Showing posts from 2017

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All

It is Christmas season.  Christmas Is Around the Corner With shorter days, longer nights, and colder weather (if you happen to live in the northern hemisphere), nature seems calling us to return home, giving us an opportunity to reflect and nurture our inner self. Decorations can surely lift our mood. Decked halls are meant to bring out that holiday spirit especially during a winter solstice. A giant inflatable Santa Claus standing on one of the roofs near Georgetown University is certainly a welcoming sight to see in the morning from the Key Bridge. It is Christmas.

Oliver Wainwright was perhaps not trying to outdo Scrooge when he wrote "Santa's real workshop: the town in China that makes the world's Christmas decorations" in the Guardian about a year ago. Nonetheless, the article did raise some questions regarding how to decorate for Christmas.

Since we are in a time conducive for reflection, we might as well think about Christmas decorations.

The above was a post on…

A Photoshoot Does Not Cost Three Billion

What should we think when we see a head of a household purchase a smartphone on a loan instead of buying food for his or her family who are barely eating one meal a day? With a smartphone, of course, one can keep in touch with friends and family. One can even browse through Facebook. Perhaps, this is a good intention. However, a good intention is not enough to justify such waste especially when we are not meeting so many other much more basic needs. We indeed expect so much more from a parent. Yet, we do not seem to expect the same from a national leader. More than three billion were spent on a vaccine that was still unproven. In fact, it is now known to be likely harmful to some. Billions and billions were likewise spent on a basic education program that was not of utmost importance. Similar to the dengvaxia vaccine, the supporting evidence was also weak and more importantly, the potential for harm was there, 

On the dengue vaccine, the former president of the Philippines Aquino mad…

What Is "Bad Science?

With regard to the dengue vaccine fiasco, Antonio Dans, a scientist at the National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines, places the blame on "bad science". The phrase "bad science" actually appears on a book by Ben Goldacre. The complete title is "Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks". Unfortunately, with a small twist, the phrase can be easily misunderstood as "Science is bad". What Goldacre's "bad science" really refers to is neither insufficient information nor honest errors, but misconduct.

A study published in the Proceeedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America finds that majority of retractions in peer-reviewed literature can be attributed to misconduct.

Blaming "bad science" therefore may not be correctly informing the public especially when "bad science" is really a misconduct. 
The former president of the Philippines, Aquino, testified recen…

When Scholarships Become Oppressive

There is a reason why scholarships often come with a stipend. A government scholarship after all is an investment made by the public on a promising student. These awards are meant to support the student in every possible way. Without a stipend, a student may not be able to concentrate on his or her studies if such student is still forced to earn a living. Therefore, it goes without saying that the recipients will rely on this stipend to meet their basic needs. After all, it is not a "luxury allowance" but a "living allowance". When I started college, I was rudely awakened to bureaucratic incompetence. As a scholar, I was counting on the monthly allowance for my daily expenses. But months after the first day of school, there was no sign of such an allowance. It was delayed. Without a living wage and a stipend, it is no wonder that some bright people still find themselves buried in debt. 
With the transition to the new K+12 curriculum in the Philippines, teachers in…

What It Takes to Help Poor Children Learn in Schools

The statistics are widely known, a child growing up in a poor family has heard tens of million words less than a privileged child. This advantage translates to a poor child working his brain a lot harder just to keep up with his or her more fortunate classmates. The inequity sadly does not cease at the beginning of formal schooling. Children from poor families tend to enroll in the same school with income segregation of neighborhoods. Lacking resources and facing mounting challenges, schools that serve low income families are often unable to provide what these children desperately need to thrive in their classrooms. In addition, due to mounting pressure to perform well in standardized tests in reading and math, equally important subjects such as music, arts and physical education are often sacrificed. Such policy actually goes against what we now know from research in neuroscience. For example, "Music lessons may boost poor kids' brainpower, study suggests" by Linda Carr…

Not Knowing What It Means to Be Poor and Incompetence Spells Disaster

Poverty creeps into every challenge a society faces. Poverty has a strong and crippling grip on both health and education. Tackling problems in these areas requires an awareness of what a general lack of resources and privilege really entails. It is helpful to walk with the poor yet even immersions do not necessarily capture everything about being poor. The poor faces an enormous fraction of society's major problems in education, health and crimes. Unfortunately, the poor is also the least equipped to handle these challenges. Power, resources, and eventually, policy making all belong to the privileged. And in public school education, those who decide what happens in these schools often send their children to other schools. The people who decide are not real stakeholders. Of course, the privileged is supposed to be more enlightened and educated, and therefore, more equipped to examine problems, suggest solutions, and decide what action needs to be taken. Sadly, nowadays, not only d…

