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As The Pandemic Exposed Inequity, A Proposal For An Office Of Health Equity Died In The Texas Senate

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When the state agency for health statistics and minority engagement was disbanded in 2017, no one could predict three years later that a massive pandemic would emerge – one that disproportionately affected black, Spanish and disabled Texans, among others.

But this agency, created to track health inequalities in Texas, often on a racist basis, had existed for less than a decade before it was no longer funded by lawmakers during the budget process, Austin Democrat Rep. Donna Howard said compared to KUT January.

Because of this, Garnet Coleman State MP, D-Houston, tried to set up a new office this year. House Bill 4139 is Coleman’s proposal to the Office of Health Equity to report to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Staff would centralize information on health disparities, manage funding and grants, and work with existing local and federal agencies to promote access to care.

But with just a few days left in the legislature, the bill won’t move forward after authors say it was targeted by Republicans who embroiled it in unrelated debates.

“It had problems in the house,” said Coleman. “Two different things happen: there’s the idea that this is part of critical racial theory, and then there’s the idea that using ‘gender’ means transgender health. For these two reasons, the calculation has not developed any further. “

As the pandemic progressed, there were differences in COVID-19 test rates, case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccine distribution. For months, black and Hispanic Texans were more likely to die from the virus, while being vaccinated less than white residents.

Still, Texas has collected and reported demographics for only 3% of its more than 2.5 million COVID-19 cases. Coleman said the office, defused in 2017, would have made collecting comprehensive coronavirus data a state priority and could have helped health officials respond to issues such as inequalities in testing much earlier.

After exposing many of these differences, COVID-19 said the new office would be needed to get rid of them even if the pandemic appears to be resolving.

“We’ll get the data eventually, but what does that mean for the future? Nothing, ”Coleman said in March. “The way to make the future better for people at risk from these diseases is to use surveillance to try to eradicate diseases or intervene to help people live longer.”

In the 2021 legislature, many believed the state’s pandemic would be an integral part of both parties’ agendas. The House legislature put in place an extensive health package, including HB 4139, which was endorsed by both parties. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, made the group of bills a priority to expand access to care and improve health outcomes and affordability.

HB 4139 passed House 77-51, mostly along party lines. State Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, sponsored the Senate bill, but Coleman said she did not move forward until Wednesday for the Senate’s consideration of bills or joint resolutions.

In April, the conservative Texas Values ​​Action lobby group rejected Coleman’s proposal, claiming it would fund health justice efforts for a “new and undefined gender category” and use the agency’s purpose to cover for gender-affirming surgeries and treatments.

The bill identified “gender” as one of many categories the office would examine along with ethnicity, age, and region, and did not refer to transgender people or related medical practices.

Coleman said that while lawmakers could raise the wording in the House – adding an amendment to change the word “gender” to “women’s health” throughout the proposal – the bill would not get past the Senate’s critical racial discussions could.

The day after the amendment was passed, Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, Rep. Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, spoke out against the bill during its final debate in the House of Representatives before moving to the Senate, saying he opposed it because of a “belief” that his constituents did not share. He cited critical racial theory, an academic discipline that studies how racism has shaped legal and social systems – what has become a rallying call by Republicans against heightened national talks on diversity and inclusion and the unwrapping of implicit bias.

“Today we gather here to vote on laws that assume that our health system is institutionally racist and that certain people are oppressed because of their gender or skin color when they receive medical care,” Cason told his colleagues in the house. “Nobody in America is turned away from a hospital. Health care was available to anyone who seeks it. “

Coleman was absent during Cason’s comments, but said his bill was written to encourage the search for outliers in health outcomes that anyone could belong to.

“It has almost nothing to do with race per se as it probably has more to do with the region,” Coleman said in May, referring to one of the proposed office’s duties of studying health outcomes in rural and underserved parts of the state .

Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Houston Democrat and author of HB 4139, said he supports efforts to further expose the long-standing health disparities in Texas. He said the Republicans were making excuses to try to kill it.

“They don’t want to know the truth about health inequalities and inequalities. They don’t want to know – if you tell them they have to do something about it, ”Johnson told The Texas Tribune.

Several Texas community health organizations have pledged to support the bill. They said better data collection could have helped their groups develop programs by providing information about regional and cultural trends that individual doctors cannot.

Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said he had contacted more than 40 legislature offices to get support for HB 4139. He said the bill fell victim to “bad politics” when it was tabled to promote access to health for transgender Texans, who were targeted in several House and Senate bills at that session.

“We will only achieve sustainable public health if we keep the people in the system as healthy as possible,” said Borel. “It’s not rocket science. I’m upset that this bill didn’t pass. It was really a very, very good policy.”

