In the News: Health Disparities and Water Quality in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics

 

August 2016 – The 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has dominated news headlines in recent weeks. The athletics event, taking place from August 5 to August 21, featured 207 countries in the Parade of Nations as well as the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. It is the first time the games have been held in South America. But besides highlights on the events and spotlights on athletes’ training regimens and backgrounds, there is another stream of news stories surrounding the Olympic Games. These stories have focused on two key public health issues related to this year’s Games: health disparities and water quality issues.

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Rio’s Olympic beach volleyball venue is on Copacabana Beach. Photo from Marcio Jose Sanchez for AP.

Only two years ago the FIFA World Cup was making similar headlines in Brazil. As reported in 2014, and highlighted in this blog[1], there have been past concerns about access to quality healthcare despite the surge of funds for the World Cup event. These reports unmasked a problematic system of health disparities to a global audience. The Daily Californian[2] stated that many Brazilians were “unhappy that their government [was] funding stadium renovations instead of spending on more instrumental matters like improved health care and emergency services.” Reports relating to the current Olympics have painted a similar picture for the present health scene. As Reuters[3] reported in December 2015, the governor of Rio de Janeiro declared a state of emergency “as hospitals, emergency rooms and health clinics cut services or closed units throughout the state as money ran out for equipment, supplies and salaries.” According to CNN[4], the financial crisis has been causing difficulties in the “provision of essential public services and can even cause a total breakdown in public security, health, education, mobility and environmental management.”. While the state of emergency declaration provides a critical 45 million reais ($25.3 million) in federal aid and may facilitate the transfer of future funds, estimates state that Rio de Janeiro owes approximately $355 million to employees and suppliers in the healthcare sector alone, and the state needs over $100 million to reopen the closed hospital units and clinics.[5] While the city of Rio spent approximately $7.1 billion on improving toll roads, ports and other infrastructure projects, the Brazil Ministry of Health devoted only $5.7 million to address health concerns[6].

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The Christ the Redeemer statue is visible above the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo from Joao Velozo for NPR. 

In addition to these issues (and the high-profile Zika virus, which is causing health concerns in multiple countries[7]), concerns surrounding water quality and cleanliness in Brazil has garnered considerable attention. A recent scene involving the diving and water polo pools turning a swamp-green color because of an algae bloom left some athletes complaining of itchy eyes.[8] While the Olympic Games have brought international attention to the impact of water quality on the athletes and visitors, the residents of Rio have been dealing with theses concerns on a daily basis for much longer. With almost 13 million people living in and around Rio, the current sewage system is struggling to cope. One news report[9] notes that “about 50 percent of what Brazilians flush down the toilet ends up in the country’s waterways. Diseases related to contaminated water are the second leading cause of death for children under five in Brazil.” Tests performed in a variety of areas, including the sailing venue of Guanabara Bay, over the course of a year found high levels of “superbugs of the sort found in hospitals on the shores of the bay.” The possibility of hospital sewage entering the municipal sewage system remains a concern.[10]

An economic recession, compounded by water concerns, political unrest, and a presently faltering healthcare system all leave many Cariocas— citizens of Rio– who rely on the public health system in a challenging and hazardous situation across the social, medical, and political spheres. With hopes of local profits from the Olympic Games ranging in the billions of dollars, much is at stake for both residents and investors.[11] Despite the risks and tribulations, many residents welcome the international event and attention, and credit the Olympics for cultivating “several underutilized, often abandoned spaces have been transformed to ones that appeal and cater to local residents”. Many “beautification” projects leave residents hoping the installation of new art and the newly constructed spaces will leave a lasting impression on its residents and visitors long after the games end.[12]  Despite this optimism, the citizens of Rio are not impacted equally by the Games.[13] The improved infrastructures will likely benefit those who already have access to services. Tourism, and tourism cash, has been weak in the favelas, or shantytowns, which house at least 25% of the population in Rio. The infrastructure inequities have even bypassed some neighborhoods entirely, leaving those residents out of the celebrations.[14]

Overall, these Olympic Games promise once again to bring the world’s cultures together in competition and camaraderie, yet they do not do so without controversy. This global spectacle illuminates athletics and sportsmanship, as well as the intersections between cultural events, politics and nationalism, power and profit, and community health. These larger issues lead to questions about what will happen to the residents of Rio after the Games have drawn to a close.

