The Health Wrap: Windfarm woes, the vaccination conversation, hope for medicinal cannabis, improving organ donation rates
Jun 19, 2015
This fortnight’s Health Wrap has been prepared by my colleague Ellice Mol, Digital Communications Manager at The Sax Institute. Send your ideas for The Health Wrap to me on Twitter via @medicalmedia.
By Ellice Mol
Huff and puff on windfarms
Prime Minister Tony Abbott sparked renewed discussion around renewable energy when he told Sydney radio announcer Alan Jones that he wished the government had been able to reduce the number of new windfarms more than was possible in a recent renewable energy deal with Labor. Declaring windfarms not only “visually awful…but they make a lot of noise”, he agreed with the talkback host that they had “potential health impacts,” the Guardian reported.
The PM’s comments drew the ire of many, including popular scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki who criticised the claims in an interview with Buzzfeed. The Guardian reported that members of the Association of Australian Acoustic Consultants (AAAC) told an inquiry into wind turbines that several studies have found no perceivable physical reaction to so-called infrasound.
West Australian Liberal backbencher Chris Back, who sits on the new senate select inquiry into windfarms, said it was looking at “what role the federal Clean Energy Regulator [CER] should have in checking that wind farms are compliant with state laws and guidelines”. He also said he was dissatisfied with previous reports from the NHMRC on wind farms, saying they lacked balance. The committee’s interim report and a Labor dissenting report can be found here and here.
Meanwhile, the the ABC reported that the government was considering appointing a wind farm commissioner to complaints about windfarm operations, prompting some satirical Twitter kickback at #allthecommissioners.
As the fortnight closed, Croakey reported that Pope Francis released his much awaited Encyclical Letter or Laudato Si on climate change: “Care for our Common Home”, as a leading German climate change authority and adviser to the Pope on the effects of global warming lambasted Australia in the Australian Financial Review and said our reliance on coal exports to China is a “suicide strategy”.
Justice and health for Aboriginal people
In the wake of Croakey’s successful #JustJustice campaign, the conversation around Indigenous incarceration rates continued. UTS Researcher Amanda Porter highlighted on The Conversation the importance of reinvesting justice funding into communities as tough on crime rhetoric was creating a lost generation of Indigenous youth.
Croakey reported on threatened closure of the NSW Custody Notification Service, which gives Aboriginal people much-needed support if they are taken into custody. The post gives a great overview of this important issue.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty told the ABC’s Lateline that the incarceration rate for Indigenous children in Australian jails was “shocking”, 24 times higher than non-Indigenous children, and worse in Western Australia where it even exceeds the rate at which black people are incarcerated in the United States, which overall is the highest in the world.
Meanwhile, journalist Hannah Hollis explored in a Living Black report on SBS, the “high price to pay for staying well” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities who have to travel for treatment such as renal dialysis. She also talks about the issue on Croakey here.
Croakey reported on the recent National Rural Health Conference in Darwin, which called for a Senate Inquiry into food security for remote communities, while the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjar (NPY) Women’s Council has long campaigned for more dialysis services in remote communities, arguing that having to go such large distances for treatment was “doubly cruel” and “likely to make end-stage kidney failure even more distressing and upsetting”.
Communication critical on vaccines – but which kind?
The Office of the Chief Scientist has issued a new paper on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, urging communities and individuals to support vaccination. The paper warns that recent disease epidemics in developed countries demonstrate that a fall in vaccine coverage in the community will inevitably lead to the re-emergence of diseases of the past. “The challenge for all nations is to foster both the science and the scientific awareness of vaccination to keep our communities safe”, it says.
Croakey meanwhile, reported on a new study exploring the link between exposure to negative information regarding vaccination on Twitter and expression of a negative opinion regarding vaccination that has been published by a team from Macquarie University and the University of Sydney.
The study found a strong ‘echo chamber effect’ for HPV vaccines. Users who were more often exposed to negative opinions were then much more likely to post negative opinions. These users also tended to inhabit sections of the Twitter ecosystem that were largely isolated from scientists, clinical evidence, and public health organisations. The authors, Adam Dunn and Julie Leask, said the findings had implications for communicating with parents who were anti-vaccination or vaccine hesitant, particularly in light of the recently proposed no jab, no play and no pay policy.
Leask addressed a similar issue in a recent perspective piece in the journal Public Health Research and Practice, which argued that adversarial advocacy may not be the most effective way of dealing with anti-vaccination activists.
In Pakistan, which has the world’s highest number of new polio cases, parents have been arrested for failing to vaccinate their children. Melissa Stoneham wrote for Croakey on this issue, which was recently raised in The Lancet.
Improving organ donation rates
The Australian Government has commissioned a private consultancy to review the country’s low levels of organ donation. While the review may need to examine many issues, some academics observed in The Conversation that the answer to increasing the rate is to better manage patients nearing brain death.
New Zealand is now also considering ways to increase organ donation. A donor register, similar to the one set up in Australia, has been proposed as a way to help lift New Zealand’s low rate. But it would need to be part of other new measures, The New Zealand Herald reported.
Dr Eric Crampton, an expert in the economics of organ donation and the head of research at the NZ Initiative, said a more explicit register that counted as informed consent would help make intentions clear.
Hope for medicinal cannabis
NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a new $12 million medicinal cannabis research centre, saying the project was a world-leading venture and would be headed up by NSW Chief Scientist, Mary O’Kane.
“All of us have been moved by the stories we have seen, people who are suffering in all types of situations and circumstances and there is clear anecdotal evidence medical cannabis is making a difference,” The Guardian reported the Premier as saying.
Meanwhile, a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal has found no evidence that legalising the use of marijuana for medical purposes leads to increased use of the drug among teenagers. The US study analysed 24 years of data from more than one million American adolescents and showed no significant difference in adolescent marijuana use in 21 states with medical marijuana laws before or after implementation of these laws.
Introduce peanuts early
The World Allergy Organisation has released a consensus statement in the wake of emerging evidence on peanut allergy and offering interim guidance supporting early introduction of peanuts into infants’ diets, rather than delaying them. About one in 50 primary school-aged children in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia are now affected by peanut allergy, it says. The interim guidance will be followed by new guidelines.
A Dutch study meanwhile, suggests that eating half a handful of nuts every day could substantially lower the risk of early death, the BBC reported. There was no benefit for peanut butter, which is high in salt and trans fats.
Pregnant pause for thought
Pressure is mounting on Australian clinicians to change the practice of early cutting and clamping of the umbilical cord, Hannah Dahlen, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, wrote at The Conversation. Her article highlighted a new Swedish study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, that followed up four-year-olds who were part of a randomised controlled trial comparing immediate clamping of the umbilical cord (10 seconds or less after birth) with delayed clamping (for three minutes or more). Researchers found delayed cord clamping led to improved fine motor skills and social domains at four years of age, especially in boys. The Daily Telegraph also took up the issue.
The Guardian reported on new research that shows a mother’s diet before conception could affect her unborn child’s genetic make-up and immune system. Such research had “profound implications for policy and development work”, it said.
Meanwhile George Patton, Professor of Adolescent Health Research at University of Melbourne wrote this piece on The Conversation about his new research published in The Lancet into growing recognition that having a mental health problem earlier in life was a risk factor for mental health problems during the perinatal period (throughout pregnancy and after birth). The findings were that, overwhelmingly, perinatal depression is a continuation of mental health problems from earlier in life. The work provided one of the most comprehensive pictures of mental health from the second to the fourth decade anywhere in the world, he said.
The Catalyst effect
The media’s coverage of health issues and the issue of responsible reporting hit the headlines again this fortnight with the publication of a study in the Medical Journal of Australia that associated a controversial episode of the ABC’s Catalyst program with 60,000 people not taking their statin medication and potentially increasing their future heart attack and stroke risk. There was also some spirited debate on Twitter, with the reporter, Maryanne Demasi (tweeting as @MaryanneDemasi), defending her position. An outcry at the time saw the ABC remove the episode from its website after finding it had breached impartiality standards. The MJA analysed PBS records and found that diabetics, who are at high risk of developing heart disease, were among the people who ceased their medication.
The back pain burden
According to a new paper published in The Lancet the No.1 cause of disability within Australia is back-pain. The SMH interviewed physiotherapist Sarah Key on the connection between emotion and back pain, and new research has looked at the biological basis for the link between anxiety and chronic pain.
Meanwhile researchers at the George Institute for Global Health interviewed 999 people about what they believed triggered their back pain to evaluate the accuracy of their perceptions of its cause, the SMH reported. Their paper was published in the journal Pain. Senior researcher Manuela Ferreira said people with lower back pain often underestimated the psychosocial causes of back pain, such as being tired or distracted.
From back pain to work-induced health effects, the Health Profile of Australian Employees report analysed workplace health assessments over the course of a decade and covering nearly 30,000 workers, The Guardian reported. The report found physical inactivity and stress were the leading preventable health risks.
“The impact of employee health on the performance and productivity of the Australian labour force dwarfs many of the productivity issues currently being tackled by state and federal governments,” Dr John Lang, CEO of Workplace Health Association of Australia, is quoted as saying.
Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight;
You can read previous Health Wraps here.