Sunday, 30 November 2014

Flora and Fauna

"...there is no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard"

Last week I made a passing reference to indigenous Australians being defined, not as humans, but as flora and fauna. To answer the question of what on earth I meant, here is how New South Wales, Deputy Leader of the Opposition,  Linda Jean Burney has reflected on her childhood, when she was counted among the nation's wildlife.

“I am a member of the mighty Wiradjuri Aboriginal nation… For the first 10 years of my life, like all indigenous people at that time, I was not a citizen of this country. We existed under the Flora and Fauna Act of New South Wales. Growing up as an Aboriginal child looking into the mirror of our country was difficult and alienating. Your reflection in the mirror was at best ugly and distorted, and at worst nonexistent.”

This week, driving into work with the radio on, I’ve been further reminded of colonialism and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) burgeoning success in positioning itself as global vaccine champions of an Ebola threatened ‘free world’. This is probably the greatest PR exercise GSK could hope for following their 2013 $3billion fine after they were found guilty of promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data to the Food and Drug Administration - the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history! Handy too, that the chase for the Ebola prize might detract from its recent $490million fine for bribery in China, a case which included amongst other things, prostitutes were procured to doctors to persuade them to prescribe GSK medicines, allegedly pushing up the prices Chinese patients pay for GSK drugs by as much as 30%.

So as dear old GSK announce, alongside the US National Institutes of Health, that each of the 20 healthy adult volunteers involved in its trial showed an “immunological response” and that the drug was “well tolerated”. Dr Moncef Slaoui, chairman of Global Vaccines at GSK, said: “We are very encouraged by these positive first trial results, showing this type of vaccine has an acceptable safety profile and can produce an immune response against Ebola in humans.”

First identified in 1976, it’s curious that only when it threatens to leave its otherworldly shores and infect the west, do the great gods of Big Pharma push through ‘rapid trials’ of vaccines. Of course it’s a serious issue that needs addressing, but far more informed voices than mine have long-discussed the public health measurements that can be put in place to address the spread of the virus. In a 2012 article published by The Atlantic, Nigerian writer Teju Cole exposed the white saviour industrial complex for what it is: a pathology of white privilege. With a backward glance to Cole, Robtel Pailey writing for Aljazeera, suggests that white saviours fundamentally believe they are indispensable to the very existence of those on the receiving end of their "interventions". Like some potted plants, they tend to bloom in "exotic" environments far removed from their natural habitats.

Here are two choice paragraphs to mull over from the Pailey article which summarises some of the key issues.

At the height of Ebola, the myth of the white saviour has resurfaced again and again, framing Africans as infantile objects of external interventions. The white saviour complex has placed a premium on foreign expertise, while negating domestic capabilities. We've been assailed with images of mostly white foreigners flown out of the Ebola "hot zone" with the promise of expert care abroad. As spokespersons for the thousands "left behind", they have been catapulted into the heady limelight of overnight stardom. We've been bombarded with a cacophony of non-African "expert" opinions about how to "save" Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone from Ebola. Yet, Ugandan and Congolese specialists, who contained the virus repeatedly in their own countries, have been sidelined in the mainstream international press.

Indian writer and human rights activist Arundathi Roy once said, "there is no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard". Indeed, narratives about African ingenuity, African agency, and African heroism in the age of Ebola have been preferably unheard. As an African proverb aptly puts it: "Until the lion learns to write, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."

Through its mainstream reportage, Radio 4 feeds me a good deal of fetid compost to nourish this blog, and on the same day that GSK announced its vaccine, I was reminded too, that are dear chums at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had given the green light to two new interventions to solve what many consider to be social, cultural and/or economic problems - obesity and alcohol addiction!

Like Ebola, the seriousness of obesity can’t be overstated, but the approval for mass gastric surgery represents yet another case of mopping up the problems and not tackling the root causes. With one in 20 people having type 2 diabetes in the UK and the numbers growing because of the obesity epidemic, it would be easy to just blindly accept the technological approaches that are thrown at us at every turn. but surgery! 

Prof John Wilding, a diabetes consultant and obesity specialist from the University of Liverpool, suggests that the number of NHS gastric operations could realistically rise to about 15,000 a year, with the cost of each operation being about £6,000. NICE argue that surgery will, over the long-term, reduce the annual £10m bill for care of diabetes and its complications. Not everyone is going along with this drive quietly and Prof Iain Broom, director of the centre for obesity research and education at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, suggests that NICE had missed lots of evidence.

“The Nice guidance could send tens of thousands of Britons towards unnecessary surgery, with its known morbidity and mortality, and costing taxpayers many millions of pounds, when all that is required is a different dietary and lifestyle approach including the use of low carbohydrate diets and low calorie diets,” Broom said.

An investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches, earlier this year, revealed that 'scientists advising health ministers on how much sugar should be in our diet are being funded by chocolate, ice-cream and fizzy drink companies as well as a lobby group for the sugar industry.' Specifically it exposed that members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) are preposterously close to the food industry. SACN advises Public Health England, who ultimately advise health ministers, who in turn have the power to influence how much sugar will be in all our diets. Professor Ian MacDonald of Nottingham University, who is a key member of the group, also sits on two advisory boards for Coca Cola and for Mars, as well as receiving funding from Unilever which is the world’s largest ice-cream manufacturer. These revelations are outrageous and should make us questions whether policy makers are too close to the food industry.

