Friday, July 14, 2006
No ice cream in this Israeli town
Nahariyah is empty. The streets would normally be packed with tourists and residents dining in outdoor cafes or eating ice cream while out for a stroll.
But we've seen nary a soul since we arrived here several hours ago. Occasionally, a voice echoes down the deserted streets or man speaks through a loudspeaker telling people to seek the safety of bomb shelters.
After a little searching, we were able to find a spot from which we could broadcast tonight's show.
We're now driving toward an Israeli artillery battery. We didn't have time to get Israeli-issued ID cards, so we are not sure they will let us videotape anything when we get there, but we'll see.
Driving on these mountain roads is an eerie experience. It's pitch dark and the roads are very windy. A Katyusha rocket hit nearby about five minutes ago. It made a loud pop, but we didn't see where it landed. The driver of our SUV stopped on the side of the road, but we decided to just keep going forward.
We have flak vests with us, and I have a digital video camera in my lap, but I must admit the rocket's loud pop was startling. It definitely got our attention.
Israeli woman: Just 'some problems' up north
Our team just landed a few hours ago. When you fly into Tel Aviv, you have to ask passport officials not to stamp your passport with an entry visa. A stamp makes it much more difficult to travel elsewhere in the region.
We are planning to go into Lebanon tomorrow, but right now, we're driving north toward the Lebanese border. I'm writing this on my blackberry as we race to the border town of Nahariya. Around 200 rockets have hit northern Israel so far. Nahariya has taken direct hits.
During the short time we were in Tel Aviv, things seemed normal. At the airport, several Israelis came up us to say they were annoyed that their relatives had canceled plans to vacation in Israel.
"Tell them Tel Aviv is fine," one woman said to me. "It's just up north where there are some problems."
"Some problems" is something of an understatement, but it's telling, I think. This is a land used to war, used to struggle. The people here find themselves fighting on two fronts and military reserves have been mobilized, but life goes on.
I remember in the mid-90s, when I was in Jerusalem, and a suspicious package had been left at a bus stop. The street was quickly cordoned off. The bomb squad appeared and blew up the package.
All the pedestrians on the street applauded, and immediately, life on the street resumed.
"What else can you do?" a man said to me. "What else can you do?"Editor's note: Anderson Cooper anchors live from Israel, tonight, 10 p.m. ET.
Finding a way into the Middle East
We made a call mid-day yesterday for Anderson to miss last night's show and fly overnight to the Middle East. With some airports and bridges in the region bombed, our choices for point of entry were limited. Getting "in" for us presented some of the same challenges the U.S military faces in creating a plan for the 25,000 Americans who live in Lebanon to get "out."
So where precisely will Anderson anchor from tonight? At the moment, it's totally unclear. He and his crew will move their satellite uplink to the best possible place to tell the story tonight.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Too distraught to speak
The train tracks were my first stop in Mumbai after arriving on a flight from my home-base, New Delhi. I wanted to see what the damaged train cars looked like, even though the bombs had been detonated hours before.
I climbed onto a concrete wall and balanced as I walked closer to where the bombs went off. A train that was a target of the attack was left sitting on the railway. As I got closer, climbing over the trash and mud and rats, I could see the ripped-apart first-class cabin of the train. The metal was mangled and bent back. In fact, you could see right through the car.
On the tracks and gravel below, there were pieces of torn clothing, but it was hard to tell what may have been left after the blast and chaos that followed and what was simply trash left on the railway. There are cars that are separated as "men only" and "women only." It was explained to me that this is done because the cars get so crowded that there are concerns about molestation of women riding the train.
I spent the entire night doing live shots near one of the government-run hospitals where many of the victims of the train attack were taken. In between interviews, I was able to do some reporting on what was happening in the hospital. One of the things that struck me was how many people from the surrounding community were out distributing tea, water, fruit and bread to the volunteers and family members stuck late into the evening (or all night long) waiting for word on loved ones.
These attacks struck at rush hour in the evening, and as many people stayed up through the night (as the monsoon rains intermittently fell) they began to question what exactly would happen "the next day." Early on, I was greeted by some heart-wrenching scenes as family members came from the hospital with bad news. I met one older man who was in tears, so distraught he couldn't even speak. Family members had to tell me what had happened. He had spent the entire evening looking for his 28-year-old son, only to identify him later in the morgue.
The personal stories of those affected in these attacks are the hardest to hear. It makes you wonder how anyone could inflict harm on civilians. At a medical ward set up in one hospital for victims of the attack, many people looked dazed and some sat bandaged. The toughest scene was in the intensive care unit, where a victim of the attack was on a ventilator, his body shaking involuntarily as doctors tried to nurse him back to life.
I also saw scenes of progress and determination. At one train station not far from one of the blasts, we saw commuters pushing to get on trains, determined not to let these terrorist attacks change their plans.
What good is an unaffordable drug?
Since becoming a doctor, I've been increasingly troubled by how hard it is to get treatment to those who need it most. Sure, there are a lot of uninsured people -- everyone knows that -- but that isn't nearly the whole story. Simply put, even for those who have insurance, medical care is expensive. The co-pays can be very costly, and if you have any sort of chronic illness, you may pay more for medicine than for rent.
Even though I'm well-acquainted with the expensive nature of healthcare, I was stunned when I read a report recently by a pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts. It showed that cancer drugs prescription costs went up 16 percent last year. All other prescriptions went up by an average of three percent. We are talking about cancer, where unfortunately the only parameter of success is life or death, and it is getting increasingly expensive to live. As things stand now, it costs around $1600 per month for many cancer medications.
Of course, those are all just numbers and may not mean a whole lot to some people. However, a little girl that I met a couple of years ago may shed some light on the issue.
Ally Krowski is 6 years old. This impossibly cute girl developed some really bad back pain one day. Within a few weeks, she couldn't even walk. The diagnosis: Ewing's Sarcoma. There was a tumor pushing on her spine and her doctors were not optimistic that she would walk again or even survive. For Ally, the story ended up being a good one. She was flown to MD Anderson Cancer Center and received an experimental drug that saved her life. I still remember her mother crying tears of joy when she realized Ally would live.
Unfortunately, that life saving medication was expensive, too expensive to make anymore. So, for the next Ally, a medication that could possibly save her life may not be around. We are told there is only enough left to treat a few dozen children.
It is easy to get outraged by this fact, but it's also important to understand how drug companies make these decisions. In Ally's case, her cancer, Ewing's Sarcoma, is considered an "orphan disease," one with fewer than 200,000 new cases every year. At some point, it becomes increasingly difficult for drug companies to make medications that few people will use.
To be sure, according to a recent report, the drug industry does give more than $8 billion worth of cash and products to people who can't afford medications. And drug companies do need to turn a profit in order to develop the next generation of drugs.
So how do we reconcile this problem as a society? If you make the greatest cancer drug in the world, but it is too expensive, what good is it? I am anxious to hear your thoughts.