Tag: 10/7/24

Social Media’s Double-edged Sword: Boosting Connections or Risking Careers?

Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, revolutionising how we communicate, connect and share information. So much so that insights suggest that over 5 billion people worldwide use social media, with 259 million users coming online within the last year. Closer to home, of the 45 million internet users in South Africa, 26 million use social media. 

Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter), have bridged gaps, brought distant loved ones closer, and created communities around shared interests and passions. While these platforms have enriched our personal lives in countless ways, they are also a mixed blessing, impacting the professional lives of some individuals in unprecedented ways.

According to Jennifer Barkhuizen, Head of Marketing at MIE, companies are increasingly relying on screening the social media platforms of potential and current employees to gain a window into a candidate’s true self, and provide insights into their hobbies, interests and overall personality. 

“For companies, social media has become an invaluable tool to find the perfect cultural fit for their organisations. However, this practice also uncovers another side of the coin, exposing any unprofessional or inappropriate behaviour that companies may not want to be associated with,” she says.

A significant 70% of recruiters, both across the human resources industry and those within companies, now use social media to screen potential candidates, a trend that continues to grow rapidly. As the digital footprint of individuals becomes more prominent, the trend of social media screening is expected to continue its upward trajectory, reshaping the recruitment landscape.

While the increasing reliance on social media screening by recruiters is bolstering the recruitment process, it is also having a profound psychosocial impact on employees. 

“Knowing that their online activities are being screened can lead to anxiety and a sense of privacy being invaded,” adds Barkhuizen. “Employees may feel pressured to meticulously curate their online presence and the content that they post, which can be mentally exhausting and foster a sense of inauthenticity. The fear of being judged for past posts or casual comments can undermine personal freedom and contribute to a perpetual state of vigilance.” 

Although social media screening helps companies make more informed hiring decisions, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the psychological burden it places on individuals navigating the increasingly blurred lines between their personal and professional lives.

For individuals, balancing positive and negative content on social media is crucial, particularly in the context of social recruiting. Here, studies indicate that positive content, such as showcasing achievements, sharing inspirational messages, and participating in professional discussions, can significantly enhance a candidate’s appeal. Furthermore, positive interactions on social media can create a favourable impression, portraying candidates as engaged, motivated and a cultural fit for the organisation.

“Conversely, negative content, including illicit activity, unprofessional behaviour and controversial opinions, can be detrimental and raise red flags about a candidate’s suitability for a professional environment,” explains Barkhuizen. “So much so that a survey conducted by CareerBuilder found that of the 70% of employers who screen candidates on social media, 54% have decided not to hire a candidate based on their online presence.”

Barkhuizen adds that while people seek to be publicly visible online as they look to share their own ‘personal brand’, thoughts and opinions with the world, it is only when an individual crosses into engaging in undesirable or illicit content that they risk their own reputation and that of their employer.

Despite social media screening potentially leading to anxiety for individuals, it’s a crucial step for businesses to ensure they hire the right candidates. This practice helps protect the company’s reputation by identifying online behaviour that could negatively impact the organisation. It also helps ensure a good cultural fit by revealing candidates’ values and interests, aligning them with the company’s ethos. 

To mitigate the risks associated with using social media during the screening process, Barkhuizen points to five key best practices that HR professionals should abide by. These include:

  1. Develop a social media screening policy: Document a policy outlining the purpose, scope and procedure for social media screening to minimise bias or discrimination. Separate decision-makers from those conducting checks to ensure a fair and compliant hiring process.
  2. Educate staff: Train staff on the legal and ethical aspects of social media screening, ensuring they apply the process consistently to all candidates in the same job category,
  3. Be transparent: Inform candidates about the screening process and obtain their written consent if a social media check is conducted. 
  4. Be respectful: Respect candidates’ privacy settings and only view publicly available information. Avoid “friending” or “following” candidates during the hiring process.
  5. Be impartial and job-specific: Focus on professional information relevant to the job, such as skills and accomplishments. Document information consistently and avoid using protected characteristics like race, religion or gender. To this end, it is advisable to use a third party supplier to avoid bias. 

In today’s digital landscape, where social media is a powerful yet double-edged sword, leveraging the expertise of industry leaders such as MIE can make a significant difference. 

With trusted and innovative smart vetting solutions, MIE’s extensive industry knowledge ensures thorough and reliable background checks, helping businesses navigate the complexities of social media screening to make informed, strategic hiring decisions while safeguarding their reputation and maintaining a positive workplace culture.

