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Health Report: Geopolitical Change Doesn't Repair Society

  • Kevin Foley

In this week's RFE/RL Health Report, Correspondent K.P. Foley reports on an interview with a co-author of a study that looked at the impact of the Berlin Wall's demolition on the well-being of Berliners. This week's report also features news about research on heart disease, and it includes as well a warning from a leading health official about the continuing threat posed by contagious diseases.


Authors Look At Impact Of Geopolitical Change On Well-Being

Washington, 2 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Social cohesion is recognized by behaviorists and public health experts as "a fundamental condition for healthy populations," and in a new study, researchers seek to answer the question of whether the fall of the Berlin Wall restored cohesion -- and by inference well-being -- to an artificially divided population.

In the March issue of the "American Journal of Public Health," the U.S. and German authors conclude that the fall of the wall, "makes possible but does not ensure the reintegration of two populations that were separated for 40 years."

In the article entitled "The Influence of Geopolitical Change on the Well-Being of a Population: the Berlin Wall," the authors interviewed Berlin residents, analyzed cultural documents and examined areas formerly occupied by the Wall.

They wrote that, "The most remarkable finding of this study was the degree of social, political, and cultural divergence that had emerged among people who were nominally residents of the same city."

The Berlin Wall may have been the most visible and recognizable symbol of the Cold War. In its nearly 30 years of existence -- from 1961-89 -- it also stood in as the physical manifestation for the metaphorical "Iron Curtain," that divided communist Eastern Europe from the democracies of the West.

In an RFE/RL interview, co-author Mindy Thompson Fullilove said the Berlin Wall also served to aggravate tensions that had already taken root in populations separated by ideology and an ideology-driven culture.

"We think that the Wall aggravated the ideological and social differences that really began at the end of World War Two with the partition into two Germanies, East and West."

She and her colleagues noted that despite the demolition of the wall, the expectations for social reintegration between the two populations have not been fully realized. The separation, they wrote, created divergent social, cultural, and political experiences that made residents of East and West Germany gradually grow apart.

Fullilove said it would be difficult to assert that the ideological division of Cold War Europe had the same outcomes seen in the physical separation of Berliners. But she said there are still larger lessons to be drawn from the Berlin study.

"I think the thing that we were concerned with was that it's the kind of thing where people could become used to the status quo and accept a certain level of difference and separation which then could just lead to it stagnating."

Basically, she said, the researchers found that while barriers might come down, differences are not easily overcome.

"What we learned from this study that's useful for everybody all around the world is that you can take down the wall but that doesn't repair the breach in the society."


Aspirin Considered Safe For Heart Attack Victims

A new study concludes that victims of a heart attack may safely take common aspirin tablets in combination with a medication used to lower blood pressure without worrying about adverse effects.

The study was conducted by researchers at Yale University and published in the current issue of the journal "Archives of Internal Medicine." Lead author Harlan Krumholz says the findings are significant because they may ease concerns some doctors have about combining the two treatments.

The study looked at the effects of aspirin when combined with a medication called an "angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor." The medication is commonly referred to in English by its acronym ACE. The drug relaxes arteries and lowers blood pressure by blocking formation of a natural body chemical. Aspirin helps to improve blood flow by making blood platelets less sticky and less likely to clot.

The American Heart Association had been recommending the combination treatment for heart attack patients. However, many doctors were reluctant to prescribe the combination treatment because of concerns that the combination of the two medicines could lead to kidney problems or reduce the effectiveness of the blood pressure drug. The Heart Association says the Yale study should put those fears to rest.


Research Says Infections May Harden Arteries

Dallas, 2 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Austrian and Italian researchers say there is more evidence that lingering infections may increase a person's risk of developing a condition known as atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries.

The researchers looked at changes in the carotid arteries, which are the main vessels supplying blood to the brain. They studied 826 European men and women between the ages of 40 and 79.

The results were published this week in the American Heart Association's journal "Circulation." The researchers concluded that heart and blood vessel diseases are more common among people who suffer from chronic infections such as gum disease, sinus infections, bronchitis, and urinary tract infections.

They speculate that these inflammations trigger the production of a substance called plaque in the arteries, and a buildup of plaque leads to a gradual narrowing of the blood vessels.


Expert Asserts That Disease Is Now A Foreign Policy Issue

One of the world's leading experts on contagious diseases says their control is no longer strictly a medical concern but are a major policy issue for world leaders as well.

In an article in the March issue of the journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases," Anthony Fauci writes that infectious diseases, "are now seen by leaders in the context of foreign policy because of their deleterious effects on economic development and political stability."

Fauci is a physician and a director of the U.S. National Institute of Health's division of allergy and infectious diseases. He noted that only a generation ago, public health experts thought that diseases spread from person to person were close to being conquered. He said that others suggested that money spent on infectious disease research should be channeled to other areas.

Today, says Fauci, the folly of that position is clear. He says in 1999, more than 11.5 million people around the world died from one of the five leading infectious diseases. Those ailments are: acute lower respiratory infections; HIV/AIDS; diarrheal diseases; tuberculosis, and malaria.

Fortunately, says Fauci, "interest in global health has led to increasing levels of financial support." He says this support, combined with advances in technology, "provide extraordinary opportunities," for research that may led to effective control strategies.