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Battling two deadly viruses at once — Covid-19 & hate: An interview with Dr. Debbie Suk Gray

Debbie Suk Gray is a neonatologist in New York City where she resides with her husband, two children, and now three fish. She is of Korean descent, born and bred in the Midwest, and loves Indian and Italian cuisine.

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Battling two deadly viruses at once — Covid 19 hate An interview with Dr. Debbie Suk Gray

Debbie Suk Gray is a neonatologist in New York City where she resides with her husband, two children, and now three fish. She is of Korean descent, born and bred in the Midwest, and loves Indian and Italian cuisine.

The Analyst: Thanks so much for taking the time to engage with us Dr. Suk as you must be extremely busy saving the lives of fragile babies in New York City as well as raising your two young sons. On top of that, you have been dealing with this deadly pandemic in NYC, once an epicentre of death. Yet for you, there was the additional burden of anti-Asian rhetoric from America’s then-top leader and his supporters. I can’t imagine what all of that must have felt like for you as a Korean American. Please share how you coped with all of it coming at you literally all at once. 

Dr. Gray: It was definitely challenging. Just when you thought you couldn’t bear more sorrow and tragedy, the anti-Asian rhetoric and sentiment felt like a sucker punch. To hear Covid being referred to as “Kung Flu” was absolutely disheartening–the former President’s juvenile nickname took me back to kid taunts (that still occur even now!). I was flabbergasted that he diminished this enormous crisis to this tiny dimension and stuck an Asian face on it. I wasn’t surprised, but it’s still insulting nonetheless.

At first, at the height of it last Spring, coping was simply carrying on with your duties, especially in the medical field. But that background noise was hard to ignore and sometimes I feared that it was being directed at me. I was lucky not to have experienced anything outright, but there were definitely a few experiences while waiting in line or walking down the street, where I was stared at too ‘hard’ or things were mumbled under one’s breath. I’ve found that when you worry about hostility being related to one’s race, it may very well be a factor. 

Like any other grief, coping came in stages, working through despondency, anger, and then oddly, appreciation. Because the most restorative coping came about me evolving as an activist in my personal way—including a deep personal reflection on my conscious and unconscious racial biases that I’ve accumulated in my life, sharing on social media to shine a light on the issues, talking about the events at work or with friends, educating myself about the diverse group of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) in America and the history of racism against them, and speaking out through this outlet! 

Art has always been a source of solace too. In this case, I read a lot of fiction from Asian American authors–Pachinko, The Leavers, Yolk, Frankly in Love to name a few. I didn’t have these kinds of books when I was growing up, and I didn’t realise how hungry I was for them until I ate them all up. 

The Analyst: This is a terrifying moment in the world and American history. It’s like we are battling two deadly viruses at once – hate and Covid. The hate and scapegoating must also feel like not being accepted as truly American. As a doctor you are already educating your patient’s families yet do you feel any burden in educating people about your legitimacy to being a part of the American mosaic? 

Dr. Gray: I do feel some burden to be a legitimate part of the American mosaic. For me, a lot of the racism I’ve endured comes from “othering”–attempts to label me as not American, and sometimes frankly truly alien. For example:

  • You speak English so well!
  • Is that what you do/where you come from?
  • Go back to your own country, ch*nk!
  • Where are you from? No, really, where are you from?
  • Up-slanting their eyes in a taunting way 
  • Your lunch smells bad!
  • Are you the nanny?

As a kid, I would just internalise it. I was too timid. Now that I’m older and somewhat wiser, I’m learning to speak up for myself. I still feel tongue-tied often though. Do I educate an acquaintance that her friend’s Halloween costume as a sexy Chinese take-out container (yes, that costume exists) is offensive? And if anyone has some snappy NYC zingers, I’m all ears!

I think one of the most effective strategies is to befriend lots of different kinds of people and try to actively have conversations with people unlike yourself. Not only do you get to learn about different cultures and experiences, but you also find that you have more in common than one might guess initially. And it’s so much easier to dole out education if it’s someone who knows you. And maybe those people will educate their friends and family, and so on and so forth. 

The Analyst: There’s the fear of the pandemic and you being literally in the midst of it, but then there’s also the fear and backlash of ignorant people spewing anti-Asian hate – how did you create a safe space for you and your family?

Dr. Gray: Airing it out as much as possible in a developmentally appropriate way for kids. My kids, even in the public school system, have had a lot of education devoted to anti-racism; so funnily enough, when we talk about it, they kind of roll their eyes at me and tell me “I know already!” 