Education and Breaking Out of Poverty

It has been four years since Nelson Mandela left us, but his words on education and poverty remain as true challenges to mankind: "There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages." The challenge remains essentially because the barriers through these avenues are not easily dismantled. One obvious reason is not fully understanding how poverty and poor learning outcomes are really coupled.

Recognizing that poverty makes education more challenging is the first step. Realizing what privilege entails and how it influences future achievement and performance is the next step. And one must fully grasp the gravity of these facts in order to appreciate what steps are then necessary to address the challenge.

Yes, everyone has an opinion. And anecdotally, we can always point out so many examples to illustrate that it is possible for a child to be born in poverty and y…

Another Round of International Reading Scores

In 2013, the Department of Health in the Philippines shared data that showed diseases of the heart as the top cause of deaths in the country. Infant mortality is significant but the main causes are pneumonia, bacterial infection, and other respiratory diseases. Acute respiratory infection is the most common disease in 2014 in the Philippines. Yet, the Aquino administration worked with haste even without a congressional budget appropriation to launch a massive dengue vaccination with still ongoing clinical trials. The question of lack of prioritization is undeniable. But enough about Dengvaxia, such neglect is evident is so many government policies including especially those that pertain to public education. And the reason is simple. People are either not seeing what the real problems are or they merely have an agenda that is different from actually solving the problem.

In Philippine basic education, one of the biggest challenges is that fourth grade students are unable to demonstrate …

"It's Happened. We Have a Vaccine that Enhances Dengue" - We Should Listen to Experts

“It's clear as the nose on my face: Vaccine recipients less than 5 years old had five to seven times more rates of hospitalizations for severe dengue virus than placebo controls."

These were the words of the one of the world's leading experts on dengue and vaccines, Dr. Scott Halstead. He even added the following remarks after raising serious concerns regarding the mass dengue vaccination program launched in the Philippines:

"Seronegatives are going to be sensitized to dengue virus for the rest of their lives, and it's not going to stop at hospitalizations. Someone is going to die. Once that happens there's enough lawyers that are going to do something about it." As noted in two previous posts on this blog, the warning signs were already there during the summer of 2015, long before the Philippines president met with executives at Sanofi (the maker of Dengvaxia) on December 2015. The fear has always been there and results laid out that summer in fact proved…

Lessons from Dengue: Due Diligence and Expertise Are Necessary for National Programs

When confronting an issue that involves the lives of millions of children as well as billions of cash, we expect leaders to exercise due diligence. It is assumed that our leaders will at least do their homework. The Dengue vaccine fiasco in the Philippines illustrates what is terribly wrong with its leadership. The Philippines has embarked on gigantic national programs on education, and this time, on health, without due diligence. The preliminary data on the efficacy of Dengvaxia have been available even before Aquino met with Sanofi on December 2015 in Paris, France. The data published in the New England Journal of Medicineon September 2015 certainly do not support a large scale vaccination without further studies.

One troubling aspect of the results involves the difference between individuals who have had been infected with Dengue and those who have not been. These are shown in the following tables:

Younger than 9 years
Older than 9 years
CYD14 and CYD15 are the current trials in Asia…

It Is Our Responsibility

Facing a worrisome dengue epidemic, the Aquino administration approved the use of the Dengvaxia vaccine in December, 2015. Its Department of Health, a few weeks later, launched a massive vaccination program of more than 1 million children, costing 3.5 billion pesos. The Health Secretary, Janette Garin, was touting that the vaccine earned approval from the World Health Organization. With a change in administration, the new Health secretary, Paulyn Ubial, suspended the vaccination program in July 2016, citing that the vaccine has not been proven safe. However, on September 2016, Ubial issued a certificate of exemption for Dengvaxia amidst continuing issues. This timeline was provided by Rappler.

It was nice for Rappler to provide a timeline. However, as usual, Rappler fails to provide important information for an issue that is of utmost significance. First, the World Health Organization does not have the authority to approve vaccines. That authority falls solely on the shoulder of each …