 


[1] https://culturemedicinepsychiatry.com/2014/07/11/news-the-2014-world-cup-and-healthcare-in-brazil/

[2] http://www.dailycal.org/2014/07/08/uc-berkeley-faculty-graduate-students-look-world-cup-different-light/

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-health-emergency-idUSKBN0U716Q20151224

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/18/americas/brazil-rio-state-emergency-funding-olympics/

[5]http://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-health-emergency-idUSKBN0U716Q20151224

[6] http://wuwm.com/post/let-s-do-numbers-money-spent-rio-olympics#stream/0

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/29/world/americas/brazil-zika-rio-olympics.html?_r=0

[8] http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-olympics-rio-diving-pool-idUKKCN10O0UW?feedType=RSS&feedName=sportsNews

[9] http://wuwm.com/post/rios-water-problems-go-far-beyond-olympics#stream/0

[10] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/02/sport/rio-2016-olympic-games-water-quality-sailing-rowing/index.html

[11] http://www.newsweek.com/rio-2016-who-stands-benefit-successful-olympics-453094

[12] http://www.kvia.com/news/rio-olympics-bring-beautification-projects/40884340

[13] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetorch/2016/08/11/487769536/in-rios-favelas-hoped-for-benefits-from-olympics-have-yet-to-materialize

[14] http://www.reuters.com/video/2016/08/14/olympic-infrastructure-causes-suffering?videoId=369565427

Conference Feature: “Other Psychotherapies”

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This week on the blog, we are highlighting an upcoming conference on global psychotherapies across geography and time. This feature was written by our CMP social media intern Sonya Petrakovitz, PhD student in anthropology at Case Western Reserve University.


“Other Psychotherapies – across time, space, and culture”

University of Glasgow

Monday, April 3, 2017 – Tuesday, April 4, 2017

This conference brings contemporary forms of Western knowledge about mental health and well-being into dialogue with psychotherapeutic approaches from ‘other’ geographically, historically, or otherwise ‘distant’ cultures. Specifically, presentations will address ancient and medieval approaches to psychotherapy and how those techniques have become incorporated into today’s approaches. The sessions will also explore the development of psychological practices over time and across changing spatialities of care practices, specifically how post-colonial and indigenous forms of healing influenced the perceived credibility of psychotherapies. They will likewise examine the therapeutic/salutogenic dimensions of subcultures.

Addressing psychotherapy in this way brings together multiple disciplines and expands our understandings of medicine, health, culture, therapies, and pedagogies. The themes of the conference would be of interest to historians, physicians, literary scholars, mental health practitioners, anthropologists, and anyone interested in learning about different perspectives on psychotherapies within a broader global context.

For interested applicants, visit the Call for Papers page at http://otherpsychs.academicblogs.co.uk/. The Conference Committee invites abstracts of up to 300 words for 20-minute presentations, to be submitted by no later than August 31, 2016. Abstracts should be emailed to  arts-otherpsychs@glasgow.ac.uk along with a short biography of 100 words or less.

Summer 2016 Update Schedule

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As we head into June, the Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry blog will shift into its summer update schedule of bi-monthly posts. New updates will continue to go live here on our website, and will be spotlighted on our Twitter and Facebook accounts. This summer, we look forward to sharing our latest articles with you, which will arrive in the June 2016 issue. Want to see what will be published at the journal soon? Check out our online first articles here.

As always, we continue to accept submissions for guest commentaries and blog posts on our website. We are also happy to feature new academic book releases by our colleagues in medical anthropology, sociology, and humanities, as well as medical science and technology studies. For details, contact our social media editor Julia Knopes at jcb193@case.edu.

Wishing all the best to our readers,

The CMP Editorial Team

 

Book Release: Haraway’s “Staying with the Trouble”

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Image via Duke UP website

Debuting this September 2016 from Duke University Press is Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (available here.) Haraway’s text challenges the concept of the anthropocene, noting that in an age of ever-increasing environmental degradation, any centralization of the human detracts from the ill-effects of a “damaged earth” on all forms of life. Haraway posits a new term, the Chthulucene:, to describe the contemporary state of human and non-human existence. She argues that this new term highlights the multi-directional, tentacular ways in which life forms are bound together as kin in this new world. Moreover, this term encourages us to consider not human self-making, but rather sym-poiesis: the mutual entanglements of human and inhuman life as they “make” and define one another. The text unites an environmental approach with themes that resonate throughout Haraway’s work: including feminism, technoscience, kinship, and the destabilization of the “human” category.

This publication will be of interest to anthropologists spanning environmental studies, medical anthropology, and anthropological theory, as well as scholars of science and technology studies. Haraway’s commentary on “making kin”and the Chthulucene previously appeared in the open-access journal Environmental Humanities and is available in full here.


About the Author

Donna Haraway serves as Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California Santa Cruz in the History of Consciousness Department. In addition to Staying with the Trouble and many past publications, Haraway has also released a collection of her manifestos this year, entitled Manifestly Haraway. The collection is available here through the University of Minnesota Press.

Book Release: Lasker’s “Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering”

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Image via Cornell UP website.

