Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Millennial Challenge: Health Care Speculators and Cost Crisis !

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Monday, July 28, 2008
Faces Of The Health-care Crisis
By Chris Frates
Jul 28, 2008

The National Federation of Independent Business is on the Hill today, distributing a new booklet to congressional offices titled, “The Faces of the Healthcare Crisis: Small Business in America.”

The compendium details the difficulties small business owners face in getting health care. The effort is designed to send a message to Congress and the next president that “small businesses are demanding solutions to rising health care costs and they expect reform that works for them.”

One fairly typical vignette, Rich Gallo, owner of Office Outlet in Indiana, Pa., said he cannot afford to offer his employees health-care coverage.

And while he was searching for individual coverage, Gallo had a heart attack and put off going to the hospital because he didn’t have insurance – a delay that could have killed him. The $200,000 trip, he said, “makes me realize how we really need reform to make sure that small business people can get the coverage they need at the price they can afford.”

The push is part of NFIB’s Solutions Start Here campaign to pass health care reform that benefits small businesses.

Legislator wants legal review of GVSU's live-in partner health insurance benefit
Posted by Nardy Baeza Bickel | The Grand Rapids Press July 28, 2008 21:34PM
Categories: Breaking News

ALLENDALE -- A West Olive legislator has requested the state Attorney General's opinion on the live-in partner health insurance benefit Grand Valley State University approved for its employees earlier this month.

The benefit applies to gay couples, as well as any other live-in partner or friend who has lived with a staff or faculty member for 18 months or more. It does not cover relatives or tenants.

Republican state Rep. Arlan Meekhof sent the request last week, said his legal assistant, Bob DeVries.

It has been received by Attorney General Mike Cox, and it will be reviewed, said his spokesman Matt Frendewey, who declined to give a timeline on the issue. Cox has not been asked to review any similar policies that other universities have implemented, he said.

Other universities offering the partner benefits include the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University and Michigan Tech.

GVSU trustees have said the change was necessary for the university to remain competitive in attracting talent. School officials also have said it is not same-sex benefits repackaged under another name. Same-sex plans are banned under state law.

DeVries said they are taking up the issue now that it has been enacted in West Michigan.

"Grand Valley is in (Meekhof's) district and is a more immediate interest by us.

"It's our opinion ... that these benefits are against the law, especially at a time when Grand Valley increased tuition by 13 percent. There's no reason they need to institute a new program that's going to cost them $180,000 a year."

As they have with other criticism of the change, GVSU officials remained polite but firm in their stance.

"Last Monday, Representative Meekhof advised the university of his plan to request an opinion from the Attorney General, a right that is available to all members of the Legislature. Grand Valley's trustees believe that the program they adopted complies with Michigan law," vice president Matt McLogan said.

Meekhof's request came at the same time fellow state Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, said he would push for universities to lose 5 percent of their state funding if they spend taxpayer dollars to provide unmarried partner benefits.
at 10:59 PM 0 comments

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scrap Medicare Fee-For-Service System, Doctor Says Posted by Jacob Goldstein
They way Medicare pays doctors encourages excessive testing and discourages spending time with patients, a doctor argues today on the New York Times op-ed page.

The fee-for-service system reimburses doctors not only for their time, but also for overhead — which includes the costs of expensive machines used to run tests such as CT scans.

This is why doctors who own their own imaging equipment order far more scans than doctors who refer patients elsewhere for scans, argues the author, Peter B. Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He writes:

Any first-year business school student can see the profit opportunity here. The cost of a CT scanner is fixed, but a doctor earns fees each time it is used. This means that a scanner becomes highly profitable as soon as it’s paid for.

Patient visits, on the other hand, don’t incur the overhead of fancy machinery and so aren’t big moneymakers in the current system.

Getting rid of this payment system would trim excessive use of expensive tests and encourage docs to spend more time with patients instead, argues Bach, who is a former adviser to Medicare’s top brass.

He suggests paying doctors a fixed amount for each patient, with higher payments for more complex patients to discourage cherry picking. Payment for overhead should be based on the typical costs of tests and treatments for a patient’s condition — similar to how Medicare pays hospitals.

Implementing such a program would be pretty complicated — you could run the risk of giving doctors incentive to under-treat patients, and you’d have to do a good job of setting fees to avoid cherry picking.