Felicia Latson is program director for social determinants of health at Legacy Community Health, a Houston health center that refers patients to community support services after medical appointments at their clinics. She said it was disheartening that the bill died.

“If anything showed us the extent of the inequality, it was COVID,” Latson said. “I don’t know what else has to happen to show that this was such a need.”

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Women’s Health

Israeli CEO seeks quantum of solace for women’s diseases – Sponsored Content

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Severe stomach pain. Nausea. Fatigue. Infertility. These are just some of the symptoms that millions of women with endometriosis suffer – an incurable disease caused when tissue that lines the uterus grows elsewhere in the abdomen.

Shahar Keinan, the Israeli CEO of Polaris Quantum Biotech, is working with another female CEO in the field to use superfast quantum computers to find a cure for endometriosis that doctors estimate affects around 10% of women worldwide.

“This will help bring drugs to market quickly, especially in areas that have long been neglected,” says Keinan of her company’s new partnership with Californian Auransa Inc., which is using artificial intelligence to find new treatments . “This really solves an unmet need.”

The two companies will also work together to find treatments and cures for ovarian and breast cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

“I believe that we will be able to combine our individual expertise in biology and chemistry to develop high quality solutions for these very difficult to control or neglected diseases that affect women’s health,” says Pek Lum, Auransa’s CEO.

Solutions to these diseases are just a fraction of what Polarisqb, a North Carolina-based quantum computing startup, is researching in the fast-growing field of computational chemistry, where scientists use computer models instead of laboratory equipment to identify new compounds that stop or prevent can disease.

The technology, which is dramatically accelerating drug development, holds great promise in areas that are still under-researched – such as women’s health – and rare diseases, where drug companies often have poor return on investment.

Polarisqb is currently conducting an investment round. Private investors can find out more about OurCrowd and participate.

Traditional laboratory-based drug development methods are now becoming more expensive. Each new drug costs about $ 1 billion on average, a price that includes the many failed trials and studies, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. The costs are passed on to the patients.

The quantum computing used by Polarisqb calculates up to 10,000 times faster than conventional computers, helps to make more drugs available faster and at lower prices, and to reduce the average time to market for a drug from 10 to seven years, says Keinan.

To test the concept, Polarisqb’s scientists built on previous Novartis laboratory research on dengue fever, which it took about four years to identify molecules that could stop the disease that causes nausea, rash and limb pain, and in patients can be fatal about 25% of the cases. Although there is a vaccine for certain age groups, it can only be given to people who have had the virus in the past. The virus infects up to 400 million people worldwide every year.

“We were able to use our platform and identify the same molecules from a library of billions in less than a minute. We also use the system to identify new molecules in order to overcome the problems with the old ones, ”said Keinan. The company will now commercialize these molecules to pharmaceutical companies.

The same work can be done with conventional computers, but “it’s a long and complicated operation,” says Keinan, and it would not save much compared to laboratory research. “We were looking for something faster and more efficient to be able to scale.”

Quantum computers allow the system to do super-fast calculations to figure out which molecules are best to use and quickly eliminate those that don’t work.

The platform works by scanning computer models of billions of different molecules. It identifies the molecules that could treat a particular disease by attacking and stopping the activity of a particular protein that changes the course of the disease. In cancer, certain molecules could stop the cancer cells’ DNA from replicating. In viruses, certain molecules could stop the replication of the RNA.

“Finding these molecules will stop the disease,” says Keinan, adding that these molecules then become prescriptions or blueprints for drugs.

“We’re just trying to find the perfect molecule or key that fits exactly into the protein’s keyhole,” she says.

Polarisqb used a digital annealer, a quantum-inspired technology developed by Fujitsu that is able to perform parallel optimization calculations in real time with a speed, precision and size that is unmatched by classical computing. The collaboration with Fujitsu expands the number of molecules sought from 10 million to trillions of molecules and thus increases the probability of finding new, useful drug candidates.

“The new solution from Polarisqb and Fujitsu shortens the time frame for drug discovery and lead optimization from up to 48 months to just eight months,” says Alex Brown, Drug Discovery Consultant at Fujitsu.

Traditionally, scientists have done this in laboratories and conducted experiments to exclude molecules or find effective ones. But this process of trial and error is lengthy and costly, and one of the reasons why the average drug takes about a decade to develop.

“Either you do it slowly and very expensive,” says Keinan. “Or you find a new technology; and we do. “

You can find more information about investing in Polaris Quantum Biotech HERE.