Released this January 2016 from Cornell University Press is Judith Lasker’s Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering (available for purchase here.) Lasker’s book examines the phenomenon of overseas medical volunteering, wherein individuals from wealthier countries travel for short periods to the developing world to offer humanitarian aid and medical services. These volunteers are sponsored by churches, non-profit organizations, or arrive in poorer countries via for-profit “voluntourism” companies that plan such travel.

Through participant observation, surveys, and interviews with volunteers, key figures in humanitarian organizations, and volunteer staff members native to developing nations, Lasker examines the impact of these ventures on host communities. She weighs present arguments that suggest that global health volunteering is a form of neo-colonialism, that this form of humanitarianism may cross ethical boundaries in the host community, and that volunteers’ need to “give back” may be otherwise misguided and harmful. Lasker places special emphasis on how volunteer organizations themselves benefit from the work of volunteers in developing countries. She likewise addresses whether or not these organizations’ objectives are truly responsive to the needs of the host community, or to what the host community identifies as a concern. She then weighs whether such aims place the volunteer’s experience ahead of the needs of the people who are the perceived recipients of aid.

Lasker’s text will be of equal interest to global health scholars and medical anthropologists and sociologists. Its attention to neo-colonialism and themes of globalization and power will likewise interest scholars who study global development and cross-cultural biomedicine.


 

About the author: Judith N. Lasker is N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Book Releases: New Texts on Sex Tourism, Biotechnology

This week, we are featuring two book releases from the University of Chicago Press. The first book is Gregory Mitchell’s Tourist Attractions: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil’s Sexual EconomyThis new book, published in December 2015, presents an ethnographic perspective on gay sex tourism in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, and the Amazon. Mitchell examines issues of race, masculinity, and sexual identity amongst both sex workers and sex tourists. In particular, he asks how men of various racial, cultural, and national backgrounds come to understand their own identities and one another’s within this complex series of commercial, sexual, and cultural exchanges. Details about the book can be found here.

About the author: Gregory Mitchell is assistant professor at Williams College, where he teaches in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program and in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

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Image via UC Press website

The second book, debuting in September 2016, is Hallam Stevens’ Biotechnology and Society: An Introduction (cover image not yet available.) Each chapter of the text will address a different topic in the cultural and historical study of biotechnology, from gene patents, to genetically-modified foods, to genetic testing and disability, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), and the intersections of race, diversity, and biotechnologies. The text will be of equal interest to scholars of science and technology studies (STS), posthuman theory, and the history and culture of medical technology. Details about the book can be found here.

About the author: Hallam Stevens is assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He teaches courses in the history of the life sciences and information technologies. He is the author of Life Out of Sequence: A Data-Driven History of Bioinformatics, also available here via the University of Chicago Press.

 

Spring 2016 Blog Hiatus & Update

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This week, we are taking a one-week Spring hiatus on the blog. In our coming installments, we will return to highlight articles published in the first issue of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry for 2016. You can access the full March 2016 issue here from our publisher’s website.

As always, we continue to accept guest submissions to our blog showcasing research and recent projects by our readers. We are also pleased to invite authors of newly-published books in medical anthropology, sociology, history of medicine, and medical humanities to contact us with publication information so that these new works can be featured here on the blog. For details on guest submissions and book features, please contact our social media editor Julia Knopes at jcb193@case.edu.

In the meantime, we look forward to sharing previews of the latest research in our journal in the coming weeks.

Best wishes from the Editorial Staff at Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry

In the News: Telemedicine in the United States

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The intersections between technology, medicine, and health are a frequent site of discussion at Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry. In our last issue of 2015, for instance, Yael Hashiloni-Dolev[1] examined the role of new medical technologies that enable posthumous reproduction, while Petersen and Traulsen[2] shed light on the nuanced social uses of psychoactive medications amongst university students. These articles underscore the centrality of technology in everyday human health behaviors, and on the cultural meaning of these new tools in local medical landscapes.

Another technological innovation altering the social world of medicine—one making headlines in recent months—is telemedicine. In the Journal of the American Medical Association[3] (JAMA), telemedicine has been described as “the use of telecommunications technologies to provide medical information and services,” often a shorthand “for remote electronic clinical consultation” via phones and internet applications.

In the December 2015 AARP Bulletin, author Charlotte Huff[4] remarked that over 1 million patients will use telemedicine services this year, and remote access to physicians by phone, video chat, and email is more and more commonly covered by American employers’ health insurance packages. A Reuters article[5] adds that in Texas, a telemedicine company is working to block a state law that would require physicians to see a patient in-person before consulting with them via phone, email, or other means. And in the New York Times[6], a physician observed that telemedicine may prove a useful tool for children and adolescents: many of whom have grown up in a digital culture of “oversharing” and would not balk at texting their physicians images of strange rashes or lesions on their bodies. As this new tool of health care delivery is negotiated in different societal arenas, so too are its implications increasingly worthy of anthropological attention.

