Thursday, May 07, 2009

Symptoms of a Larger Problem

Our sixth program in the 2009 Unnatural Causes Film & Discussion Series happened this past Sunday at Coverdell Building on South Campus (home to UGA’s College of Public Health and the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute), where we screened Episode 6: Collateral Damage. This segment of the film looked at the struggles of the native population in the Marshall Islands, who have been displaced from their traditional way of life by the American military presence and globalization. The film portrays a place and a people with so many problems it is difficult to know where to begin working towards solutions. The focus becomes the high rate of tuberculosis (TB) on the island. As we follow public health workers into substandard housing units to administer treatment to diagnosed patients, we are exposed to the circumstances in which this population lives and begin to understand why rampant infectious disease is just a symptom of much larger problems.

Panelists Dr. Larry Nackerud (School of Social Work), Dr. Chris Whalen (College of Public Health), and Dr. Lynn Beckman (Infectious Disease Coordinator, Northeast Georgia Health District) gave our discussion direction with the help of moderator Rebecca Cheney (Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia). Some comments from our discussion included….
• Larry Nackerud started the discussion with a gut reaction: the film made him angry. Though Larry noted that this was not the most academic response, it was an honest one that questioned why people have to live in poverty while their neighbors live comfortably. The juxtaposition between the native peoples of the Marshall Islands and those living on the American military base there, gives interesting insight into the lives of the haves and have-nots.

• Chris Whalen spoke about his work with tuberculosis in southern Africa. He described the current treatment approach as ineffective – because treating individuals with diagnosed symptoms allows the dozens of others who have been in contact with that person, undiagnosed and untreated, allowing the disease to flourish.

• Lynn Beckman described the instance of TB in our own county as significantly lower than the national average (the state of GA as a whole has a higher percentage than the nation). However, she said that we have to stay vigilant about the disease or that percentage could always increase.

• When one audience member asked about local resources, Lynn described her team of nurses – one in each of the ten counties that comprise the Northeast Georgia Health District. They offer screenings at each county health department – but they are charged with screening for all infections diseases (HIV, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.), not just TB.

• One audience member reflected on the overwhelming struggles of Marshall Islanders and asked the panel what they would do to change the situation there, if anything was within their power. They suggested everything from putting money into increased education and community development, to implementing new housing units and trying methods for population control.

Our panelists did a solid job of responding to questions and expressing their own views about what the government and various health organizations are/could be doing to address the problems presented. As an audience, I think we narrowed in specifically to talking about the threats of TB and didn’t discuss the bigger picture that the film explored: the reasons behind ALL of the problems in the Marshall Islands, where the high instance of TB is just a symptom of greater social ills.

After eight weeks, we have reached the last event in this program series! This coming Sunday, May 10th we hope you will join us at the Athens Clarke County Public Library for a screening of the final episode, “Not Just a Paycheck” – exploring issues that hit very close to home in our current economic times. Please join us for community discussion and a closing reception from 3:00-5:00 PM. For more information, please call (706) 542-5788 or visit

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