Still, it’s worth considering alternatives to the current system. The recent debate in Washington over Medicare payments to doctors is sure to be back next year. And the health-policy gurus we’ve been talking to say financial pressures mean some kind of radical restructuring of the payment system is coming sooner or later.

Photo by Associated Press

at 12:55 PM 0 comments Southlake doctor pleads guilty to possession of child pornography

12:42 PM CDT on Thursday, July 24, 2008
By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News
A Southlake doctor pleaded guilty this morning to one count of possession of child pornography.

Dr. James Shin, 46, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and will be required to register as a sex offender.

Dr. Shin, also known as Young Jin Shin and James Young-Jin Shin, resigned in May from the staff of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where he had been the chairman of the internal medicine department in 2004, according to his attorney, Bob Webster.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that when Dr. Shin allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to search his home computer in September 2007, he acknowledged that he used the Internet to download images and videos of minor children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

“Some of the images of child pornography contained images of real children that have been identified through other law enforcement investigations throughout the nation,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

at 12:54 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Medical tourism needs 5k-10k professionals in 5 years

NEW DELHI: With medical tourism in India expected to grow 30% annually till 2012, the demand for talent is going up at a brisk pace even as it opens up a whole gamut of job opportunities in the sector. Little wonder then that a full-time course in medical tourism launched by the Indian Clinical Research Institute (ICRI) has generated a great deal of interest in the medical fraternity.

India’s medical tourism is expected to be a $2.2-billion industry by 2012, up from the current $1.2 billion. Encouraged by the growth momentum, the government has launched medical visas to be given on a priority basis.

Estimates suggest that there would be a demand for 5,000-10,000 professionals specifically catering to this industry segment in the next five years. These would include international marketing professionals, patients relation managers, backoffice employees.

However, analysts believe there’s an acute need for infrastructure to train people in these functions. And there are no institutions offering such niche courses. “There is a great demand for such modules as the manpower requirement goes up and the need for specialised roles arises,” says ICRI HEALTH director, health service, major general (Dr) M Srivastava.

The course from ICRI would offer training in hospital services, financial management, marketing, OR techniques, costing and budgeting. Pricing techniques, hospitality & patient relation & conflict resolution, healthcare laws & regulations, health insurance & regulations, business ethics & corporate governance are also part of the course.

A major requirement, say experts, would also be for patient relation managers who can understand the needs of people from other geographies, their food habits, language and their comfort level.

Soft skills would be in great demand. Currently, individuals with a background in medicine deliver such services. As the need increases and the doctors become more engaged with the medical procedures, a different pool of people would be required to man those positions.

“Till now no institute offered such courses and the hospitals survived only on in-house resources and training,” says Apollo Healthcare and Lifestyle CEO Ratan Jalan.

at 11:35 AM 0 comments
Monday, October 1, 2007

Healthcare Issues in the World Today Despite incredible improvements in health since 1950, there are still a number of challenges, which should have been easy to solve. Consider the following:

One billion people lack access to health care systems.
Around 11 million children under the age of 5 die from malnutrition and mostly preventable diseases, each year.

In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infectious diseases alone, far more than the number killed in the natural or man-made catastrophes that make headlines. (These are the latest figures presented by the World Health Organization.)
AIDS/HIV has spread rapidly.

UNAIDS estimates for 2005 that there are roughly:
40 million living with HIV (most in Africa, 25.8 million)
4.9 million new HIV infections in 2005 (mostly in Africa, 3.2 million)
3.1 million AIDS deaths in 2005, (mostly in Africa, 2.4 million)
There are 8.8 million new cases of Tuberculosis (TB) and 1.75 million deaths from TB, each year.

Malaria causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and at least 1 million deaths, annually. More than half a million people, mostly children, died from measles in 2003 even though effective immunization costs just 0.30 US dollars per person, and has been available for over 40 years.
Source: WHO

at 2:35 PM 0 comments
US healthcare burden

In America, coping with sickness is all about making someone else cough up. To a degree, General Motors’ deal to shift retiree healthcare obligations into a trust managed by the United Auto Workers is a victory for both sides. GM has to fund a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association upfront, but at a discount.

The UAW takes on responsibility for its retired members’ healthcare costs, but this protects them from the risk that those very costs destroy the company that was funding them. This circularity boosts the Veba’s appeal: its creation raises future cash flow expectations, boosting the shares of the company concerned, in theory making it easier to fund the structure.

