Saturday, February 08, 2014

Do We Deserve To Call Ourselves True Olympians?

Today, I have had to suffer hearing of another tirade, and sadly, only the latest of many emanating from a certain small-minded civic leader, here in Canada.  I have seen many comments, in response, even from those who fervently believe in universal human rights, insisting that public statements condemning Russia are out of place.  Many seem to believe that now is not the time to address Russia's human rights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  A far too common misconception exists that purports demonstrations condemning discrimination distract and undermine "the real purpose of the games." Many seem to think that now is the time to focus solely on cheering our athletes on to victory, patriotically waving our flag, and joining together in expressions of national pride.

If you were to ask the International Olympic Committee if the true purposes of the Olympic Games were patriotism, nationalism, and simple competition for the title 'Worlds Best',  they would answer, "You have it dead wrong!"  Here are the Fundamental Principals of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Games, as stated in the Olympic Charter:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

3. The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.

4. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

5. Recognising that sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organisations within the Olympic Movement shall have the rights and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisations, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that principles of good governance be applied.

6. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

7. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.

-- Here is the Full text of the of the Olympic Charter.  I have quoted the version dated 2013/09/09.

Sport is clearly only a secondary purpose of the Olympics--a means to an end. In fact, the Olympics seeks, primarily, to be a forum for the betterment of humanity. Out of the seven Fundamental Principals, only one deals strictly with sports! Sport simply happens to be the vehicle the Olympics uses to focus the world on the Olympic primary objective--bridging divides which separate the various people of the world. Article 2 of the fundamental principals says exactly that. The Olympics strives to open boarders and spread understanding so all who participate, from the athletes, all the way to those of us watching on T.V., may, from greater understanding of each other, see beyond nations and feel included as equals.

Neither patriotism nor national pride are anything close to the Olympic Fundamental Principals. Patriotism and national pride, in fact, contradict Olympic values. The Olympics demands we focus beyond our own nations, not on the petty notion of how many medals we win or if we take the hockey gold or how much better we are than that other country.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are both universal human rights. Article 4 of the Olympic Fundamental Principles states quite clearly that, in sport, everyone has a right to participate without discrimination. Unfortunately, many athletes attending these games are facing human rights discrimination. How can any of them focus on being their best with that knowledge in mind?

Consider an athlete winning a medal.  His or her spouse jubilantly runs from the stands for a perfectly natural affectionate embrace.  They are both immediately arrested as a result.  

The moment these athletes entered Russia, they became second class people.  They have to fear reprisal for expressing themselves in natural and universal human fashion.  Article four of the fundamental principles demands a spirit of fair play.  There cannot be fairness if certain athletes are burdened by the worry of repercussion for failing to suppress aspects of themselves which are ingrained and natural to all humans.

Finally, article seven says that to be part of the Olympic movement, the charter must be complied with. Russia certainly isn't in compliance because of it's failure to ensure human rights and a spirit of fair play.

We must ensure the rainbow flag flies, anywhere and everywhere it can. Russia must be shamed for hosting an event meant to foster understanding between ALL people while ignoring that very ideal.  As Canadians, we are an enlightened people committed to upholding universal human rights--just as the primary principles of the Olympics require.  We have an obligation speak out, in no uncertain terms, and demand an end to human rights discrimination.   If we wish to comply with the Olympic Charter, if we wish to call ourselves true Olympians, we must never let hateful and intolerant people paint black the beauty of a rainbow.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

NDM-1 the "Nightmare Scenario": The Ignored Pandemic Threat

This might well be the biggest public health concern since H.I.V, perhaps even dwarfing it.

We have all heard of superbug outbreaks in hospitals. Until a few years ago, antibiotic resistant infections were mostly confined to healthcare facilities such as hospitals. These outbreaks have, sadly, killed many hundreds of people, in Canada, however, they have been contained within these very tiny hospital patient population groups.

NDM-1 is changing all that. NDM-1 isn't a bacteria or a virus, it is a non-living enzyme containing genes. Bacteria with the NDM-1 gene produce NDM-1 enzymes containing genetic material that can spread this antibiotic resistance gene to non-resistant bacteria, bacteria which are easily treated with antibiotics, thereby passing on the ability.

More well know resistant bacteria spread vertically. Patient zero will infect a few others who, in turn, infect yet others. Outbreaks are handled by isolating and treating infected people so person to person transmission is halted.

NDM-1 bacteria can spread horizontally, too. They produce copies of the resistance gene in the NDM-1 enzyme, in a form which passes the gene and its ability to other treatable, non-resistant bacteria. Even more frightening, this enzyme has been shown to pass the gene between different strains of bacteria. 

So what does this mean? Bacteria, having this resistance gene, have been found in otherwise normal gut bacteria in people showing no symptoms. Since these are normal good gut bacteria, they continue on as part of normal GI function as they aide healthy digestion. The only difference with these gut superbugs is they now produce the NDM-1 enzyme. Any location in which there may be fecal matter contamination could also be contaminated with the enzyme which passes on the resistance ability.


Also, it is possible that treatable non-resistant bacteria present in an active infection, which is open to further contamination, could be supercharged simply by coming into contact with the NDM-1 enzyme. Contact with living bacteria isn't required.

P.B.S. Frontline has a good episode about the NDM-1 threat. The two really important points this documentary makes are these: Drug companies seem to have dropped all research on new antibiotic medications--the most effective antibiotic was developed in the 40s and is highly toxic. The Centres for Disease Control, in the U.S., have used the phrase, "nightmare scenario", in describing the public health risk, yet there is no American federal government policy to prepare for it or even coordinate disparate resources and research.

So, what does this mean for Canada? Are we prepared? Are policy makers even thinking about the issue? 


If policy makers have created a plan to address the public health threat NDM-1 poses, they certainly aren't telling anyone publicly. I searched all websites, using Google, for articles containing NDM-1, from the last three years or so, and there were only three results. Two of them contained overviews and addressed infection control in the greatly limited scope of health care facility infection control. The third provides information on a few basic research initiatives sponsored by government.

While basic research is extremely important and the federal government deserves credit for funding research, which has been orphaned by the pharmaceutical industry, to look for new drug treatments, any new medication is likely five to ten years away, at a minimum.

There seems to be no effort to plan for any outbreak in the environment at large. If one should occur, it will likely dwarf outbreaks such as H1N1 and S.A.R.S. This is because there are many different pathways of infection due to the range of bacterial strains which can be augmented by the NDM-1 enzyme. The following are just a few: e.coli (food poisoning with risk of kidney failure), k.pneumoniae (pneumonia), and acinetobacter (the second most common normal and healthy skin microbe, can cause post surgical infections and perhaps infections in open wounds such as serious cuts.)

Since there are so many different illnesses which can be caused by so many different bacteria, it is conceivable that a general outbreak in a community at large could swamp many different departments, within a given hospital, simultaneously.

This issue desperately needs multifaceted attention from both the federal and provincial government now.

For more information on the NDM-1 threat, Wikipedia has a great article: