Estimated prevalence of tuberculosis per 100,000 people in 2007, per country. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Going up against business interests to defend public health isn’t always easy even when you’re dealing with just one developed country, but Dr. Madhukar Pai, a McGill University Health Centre scientist, has used his research to convince the World Health Organization to adopt a new policy that will improve the well being of millions of people in dozens of tuberculosis-affected developing nations. The new policy relates to a variety of TB tests that continue to be commercialized in weak governance zones, despite mounting evidence that they’re unreliable and therefore a health hazard.
“Unfortunately, we still do not have an accurate point-of-care (POC) test for TB, as we have for infections like HIV or malaria. The WHO policy strongly encourages future research to develop novel or improved serological tests,” said Dr. Pai, in this press release. “We are happy that some countries, like India, have already taken the lead by endorsing the WHO policy and issuing advisories against the use of serological tests. The big challenge will be to improve regulation, especially in the private medical sector, and to incentivize private providers to switch to WHO-endorsed TB tests.”
At the complete other end of the spectrum, Conservative Party Executive Director Dan Hilton has sent a legal threat to a woman whose husband died of asbestos related illness and who set up a website calling upon the Conservative Party to end its policy of supporting asbestos exports to developing countries. So what exactly is Dan Hilton’s issue? Ms. Michaela Keyserlingk of www.canadianasbestosexports.ca had the audacity to use the Conservative Party’s logo. Now, if the Conservatives want to adopt dangerous, unscientific, non-fact based policies, they should at least have the guts to publicly put their name to them. The only upswing - media across Canada are giving plenty of coverage to this issue, so here’s hoping Ms. Keyserlingk’s initiative receives a bit of a boost. If you think this is shameful and disgusting, you can sign a petition here to encourage Mr. Hilton to stop his frankly un-Canadian legal antics.
Image: A woman in India sifting through Canadian asbestos by hand. Courtesy of Greenpeace.
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A Montreal man who uses the name David Mabus, and who has been identified as Dennis Markuze of Saint-Laurent, Qué., has allegedly been issuing death threats to American science journalists and bloggers over the course of the past three years, first by email and lately via twitter. However, despite repeated complaints to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Montreal City Police (SVPM), no action has been taken.
“I’ve been getting emails from him for about 3 years or so, ever since I started my website http://whatstheharm.net and James Randi mentioned it in a blog post,” said Tim Farley, whose blog challenges people to think critically. “I have almost 60 screen shots of DIRECT death threats he sent to me. Stuff like “I am going to execute you, fucker… The police will not save you… we’re going to beat the fuck out of you, u lying little sack of shit…. and so on.”
Markuze appears, ironically, to be on some kind of extremist Christian bent, attacking the journalists for their defence of science against creationism or their beliefs in the separation of Church and State. One blogger who prefers to remain anonymous provided the following quote, which was left on a July 2010 article about Galileo: “We have orders to EXTERMINATE you and your entire family if continue to talk about GOD and RELIGION the way *you do* do you got the msg, you stupid little fucker?”
However, not all the missives are so explicitly religious. Heather Henderson, an actress in North Hollywood, Calif., provided the following screen capture:
“I’ve tried to interest the local police in Montreal and the RCMP in doing something about him, but they both seem to have a problem with taking complaints from people that don’t live in their jurisdictions,” Farley said. “The Montreal police told me to file with my local police, which I did back in January. Nothing has happened, even though I faxed the resulting police report to Montreal. It drives me nuts because Markuze seems SO similar to the David Abitbol and @JeffSabres cases, both of which happened in Montreal and both of which resulted in arrests.” Another American journalist said that police had visited Markuze once, “which only resulted in months of taunting saying the police can’t save us.”
Your correspondent happens to share an office with Daniel Baril, former President of the Quebec Secular Movement and Mathieu-Robert Sauvé, current President of the Quebec Association for Science Communicators. Neither Baril nor Sauvé had ever heard of either Markuze or Mabus. That’s quite odd considering his firing range reaches across continents, and would certainly suggest that the perpetrator believes he is free to threaten whomever he likes, provided that person is not in Quebec.