Does that portend a rash of new Vebas? Goldman Sachs estimates that even as the S&P 500’s collective pension deficit has, on one measure, disappeared, unfunded retiree healthcare obligations are about $289bn. That is, however, just 2 per cent of the index’s market value and exposure is very uneven: GM and Ford account for a quarter of the total amount. Certain other sectors, such as telecoms, also have big deficits. But they do not necessarily share Detroit’s other problems: a greying, unionised workforce and fear of bankruptcy.

America’s public sector, where unfunded healthcare obligations might top $1,000bn, also looks unlikely to embrace Vebas wholesale. Try convincing a civil servant that the government might go bust. And in the absence of listed stock, the Veba’s circular attraction disappears.

Fund managers hoping for a sudden windfall of new assets to be put to work, therefore, may be disappointed. Still, those Vebas that are created will need star performers: healthcare cost inflation is running in double figures. Might that prompt a big weighting towards riskier asset classes such as private equity? If so, it raises the intriguing possibility of retirees one day acquiring their former employers.

at 12:40 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why Medical Tourism? A growing 10 Billion Dollar Industry

Medical tourism is the practice of traveling to another country to obtain health care. The provider and patient use informal channels of communication-connection-contract, with less regulatory or legal oversight to assure quality and less formal recourse to reimbursement or redress, if needed. Services typically include elective procedures as well as complex specialized surgeries such as hip and knee joint replacement, cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries.

Due to the high costs of medical treatment and surgery in the United States, the waiting lists in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada and the lack of high tech medical procedures in many third world countries, medical tourism is expected to blossom into a ten billion dollar business world-wide. Recognizing this trend governments, large corporations, hospitals, and doctors are flooding the medical tourism market with choices, and prices are dropping in many countries world-wide.

The concept of medical tourism is not a new one. The first recorded instance of medical tourism dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from all over the Mediterranean to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. This territory was the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios. Epidauria became the original travel destination for medical tourism.

Medical tourists can come from anywhere in the world, including Europe, the UK, the Middle East, Japan, and the U.S. This is because of their large populations, comparatively high wealth, the high expense of health care or lack of health care options locally, and increasingly high expectations of their populations with respect to health care.

Additionally, patients are finding that insurance either does not cover orthopedic surgery (such as knee/hip replacement) or imposes unreasonable restrictions on the choice of the facility, surgeon, or prosthetics to be used. Medical tourism for knee/hip replacements has emerged as one of the more widely accepted procedures because of the lower cost and minimal difficulties associated with the traveling to/from the surgery.

Colombia provides a knee replacement for about $5,000 USD, including all associated fees such as FDA approved prosthetics and hospital stay over expenses. However, many clinics quote prices that are not all inclusive and include only the surgeon fees associated with the procedure

As the number of uninsured Americans grows, medical patients are now becoming consumers of medical care in record numbers. Many of these medical consumers are taking part in medical tourism i.e., people who leave the country primarily for medical treatment.

When a medical consumer searches for a provider, they tend to focus on the credentials of the doctor and forget about other important factors. Possibly the most important other factor is the country where the doctor and hospital are located. The country determines many things about the quality of care you will receive.

A large draw to medical travel is convenience and speed. Countries that operate public health-care systems are often so taxed that it can take considerable time to get non-urgent medical care. The time spent waiting for a procedure such as a hip replacement can be a year or more in Britain and Canada; however, in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Colombia, Philippines or India, a patient could feasibly have an operation the day after their arrival. In Canada, the number of procedures in 2005 for which people were waiting was 782,936

Factors that have led to the recent increase in popularity of medical travel include the high cost of health care or wait times for procedures in industrialized nations, the ease and affordability of international travel, and improvements in technology and standards of care in many countries of the world.

To understand the phenomenon of medical travel, we can compare the average costs of cosmetic surgeries between the industrialized nations and Latin America countries where medical tourism and cosmetic surgery tourism are becoming popular, such Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Philippines, Mexico. Prices quoted in the table below are from offices affiliated with the ministries of health in the U.S., Europe (France, Spain, Switzerland), Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, and Mexico.

