Immunization and Other Public Health Shortages Reveal Weaknesses of Conservative Response

Little Rock   A friend and comrade made the simple, but totally correct, observation that the weaknesses in the political positions from both the right and left, Democrats and Republicans, is that they were both arguing over insurance, when the American people only care about healthcare.  Nowhere is this more obvious than when you consider the public health and the not uncontroversial, but universal, consensus on the community priority of immunization.

To get a better understanding of this issue I talked to Heather Mercer, the executive director of the Arkansas Immunization Action Coalition on “Wade’s World.”  Her nonprofit pulls together various organizations to try to pull the immunization rates up in her state.  On immunizations that are required for school attendance on the old standbys where doses are one-and-done for typhoid, diphtheria, and the like, the rates are 91% and 89%, which are pretty good.  Talking to Mercer, the story gets worse from there.

Part of the problem is that in 20 of the 75 counties in Arkansas when it comes to Medicaid recipients on the expanded terms of the Affordable Care Act, the only access to immunizations is at the public health department’s one location on the county.  For lower income families challenged by multiple appointments and distances to access there’s a big, fat escape hatch provided by the state of Arkansas.  Families simply need to fill out a one-page form saying that they have a medical, philosophical or religious objection to the immunization, and wham-bam, no problem, come on to school, and cross your fingers and pray you stay healthy.

For the critical HPV vaccination, which is not yet mandatory in Arkansas, but where the goal is an 80% vaccination rate by 2020, the current rate is only 35% for girls and 33% for boys.  HPV is transmitted through skin-on-skin contact, which means we’re talking about S-E-X usually.  It contributes to cervical cancer in women and some pretty bad health consequences for men as well, including oral cancer.  HPV requires two doses if taken under the age of 15 and three doses if over 15, and to make the mountain even higher, the doses have to be taken within rigid timelines.

Advocating for more access to immunization and assuring the implementation of programs to achieve public health security is a big job, so I asked Mercer about her coalition.  They had not been around long and in fact had to shut down for lack of money several years ago and reorganized in the last several years thanks to a two-year only grant from a foundation.  The foundation resources allowed Mercer to be hired and allowed the coalition to ask for applications for local physicians in underserved areas to access grants of up to $1000 to allow them to buy refrigerators or freezers to hold the vaccines, since many argue that is the barrier to their providing the service, despite how specious that argument sounds.  What happens when the grant ends?  The answer was not exactly hopes and prayers but close enough.

This is where the ideological health care delivery system breaks down.  Clearly, immunizations are a public health need and a public health responsibility, but the public, meaning the state, is not paying to get the job done by either funding the coalition or even more appropriately giving public health offices the resources and support to provide the service, and, if necessary, bring the immunizations to the public.  Conservatives argue that private, religious, and philanthropic resources can pick up the slack, rather than taxpayers, but there isn’t enough of that money in Arkansas or most other places to fill the gaps on services that the government should provide.  The default becomes the increasing potential of a public health breakdown threatening entire communities.

Politicians have to realize that they need to step up.  Hope and prayer is not a plan for healthcare.


Fighting and Dying in Kurdistan During the Syrian War

Anna Campbell (middle)

Little Rock     A bit more than a year ago on my regular Friday morning radio show, Wade’s World, I interviewed a young man in London who had only recently returned from fighting in an international brigade with the YPG, the Kurdish units fighting ISIS along the borderlands in the Syrian War.  One of the taglines of Wade’s World has always been my introduction where I say that, “we talk to the most interesting people in the world and today we’re talking with” and away we go.  In that interview, Alexander Norton used a nom de guerre rather than his real name, uncertain how the British government might view his time on the frontlines in this struggle.

A year later that has now changed.  If I had to pick one reason, it would be because of the attention focused on the death of Anna Campbell, also from England, who was killed in a Turkish airstrike on a Kurdish town along the border.  Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, Campbell’s death has attracted public awareness of the struggle in a way that the earlier deaths of a half-dozen young British men or fighters from other countries has not, including a sympathetic portrayal in The New York Times of all places.  Anna was well known among progressives and, as I was told recently, had likely been an ACORN supporter in the time before she when to Syria.

But, if I had to look for other reasons that Sandy has now come forward a year later, it is because the conflict continues unabated, and the world is looking the other way as the fight increasingly is less about stopping the ISIS fanatic terrorism than it is about Turkish nationalism and paranoia about increasing sympathy for the demands of Kurds for their own state to be carved out of this conflict.  It is also because, as Sandy argued in a BBC interview recently, the British special police have now suddenly taken an interest in fighters on the side of the YPG and have called returnees in for interviews about their activity.  Sandy obviously reasoned that there is no purpose to work underground when the police have come down to seek you out.

I talked to Sandy again before these events turned in this new direction when in London recently.  At the time continuing his political work as always, he was pressed for time because a YPG fighter from Iceland had been killed days before, and he was trying to communicate and support the family, and potentially travel to meet them in Glasgow. Sandy and some other socialists and leftists in Britain and elsewhere speak of this conflict as the “Spanish Civil War of our time.”  The Kurd’s struggle for independence and their advocacy of a different political system, largely expounded by a little known American political philosopher, Murray Bookchin, who advocated something he called “dialectical naturalism” and which others called “libertarian socialism,” that combined socialism, anarchism, and environmentalism in a unique blend, had a special appeal that has been little recognized in North America.  Finally, this struggle may be getting the kind of attention it deserves in the midst of the rest of the sound and fury of these times.

Sandy and others will be stepping out now, because there is a terrible kind of horror that the latest turns in the Syrian conflict have now taken that jeopardize the entire region, involve world powers, and clearly threaten to destroy whatever hopes and dreams Kurds and their supporters have had for a revolutionary future in this area of the world that might also shed light to guide the path for their people and many others.

Video on Anna Campbell

Part 1

Part 2