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STOKING FIRE: Mountaintop Coal Mining Leads to Birth Defects, Respiratory Illness and Other Health Problems

9:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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When Madison Minton was six months old, her parents noticed that her breathing was frequently labored. Now in second grade, the child is on eight medications for asthma and other pulmonary ailments.

“œMadison’™s situation is typical,” says Deborah Payne, Energy and Health Coordinator of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. “œPeople in Eastern Kentucky often don’™t have the financial capacity to move away so they live with the consequences of being downwind of a coal processing plant. This means that Madison is exposed to high quantities of dust every single day.”

Payne calls coal mining “œone piece of the birth defect puzzle” and says that at every stage, coal is problematic, from its extraction, to its processing, transport, and eventual burning. “œAt each step there are negative health consequences for adults, children, and fetal life,” she continues.

And it’™s gotten worse. As mountaintop removal [MTR] has horned-in on underground mining, the health maladies of residents of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southwest West Virginia — ”Appalachia — ”have begun to pile up.

Here’™s why. Read the rest of this entry →

Brownback Strips At-Risk Infants of Access to Health Care While Spending Millions on “Faith-based” Initiatives

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kari Ann Rinker for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The State of Kansas has a health care crisis that it should be addressing, but instead the Brownback administration is tied up restricting women’s access to low cost birth control and abortion care. The crisis that I refer to is this fact according to the latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:

Kansas dropped to 40th in the country in infant mortality, and to worst in the nation for African-American infant mortality, said Christie Appelhanz, vice president of public affairs of Kansas Action for Children in Topeka.

Ms. Appelhanz explains:

We have to invest in our kids. We need to be protecting the crucial supports — nutrition, early education, college savings — anything we can do to be sure kids are growing up healthy.  I think it’s important that children have access to food stamps, quality education such as Head Start and Early Head Start and workforce development.

Governor Brownback’s budget, which he unveiled in January 2011, drew much criticism due to drastic cuts proposed for Head Start in Kansas.  Their funding remained uncertain through the entire legislative session, until, after much public criticism it was finally restored.  But the problem doesn’t begin and end with Head Start funding.

This administration is also upending the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS).  This agency is responsible for child protective services, child support enforcement, and child, adult and family well being services within the state of Kansas.  The state was on track to close 9 service centers, citing agency cost savings.  Public outcry has prevented one of those closures.  The City Council of Lawrence, Kansas has agreed to pick up the state’s tab and fund their own office to serve the most needy within their community. Yet, somehow the administration believes this agency can afford new and expensive “faith based initiatives” programs. For example, chief of staff Jeff Kahrs is making $100,000 a year in a new position. A deputy secretary leading a new faith-based initiative, Anna Pilato, is making $97,500.

They can also afford $13,000 closed door meetings to discuss their new push for faith programs within the state, where it was decided that polygamy is more in line with traditional values than same sex marriage.  Our Governor also is comfortable with applying for a $6.6 million dollar grant to promote marriage, while rejecting federal money for health care reform within our state and proceeding with the SRS office closures.   

Governor Brownback is promoting a “culture of life” from his mansion in Topeka and thinking of new ways to pimp out poverty stricken single mothers within the state while what we really need are healthy, empowered mothers, because healthy mothers lead to healthy children.  Health care, childcare assistance and educational opportunities should be the Governor’s focus.  Instead, the hypocrisy runs rampant and we wait for God and a big strong man to come along and save us from feminine handicap, meanwhile an increasing number of children are dying in the state of Kansas.

Congenital Syphilis Taking Toll on Mothers and Babies

7:01 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by William Smith for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

April is National STD Awareness Month and sexual and reproductive health organizations throughout the country urge you to Get Yourself Tested!!  RH Reality Check has partnered with The National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) to produce a series of articles on the importance of STD prevention and treatment among populations throughout the United States.  Other articles in this series include one by Sandra Serna-Smith, Dana Cropper Williams and Peter Leone and a feature article by William Smith published earlier this week.

Last week, and as part of STD Awareness month (April), I and several other colleagues wrote about just how significant the STD situation is in our country. It might not be in the headlines everyday, but we’ve got very serious STD epidemics affecting the most vulnerable in our society. This week, I want to pick up on a theme from my own article and that of my colleague Peter Leone in North Carolina: The issue of the resurgent syphilis epidemic in the United States.

Headlines were made recently about the shockingly high rates of syphilis among men who have sex with men. These rates are indicative of behaviors—such as not using condoms–that put people at risk for other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. But that is just one aspect of the resurgent syphilis epidemic. Another is the equally disturbing trends of syphilis infection passed along to babies by their mothers, known as congenital syphilis.

On April 16th, the CDC released new data about the rates of congenital syphilis (CS) and the trends are going totally in the wrong direction. From 2003 to 2005, there were roughly 339 cases per year in the United States. In 2008, however, nearly 100 additional cases of CS were reported for a total of 431 that year. That means nearly 500 children being born in 2008 with a totally preventable life-threatening illness.

CS is preventable. Treating maternal infection 30 days prior to delivery is highly successful in reducing or eliminating transmission. The CDC reports, however that in about a quarter of CS cases where maternal infection was detected within this 30-day window for treatment, an identified infection was left untreated. In another quarter of cases, infection was identified less than 30 days out from delivery and in about 30 percent of cases, no prenatal care was provided and infection was identified at the time of delivery.

What is worse: This isn’t just about babies born sick and easily treated with an “all’s well” ending. In 2007 and 2008, 54 babies born with CS were stillborn and another 7 died within thirty days of birth.

Drill down into the data a bit deeper and we find the same persistent and disturbing trends in terms of how this infection and its outcomes disproportionally affect the southern part of the country. Nearly 60 percent of all cases of CS in 2008 are in the South.

And of course behind the numbers of CS cases are also women whose sexual health is already compromised, particularly black women. Nearly 50 percent of all cases of CS were among those born to black mothers. An even more astonishing statistic provided by the CDC analysis that brings these two pieces of data to appalling convergence – 79 percent of those black mothers involved in CS transmission were from the South.

The current National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis sets a goal of reducing the rate of congenital syphilis to fewer than 3.9 per 100,000 births by 2010. It is highly unlikely that we will meet it. In 2008, the rate was 10.1 per 100,000 births. That is a huge gap to close when the evidence is all around that ground is being lost – not gained.

So, we have yet another window into a disturbing increase of syphilis in this country and it is part of a clarion call to renew and refresh our domestic commitment. This renewed effort must focus on greater efficacy of delivering treatment to pregnant mothers and the CDC recommends this going forward. The great success in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV is a good model to look to and the impact of health care reform may also hold promise. After all, good access to prenatal care could facilitate a dramatic drop in rates of syphilis and of CS. But we must focus these efforts and resources in the south where the ugly intersection of history and poverty allow syphilis to thrive.

A decade ago, we were on the precipice of a major public health success story in eliminating syphilis. In fact, syphilis rates in 2000 were the lowest since 1941 when it first became a reportable disease. Now, with insufficient resources and too much politics that has set back behavioral interventions and access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, we have a big mess on our hands.

But it is a mess we can fix. And fix it we must.