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Can Medicine be Green?

DefineGreenIn safe hands

The answer to any question depends on how you define the terms. In this case, how do you define green?

What are these people dressed in green doing in such earnest? Obviously some high tech surgical procedure, at the top of the pyramid in medical expenditures.

Notice the surgical gowns, masks, hats and patient drapes are made of paper. Across the U.S. hundreds of thousands of procedures are performed on a daily basis.

Consider This:

red sharps container

If each surgery requires a minimum of 3 “scrubbed” personnel (the surgeon, the assistant, the anesthesiologist, the scrub tech, and the circulating nurse) that’s a minimum of 3 sets of paper “clothes” used per surgery per day. Where do you think all this paper goes?

If you’re not in the medical field you probably are not aware all that paper, not to mention the syringes, needles, and other supplies are deposited into the “Red Bag Trash” or medical waste. Unfortunately, we cannot simply jettison “Red Bag Trash” to our neighboring Red Planet, Mars, so it winds up in a landfill on Earth. In some areas it’s incinerated and disseminated into our air. (Don’t be alarmed–at least it’s sterile!)

2.2 Trillion Greenbacks $$$stack of money

Is what the U.S. spent on health care in 2008 according to recent statistics reported in the AMA News. The CDC tells us 83% of health care spending pays for care of chronic disease: heart disease, stroke, hypertension, congestive heart failure, diabetes, cancer.

The majority of these are diseases of lifestyle, or their severity is determined by lifestyle (overeating, lack of exercise). In 1998 dollars obesity accounted for ten percent of healthcare spending. Since then it has risen to 27 percent (2002 dollars): 38% of the increase can be attributed to excess diabetes, 22% to treatment of excess high cholesterol, and 41% to treatment of excess heart disease, all due to “fluffiness” (politically correct medicalese for obesity).

What if…Baby using mouse as phone

…we took that $2.2 Trillion and re-allocated it, or a portion of it, to efforts for chronic disease prevention. Even the CDC recognizes the prevention of the chronic disease begins at the beginning: The January 2009 issue of their publication, “Preventing Chronic Disease”, touts the twentieth anniversary of the merger of the Division of Reproductive Health with the Chronic Disease Center. They state:

Issues of maternal and child health … are recognized as being inextricably linked to the prevention and control of chronic disease. At  the most basic level, the link is forged during pregnancy and the postpartum period, when health care providers have the opportunity to screen and treat mothers fro chronic diseases.”

For example,

“obese children aged 5 to 8 years already have an average of 2 or more cardiovascular disease markers, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”

In  related publication, the United States Breastfeeding Committee reports,

“Additional health care costs for insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) in formula-fed children, assuming a 2-28 percent IDDM rate attributable to not breastfeeding: a low estimate of $1,185,900,000 and a high estimate of $1,301,100,000.”

Green Medicine Worldwide

stethoscope_globe Imagine if we applied that $2.2 Trillion or a portion of it to maternal and child health world wide. Think of all the things we could do:

  • Improve access to safe prenatal care in the poorest countries
  • Prevent early childhood respiratory disease through promotion of breastfeeding worldwide.
  • Make widely available a cheap drug for treatment of uterine fibroids, a leading cause of uterine bleeding (Mifepristone).
  • Increase access to schools for girls in Afghanistan, Africa, and other nations
  • Improving access to and use of contraceptives to voluntarily control population growth worldwide: Everyone’s economic boat floats higher and natural resources are less strapped by human population.

the list goes on and on…big bang for the buck, low cost, high impact medical treatment and prevention for the most common diseases…

Add your thoughts to these non-sequiturs by commenting here or follow me on Twitter @healthewoman.

P.S. How can we as a species contemplate building a rotating skyscraper in Dubai and neglect funding for access to basic health care for children and women in Africa, Afghanistan, and America?

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