May 18, 2014

If I could do one thing to make the world a healthier place

As a pediatrician, it is sobering to realize that the factor with the highest impact on my young patients' health is not a clinical breakthrough. It is whether they and their parents complete high school. Even after taking income or race into account, educational attainment, or the years of schooling an individual has, remains one of the strongest social determinants of health.

People with more years of schooling don’t just prosper. They live longer. They exercise more, eat healthier food, don't smoke, get regular health care, and have better health outcomes. College graduates live at least 5 years longer than people who do not finish high school.

The effect of education is pronounced when you look at female education. Women with just a few years of schooling are likelier than those with no education to use contraception, marry later in life, space their pregnancies, and survive childbirth. They are more attuned to their children’s health needs and are more aware of how to reduce transmission of HIV to their infants. 

The math is convincing. Each additional year of school that a girl attends, reduces the likelihood of her future infant dying by 5 to 10 percent. It is estimated that 1.8 million more children would survive in sub-Saharan Africa if their mothers had received at least a secondary education.

Children of mothers with more schooling are more likely to survive past the age of five and be vaccinated, and less likely to be stunted due to undernourishment. They grow up to be healthier and more educated adults, thus breaking the vicious cycle of lower education, poor maternal health, and child morbidity.

Education affects our health in more ways than one. The most straightforward mechanism is its effect on employment, income, working conditions, employment-related benefits, and the ability to live in safer neighborhoods. But education also brings with it greater health literacy and enables personal decision-making when it comes to choosing a healthier lifestyle or managing medical issues. Educational attainment positively affects social and psychological well-being through stronger social networks, increased ability to cope with stress, and a greater sense of control over one’s life. 

The recent abduction of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria by extremists resulted in an appropriately vocal worldwide responses to this horrifying human rights violation. But keep in mind that attacks against schools, students, and teachers, contesting the universal right to education still occur with regularity all over the world. 

An African proverb says, "Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community." Here is a poignant video from the girl effect that brings home this message.

- Ulfat Shaikh.

Mar 24, 2014

How to Build a Health Care System from Scratch: Revisiting New Orleans Ten Years Post-Katrina

“My friend was a neurologist at a hospital in New Orleans”, my daughter’s art teacher told me when we were chatting at pick-up time about my upcoming trip to New Orleans. “She lost her home in Katrina”, she continued. “The stories she told me about how they cared for all these patients
in the hospital with no electricity and water and barely any resources were just plain scary”.

My last trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, was in 2003, two years before Hurricane Katrina. My personal agenda for the trip included crawfish, shrimp po’ boys and cafĂ© au lait. Now, more than a decade later

Feb 1, 2014

How a Fishbone Can Help You Eat Your Veggies

February is here and it is possible that a few of you, like me, are already rethinking your new year’s resolutions. What seemed a month ago like a sure-fire plan to lose 10 pounds, exercise more, eat healthier, or manage ones finances, now seems a little more suspect. Let's view this bump in the road, not as a reason for despair, but an opportunity for improvement. 

I teach a class on health care quality called “Personal Quality Improvement”. The class incorporates process improvement techniques

Dec 27, 2013

So Far and Yet So Near: Virtual Quality Improvement Networks in Health Care

Membership in the global Indian diaspora comes with a price, and my family and friends use Skype and FaceTime with regularity to bridge distances. It then comes as no surprise that health care is now using similar communication technology to provide better and safer patient care.

A few months ago it was reported that the majority of the 150 hospitals in the

Nov 7, 2013

Health Care Improvement Lessons from the Vegetarian Haggis

A recent visit to Scotland, prompted me to complete a wee dissertation on gastronomic options in the country for non-meat-eaters. As you might imagine, my pro-haggis friends and colleagues were dismayed and a little amused when my research unearthed the vegetarian haggis.

In a country where traditional haggis (sheep's heart, liver and lungs encased in sheep's stomach) is the reigning national dish, this