Medical tourism carries some risks that local medical procedures do not. Should complications arise, patients might not be covered by insurance or able to seek compensation via malpractice lawsuits, though it should be noted that malpractice insurance is a considerable portion of the cost in the Western countries such as the US that allow doctors to be sued.

The most outspoken critics of medical tourism are U.S. malpractice lawyers who see this emerging trend as a threat to their livelihood. Some countries currently sought after as medical tourism destinations provide some form of legal remedies for medical malpractice. However, this legal avenue is unappealing to the medical tourist. Advocates of medical tourism advise prospective tourists to evaluate the unlikely legal challenges against the benefits of such a trip before undergoing any surgery abroad.

Those involved in medical tourism should seek a hospital in country where government inspections of the hospital are mandated and the standards are high. But just this mandate is not enough. After all the results of the inspections may be known to only a few. Government should also mandate that the results be made public. Such a practice is now law in Germany for German hospitals and other countries in Europe. Wouldn't the medical tourism consumer want to know the results? After all, hospital infection rates vary widely and give the consumer a good idea about how well the hospital is managed.

at 12:25 PM 0 comments
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Articles▼ 2008 (4)
▼ July (4)
Faces Of The Health-care Crisis
Scrap Medicare Fee-For-Service System, Doctor Says...
Southlake doctor pleads guilty to possession of ch...
Medical tourism needs 5k-10k professionals in 5 ye...
► 2007 (4)
► October (2)
Healthcare Issues in the World Today
US healthcare burden
► July (2)
Why Medical Tourism? A growing 10 Billion Dollar I...
Healthcare In Crisis?

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Horn and its human right and anthropology history! Human Rights Watch, US July 1, 2008 Ethiopia:

Government Prepares Assault on Civil Society Repressive New Legislation Should Be Amended or Scrapped New York – Ethiopia’s government should immediately abandon plans to impose strict government controls and draconian criminal penalties on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.

The two groups called on donor governments, whose behind-the-scenes efforts to see the bill reformed appear to have failed, to speak out publicly against the de facto criminalization of most of the human rights, rule of law and peace-building work currently being carried out in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s government has already made meaningful public engagement in governance impossible in many areas by persecuting its critics and cracking down on freedom of expression and assembly. The clear intention of this legislation is to consolidate that trend by taking the ‘non’ out of ‘nongovernmental’ and putting civil society under government control.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

Ethiopia’s federal government claims that its draft Charities and Societies Proclamation (draft law) is a benign attempt to promote financial transparency among NGOs and enhance their accountability to stakeholders.

In fact, the law’s key provisions are blunt and heavy-handed mechanisms to control and monitor civil society groups while punishing those whose work displeases the government. It could also seriously restrict much of the development-related work currently being carried out by some of Ethiopia’s key international partners, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

“Ethiopia’s government has already made meaningful public engagement in governance impossible in many areas by persecuting its critics and cracking down on freedom of expression and assembly,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The clear intention of this legislation is to consolidate that trend by taking the ‘non’ out of ‘nongovernmental’ and putting civil society under government control.”

The law would apply to every NGO operating in Ethiopia except religious organizations and those foreign NGOs that the government agrees to exempt. Many of the key provisions of the draft law would violate Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law and fundamental rights guaranteed in its own constitution, including the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both produced separate detailed analyses of the draft law. Among its most damaging provisions are articles that would:

Impose stiff criminal penalties for anyone participating in “unlawful” civil society activity. The draft law would accord government agencies nearly unfettered discretion in deciding whether to register individual NGOs, and then defines as “unlawful” any civil society group that is not registered.

To lend teeth to this restriction, the draft law would impose fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years for a range of new offenses including participation in any meeting held by an “unlawful” organization. It would also make dissemination of any information “in the interests of an unlawful charity” punishable by imprisonment. If the law were in effect today, this last provision could potentially be used to imprison anyone in Ethiopia who disseminated this statement.

Subject all civil society groups to intrusive government control and surveillance. The draft law would set up a Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) with extensive discretionary powers to refuse to accord legal recognition to NGOs, to disband NGOs that have already been legally recognized, and to interfere in the management and staffing of NGOs up to the point of altering their organizational missions.

The CSA would also have broad powers to monitor all activities of every NGO covered under the law. No NGO could hold any meeting without notifying the CSA in writing at least one week in advance, and the CSA and other government agencies would then be empowered to send police officers to attend and report on those meetings.