Telemedicine is altering the social fabric of medicine in a number of significant ways. Here, we will outline two potential outcomes of telemedicine on medical exchanges facilitated by technology. First, telemedicine extends the professional reach of biomedical clinicians. Areas where biomedical care is inaccessible, or where only indigenous medical systems exist, may now fall under the electronic eye of a faraway practitioner. This has extraordinary consequences for the ubiquity of biomedicine and the consolidation of biomedical power. Second, and rather conversely, telemedicine empowers the patient in the clinical encounter. Because the physician or clinician is not physically present to examine the patient’s body, the patient themself is the one who touches a swollen throat, or flexes a stiff joint, and relays their response through phone or web camera. In sum, the patient gains greater control over bodily (and verbal) narratives that, unlike an in-person exam, the clinician does not have total access to.

The rise of telemedicine speaks to medical anthropologists, certainly, but it also presents a fascinating case more broadly for science and technology theorists and scholars in health communication. As the topic of telemedicine continues to capture the interest of medicine and the media, so too will it fall under the consideration of researchers piecing together the networks that bring patients and their caregivers together in novel ways.

[1] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-015-9447-6

[2] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11013-015-9457-4

[3] http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=386892

[4] http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2015/telemedicine-health-symptoms-diagnosis.html#slide1

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/health-case-to-watch-teladoc-idUSL1N14H0CT20151228

[6] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/18/using-phones-to-connect-children-to-health-care/?ref=health

 

Winter 2015 Blog Update

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To our readers:

In light of upcoming holiday celebrations and university academic breaks, there will be no regular Wednesday posts to the blog through 2015 (12/23 and 12/30.) We look forward to the return of our weekly blog updates in January 2016, and encourage all of our readers to become acquainted with the new initiatives we have planned for CMP Social Media in the new year. You can learn more about our upcoming plans for the blog, our Twitter, and our Facebook accounts in this editorial update from the week of the AAA 2015 Annual Meeting.

We continue to invite our readers to consider submitting a guest commentary, post, or news piece to our blog. Details about these submissions can be found in the previous link to the editorial update. We are also pleased to feature books recently or soon-to-be published by our colleagues in medical anthropology, sociology, humanities, and social medicine. If you would like your book publication to be highlighted on our blog, you may submit information regarding book features to social media editor Julia Knopes at jcb193@case.edu.

Until we return to our weekly blog posts, we welcome you to read our latest installment of the journal (Volume 39 Issue 4, December 2015.) You can access the new issue and read abstracts of our recently published articles by clicking here.

Best wishes and Happy Holidays,

The Editorial Team at Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry

AAA 2015 & New Initiatives at the CMP Blog

To our readers:

This week, many of you are attending the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Meeting in Denver, Colorado. From all of us at Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, we wish you safe travels to the conference and new knowledge and fresh insights upon your return.

Last year on the blog, the editorial staff took this week to thank our readers and to share with you the future directions of our social media in the coming year. We are grateful to all of our readers and followers for helping us foster an online community for medical anthropologists and our peers in allied disciplines, whether on our Facebook page, on our Twitter feed, or here at the blog. Thank you to all of our colleagues for sharing our posts, retweeting our links, and reading our features: from news updates, to conference postings, to book releases, and journal issue highlights.

In addition to these features, we are embarking upon two new initiatives on social media into 2016. The first is a new submission mechanism for book release updates on the blog. If you are an author of a new academic text in medical anthropology, social medicine, or medical humanities, let us know about your publication, and we will share it on the blog. We hope this new initiative allows us to showcase new and trending topics in the field, while it spreads the word about the research our readers and colleagues are carrying out across the globe.

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The second new initiative will include interviews with anthropologists, historians, and other scholars (including graduate students) about ongoing projects or newly published research. If you want to share your findings, introduce new theories or issues, or present new topics in the field, contact us to be interviewed. For both initiatives, please send requests and queries to our social media editor (Julia Knopes) at jcb193@case.edu. As always, books for review and academic articles can also be submitted to the journal proper. Please direct questions about journal submissions to managing editor Brandy Schillace at bls10@case.edu.

Lastly, we continue to accept guest blog submissions between 500-700 words in length on topics in medical anthropology, medical humanities, bioethics, and social medicine. Guest blog submissions may be submitted for review to our social media editor at the above listed address.

We look forward to sharing with you all of the changes and additions at CMP social media in the coming year.

Our best,

The Editorial Staff of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry