Flag of Malawi blowing in the wind in front of a clear blue sky

A 15-year review of the PEPFAR support to Malawi: How Has it Succeeded?

Monday, October 7, the Petrie-Flom Center is co-sponsoring “15+ Years of PEPFAR: How U.S. Action on HIV/AIDS Has Changed Global Health,” from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. This event is cosponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Health Law Policy and Innovation at Harvard Law School, and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

By Maureen Luba

Malawi was listed as one of the six locations that have made remarkable progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic in a recent report produced by AmfAR, AVAC, and Friends of the Global Fight. Being one of the poorest countries on the list, Malawi has proven that ending the epidemic is possible anywhere.

But one would want to know what has contributed to this success!

Well, there are many factors. And funding from donors is one of them. The HIV/AIDS response in Malawi is largely funded by the Global Fund and PEPFAR. But for the sake of this blog I will focus on PEPFAR, a U.S. government program launched in 2003 by then President George W. Bush. In 15 years of support, PEPFAR has led the world in funding the global HIV response.

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Statue of Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, placed in front of a large open book on which a gavel has been placed.

Amparo en Revisión 1388/2015 and the “Rights” Discourse in Mexico

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Patricia del Arenal Urueta

Since June of 2011, the Mexican Constitution includes a variety of clauses that would undoubtedly classify as “progressive.” Article 1 incorporates all human rights protected by international treaties into the Constitution itself; and this means that every authority (including, of course, judges) should interpret the law in order to reach the most comprehensive protection of human rights. It is a beautiful and promising text. It follows a global tendency premised on the notion that international human rights are the standard by which it is possible to scrutinize any act (or decision) claiming political and legal authority over individuals.

However, given the alarming data showing an important increase in human rights violations over the past few years in Mexico, there are good reasons to feel uneasy about the efficacy of such an ambitious amendment. There is a striking disparity between its idealistic pretensions and the appalling reality. This phenomenon has prompted questions harder to address than those concerns typically attributed to a fragile Rule of Law. In fact, some scholars and other institutions have wondered whether such constitutional discourse serves as a sham. The idea behind this argument is that a text so grand can mostly serve to mask the government’s intention (deliberate or not) to actually do the opposite; this is, to advance policy uncommitted ─or even contrary─ to human rights, and to distract the international community from facts that it would probably disapprove.

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Illustration of a red AIDS awareness ribbon. The right end of the ribbon is the Nigerian flag.

PEPFAR and Health Systems Transformation in Nigeria

Monday, October 7, the Petrie-Flom Center is co-sponsoring “15+ Years of PEPFAR: How U.S. Action on HIV/AIDS Has Changed Global Health,” from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. This event is cosponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Health Law Policy and Innovation at Harvard Law School, and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

By Prosper Okonkwo

HIV diagnosis in Sub Saharan Africa in the nineties and early 2000s was literally a death sentence. This was either due to one or a combination of ignorance, denial, and weak health systems.

A few focusing events and the return to democratic rule in 1999, acted as fillip, jump-starting the national response, albeit modestly. In 2001, 10,000 adults and 5,000 children were placed on antiretrovirals (ARVs) at the cost of $7 a month. This was at a time when sourcing these drugs privately cost about $350 monthly in a country with a GDP per capita of less than $750, less than 5% health insurance coverage, and with about 80% of health expenditure paid out of pocket.

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View of the outside of the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice

The Fundamental Right to Health and Judicial Review in México

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By David García Sarubbi

The Mexican constitution is one that contains not only a list of civil rights, but also a declaration of social rights, and both are considered rules of decisions, perfectly justiciable under any court of law. This is important because this year the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman who had been denied an abortion alleged to be necessary to preserve her health in a public hospital. The Court sided with this claim after concluding abortion is covered by Constitution as interpreted by the Court.

So being the ground of such a ruling, it seems important to take into consideration some things about the doctrine of justiciability of the right to health in Mexico. In order to protect it, there are different systems funded with public money to provide services to the community. Nonetheless, the most important systems of health care are those funded with additional contributions from workers, which account for other rights also provided by these institutions, such as pensions for retirees as well as unemployment, accident, or life insurance.

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Scientist analyzes DNA gel used in genetics, forensics, drug discovery, biology and medicine

Screening vs. Diagnostics: Can Preventive Genomics Clinics Help Healthy Patients?

By Emily Quian

Preventive health clinics at large academic medical centers are one of many changes that allow individuals to be in the driver’s seat of their own health care. While many of these programs have existed for quite some time under the guise of an “executive health clinic” or “executive health services,” the introduction of preventive genetic testing in these clinics is relatively new. Furthermore, there are also clinics dedicated to the specialized area of proactive genomic screening opening up to the general public (who can afford self-pay appointments and testing). Test offerings at these clinics often comprise a suite of screening genetic tests, which differ largely from diagnostic tests.