While geography might appear to be a mitigating factor, nobody else seems to be spared - even Rhys Morgan, a 16 year old Crohn’s sufferer from Wales, has received abusive twitter messages from Markuze.
Considering the number of death threats and abuse researchers in Montreal receive from around the world, it is appalling and shameful that our own police service is not acting rapidly and decisively to protect their international colleagues. It is appalling and shameful that our police react promptly to threats to Quebec journalists but not to those based abroad. The SPVM on the other hand has claimed that they have not received any reports, but that concerned citizens may forward any information they may have to email@example.com for referral.
“My big concern is that he needs to be taken in and evaluated psychologically, and it needs to happen before he does something violent that matches his words,” Farley said. Markuze is known to hang around science events in Montreal - the following photo was taken of him at the American Atheist Convention which took place here in October 2010. In other words, it appears that Markuze is moving off the Internet and into the real world. Action needs to be taken now, before someone gets hurt.
Dennis Markuze. Photo taken at the American Atheist Convention which took place in Montreal on October 2010.
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The children most likely to walk or cycle to school live in urban areas, with a single parent, and in an economically disadvantaged home, according to survey results that were published in Pediatrics today by Dr. Roman Pabayo of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and the university’s Department of Social and preventive medicine.
“The study is important for the well-being of children because most children are not meeting physical activity guidelines needed for optimal growth and development,” Pabayo explained. “Active transportation to school represents an affordable and easy way to incorporate physical activity in the daily routines of children. In a separate study on children in Quebec, we have actually found significant associations between weight and whether the child cycles or walks to school.” The term active transportation relates to physical exertion, and excludes public transportation, school buses and driving.
Pabayo’s study is unique in that it follows the same group of children as they age throughout the school years, and it shows that children increasingly use “active transport” to travel to school until they reach ten or eleven years of age, at which point the trend then reverses.
The study looked at the habits of 7690 children, and it revealed that a variety of interesting factors are associated with transport choice. For example, children of parents who reported that their child had many friends in their area were more than twice as likely to increase their active commuting over two years in comparison to other children. Adolescents were less likely to increase their active transportation if there were no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings on their route to school. Whether a child has someone with whom to commute or older siblings were found to be particularly influential.
Some municipalities are already taking an avant-gardist approach to break down these kinds of barriers. In Montreal, for example, the downtown Plateau Mont-Royal borough recently rearranged a thoroughfare shortcut that ran near a school. The results were immediate, and dramatic. While vehicle commuters fumed (literally and figuratively) a few blocks away, a recent study showed that the number of cyclists on the street doubled within a month of the measure being taken.
While the move attracted criticism from some politicians, interest groups and citizens, the political party behind the initiative - Projet Montreal - is satisfied that it has taken a step to improve the wellbeing of Montreal’s children. “Promoting active transportation among children and their families is one of the objectives of Projet Montréal’s program,” Director General Patrick Cigana explained to Rutherford Mansfield. “Proposed policies to improve active transportation include increasing the number of bike paths and better connecting existing ones, establishing pedestrian-friendly streets by changing the direction of one-way streets or by integrating physical impediments such as speed bumps or wider sidewalks in the urban fabric, and developing convenient, attractive and safe walking routes leading to metro stations, primary and secondary schools, parks and other places where there is a large concentration of pedestrians, especially children.”
Future studies must however be undertaken to explain the range of trends and factors identified in the University of Montreal study. “Why are children from Saskatchewan and Manitoba the most likely to use active transport at a given point in their lives? What about children from poorer backgrounds? Why are there different patterns as children age across socio-demographic and regional lines?” Pabayo asked. “If we can gain a better understanding of the factors that influence how children get to school, we may be able to encourage more families to bike or walk to school, leading to lifelong healthy behaviors.”
Top Image: Boys in Brooklyn, 1974, Danny Lyon, National Archives and Record Administration.
Bottom Image: Avenue Laurier, Plateau Mont-Royal Borough, Montreal. Photo taken 2 July 2011 by William Raillant-Clark. It’s hard to tell if this graffiti artist is pleased or annoyed by the new street layout.