Ending the overdose crisis will not happen through prohibition

Written and submitted by Mark Tyndall.

Epidemiologist, physician and public health expert Mark Tyndall has dedicated his career to studying HIV, poverty, and drug use in multiple places around the world, starting with Nairobi, and now in Vancouver. Mark spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

We are now well into year three of an opioid overdose epidemic in North America. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional deaths for adults between 20 and 50 years old, far out-stripping automobile crashes, suicides and homicides. In many cities, first responders now spend the majority of their time racing to the next overdose and filling emergency departments with overdose victims. While the loss of life is tragic beyond words, the impacts of this crisis go far beyond the individual and will leave families forever broken, communities torn apart and children with no parents.

Yet despite the ongoing crisis, we find ourselves stuck debating the most mundane issues and doubling down on the very policies that have created all this misery in the first place. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we cling to the belief that any programs designed to reduce the risk of overdose and make drug use less hazardous will somehow encourage people to keep using drugs, dissuade people from entering addiction treatment, make our neighbourhoods more dangerous, and entice our youth to launch into a career of drug use. Common-sense, evidence-based harm reduction interventions like needle distribution programs, supervised injection sites, naloxone distribution, methadone and buprenorphine substitution therapy, low-barrier supportive housing, and accessible residential addiction care are shot down as unacceptable, disruptive, risky and too expensive.

Apparently devoid of any new ideas, we fall back to our worst tendencies – demonizing drugs and the people who use them. The moral panic that is perpetuated in the media gives us cover to continue to stigmatize people who are using drugs and commit them to ever harsher criminal sanctions that all but ensure they can never recover. This is all based on some sort of magical thinking. Do we really believe that if only we punished and isolated people more that they would stop using drugs? Do we really think that taking society’s most vulnerable people and cycling them through the prison system is part of a recovery program? Do we really think that busting drug dealers reduces drug use?

It is clear that the upstream drivers of addiction – the poverty, the hopelessness, the trauma, the isolation, the violence, the physical pain and the mental illness – must be addressed. More people are in pain, more people are being left behind, and more people are using drugs to self-medicate. In such an environment, it is in everyone’s best interest to make drug use as safe as possible while we invest in the myriad of societal challenges that are driving demand. We need a whole different approach to drug use and addiction that recognizes that people will continue to use drugs as long as they feel that drugs are their best option. Pushing people with drug addiction to the margins of society by continuing to enforce drug policies based on crime and punishment just doesn’t make sense.

September 19, 2016, Vancouver, B.C. —Urban artist Smokey Devil’s work is prominent in the alleys of Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, most of them pleading with locals to take care of themselves in the wake of Fentanyl overdoses. Gordon McIntyre / PNG [PNG Merlin Archive]
There is no indication that the overdose epidemic will go away anytime soon. While many thousands of people have already died, it is clear that there are many more at risk. In many communities the street supply of opioids, which was traditionally dominated by diverted prescription opioids and imported heroin has been largely replaced by potent synthetic opioids – mainly fentanyl. In fact, in many places the chance of dying of an overdose today has increased from a year ago due to the worsening toxicity of the supply.

We urgently need a comprehensive approach to the overdose crisis that is built on reducing the upstream drivers of drug addiction while promoting proven harm reduction initiatives that reduce the adverse health effects of drug use, provide a crucial point of connection, and keep people alive. This will require a dramatic shift in the way we treat people who use drugs and removal of the perverse criminal sanctions that continue to ruin lives and perpetuate the overdose crisis.

To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected: Why U.S. Should Lead on Global Health

Written and submitted by Senator William Frist, M.D.

Former Senator Bill Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, and chairman of the Distinguished Executives Council of the healthcare firm Cressey & Company. Bill spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

A life-changing story has been missed by the media and the general public. But it will be highlighted in the history books in future generations.

The story is that for less than 1% of our federal budget, the United States since 1990 has led the world in reducing by half those living in extreme poverty and halving the number of deaths of those suffering from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Moreover, we have cut in half the number of deaths of children under 5 through advancing vaccinations worldwide. And we have halved the number of deaths due to maternal mortality by training skilled birthing attendants and providing contraceptives for women. Our nation has forged the path with funding and infrastructure to tackle global disease, preventable deaths, and treatable illnesses to save the lives of millions.

