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Why 2016 Was Actually a Good Year

Here's a reason to be hopeful about 2016 despite, among other things, the election of Donald Trump, the loss of several beloved celebrities and the intractable civil war in Syria.

Innovations for Poverty Action's Annie Duflo and Jeffrey Mosenkis write that 2016 might turn out to have been one of the best years for humanity because the number of people living in extreme poverty and child mortality has been dropping dramatically. "Emergencies and bad news tend to command our attention, so it’s easy to miss humanity’s remarkable ability to improve its own lot," they write.

They point to things that can improve the lot of humanity: giving poor people cash because research shows they spend it on productive things and a model in which basic health checks by women selling health products door-to-door reduced child mortality by 27 percent. 

CDC Warns Doctors About Risk of Opioid Painkillers

For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out against doctors prescribing highly addictive opioid painkillers, The Washington Post's Karoun Demirjian and Lenny Bernstein report.

The nonbinding guidelines from the federal government recommend that doctors prescribe alternative courses of treatment before resorting to opioid painkillers to treat chronic pain. The guidelines have been developed in light of the national public health crisis of addiction to heroin and narcotic painkillers.

The CDC estimates that almost 28,700 people died from overdoes from prescription opiods and heroin in 2014, The Post reports.

Climate Change Agreement Is Public Health Issue

Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, opines in the Huffington Post today that achieving an international agreement to halt climate change is a public health issue: "Climate change degrades air quality, reduces food security and compromises water supplies and sanitation. WHO estimates that, each year, more than 7 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to air pollution. Climate change is also causing tens of thousands of yearly deaths from other causes."

Currently, climate change negotiators are in Paris to try to achieve an accord that would limit emissions and thus curb global temperatures from rising no more than another two degrees Celsius.

WV High Court Protects Some Academic Records From Public Access

While West Virginia does not have an academic-freedom exemption to its public records law, that state's high court has ruled that documents that are "internal memoranda" from a university researcher's examination of the impact of mountaintop-removal mining on public health are exempt from disclosure.

The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward Jr. reports that Alpha Natural Resources' efforts to get West Virginia University to release research documents would expose the predecisional, deliberative "'decision-making process in such a way as to hinder candid discussion' by university faculty and 'undermine WVU’s ability to perform its operations.'" The court was examining the exemption for internal governmental communications reflecting a "'public body's deliberative, decision-making process."'

Researcher Michael Hendryx has found that people living near mountaintop removal face increased risks of premature death, cancer and birth defects.

Judge Rejects Full Ebola Quarantine For Nurse

Kaci Hickox, who is back in her home state of Maine after treating Ebola patients in West Africa, won a court victory in her home state against having her movements curtailed, The Washington Post reports. A judge ruled she "should continue daily monitoring and coordinate any travel with public-health officials," the Post further reports. When Hickox was forcibly quarantined by New Jersey after treating Ebola patients, claimed she was deprived of her liberty in violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Constitutional Challenges to Ebola Quarantines Unlikely to Succeed

Eugene Kontorovich, writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, comments that constitutional challenges to mandatory Ebola quarantines are unlikely to succeed. Lawyers for Kaci Hickox, a nurse forcibly quarantined by New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa, claimed she was deprived of her liberty in violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. But Kontorovich says "brief review of the cases suggests it extremely difficult to challenge such an action without a clear showing of medical unreasonableness, or discriminatory application. Indeed, I found no cases in which a quarantine has been lifted due process grounds (though there have been some successful challenges to conditions of quarantine)."

Hickox's quarantine was reversed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today, USA Today reports. She will now be quarantined at her home.

Obamacare May Be the Key to Saving the US from Ebola

Laurie Garrett, writing in Foreign Policy, has an interesting an piece suggesting that Obamacare may be the key to stopping an Ebola epidemic in the United States. She notes that uninsured Americans are the "greatest vulnerability" because they "routinely tough out the flu, fever, aches, and pains because seeking medical care is prohibitively expensive. If they become sick enough to feel desperate, the uninsured and underinsured of America go to public hospital emergency rooms for care, where waiting times in often-crowded settings can stretch on for hours." No one suffering from the primary symptoms of Ebola should be turned away from care because they lack insurance, she says.

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