Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Evolution of Extremes, and Speed Dating in Wigan

Last week it appeared difficult to avoid tales of evolutionary nature. There was the story published by the evolutionary biologist Professor David Haig (Harvard University) about babies waking up during the night needing to be breast fed being linked to the baby wanting to delay the birth of a brother of sister. It was a neat story with the possibility of there being some truth in the idea. The act of breast feeding does block the hormonal signals that lead to ovulation – ergo – the longer a woman breast feeds, the longer she will have to wait to get pregnant again.

It’s all to do with the Fathers genes apparently. Number two tale involved beards – although Prof Haig sports one, this was a different set of researchers (pogonphiles), who were looking at the attractiveness or not of beards. Apparently, the more beards there are, the less attractive they become, giving clean shaven men a competitive advantage. According to Professor Rob Brooks, it’s an evolutionary phenomenon. His research, involving 1453 women and 213 men, both the women and men judged heavy stubble and full beards to be more attractive. I have started growing my beard longer, obviously.

However, as interesting as such research might be, I was more inclined to take seriously the work sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and reported last week – this was on the need to re-invent the toilet. Melinda noted that for 2.5 billion people, finding a clean and private toilet to use when needed was impossible. Indeed in some parts of India, almost 70% of rural households have no access to a toilet, and most cases of rape of women and girls happen when they are forced to urinate and defecate out in the open.

Good sanitation isn't just a problem in places like rural India. As the world’s population continues to grow, so do the number of people who don’t have access to proper sanitation. Flush toilets as we know them are not the answer – the technology doesn't work anywhere except the developed world. New solutions are required, and needed now. I pondered this problem while also reading a story last week of research undertaken by Dr Jay Widmer from the Mayo Clinic. His work was on how a phone app when used by patients with cardiac problems reduced the need for hospital care, particularly re-admissions. Great from the perspective of those parents needing long term cardiac care and rehabilitation, but this health care intervention assumes patients have access to technology far greater than that needed to ensure good basic sanitation for all.

Last week I met a man who has a passion to make sure all those living in his community gain fair access to high quality health care when they need it and help create a community that promotes improving the health and well-being for all people. This man was Robert Armstrong, who last week was appointed Chairman designate of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust. Robert was selected from a pool of very high calibre candidates. My role was to take part in the selection process and assessment centre – which included a 'speed dating' session where each candidate was quizzed about quality,finance and so on. It was the first time I have been speed dating in Wigan. Many congratulations Robert, and a Happy Easter to all.