Our legacy of global leadership was cemented in 2003 with the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which I helped shepherd through Congress as Senate Majority Leader. PEPFAR provided an astounding $15 billion to fight AIDS across Africa and the developing world — more than any country or any President has ever committed to fight a single disease. Today, over 13 million people in developing nations receive life-saving antiretroviral treatment, compared to only 50,000 in sub-Saharan Africa when the program began.

Less well known but perhaps even more remarkably, PEPFAR has served as a powerful “currency for peace.” Countries that received PEPFAR assistance saw reduced political instability and violence, improved rule of law, increased economic output per worker, and improved views of the U.S., compared to similar non-PEPFAR regional countries. Our investment went beyond saving lives: it put nations on the track to peace and prosperity while improving America’s own national security and global standing.

Last year, the Trump Administration seemed to ignore decades of progress and shortsightedly recommended a draconian cut of more than 30% to our U.S. foreign assistance. Hope Through Healing Hands, a global health organization I founded 14 years ago, stood on the frontlines of advocacy with public health advocates, faith leaders, academic researchers, nonprofit leaders, and others who called on Congress to restore full funding for the international affairs budget. We sent letters with over 150 signatories, made phone calls, and flew leaders to Washington to share this message with members of Congress. We reminded elected officials of the critical importance of uplifting the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Thankfully, bipartisan champions in Congress, including Senators Graham, Boozman, Collins, and Murkowski to name a few, recognized the vital impact of these global health programs and responded with a 4% increase in overall funding. But a year later, those funds are once again under attack.

The Trump Administration has again recommended a cut this year of 30% to foreign assistance. We will be diligent in our advocacy, and steadfast in our support to continue the momentum of leadership in saving lives and ending extreme poverty in the midst of famine, conflict, and population growth. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because history will judge us on whether the U.S. maintained global leadership in global health and stayed the course… or relented to a national “Me First” philosophy.

Congress and the President just enacted a budget that increases funding for our military. Now let’s match that force of arms with the greatest strength the world has ever seen when it comes to medical mercy. Let’s practice the lesson of peace through healing. Let’s remember that rogue regimes and hateful fanatics are not the only threats to global peace.

Disease is a threat to peace. Pandemics are a threat to peace. Illness and hopelessness are threats to peace. And so, in a world facing all of these threats, now is precisely the wrong time to cut back on our modest funding for global health. To be blunt, you don’t go to war with someone who has just saved the life of your child.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In our time, we’ve learned that a threat to health anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere.

We can bring more peace to the world and to ourselves, not only by deterrence – but also by compassion, by the power of healing hands, and by medicine as a currency for peace.

Announcing TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars

Preparing the TEDMED Stage Program is a year-long process, which begins the moment the first Speaker nominations come in. Each submission requires thorough research and careful consideration for how it might fit into the larger program. For help identifying the individuals and topics that will take the stage at our annual TEDMED event, we turn to the TEDMED Community—specifically our Editorial Advisory Board Members and Research Scholars—for their insight and expertise.

As a first step in the process, we rely on our Editorial Advisory Board members to suggest timely topics and themes that should be featured on stage and to provide their feedback on which Speaker nominations most embody the important work these topics and themes represent. Having completed four Editorial Advisory Board meetings and countless discussions following each meeting, the 2018 Stage Program curation process is well underway. While there is still work to do, we’re excited about how the program is shaping up.

Now comes the point in the process where we begin vetting the science and potential impact of each nomination. This is where TEDMED’s Research Scholars play a crucial role. The Research Scholars, a carefully selected group of passionate and objective individuals whose expertise spans the biomedical, public health, and emerging technology spectrums, help us to properly evaluate each nomination.

This year, we have selected 45 Research Scholars with specialties ranging from neuroscience to bioethics, digital health to nursing, and oncology to public health. We’re confident that the 2018 Research Scholars have the diverse backgrounds and breadth of knowledge that will allow us to take a deep dive into the complexities of this year’s Speaker nominations and to evaluate their suitability for this year’s program.

Our 2018 Research Scholars represent organizations and institutions including the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, the YMCA of the USA, Skoll Global Threats Fund, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Loeb Center for Alzheimer’s Disease, GE Healthcare, the The University of Pittsburgh, the American Medical Association, and more.

Additionally, we’re excited to announce that we’re trying something new this year. We’ve partnered with Massive, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public, and tapped into their pool of first-rate researchers to help us evaluate this year’s nominations. The TEDMED-Massive Scholars are members of TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars Program, and they are denoted by an asterisk in the list below. We’re excited about the TEDMED-Massive partnership, and we’re looking forward to sharing more over the coming months about how we’ll work together.

