By: Anita Cheng
Lead poisoning is a much talked about public health issue. On a medical level, high levels of lead in children can lead to brain damage and consequentially – behavioral problems, lower IQs, and learning disabilities. On a community health level, it has been discussed that lead poisoning most often targets low income populations who reside in older buildings, exposing them to elevated amounts of lead and other dangerous heavy metals in the environment. It is an injustice that one’s poverty increases one’s risk of developing detrimental and permanent brain damage (especially children). It perpetuates the vicious cycle that one’s poor socioeconomic status limits one’s right to health and subsequent ability to be productive in society, hence one’s probability of lifting him or herself out of poverty.
The public health concern regarding lead poisoning has been expanded to another level. I came across Katie’s story in this article. Katie and her mother travel regularly to a Baltimore hospital to follow up on her Chelation therapy. Because of the extremely elevated levels of lead in her body, Katie must ingest a chemical that binds to lead and other heavy metals to help her flush out these toxic particles. However, anyone undergoing this therapy must be monitored closely by trained health professionals to ensure proper kidney and liver functions as well as white blood cell count. Chelation, however, does not reverse the brain-damaging effects of lead. Its main purpose is to reduce the level of lead in the body to stop these detrimental effects from progressing further. Currently, the medical benefits of Chelation therapy has been exaggerated and exploited – targeting desperate parents and other vulnerable (and hence slightly gullible) populations by advertising over-the-counter Chelation kits as cures for autism and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only is this practice illegal, it also places its users at risk for kidney and liver damage because of the strain the chemical places on these organs. Moreover, none of these claims have been scientifically proven true. The FDA is now cracking down on these companies.
As public health students, we often focus on the poor because due to their socioeconomic status, this demographic is most affected by public health issues. This article particularly caught my attention because it spotlights on a population that is commonly overlooked by public health workers. It is easy to assume that people who have the monetary resources to utilize the best medical technology do not merit much of our attention. However, these individuals are easily taken advantage of by companies that want to capitalize on their desperation to treat themselves or loved ones of a rare or terminal or untreatable disease such as autism and Alzheimer’s. In addition to cheating these vulnerable individuals of their money, these companies’ tactics can also cost them their health. The particular phenomenon of Chelation therapies being inaccurately advertised is a public health and social justice issue. Policies must be strictly enforced and legal action must be taken to stop these companies’ immoral actions. Moreover, educational campaigns should be implemented to warn the general population against these scams. Physicians should be informed on the private remedies their patients may be using. All disciplines of public health must be employed to prevent this problem from worsening.