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Photograph of a button pinned to a shirt. The button reads "Fuera el aborto de codigo penal."

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: A Legal and Political Flashpoint in Today’s World

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center on Friday, October 4th, provides a critical opportunity to reflect upon the progress that has been made with respect to recognizing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as legally enforceable rights, and the role courts have played in Mexico and elsewhere.  The event could not be more timely, as the battle lines were evident at the UN General Assembly’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Summit and in negotiations over the “Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.” A group of countries led by the United States wanted to remove language of SRHR from the declaration and, in turn, the priorities for UHC. That effort was ultimately defeated but the debates showed the degree of contestation that these norms face in development paradigms, as well as international and national law.

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Blurred image of a patient in critical condition in the ICU ward.

“An Act Improving Medical Decision Making:” An Argument in Favor of MA House Bill 3388 and Senate Bill 843

By Beatrice Brown

On September 10, 2019, the Joint Committee on Judiciary at the Massachusetts State House heard testimony regarding House Bill 3388 and Senate Bill 843, “An Act Improving Medical Decision Making.” The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) was among those testifying in favor of the act. As noted by MMS, Massachusetts is one of only five states in the U.S. that does not have a default surrogate consent statute for incapacitated patients without a health care proxy. The intent of a default surrogate consent statute is “to provide legal authority for health care decision-making through a non-judicial rule of law where no guardian or agent had been appointed.”

Without such a statute in place, this means that a patient who is incapacitated and has not declared a health care proxy must await treatment while a guardian is appointed by the courts. This may be a lengthy, time-consuming process that physically drains hospitals’ resources and emotionally drains families. By contrast, these default surrogate consent statutes establish a list of surrogates that can be appointed by physicians to make decisions in lieu of the incapacitated patient. For example, in the Massachusetts bills, the following persons are listed as candidates who may be appointed as surrogates: the person’s spouse, unless legally separated; the person’s adult child; the person’s parent; the person’s adult sibling; and any other adult who satisfies the requirement of subdivision seven of the bill which states, “The person’s surrogate shall be an adult who has exhibited special care and concern for the person, who is familiar with the person’s personal values, who is reasonably available, and who is willing to serve.” Read More

Photograph from above of a health care provider taking a patient's blood pressure.

Diving Deeper into Amazon Alexa’s HIPAA Compliance

By Adriana Krasniansky

Earlier this year, consumer technology company Amazon made waves in health care when it announced that its Alexa Skills Kit, a suite of tools for building voice programs, would be HIPAA compliant. Using the Alexa Skills Kit, companies could build voice experiences for Amazon Echo devices that communicate personal health information with patients. 

Amazon initially limited access to its HIPAA-updated voice platform to six health care companies, ranging from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to hospitals. However, Amazon plans to expand access and has identified health care as a top focus area. Given Thursday’s announcement of new Alexa-enabled wearables (earbuds, glasses, a biometric ring)—likely indicators of upcoming personal health applications—let’s dive deeper into Alexa’s HIPAA compliance and its implications for the health care industry.
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Photograph of a doctor in scrubs holding a stethoscope sitting on a hospital bed holding a patient's hand.

World Patient Safety Day

By John Tingle

The first “World Patient Safety Day” took place on September 17, 2019. It is an annual event and one of  the World Health Organization’s (WHO) officially mandated global public health days. The aim is to create awareness of patient safety and to urge people to show their commitment to making health care safer. The publicity generated by the event has worked to focus global attention on patient safety issues and is a call for action in the area.

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Photograph of Purdue Pharma headquarters

The Role of Attorneys General in the Opioid Litigation

By Daniel Aaron

People following the opioid lawsuits might have noticed some strange headlines as of late. Virtually every state’s attorney general (AG) is suing Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of the blockbuster drug OxyContin. Purdue filed for bankruptcy and is hoping to settle for “$10 billion.” However, the deal only includes $4.4 billion in cash, which is less than the Sackler family, owners of Purdue, transferred to personal accounts over the past decade. In other words, the amount of money the Sacklers made from the opioid epidemic is more than what they will pay more than forty states to help abate the crisis. Is anyone supporting this deal?

Yes, in fact, and this is where the plot thickens. With several exceptions, support for the deal falls along party lines: Republican AGs support the deal, and Democratic AGs oppose it. Why does a decision about settling with an opioid company appear to be political? What is the role of an attorney general? And are they supposed to defend public health?

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