We are honored to announce this year’s TEDMED Research Scholars, and we thank them for their invaluable contributions.

Akash Chandawarkar, MD
Plastic Surgery, Medical Technology Innovation

*Anastasia Gorelova, PhD Candidate
Molecular Pharmacology, Cardiovascular Biology

Anna Pimenova, PhD
Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration

*Aparna Shah, PhD
Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Psychiatric Disorders

Beth Ann Swan, PhD, CRNP, FAAN
Healthy Communities, Health Care Delivery

Beth Taylor Mack, PhD
Health and Wellness Innovation

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, MD
Epidemiology, Dermatology, Medical Humanities, Health Advocacy

Bryon Petersen, PhD
Bioengineering, Stem Cell Biology

Camilla Engblom, PhD
Cancer Immunology

Christina Schweitzer, MPhil (Cantab), BSc, MD student
Medical Education

*Dan Samorodnitsky, PhD
Molecular Biology

Daniel Bu, BA, MD/MSCR Canadidate
Health Care Delivery, Science and Technology

Danny Jomaa, MSc Candidate
Cancer Biology, Neuroscience

Diana Chen, MA, MD/MBA Candidate
Global Health, Healthcare Delivery, Marketing

Dilip Thomas, PhD
Tissue Engineering, Regenerative Medicine

Elisa L Priest, DrPH
Healthcare Quality, Epidemiology, Population Health

Elizabeth Rochin, PhD, RN, NE-BC
Maternal Health, Population Health, Patient Engagement

Emal Lesha, MD Candidate
Bioengineering, Biotechnology, Health Care

Emilie Grasset, PhD

*Gabriela Serrato Marks, PhD Candidate
Climate Change, Science Communication

Gyan Kapur
Healthcare Technology, Genomics

*Irene Park, MS
Genetics, Science Communication

Jeffrey L. Blackman, MBA
Corporate Innovation, Entrepreneurship

Jennifer Olsen, DrPH
Public Health, Data Utilization

*Josh Peters, PhD Candidate
Quantitative Biology, Genomics, Infectious Disease

Joshua Brown, PharmD, PhD
Health Economics and Outcomes Research

Kaylynn Purdy, H BHSc, MD Candidate
Medical Education, Health Advocacy, Neuroscience

Kelly Jamieson Thomas, PhD
Cancer Prevention, Wellness Education

*Laetitia Meyrueix, PhD Candidate
Nutrition, Epigenetics, Public Health

Maria Papageorgiou, MSc, MBA
Market Access, HTA, Health Economics, Marketing

Meg Barron, MBA
Digital Health, Healthcare Innovation

*Melanie Silvis, PhD Candidate
Microbiology, Genetics, Genome Engineering, Antibiotic Discovery

Nicole Stone, PhD
Cardiac Reprogramming, Epigenomics

Paul Lindberg, JD
Public Health, Healthy Communities

Pierre Elias, MD
Cardiology, Data Science

Pramod Pinnamaneni, MD 
Oncology, Healthcare Innovation, Cost and Utilization

Raja R Narayan, MD MPH 
General Surgery, Medical Device Innovation

Regina Wysocki, MS, RN-BC
Nursing Informatics, Healthcare Information Technology

Shaahin Dadjoo, DMD Candidate
Dental Medicine, Craniofacial Development, Mindfulness

Steven Randazzo
Open Innovation, User-Centered Design

Tabitha Moses, MS
Bioethics, Medicine, Neuroscience, Public Health

Tanmay Gokhale, MD PhD Candidate
Biomedical Engineering, Computational Modeling, Cardiology, Entrepreneurship

*Yewande Pearse, PhD
Neuroscience, Gene Therapy, Stem Cell Therapy

Zuber Memon
Affordable Healthcare Technologies, Open Innovation

*Massive-TEDMED Scholar. Learn more about Massive at massivesci.com.

Simple Human Connections: Q&A with Sophie Andrews

In her 2017 TEDMED Talk, The Silver Line CEO Sophie Andrews speaks about how the best way to help another person is often just by being an empathetic listener. We caught up with Sophie to learn more about her efforts to foster human connections as a means to provide social connectivity for isolated senior citizens in the UK.

TEDMED: You begin your TEDMED Talk by sharing your personal story as a victim, and ultimately a survivor, of abuse. You turned to self-harm and other destructive behaviors as a way of coping. What would you say to someone who is suffering and doesn’t know where to turn?