The long game is to instil pride in their multicultural make-up (Korean and British), to be proud of their unique identity that makes them wholly American. So that if/when they’re subjected to racist comments or God forbid, bullying, not only will they not put up with it, but they’ll have effective ways to take the air out of it, knowing that it’s rooted in ignorance. 

The Analyst: What was your reaction to the deadly shootings in Atlanta? Some news outlets are refusing to address it as a hate crime, while some within law enforcement are trying to say the murderer was having a bad day……

Dr. Gray: Devastated! Upon my first read of the headlines, I was ‘simply’ worried about gun violence yet again in America but when I learned of the victims, there was this growing pit in my gut. 

My guess why people are hesitant to call the Atlanta shootings a hate crime because people are unaware of the disturbing magnitude of violence against Asian people in the past year. So, for them, it’s just another mass shooting. They think it’s a man with psychological issues and Asian women were the unwitting victims because those are people who make up the sex industry in this case. But there have been almost 3,800 hate crimes against AAPI people in the past year! To me, this is an important signal, not just background noise.

Yes, the shooter was clearly having a bad day but we’ve never described other perpetrators of mass shootings as having a bad day before. Like a bad day can justify eight people gunned down? It’s frustratingly insulting. 

The Analyst: While hashtags and social media posts are great in bringing awareness to this anti-Asian sentiment what do you feel is the long-term need to put an end to this? What would you say to the people insisting that it is ok to call Covid-19 the ‘Chinese virus’ or other non-medical terms? Are there any support efforts that you think would benefit Asian Americans at this time?

Dr. Gray: Hashtags and social media posts hopefully bring the headlines to a lot of people. I think anti-Asian racism has a publicity problem. It’s just the starting point for a very large and complex multifactorial problem. 

And no, Covid-19 cannot be referred to as the ‘Chinese virus’ if it’s going to be used as a slur. The way I saw it, how it was used by the former president basically invited brutality against AAPI people.

I don’t know the exact route to long term, enduring solutions, but we know a lot of the ingredients. We need solidarity among AAPI people (especially since it’s a diverse group) and among minority groups; we need majority allies to listen to our stories, call out hate when they see it and support where they can; we need anti-racism education for everyone with special emphasis for children; we need leaders who amplify all of the above and work to enact protective legislation. And bottom line; we have to take hate off the table, we simply cannot progress if hate poisons the well. And, maybe if we’re brave enough, we choose respect (dare I say, even love!) as our guiding principle. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Nusrat is a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, educator, writer, commentator, mentor, advocate, and a Humanity First USA volunteer.

Health

UN World Food Program Lowers Aid in South Sudan

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800px Sudan Envoy USAID and WFP Aid

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently decreased aid services in South Sudan, a major blow for the Central African country where over two-thirds of the population faces food shortages and hunger. 

“Faced with increasing humanitarian needs and insufficient funding, we have taken the painful step to suspend food assistance to 1.7 million people,” said Adeyinka Badejo-Sanogo, WFP Acting Country Director in South Sudan. Instead of assisting an estimated 6.2 million people in the country, the WFP will now only provide aid for 4.5 million. 

Large floods over the last three years have destroyed farms and homes across South Sudan, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. This year, UN officials anticipate more flooding, which will put around 600,000 people at risk of displacement. Violence in South Sudan has similarly forced many people to leave their homes, placing them in vulnerable situations. According to Ms. Badejo-Sanogo, “So far this year, we have seen 200,000 people newly displaced as a result of conflicts.”

South Sudan’s people are in a dire situation, and the international community must make greater efforts to send humanitarian aid to the country. Unfortunately, the Russia-Ukraine War has already diverted many countries’ focus, and nations are struggling with their own economic problems.

But ultimately, even if aid to South Sudan can be increased, it is only a temporary solution. Developing the infrastructure to combat flooding and quelling violence in the nation will create more sustainable long-term solutions.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

The End of Roe v. Wade Has Dangerous Consequences for Women’s Health

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When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they did not just steal bodily autonomy from women, but also their future health. By overturning Roe, the Supreme Court has now put pressure on physicians prescribing life saving medications to women.

Abortion has now been banned in six states, and that number is likely to rise swiftly to 16 states. Twelve states have passed trigger laws. Some states have not completely banned abortions, however they have implemented gestational age limits on abortions. While other states have not decided whether or not to ban abortions, the courts and lawmakers will be deciding the fate of women. Only 20 states have abortion protections in place.

These new bans have also brought into question the future of birth control. Will states begin restricting or even outlawing birth control? Although Republicans have dismissed concerns about banning birth control, Democrats have been warning that it is a distinct possibility. Indeed, after Missouri’s strict new ban on abortion went into effect, one major hospital system in Kansas briefly stopped providing emergency birth control, even to victims of rape. 

But the potential healthcare ramifications of these laws do not end there. Many drugs cause birth defects in pregnant women, which raises the question: If women cannot legally terminate a pregnancy, can these drugs legally be prescribed to women of child-bearing ages in states with abortion bans?

“I believe that prescribing is going to become much more defensive and conservative,” rheumatologist Mehret Talabi told Medscape. “Some clinicians may choose not to prescribe these medications to patients who have childbearing potential, even if they don’t have much risk for pregnancy.”

Teratogens are medications which can cause birth defects. Many teratogenic medications include treatments for acne, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

“Doctors are going to understandably be terrified that a patient may become pregnant using a teratogen that they have prescribed,” Talabi said. “While this was a feared outcome before Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion provided an escape hatch by which women could avoid having to continue a pregnancy and potentially raise a child with congenital anomalies.” “

Other physicians also shared their fears that doctors would now be wary of prescribing many medications, some of those with little data on pregnancy. 

Dr. Megan Clowse, a Duke University rheumatologist who works with women who are or wish to become pregnant, told Medcape: “Women who receive these new or teratogenic medications will likely lose their reproductive autonomy and be forced to choose between having sexual relationships with men, obtaining procedures that make them permanently sterile, or using contraception that may cause intolerable side effects..”

Dr. Clowse noted that many drugs commonly prescribed to patients with rheumatic diseases, including methotrexate, mycophenolate and cyclophosphamide, are linked to birth defects and loss of pregnancy.. 

“I am very concerned that young women with rheumatic disease will now be left with active disease resulting in joint damage and renal failure,” she said.

One of these drugs, methotrexate, is an effective cancer treatment and many rheumatic conditions, but has also been used to cause abortions. “If legislators try to restrict access to methotrexate, we may see increasing disability and even death among people who need this medication but cannot access it,” Dr. Talabi said.

Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Dr. Sunanda Kane told Medscape she feared that several of the teratogenic medications used in her field to treat viral hepatitis, constipation and inflammatory bowel disease, would now be affected. While she said doctors in her field generally only prescribe medications with high teratogenic potential to women of childbearing age when they use multiple forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy, she noted that doctors may be less likely to prescribe such drugs if abortion is not available as a legal option. 

“The removal of abortion rights puts the lives and quality of life for women with rheumatic disease at risk,” Dr. Clowse added. “For patients with lupus and other systemic rheumatic disease, pregnancy can be medically catastrophic, leading to permanent harm and even death to the woman and her offspring. I am worried that women in these conditions will die without lifesaving pregnancy terminations, due to worries about the legal consequences for their physicians.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Daily Brief

Children Under 5 to get Covid-19 Vaccine by Next Week

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A child gets the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine
  • The FDA’s outside vaccine advisers finally approved Moderna’s two-shot vaccine for children under age 5. The panel is also set to vote on whether Pfizer’s three-shot series is suitable and safe for this age group.
  • This is the last remaining group in the US to get vaccinated and many outside experts agree that the benefits of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for children under 5.  If all the regulatory steps are cleared, vaccines can be available by next week.
  • Dr. Joy Portnoy of Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, MO, also a  panel member, stated “there are so many parents who are absolutely desperate to get this vaccine and I think we owe it to them to give them a choice to have the vaccine if they want to.”
  • FDA reviewers stated that both brands appear to be effective and safe for children as young as 6 months, and the most common side effects, which are fever and fatigue, appear to be less common than seen in adults. 
  • Although the two vaccines use the same technology, the shots have not been tested against one another.
  • Once the FDA approves the shots, the CDC will decide on a formal recommendation. Pfizer’s vaccine will be available to children 6 months to 4 years, while Moderna’s vaccine will be for 6 months to 5 years. 
  • Pfizer’s shots are 1/10 of the adult dose, while Moderna’s shots are ¼ of the adult dose. 
  • Moderna is also seeking regulatory approval outside the US for younger children as well. 12 countries already vaccinate children under 5 with other brands.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Society

Monkeypox could be sexually transmitted disease – WHO

Monkeypox virus is caused by skin to skin contact and may be a sexually transmitted disease, warns the World Health Organisation.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has started its research on the reports that the monkeypox virus is present in the semen of patients. 

