Tag Archives: mexico

Survivor goes undercover in Tijuana cancer clinics

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Reporting for Al Jazeera English’s People & Power, Sarah Macdonald tells how her own battle with breast cancer led her to shave her head, hide a camera and go undercover to investigate south-of-the-border clinics touting alternative cancer therapies.

The thriving sub-industry of alternative Tijuana cancer clinics relies primarily on palliative care licenses to operate, a end-of-life-care-focused designation that seems somewhat sinister when it’s hidden behind promises of miracle cures. In looking beyond those promises, MacDonald’s investigation finds an interesting mix of chicanery and genuine good intentions, but ends on a familiar, cautionary note.

I have been fortunate in that I have successfully emerged from my own treatment for breast cancer, so I completely understand the desperation that people will feel when they are told their condition is terminal. It is a death sentence. I understand why many patients or their families will begin to scour the internet in search of a cure and will seize on anything that offers hope. However, as our investigation has shown, at least some of the Tijuana clinics are offering nothing but false hope. There is little or no evidence to support their claims that their strange therapies actually work and there is plenty of evidence that vulnerable people have parted with large sums of money for no reason.

LA Times looks at H1N1’s roots, early days

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Los Angeles Times reporter Tracy Wilkinson dug deeper into the story of the discovery of H1N1 in the Oaxaca hospital where the first reported death occurred. Wilkinson tells the story of a panicked hospital, an enterprising local newspaper, and a story of  “atypical pneumonia” that broke a week before Mexico acknowledged a national health crisis.

In Valdivieso General’s busy emergency room, Dr. Serafin Lopez Concha was hours into his shift on the Thursday before Easter when Gutierrez staggered in. She was gasping for breath, her oxygen-starved fingers turning blue.

Gutierrez, 39, had been sick for a week. She had continued to work as a far-roaming door-to-door census-taker for the tax bureau until the Easter week break. She had seen three or four doctors, Lopez recalled. They’d told her she had a throat infection and given her medicine, but she only got worse.

“She was in very serious condition,” said Lopez, a Oaxaca native who took charge of Gutierrez’s case.

AHCJ resourcesAHCJ resources for covering flu, pandemics and preparedness

Gutierrez died four days after being admitted to the hospital. A Canadian lab would later confirm she was suffering from H1N1. The scrappy newspaper whose reporters sneaked into the hospital to find out what all the fuss was about ended up helping to break one of the year’s biggest health stories.

And Alfredo Martinez de Aguilar, publisher of the Despertar newspaper, is feeling vindicated. The paper (its name means “to wake up”) was founded just a year ago, with $3 million from a group of investors, 100 employees and a commitment to a different kind of journalism. It has taken on inept officials, money launderers and corrupt cops.

Martinez prides himself on his “intelligence unit,” the less-than-orthodox team of staffers who might pose as something other than journalists if that’s what it takes.

And in this case, Martinez says, that is what it took. He wonders whether local health authorities would have informed the public of the emergency if his reporters had not gone into the hospital and dug up the truth.