SOPHIE: I’d say that you may not see it at the time but there is “life after…” and even though it will seem like there is no way out, there will be. Someone once said to me that nothing really bad or really good ever lasts forever and it’s true. Which means that you can survive and see the other side and there is help out there, although I realise more than most people that it’s hard to see the help at the time. I guess you need to be ready for the help to be able to receive it properly and that can take some time.

TEDMED: As a teenager, you relied on a helpline in a time of personal crisis, and you credit the service with saving your life. As an adult, you founded a hotline service, The Silver Line, for lonely senior citizens. In your opinion, what makes hotlines such a special form of support for people?

SOPHIE: For me it was the fact it was 24/7 and confidential—desperation doesn’t fit around a 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday timetable. Plus I wanted to be believed and trusted and to still feel that I was in control. And the support I received, and the support The Silver Line provides, offers that.

TEDMED: What types of topics are your callers looking to discuss, and what trends are you noticing with the calls you are receiving?

SOPHIE: Significant loss—partner, loss of driving license, loss of mobility, loss of confidence—are all factors that can lead to social isolation. We are receiving increasing numbers of calls at night and weekends when other services are closed. Plus mental health issues, particularly overnight, when statutory services can’t cope with demand.

TEDMED: The people calling into the Silver Line are often suffering from feelings of sadness and isolation, but there also seems to also be a lot of joy on these calls and group chats. Can you share a story from a Silver Line caller that always makes you smile or laugh?

SOPHIE: I love the group calls where people talk about shared interests— we so often forget that for many people having a conversation with more than one person at a time is a rare occurrence. My favourite group is the music group where people actually play musical instruments down the phone to each other. There is a real sense of belonging amongst the group and lots of laughter of course!

TEDMED: In addition to the empathetic ear that Silver Line provides, what other services are needed in order to improve the lives of older individuals suffering from social isolation?

SOPHIE: It doesn’t have to be complicated—it really is about simple human connection. Technology has a part to play in modern life but there is a tipping point where technology can sometimes replace the human connection. How often do we send an email or SMS message rather than picking up the phone or visiting someone? I don’t necessarily think that we need new services—we just need to look out for each other a bit more!

TEDMED: The UK is taking loneliness and social isolation seriously, with funding and increased national attention including the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness. Does the Silver Line have plans to work with this ministerial office? And, what would you say to someone who said loneliness wasn’t a public health problem?

SOPHIE: We are members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness which includes the new Minister for Loneliness. We speak with over 10,000 older people each week, so have an important part to play in terms of representing the voice of the older person and influencing at a national level. Loneliness is a public health problem because the cost of loneliness in terms of impact on health is proven and the impacts can be devastating (including increased incidence of chronic conditions and increased mortality rates). It is a problem that is potentially going to affect us all.

TEDMED: What are your predictions regarding the future of social isolation? As more people live longer, will they grow more isolated, or are we moving towards a more connected society for these populations?

SOPHIE: I worry that we are becoming less connected—social media gives a false perception of the number of friends we have and also sets expectations that everyone around us is somehow more popular as the information is visible for all to see. Yet in reality we are speaking to each other less and less, despite all the social media connections. The combination of an aging population and less social connection is a worrying one. We need to plan now for our retirements and think wider than just the financial planning—we need to plan ahead and invest in people and relationships now, outside of our work lives, so we have those strong investments in relationships for the future.

TEDMED: What was the TEDMED experience like for you? What advice would you have for a future Speaker?

SOPHIE: Terrifying! Exhilarating! Life changing! I’d recommend that you do it…if you are lucky enough to be asked. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I felt very supported and the people I met through the experience will always be remembered…and I’m keeping in touch with many of them too. Thank you for the opportunity.

Making Menstruation Matter

Written and submitted by Linda B. Rosenthal

Manhattan Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal is a leading advocate on gender and menstrual equity issues in New York. Linda has passed more than 75 laws to improve the lives of all New York State residents, including a ban on the “tampon tax,” which eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products statewide. Linda spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch her talk here.

Since I gave my TEDMED talk in November 2017, the fight for menstrual equity has taken center stage. As of today, 14 states do not tax menstrual hygiene products, and 24 others have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax altogether. The term menstrual equity has entered the common vernacular and become part of our collective consciousness.

I have spoken with period rights advocates from across the country and right here in New York who are fighting to ensure menstrual equity takes its place as a critical component of women’s health and want to model their efforts after our successful push in New York. I spoke at the first-ever PeriodCon, which was an electric gathering of activists who are making menstruation matter in every corner of the world.