This presents a possibility that monkeypox could be sexually transmitted from one patient to their partners.

It is reported that most cases are in men who have sexual relations with men. 

The WHO has said that the main transmission of the rare disease is through close interpersonal contact.

In Italy and Germany, scientists say that they have detected viral DNA in semen for a small number of monkeypox patients. The virus found in the semen was capable of infecting another person. 

The WHO monkeypox incident manager in Europe, Catherine Smallwood said during a press briefing “this may have been something that we were unaware of in this disease before.”

“We really need to focus on the most frequent mode of transmission and we clearly see that to be associated with skin to skin contact,” she added.

The monkeypox outbreak is now considered a global outbreak. In more than 30 countries there have been more than 1,600 with over 500 cases in the UK. 

A vaccine of monkeypox is available and the WHO has recommended that close contacts and healthcare workers should be vaccinated first. 

WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge said “Europe remains the epicentre of this escalating outbreak, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85% of the global total.”

Regarding the race to stockpile vaccines, he added “once again, a ‘me first’ approach could lead to damaging consequences down the road.”

“I beseech governments to tackle monkeypox without repeating the mistakes of the pandemic – and keeping equity at the heart of all we do.”

In the current outbreak, so far no deaths have been reported. But experts warn that every year monkeypox causes deaths in some countries, where the disease exists as endemic. 

The WHO is also considering changing the name of the Monkeypox virus. Consideration came after 30 scientists wrote letters to the WHO that it is not correct but rather discriminatory to give the name of the rare disease as African. 

Some of the Scientists has suggested hMPXV as new name of the virus to address the “urgent need” for a “non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name for the virus.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Monkeypox: Something To Be ‘Concerned About’ Says Biden

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On Sunday, President Joe Biden, in his first public comments on the disease, said that recent cases of monkeypox that have been identified in Europe and the United States were something “to be concerned about. It is a concern in that if it were to spread it would be consequential.”

During the President’s first trip to Asia he was asked about the disease as he spoke to reporters at Osan Air Base in South Korea – “They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet but it is something that everybody should be concerned about,” Biden said. As for the vaccine, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters that the United States has a supply of “vaccine that is relevant to treating monkeypox. We have vaccines available to be deployed for that purpose,” he said. 

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic. 

According to CDC’s website, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.

A detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, is now critical, says Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction. In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.”

WHO reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year in Nigeria. Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science, said that outbreaks are usually in rural areas when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels.

Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. Luckily, to date, no one has died in the outbreak. The estimation by WHO suggests that the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people. The infection typically lasts two to four weeks and usually clears up on its own.

Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases on Friday, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the U.K. and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.

Dr Susan Hopkins, the Chief Medical Adviser for the U.K.’s Health Security Agency stated that “the evidence suggests that there may be transmission of the monkeypox virus in the community, spread by close contact. We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay.”

Monkeypox spreads when someone comes into close contact with another person, animal or material infected with the virus. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose and mouth. Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, though it can be passed on during sex. Health authorities stress that we are not on the brink of a serious outbreak and the risks to the general public remain very low.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Oklahoma’s Anti-Abortion Bill: The Newest Development in the United States’ Abortion Controversy

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This Thursday, Oklahoma legislators passed what many have deemed as the most restrictive bill banning abortions in the U.S. The bill prohibits all abortions, except those that are required to save the mother’s life or are the result of rape/incest. The draft law is likely to be ratified by the state governor, Kevin Stitt, and further limit abortion access in the state.

Oklahoma’s measure has garnered national attention for a multitude of reasons. For one, the bill bans abortions immediately after fertilization; this is in stark contrast to pro-abortion laws across the U.S., which permit abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. In September 2021, Texas passed a similarly restrictive abortion law, but even that measure enables abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy. Moreover, the Oklahoma measure comes right after the recent Supreme Court leak draft, which shows that the majority of the court is in favor of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. If Roe v. Wade is overturned — which could happen as soon as late June or early July — many U.S. states (including Oklahoma) stand poised to immediately prohibit access to abortions. 
Oklahoma’s bill, along with the SCOTUS leak, highlights how abortion rights in the U.S. are contingent upon the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and subject to change suddenly. Indeed, the recent discussions surrounding abortion shed light on the American judicial system and how volatile landmark rulings can be. Looking ahead, Americans must see whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. If so, abortion laws across the country will change drastically, and Americans will have to familiarize themselves with dozens of new laws and restrictions. If not, the legal systems of the U.S. will have been examined and questioned nonetheless.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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