A Holistic Approach will Build a Stronger Rural Healthcare System

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

As part of a series of podcasts titled “Advancing Healthcare” that examine the critical issues that must be addressed to achieve universal healthcare, Russell Rensburg of the Rural Health Advocacy Project calls for a focus and prioritisation of rural health. 

Across rural South Africa, the health profile of South Africans is changing. Thanks to the rollout of antiretroviral drugs, South Africa’s life expectancy has increased, and with that, the population is getting older. While this is good news, an ageing population does bring new challenges to the healthcare system.

Rensburg noted that as part of the success of the HIV response in the last 10 years, there has been an increase in life expectancy. But the challenge is that as disease profiles change, health care needs change too. “We need to respond to the differing health needs of young people and older populations,” he adds.

According to Rensburg, available data shows we must start taking differentiated approaches to delivering healthcare for different population segments. However, more data is required because no one knows the prevalence of certain diseases, like cancer. Also, lacking management data means little information on how facilities are run. Without the right data, he says, “We haven’t figured out a way of doing health promotion and health literacy.” 

The Rural Health Advocacy Project is a division of Wits University’s health consortium, and it aims to promote better health care for rural communities. However, providing meaningful rural health care requires understanding that each province within South Africa has its own challenges.

In Kwazulu-Natal, for instance, a recent study involving basic screening found high levels of diseases like diabetes and tuberculosis in people who had never accessed the healthcare system.

The Eastern Cape, says Rensburg, has too many hospitals that are expensive to run. “Some of those hospitals they don’t need,” he said. “There are, like, 91 district hospitals in the Eastern Cape; many of them are like old mission hospitals that, in my view, are sometimes too expensive to run.”

Limpopo, says Rensburg, has a malnutrition problem. “They have severe acute malnutrition rates that are quite high, which is ironic because it’s kind of a breadbasket province,” he said.

Another overreaching problem that healthcare professionals have to deal with in the rural districts of South Africa is that patients often bypass the community clinics and go to the hospitals when they need medical attention.

These clinics are bypassed because of negative experiences where patients endure day-long queues and medicines that aren’t in stock. “They go to the hospital, which costs probably five or six times more for the state to deliver that care,” explained Rensburg.

Rensburg believes more community health workers should be hired, and their training should be standardised to improve rural health care. “We need to professionalise them because it’s an opportunity to create employment in parts of the country with low economic activity,” he said.

According to Rensburg, other interventions that could improve rural health care could include cutting queuing times, improving antenatal care, and making maternity care easier to access. Pregnant mothers can wait up to 14 hours to access a bed.

Access to better management data would help in the better running of facilities. “I think the first baseline into improving healthcare is getting more people to understand their health status. And I think how we do that is being much more focused on gathering information. And then using that information for decision-making,” Rensburg said.

However, improving the well-being of South Africans living in the rural parts of the country goes beyond what the health sector can offer. “So maybe something like a Basic Income Grant could have a massive impact on people’s health, particularly in the rural areas where unemployment is 90%.” The basic income grant could help reduce malnutrition, Rensburg adds.

What could influence rural health soon is NHI. “I think the NHI is an opportunity to change how we deliver healthcare,” said Rensburg. “But when you look at the NHI proposals, it was about restructuring public-funded health care services. The whole thing talks about how we better manage hospitals by giving them their budgets.” Rensburg adds that restructuring publicly funded services, prioritising district health services, and improving the efficiency and efficacy of central, tertiary and regional hospitals by giving them greater autonomy should also be considered key to improving rural health.

This podcast, which is part of a series that aims at creating critical discussion around achieving universal health care, can be accessed at https://hasa.co.za/hasa-podcasts/ 

Study Reveals Association Between Semaglutide Use and Optic Neuropathy

Photoreceptor cells in the retina. Credit: Scientific Animations

Researchers from Mass Eye and Ear have discovered an association between semaglutide use and an increased risk of nonarteritic anterior ischaemic optic neuropathy (NAION) in patients with type 2 diabetes, overweight or obesity. The findings, which appear in JAMA Ophthalmology, only show an association and cannot establish causation.

Though NAION is relatively rare, occurring in in about 10 in 100 000, it is the second most common cause of optic nerve blindness, behind glaucoma, and it is the most common cause of sudden optic nerve blindness. Caused by decreased blood flow to the optic disc, it usually affects only one eye but in 15% of cases both eyes are involved. There are no treatments for this disease and little prospect for improvement, although it is painless.