And, it’s working. Lawmakers across the country are looking at menstrual health and equity issues for the very first time.

A number of states are now working on legislation, like mine in New York, to provide menstrual hygiene products free in schools and correctional facilities. Federal legislation would ensure that these products qualify for flexible spending accounts, among other things. Medical professionals are finally recognizing that dysmenorrhea is serious and can be debilitating for some, and there are efforts to consider new, more effective treatments for it. And, there is a move to make menstrual hygiene product ingredients available to consumers and to test product safety to better understand the health impacts of long-term use.

New York State included my bill to provide free menstrual products to students in secondary schools statewide in the proposed Executive budget, which means that we are a few short weeks from every student statewide having free universal access to menstrual hygiene products in school. This is a game changer for any young person who has ever felt ashamed because they did not have tampons when they needed one or because they could not afford them.

After my bill passed the New York State Assembly, New York’s correctional facilities voluntarily implemented a program to provide free menstrual hygiene products to people who are incarcerated. Once we pass my legislation into law, the program will remain in place permanently and preserve the health and dignity of menstruating individuals in correctional facilities for generations to come.

From 40,000 feet, it looks like we are on the precipice of a sea change here, and that’s because we are. People have finally begun to recognize that guaranteeing menstrual equity is a distinct and critically important component in the fight to protect women’s health.

Together, so many of us have worked to demystify and destigmatize menstruation, and now, we feel duty-bound to discuss menstruation and related medical and social issues to help make the change and achieve the equality that has for so long eluded us.

Even with our remarkable progress, it is not enough. Let’s be honest: it won’t be enough until tampons are treated like toilet paper.

Since giving my TEDMED talk, I have eagerly devoured every resource I could on this issue. And yet, I keep coming back to one: a 2013 TedX talk given by Nancy Kramer, where she argued that we must ‘Free the Tampon.’ She was right in 2013, and she’s still right today, five years later.

No one walks around with a personal roll of toilet paper for public emergencies or expects to put a quarter into a machine in exchange for a square of toilet paper in a public restroom. Tampons and sanitary napkins are not different than toilet paper. What is different, however, is the way we think about them and therefore, treat them.

Upon reflection, I realize now why it was so important that people heard me say blood and gush on the floor of the New York State Assembly. It’s the same reason it is so important that we each discuss our periods, freely and proudly. Every time someone mentions a period, we help break down the stigmas that have shrouded this natural function of our bodies and our health in mystery for years.

And because incremental change frustrates me, I have introduced legislation, the TAMP (Total Access to Menstrual Products) Act to require that every restroom in the State of New York – from fast food restaurants to colleges, to government facilities and office buildings – make menstrual hygiene products available in the same way they do toilet paper.

It is a matter of simple justice. At the foundation of movement toward menstrual equity is the recognition that menstrual hygiene products are necessities that have been singled out for historically biased treatment as a result of stigma and misunderstanding about the biological functions of half the population. This begins to end today, with the TAMP Act.

Announcing the TEDMED 2018 Theme: Chaos+Clarity

Today, our Editorial Advisory Board gathers in San Francisco for it’s second meeting in the last two weeks. These are the first of several meetings and conversations where we’ll to shape this year’s program and curate the ideas and thought-leaders that will take the stage.

As we immerse ourselves in the design of TEDMED 2018, we’re thrilled to be able to share this year’s event theme: Chaos+Clarity.

Typically, clarity is thought to emerge from chaos. But as we think about these conditions, we’re inspired by their entangled nature, each acting as provocateurs in their own unique ways. We see them as being engaged in an ongoing conversation. Chaos is the question. Clarity is the answer. The more chaos we embrace, the more clarity we can discover.

While chaos is often messy and may appear unscientific, it’s actually the friend of the scientific method. It’s the place where breakthroughs are made. Where the magic happens. And where clarity is found. Clarity, on the other hand, is hidden inside of chaos, and sometimes vice versa, just waiting to be discovered if we know how and where to look.

Join us for TEDMED 2018, and we’ll explore and embrace the power of Chaos+Clarity in advancing science, global public health, and medical innovation across a wide range of topics. Together, we’ll explore new developments in neuroprosthetics; the global epidemic of chronic disease; how to design our way to better health outcomes; the relationship between immigration and health; the science of aging; social isolation in the age of social media; gender equity and harassment in science and medicine: the trauma of violence and mass casualty; the power of resilience; and much more.

