to Davina Rosen Marano at dsr@fdli.org by Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Questions should also be directed to Davina Rosen Marano.

We will notify selected participants by the end of June.  Selected participants will present at the symposium, and will be expected to submit a completed article by December 15, 2014 (after the event) to be considered for publication in a 2015 issue of FDLI’s Food and Drug Law Journal (FDLJ).  Publication decisions will be made based on usual FDLJ standards.