The study was led by Joseph Rizzo, MD, director of the Neuro-Ophthalmology Service at Mass Eye and Ear and the Simmons Lessell Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

In mid-2023 Rizzo, a resident (study co-author Seyedeh Maryam Zekavat, MD, PhD) and other Mass Eye and Ear neuro-ophthalmologists noticed a disturbing trend – three patients in their practice had been diagnosed with vision loss from this relatively uncommon optic nerve disease in just one week. They did notice however that all three were taking semaglutide.

“The use of these drugs has exploded throughout industrialised countries and they have provided very significant benefits in many ways, but future discussions between a patient and their physician should include NAION as a potential risk,” said Rizzo, corresponding author of the study. “It is important to appreciate, however, that the increased risk relates to a disorder that is relatively uncommon.” 

This prompted the Mass Eye and Ear research team to run a retrospective analysis of their patient population to see if they could identify a link between this disease and these drugs.

They performed matched cohort study of 16 827 patients revealed higher risk of NAION in patients prescribed semaglutide compared with patients prescribed non–GLP-1 receptor agonist medications for diabetes or obesity.

The researchers found that patients with diabetes who were prescribed and took semaglutide were four times (hazard ratio [HR], 4.28) more likely to be receive a NAION diagnosis. The odds increased to more than seven times (HR, 7.64) when the prescription was for weight control in obesity.

The researchers analysed the records of more than 17 000 Mass Eye and Ear patients treated over the six years since Ozempic was released and divided the patients in those who were diagnosed with either diabetes or overweight/ obesity. The researchers compared patients who had received prescriptions for semaglutide compared to those taking other diabetes or weight loss drugs. Then, they analysed the rate of NAION diagnoses in the groups, which revealed the significant risk increases.

Study limitations include the fact that Mass Eye and Ear sees an unusually high number of people with rare eye diseases, and the number of NAION cases seen over the six-year study period is relatively small. With small case numbers, statistics can change quickly, Rizzo noted. Medication adherence could also not be assessed.

Only correlation can be shown by the study, not causality. How or why this association exists remains unknown. Likewise, the reason for the reported difference between diabetic and overweight groups – but this does not appear to result from a difference in baseline characteristics. The optic nerve is known to host GLP-1 receptors, but the study did not adequately address all the confounding factors. They also caution against generalising the results (from a majority white population) since Black individuals have a lower risk of NAION.

“Our findings should be viewed as being significant but tentative, as future studies are needed to examine these questions in a much larger and more diverse population,” Rizzo said. “This is information we did not have before and it should be included in discussions between patients and their doctors, especially if patients have other known optic nerve problems like glaucoma or if there is pre-existing significant visual loss from other causes.”

How Astrocytes Know to Give the Brain an Energy Boost

Image of an astrocyte, a subtype of glial cells. Glial cells are the most common cell in the brain. Credit: Pasca Lab, Stanford University

A key mechanism by which astrocytes detect when an energy boost is needed for the brain has been elucidated by University College of London researchers using mouse-based and in vitro studies.

The findings, published in Nature, could inform new therapies to maintain brain health and longevity, the researchers say, since other studies have found that brain energy metabolism can become impaired late in life and contribute to cognitive decline and the development of neurodegenerative disease.

Lead author Professor Alexander Gourine (UCL Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology) said: “When our brain is more active, such as when we’re performing a mentally taxing task, our brain needs an immediate boost of energy, but the exact mechanisms that ensure on-demand local supply of metabolic energy to active brain regions are not fully understood.”

First and co-corresponding author Dr Shefeeq Theparambil, who began the study at UCL before moving to Lancaster University, said: “The normal activities of the brain require enormous amounts of energy, comparable to that of a human leg muscle running a marathon. This energy is primarily derived from blood glucose. Neurons in the brain consume more than 75% of this energy.”

Prior research has shown that numerous brain cells called astrocytes appear to play a role in providing the brain neurons with energy they need. Astrocytes, shaped like stars, are a type of glial cell, which are non-neuronal cells found in the central nervous system. When neighbouring neurons need an increase in energy supply, astrocytes jump into action by rapidly activating their own glucose stores and metabolism, leading to the increased production and release of lactate. Lactate supplements the pool of energy that is readily available for use by neurons in the brain.

Professor Gourine explained: “In our study, we have figured out how exactly astrocytes are able to monitor the energy use by their neighbouring nerve cells, and kick-start this process that delivers additional chemical energy to busy brain regions.”

In a series of experiments using mouse models and cell samples, the researchers identified a set of specific receptors in astrocytes that can detect and monitor neuronal activity, and trigger a signalling pathway involving an essential molecule called adenosine. The researchers found that the metabolic signalling pathway activated by adenosine in astrocytes is exactly the same as the pathway that recruits energy stores in the muscle and the liver, for example when we exercise.