Be part of a community shining a spotlight on the inspiration that lives at the intersection of Chaos+Clarity.

We look forward to seeing you at TEDMED 2018.

Seeking Artists In The TEDMED Community

This week, our Editorial Advisory Board kicks off a series of meetings designed to curate the topics, themes, ideas and stories that will shape the TEDMED 2018 program. As always, we will balance our review of the medical and scientific landscape with strong consideration of performance, visual arts, and narrative. We believe that scientific and artistic exploration ultimately share the same goal, which is to explain and communicate difficult concepts, and to create a deeper and more fuller understanding of ourselves, and the world in which we live. For this reason, art and design are an important part of the TEDMED program– to us, there is no clear division between science and art.

We’ve had some amazing artists who beautifully illustrate this connection between medicine and art from the TEDMED stage. For example, last year, cellist Zoë Keating shared how the emotions involved with her husband’s battle with cancer transformed her music, and how the artistic process has helped her heal and communicate her feelings more completely than she ever could through words. Visual artist Jennifer Chenoweth brought her XYZ Atlas project to TEDMED, and demonstrated how visualizing experiences and emotions can actually help communities become stronger and healthier.

A wide range of artistic talents join us each year, such as pianist Richard Kogan, painter Ted Meyer, fashion designer Kristin Neidlinger, art curator Christine McNabb, documentarian Holly Morris, improv performers Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, chef John La Puma, photographer Kitra Cahana, musician Gerardo Contino, and many more. And more broadly, storytelling itself is an artform. Every speaker from all backgrounds carefully craft their talk to share a unique gift with the TEDMED community. Every talk is therefore a piece of art the speaker shares with the audience.

And quite literally, our speakers themselves become pieces of art, because an important part of our event design each year is to work with artists who create portraits of our speakers. From widely acclaimed figures like Hanoch Piven and Victor Juhasz, to a collaborative project created by several RISD art students, to the fantastic work of Gabriel Gutierrez and Lauren Hess who were chosen from our community, we’ve been lucky to work with amazing talent. These artists are invited to TEDMED and become an important part of our Delegation. Find out more about their beautiful work here.

Again this year, we’re excited to begin a search for the artist or artists who will help us bring this year’s speaker portraits to life. As part of our search, we’re officially accepting artist nominations and applications for TEDMED 2018.

Just as every year, our chosen artist or artists will join our community for 3 days in Palm Springs, CA at the La Quinta Resort and Club, November 14-16 for TEDMED 2018 (travel and accommodations covered by TEDMED).  If you are interested, or know someone who might be, read on!

This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:

  • Experience in the medical community
  • Experience working with patients
  • A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine

The artist will need to produce roughly 50 portraits over the course of the next few months. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.

The work will take place between March – July 2017.

To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to art@tedmed.com. Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links, and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.

Application deadline: Midnight, March 12, 2018.

Panther Senses: How Racial Literacy Makes It Possible for Our Children to Keep Belonging Without Having to Fit In

Written and submitted by Howard Stevenson, Ph.D..

Howard C. Stevenson is Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC). Howard is also the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Howard spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

Imagine someone walking up to your 12 year old while they are styling down the street, playing in the park, or simply listening to music. To you, these are the daily experiences of childhood. To your child, these are behaviors of belonging in the world. But what if the person who walked up to your 12 year old saw your child as a thug, assumed the toy they were holding was a weapon, misjudged their cultural styling as a threatening move and assaulted their bodies, history, knowledge, identity, beauty, freedom, and genius in self-defense?

For parents of Black and Brown children, the stress of wondering if our children will come home safely is debilitating. We cannot always trust authority figures to act humanely toward our children. Our worry about their safety disrupts the ground we walk on. Moreover, not all parents have to fear that their children will be racially profiled. Racial threat research suggests that adults over-react to the ways boys and girls of color speak their minds and physically move. When racially threatened, adults perceive children and adults of color as older, larger, and closer than they really are. When authority figures over-react, they protect themselves first and too often make the most punitive “in-the-moment” decision toward youth of color.

What is the emotional cost for youth and adults of being exposed to repeated disrespectful attitudes, social interactions, and false accusations? The more Black and Brown youth experience subtle or blatant racial rejection from society and within schools, the less they feel safe, trust others, get peaceful sleep, or perform well at school.