So too, it was on that very same drive into work, that I heard that the miracle pill that helps people cut down on alcohol is now available to people who drink at least half a bottle of wine or three pints a night. NICE has published formal guidance recommending nalmefene, also called Selincro, and costs £3, can be taken up to once a day, and is designed to be used whenever the patient wants to stave off the desire to drink.

The key is in that last sentence - we are all seen as patients! Pathologised and reduced to biomedical problems regardless of the journey that took us there. So we may wave our nanny state finger at the demonised, obese ‘underclasses’ for scoffing down their super-sized burgers and chips, quaffing their alcopops and bargain booze. All the products people are encouraged to consume by our sophisticated marketeers - just look at ‘black friday’ - who the hell came up with that? Our high streets are bursting with fast-food outlets and cut-price supermarkets, so we can all go and scuttle off home and get pissed in splendid isolation in front of our giant plasma screens, whilst being spoon fed all manner of ways we can ‘upgrade’ ourselves, improve ourselves, worship ourselves, hate ourselves.

So whilst we ignore the superb public health work of those on the ground in Africa and look to a magic bullet from the west for a multi-billion dollar Ebola ‘cure’ - whilst we conveniently forget the factors that drive us to reach for the bottle, or the pills, or the prescriptions that keep us sedate - conveniently ignoring the lack of work, education and money - and reach out for cheap food in one hand and a gastric band in the other...the marketeers are laughing all the way to the bank as we consume their products to satiate our boredom and loneliness, and of course, purchase their spurious miracle cures. People are making billions from us. Let’s forget the products and take a long hard look at our very sophisticatedly packaged, battery farmed lives. Hey, if you look beyond the hype for a moment and it makes you feel ill - don’t question it - your dissatisfaction is probably an illness - and there’s always medication for it, or even worse, surgery.

Healthy Hearts Grants 
Heart Research UK has announced that its Health Hearts Grants Programme will re-open for applications in January 2015. Heart Research UK Healthy Heart Grants support innovative projects designed to promote heart health and to prevent or reduce the risks of heart disease in specific groups or communities. Grants of up to £10,000 are available to community groups, voluntary organisations and researchers who are spreading the healthy heart message. The closing date for applications will be the 28th February 2015. Read more by clicking on the sparkly heart above.

Foyle Foundation Small Grants Programme 
The Foyle Foundation is inviting small local charities to apply for funding through its Small Grants programme. Through its Small Grants Programme, grants of between £1,000 and £10,000 are available to smaller charities in the UK, especially those working at grass roots and local community level, in any field, across a wide range of activities. Applicants will need to demonstrate that the grant will make a significant difference to their work.
Applications can be made at any time. Read more at: 

Austin & Hope Pilkington Trust 
The Austin and Hope Pilkington Trust which awards grants to registered charities in the United Kingdom has announced that the next closing date for applications is the 1st June 2015. During 2015, the Trust is seeking to fund projects that promote Community development and Medical - Research and non-research. Grants are usually between £1,000 and £3,000 and are awarded for one year. Previous grants awarded include:

Another glossy publication of perspectives on the value of art and culture from Arts Council England, which includes a piece by Prof John Ashton on health. Create is a new journal that aims to stimulate discussion about the true value of art and culture to our society. See more by clicking on the can of cultivation above. 
. . .

Over the next few days a couple of exhibitions are opening, one in Buxton and one in Kaunas, Lithuania. Sėkmės... 

The CELEBRATIONS project has been led by Buxton artists Adrienne and Langley Brown, and inspired by conversations with patients, families, staff and volunteers of Ashgate Hospice, Chesterfield. The work will become a permanent feature in the Hospice's reception, where it will be a welcoming presence and an absorbing talking point. This project has been especially inspired by the life and work of Alison Creed, and the project was initiated and generously supported by Francis Creed and the Creed family.

This is an open invitation to a free preview of CELEBRATIONS, together with working drawings, notes and photographs, will be on display from 10.30 to 5.30 on December 6th and 7th at Buxton’s Green Man Gallery. On Saturday 6th from 2.00 to 3.30pm there’ll be nibbles, wine, soft drinks, music, and a brief introduction to the the project by Sharon Herriot, Art Psychotherapist at Ashgate, and Langley Brown, Arts for Health Research Fellow at MIRIAD in the Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.
For more details please contact Langley Brown

SPALVŲ METAMORFOZĖS (Colour Metamorphosis)
On the 4th December, artwork created by nurses and health workers from Kaunas Republican Hospital and Hospice and Kaunas Republican Public Hospital Care Clinic alongside the artists Marijona Sinkevičienė and Lina Drižiūtė-Malinauskiene who have been exploring the health, wellbeing and welfare of workers within the healthcare system in Lithuania. This work has been managed by Socialiniai Meno Projektai. The exhibition opens on the 4th December at Kaunas County Public Library and will be opened by esteemed Professor of sociology, and singer/guitarist, Leonardas Rinkevičius. With the health and wellbeing of the workforce a key priority for governments across Europe, this is the start of an important workforce public health programme in Lithuania.

Morpurgo backs 10 year old's library campaign
One of the world's most successful childrens authors is backing a ten-year-old boy's campaign to protect the library service in Cornwall. It comes as council cuts across our region leave the future of hundreds of libraries in doubt, with some facing closure and others having to reduce their opening hours. Click on the rabbit contemplating the moon for more details.

The Recoverist Manifesto has gone to press

No comments:

Post a Comment