Adenosine activates astrocyte glucose metabolism and supply of energy to neurons to ensure that synaptic function (neurotransmitters passing communication signals between cells) continues apace under conditions of high energy demand or reduced energy supply.

The researchers found that when they deactivated the key astrocyte receptors in mice, the animal’s brain activity was less effective, including significant impairments in global brain metabolism, memory and disruption of sleep, thus demonstrating that the signalling pathway they identified is vital for processes such as learning, memory and sleep.

Dr Theparambil said: “Identification of this mechanism may have broader implications as it could be a way of treating brain diseases where brain energetics are downregulated, such as neurodegeneration and dementia.”

Professor Gourine added: “We know that brain energy homeostasis is progressively impaired in ageing and this process is accelerated during the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Our study identifies an attractive readily druggable target and therapeutic opportunity for brain energy rescue for the purpose of protecting brain function, maintaining cognitive health, and promoting brain longevity.”

1 in 7 Patients Experience Symptoms After Discontinuing Antidepressants

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Approximately one in seven patients who discontinued their use of antidepressants experienced discontinuation symptoms, according to a wide-ranging analysis published in The Lancet Psychiatry. In arriving at this figure, the researchers accounted for a high frequency of anticipated discontinuation symptoms.

The emergence of adverse symptoms after antidepressant cessation has been described as far back as 1959, but was mostly neglected until the late 1990s. Today, the existence of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms is widely accepted, with transnational guidelines suggesting safe tapering. They can be highly variable and non-specific, with the most frequently reported symptoms being dizziness, headache, nausea, insomnia, and irritability. It has been reported that symptoms typically occur within a few days and are usually transient, but can last up to several weeks or months.

The incidence and severity of symptoms remained controversial however, with estimates ranging up to a majority (56%) of patients experiencing them, half of them severe. Previous reviews have been criticised for bias, and medical opinions are polarised on the subject.

The researchers reviewed 79 studies involving more than 21 000 participants, and found that about one-third of patients experienced symptoms such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, and irritability after accounting for patient expectations. Even in patients taking placebo, 17% experienced symptoms – suggesting that this is attributable to patient expectations about the adverse effects of stopping the drug.

After taking this into account, roughly one in seven individuals had antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. Neither tapering nor abrupt cessation of the drugs made no difference in the proportion of people who experienced discontinuation symptoms.

In addition, about 1 in 35 people experienced severe discontinuation symptoms. Desvenlafaxine, venlafaxine, imipramine, and escitalopram were associated with higher frequencies of discontinuation symptoms, and imipramine, paroxetine, and either desvenlafaxine or venlafaxine were associated with higher symptom severity. The authors cautioned that there was substantial heterogeneity of results.

Delaying Diabetes with Diet and Exercise for 4 Years Results in Better Long-term Health

Maintaining prediabetic status after diagnosis reduces risk of death decades later

Individuals diagnosed with prediabetes can reduce their long-term risk of death and diabetes-related health complications if they delay the onset of diabetes for just four years through diet and exercise. Guangwei Li of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital and colleagues report these findings in a new study published July 9thin the open-access journal PLOS Medicine.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with an increased risk of death and disability, and imposes a significant economic burden on individuals and societies worldwide. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise, can delay or reduce the risk of developing diabetes in people diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance – commonly called prediabetes. However, it is unknown how long a person must delay diabetes to ensure better long-term health.

In the new study, researchers looked at health outcomes from 540 prediabetic individuals who participated in the original Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study, a six-year trial conducted in Da Qing City in China, starting in 1986. Participants belonged to either a control group or one of three lifestyle intervention groups, which involved following a healthy diet, getting more exercise, or both. The trial followed up with participants for more than 30 years.

Li’s team determined the long-term risk of death, cardiovascular events – like heart attack, stroke or heart failure – and other diabetes-related complications for trial participants. They found that individuals who remained non-diabetic for at least four years after their initial diagnosis had a significantly lower risk of dying and a significantly lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event compared to those who developed diabetes sooner. This protective effect was not observed in individuals who remained non-diabetic for less than the “four-year threshold.”

Overall, the analysis suggests that the longer a prediabetic person can delay developing diabetes, the better their long-term health outcomes will be. However, even just a few years of maintaining prediabetic status can yield benefits for years to come.

The authors add, “This study suggests that a longer duration of non-diabetes status in those with IGT has beneficial health outcomes and reduces mortality. The implementation of effective interventions targeting those with IGT should be considered as part of preventative management for diabetes and diabetes related vascular complications.”

Provided by PLOS