Some parents try to teach their children to fit in and assimilate so as to not appear different and garner any negative attention. Be pretty. Some prepare them explicitly for potential racial hatred. Be on guard. Others still prefer to not “racially burden” their children, hoping they won’t face trouble. Be invisible. Unfortunately, a lot of “don’ts” lurk close by, like “don’t be angry” or “loud” or “too Black.” What is a parent left to do? Teaching racial literacy—or the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful situations—can be one answer.

It’s like panther senses. Did you know that panthers have sensitive whiskers that help them navigate darkness? What if young people of color could learn to trust their panther senses before, during, and after these situations and learn to “be you?”

Racial literacy involves teaching youth of color to appreciate their cultural genius and discern racial support and rejection (read), reduce the stress of that rejection (recast) so they can make healthy decisions that benefit their well-being (resolve). Neither a cure for discrimination or a last ditch survival strategy, racial literacy skills can be a healing response to daily racial microaggressions.

Our research at the Racial Empowerment Collaborative shows that the more parents or children report socialization about negotiating racial politics, the better they report improvements in self-esteem, anger management, depression, and academic achievement. However, not all the racial conversations parents report yield positive results. The more children reported their parents socialized them to fit into mainstream society, the higher their depression scores. Why? We think it’s because many of the environments our young people of color enter don’t appreciate their difference.

Howard and the REC team.

Racial literacy can also be applied to the school environment. When harassed at school, students of color struggle to see the benefits of trying to fit into hostile social networks for the sake of future social mobility. We believe racial literacy at school is more likely to lead to more positive health outcomes because it 1) affirms Black and Brown youth’s accurate discernment of societal hostility or support; 2) reframes any racial rejection as the haters’ problem, not theirs; and 3) promotes them to embrace their genius and not question their potential. Once youth of color embrace their differences and the healing benefits of their culture, they develop confidence to engage rather than fight, flee, or freeze in the face of discrimination.

But without practice, none of these literacy skills become instinctual, like panther senses.

If “belonging” is the acceptance of my difference and competence, and “fitting in” is the dependence on other people’s acceptance of me, then why am I not questioning that acceptance if it’s rooted in inferiority? For many youth of color, “belonging” is to “fitting in” what “being myself” is to “pretending.”

Parents can’t always be there to protect their children from racial discrimination, and life offers no guarantees for our children. But we can equip them with the cultural tools to belong within whatever context they inhabit. Additionally, we can encourage them to choose to make healthy decisions around whether to accept or challenge other people’s perceptions of their difference and their potential. Be you.

Announcing the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board

Over the next several months, the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) will begin meeting to discuss the most important and timely topics in health and medicine—all in preparation for designing this year’s Stage Program. The EAB members play critical roles in our community, contributing their time, knowledge, and insights to ensure that each TEDMED event highlights the key issues and groundbreaking innovations related to health around the world.

This year’s EAB consists of 20 thought leaders representing backgrounds and organizations that intersect all areas of health and medicine, including including scientific research, medical journalism, philanthropy, clinical care, psychology and behavioral science, clinical care, infectious disease, health entrepreneurship and venture capital, neuroscience, and health policy. Their diverse experiences and areas of expertise inform the broad spectrum of ideas integral to shaping our multidisciplinary program and ensuring it is inclusive and cutting edge.

We’re honored to announce the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board:

You can learn more about the EAB and their role on TEDMED.com.

Reflections, Hope, and Togetherness: Looking Ahead to 2018

As 2017 comes to a close, we at TEDMED are filled with both gratitude and reflection. This has been an exciting year in the world of health and medicine, with unprecedented advances in areas like gene editing and artificial intelligence, and groundbreaking research on diseases such as Zika and cancer. There have also been many challenges: opioid abuse and addiction continues to rise; funding for global health programs remains uncertain; and rates of loneliness and isolation are increasing and negatively impacting our health.

This last point feels particularly relevant during the holidays, when many of us take time off to celebrate and be with our friends and families. For those who feel alone, this can be an especially difficult time of year. In a survey of approximately 3,000 adults over the age of 45, AARP found that over one-third of respondents were lonely, due in part to a perceived lack of social support and a shrinking network of friends. This translates to roughly 42.6 million adults in the United States who suffer from chronic loneliness, which can be as significant a risk to mortality as commonly accepted factors like diabetes and hypertension.

By reaching out to and reconnecting with friends and family members this holiday season, you can improve your own health and that of your loved ones while also reducing loneliness. Studies compiled by Psychology Today show that strong social connectivity can strengthen our immune systems, increase self-esteem, and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Social connectivity can even reduce the risk of early death by up to 50%.