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Women’s Health

Why a former Ro exec set out to start her own digital health startup

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Rachel Blank left Ro last year to start Allara. The startup focuses on helping women cope with PCOS and other complex diseases. Image credit: Allara

After serving two years as Director of Strategy for Digital Health Unicorn Ro, Rachel Blank set out last year to start a new company based on her own health experiences.

In September, she founded Allara Health with the aim of helping women treat polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects an estimated one in ten women. It’s a common cause of infertility, but it affects much more than that – a large percentage of people with PCOS are also insulin resistant, and the condition is also linked to anxiety and depression.

In most cases, it takes years to diagnose and little is known about what actually causes the disease.

Blank found this out from personal experience. She was diagnosed with PCOS 10 years ago after dealing with unexplained health problems for years.

“That was not only a surprise, but especially for me because I grew up the daughter of a gynecologist,” she said in a Zoom interview. “Even when I was diagnosed, I didn’t feel like I ever made a good path in the healthcare system. I never knew where to go, which doctors to see, what to do. I found doctors very dismissive or said things like, ‘If you’re not trying to get pregnant, I don’t really know what to do for you.’ “

The pandemic spurred her to think more about her health and she started doing her own research. She found large communities of women on the internet trying to put together the same questions she was faced with.

“That was that big aha moment for me,” she said. “I can bring in not only my personal experience, but also my professional experience in the field of digital health and, to be honest, build something better.”

Blank is no stranger to women’s health. While at Ro, she ran one of the company’s direct-to-consumer brands, Rory, which offered prescription and wellness treatments for menopausal women. Before that, she worked as an investor for General Catalyst.

At Allara, her goal is to focus more on improving access to specialized treatments, an area that is often overlooked by other women’s health startups that are more focused on primary care or fertility.

“Where I saw this massive void was the specialty care,” she said. “What to do if you not only need contraception but are also not ready for IVF? There is really nowhere you can go in traditional healthcare or digital healthcare right now. “

The New York startup offers virtual visits to gynecologists and endocrinologists as well as nutritional advice and coaching. You also have the option of ordering diagnostics such as a blood test or medication if necessary. Allara currently charges a $ 125 monthly subscription model for all of its services, although going forward, Blank said the company plans to offer it as an employee benefit and offer more point solutions.

Allara currently operates in six states but hopes to be in all 50 states by the end of the year. The company has started visiting patients in the past few months. Around 35,000 women have either signed up for the service or expressed their interest.

In the longer term, Blank hopes to expand to other, often overlooked diseases such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

“This motivates me and motivates my entire team to understand the massive impact we have not only on a woman’s everyday life and her daily feelings, but also on her health outcomes,” she said, “.

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Women’s Health

County needs a trauma-informed facility for female inmates

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On Tuesday, June 15, the Travis County Commissioners Court will vote on whether or not to approve a $ 4.3 million design services contract for the proposed Travis County Trauma Informed Women’s Facility Project. The design of the project is influenced by the tremendous efforts of an advisory committee that issued recommendations based on months of work with interviews with female inmates and research into best practices.

The purpose of this project is not to increase detention capacity; Rather, it is about replacing outdated and inefficient facilities and building a holistic facility that houses female inmates in one building, with access to on-site gender-specific medical services, trauma-informed care and counseling, psychosocial support system, vocational training and other programs.

This project is the first of many outlined in Travis County’s current prison facilities master plan, which suggests that at least seven buildings in the prison complex are in disrepair and have been in use for longer than originally intended. I do not support the replacement of all of these buildings. I support the proposed women’s facility that addresses the needs of women from a trauma-informed perspective. If women were placed in a facility with only women and their medical needs attended to, the facility would be safer for women and the officials who protect them.

In addition, a facility that enables the continuous supply of mental health and vocational training services can begin to address the core issues related to the social determinants of health critical to the inmate’s rehabilitation and ensure successful re-entry into the to ease society after they have served their time.

Many prisoners have a background of poverty. The simple fact is that for people living near the poverty line, the prison is the primary place for mental health and medical care. I am not happy about this, but as a Travis County Commissioner, it is my duty to provide for the primary needs of the people who are in our care. I will not fail to improve the existing services without a specific program to replace these much-needed services.

The best of intentions without the appropriate resources can withhold necessary treatment options from members of the community. Lawyers who oppose the Women’s Facility Project fail to recognize the complexities of the issues or the fact that neither the state nor the local government has invested in the necessary resources to provide mental health services outside of prison. Travis County needs more access to drug beds and services for commonly diagnosed mental health problems.

I support parallel efforts to increase these services and provide more distraction, and I am ready to work with anyone who can help solve these complex problems; However, I cannot support pursuing this work at the expense of providing trauma-informed services to incarcerated women who, for various reasons, remain in our prison and under our care.

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