As our team prepares to unplug these next few weeks, we reached out to a few members of the extended TEDMED Community to learn more about their reflections from 2017, their hopes for 2018, and how they plan to connect with the important people in their lives this holiday season.

We asked: “When you reflect back on 2017, what do you see as some of the successes and challenges in health and medicine?”

Karen Hogan, TEDMED 2017 Hive Innovator

“Looking back on 2017, advances in healthcare technology and treatments are incredibly inspiring,” said Karen Hogan, 2017 Hive Innovator and Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Biorealize. “I was also excited to see not only advances in healthcare related to physical illness, but also a more broad discussion emerging on a holistic approach to treating emotional and mental wellness in the same light.”  

She continued, “A major challenge, and one that worries me, is what appears to be an ever increasing divide among those that can afford access to healthcare and those that cannot. I believe access to healthcare is a human right and I hope to see that mentality more broadly adopted in 2018.”

Access to health was also on the mind for Heidi Allen, a 2017 TEDMED Speaker and Associate Professor of Social Work at Columbia University who specializes in health insurance policy.

“[This year] brought a considerable amount of uncertainty related to the future of the Affordable Care Act. It seems that every other week there was a ‘repeal and replace’ proposal in Congress that appeared inevitable,” Heidi said. “I imagine this ambiguity was particularly difficult for patients in the midst of a health crisis. Concerns about losing their insurance mid-treatment and the consequences of having a pre-existing without the protections of the ACA must have occupied the minds of many Americans.”

Pediatric endocrinologist and 2017 TEDMED Speaker Ximena Lopez told us that following a year during which she often felt despair in the face of what she described as a lack of scientific and medical progress, “hearing the speakers at TEDMED 2017 gave me hope about humanity.”

Mark Tyndall, 2017 Speaker and the Director of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, said a major challenge in public health this year has been managing the overdose crisis.

“I have been involved with a number of prevention initiatives and speaking opportunities around this—including of course the TEDMED talk,” he said. “There is a real opportunity to change the whole way that we view drug use in Canada but it is discouraging at times to see how stigma and apathy make progress so difficult and cloud our common sense.”

We also asked “What do you hope for in health and medicine in 2018?”

“In 2018 I hope that we create efficiencies in how consumers and healthcare organizations can find out about the great work that many researchers and entrepreneurs are working on,” said Jo Schneier, 2017 Hive Innovator and CEO and Co-Founder of Cognotion. “There are so many breakthroughs happening but getting them into people’s hands is my dream for 2018.”

Heidi said, “I hope that 2018 will bring policy-makers from across the political spectrum to the same table. We are going to need tremendous creativity and courage from our leaders if we are going to reduce systemic health care costs without doing so on the backs of the poor or the sick.”

For Sophie Andrews, 2017 TEDMED Speaker and CEO of The Silver Line, the outlook is simple. “Winston Churchill famously said, ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,’” she said. “So I guess that means we shouldn’t lose sight of the simple stuff too, and those simple acts of kindness on a global scale will affect all of us and make the world a healthier and happier place to live in.

Finally, we asked: “As the new year approaches, what are your plans to connect with your loved ones, and with yourself?”

Sophie said, “My plans are fairly simple—to see as many loved ones as I can and take the time to pick the phone up to people I might have neglected. The bigger the New Year resolution is, the more likely you fail, so I’m going to do better at keeping in touch with people in 2018 and cherish time with special people more.”

She continued, “I’ll ask myself each week ‘how many conversations have I had this week that are not related to work?’ because it’s a healthy check to make sure I’m not becoming a work bore, and that it hasn’t taken over!”

Ximena emphasized the opportunity to use this time for teaching the value of togetherness. “I hope to be able to teach my son the importance of spending the holidays with family and your loved ones.”

Mark Tyndall, TEDMED 2017 Speaker

Mark said he plans to spend time unplugging and being active with his family. “Holidays are a great time to reflect and scheme about how to connect better with those you love. Family activities will be central to this in the new year—cross-country skiing and mountain biking are rather new family activities that involve fresh mountain air and no screens or keyboards.”

Finally, for Jo, it’s all about community.I live in a rare neighborhood in NYC where all the neighbors know each other. We are planning on bringing in the New Year with our community at one of our neighbor’s houses. It is something I am very grateful for!”

We hope you find these insights from our speakers as valuable and thought-provoking as we do. From all of us here at TEDMED, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and of course, meaningful connections. We look forward to reconnecting in the new year.