Prohibit all activities carried out by non-Ethiopian NGOs that relate to human rights and other identified fields. The draft law draws an important distinction between “foreign” and “Ethiopian” NGOs.

“Foreign” NGOs are expressly barred from doing any work related to human rights, governance, protection of the rights of women, children and people with disabilities, conflict resolution and a range of other issues. This would make expressly illegal any attempt by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or any other international human rights organization to engage in human rights activities in Ethiopia unless the government would choose to exempt them from the law.

Strip Ethiopian NGOs that work on human rights issues of access to foreign funding. The draft law would effectively close down the few independent domestic NGOs that continue to work on human rights- and governance-related issues by stripping them of access to foreign funding.

The draft law defines as “foreign” any Ethiopian NGO that receives more than 10 percent of its funding from foreign sources or has any members who are foreign nationals, and then bars “foreign” NGOs from working on human rights and governance issues. This would hit hard, given the lack of obvious fundraising and development opportunities inside Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world.

These and other similar provisions in the draft law would have a devastating impact if implemented. But the likely impact is still more ominous when understood in its broader context.

Should this law be passed, Ethiopia’s already-limited political space would be further narrowed. Over the years, the government of Ethiopia has demonstrated a pattern of repression, harassment of political opponents and human rights defenders critical of the government, and pervasive human rights violations.

These trends have accelerated since the country’s controversial 2005 elections. Disputes about the results of those elections led to street protests that were brutally suppressed and then followed by the arrest of opposition politicians and leading activists on charges of treason.

Official tolerance of political dissent, already thin, has waned markedly in the years since then. Formal political opposition has largely evaporated in most of Ethiopia. April’s kebele and wereda elections saw the ruling party running unopposed in most constituencies and winning more than 99 percent of all seats.

“This law is not just an assault on independent civil society organizations,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director at Amnesty International. “It’s part of a broader effort to silence the few independent voices that have managed to make their criticisms of the government heard in an increasingly repressive climate.”

Ethiopia is one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries. Ethiopia’s key bilateral donors, however, have largely maintained a public silence in the face of the government’s worsening human rights record.

For example, the United States and Britain, which collectively provide Ethiopia with more than $600 million in foreign assistance each year, are the Ethiopian government’s most important donors. Both governments have consistently failed to speak out publicly against longstanding patterns of repression and human rights violations including war crimes committed by Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia.

Several donor governments, along with a range of international and domestic NGOs, have had intensive private discussions with Ethiopian officials in an attempt to convince the government to abandon the most repressive aspects of the draft law. These efforts, however, have failed to improve many of the most worrying provisions of the law according to the latest draft released in late June.

“Ethiopia’s bilateral partners have consistently failed to speak out publicly against severe patterns of government-sponsored human rights violations,” Gagnon said. “Their policy of silence has had the effect of helping to embolden the Ethiopian government to make further assaults on human rights, exemplified by the draft NGO law.” Somali gunmen kidnap workers with Italian charity

Tue 1 Jul 2008Abdi Mohamed and Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, July 1 (Reuters) - Somali gunmen have kidnapped two local workers with an Italian charity in the latest attack on humanitarian staff in the Horn of Africa nation, locals and foreign aid sources said on Tuesday.

About a dozen men with rifles stopped the Somalis on their way to Mogadishu on Monday and turned their two cars into bush near Afgooye, west of the capital, witnesses said.

"I could see the two cars marked 'WFL' being hijacked," bus-driver Hassan Osman said.

Regional governor Abdiqadir Sheikh confirmed that a Somali man and a woman -- whom he identified as working for Italian non-governmental organisation Water For Life -- went missing as they were travelling to Mogadishu.

"They are nowhere to be found now ... they must have been kidnapped," he told Reuters.

Suspicion for kidnappings generally falls on clan militia and Islamist insurgents who are fighting the Somali government and their Ethiopian military allies.

Gunmen are still holding hostage four foreign aid workers -- two Italians, a Kenyan, a Briton -- and another three Somalis abducted in April and May.

Two U.N. workers from Sweden and Denmark were briefly taken on Saturday in south Somalia, until local elders and colleagues negotiates their release with Islamists.

Mired in anarchy and awash with weapons since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, south Somalia is off-limits for all but a small band of foreign aid workers, and local staff face extreme risks by association.

Sheikh, the Lower Shabelle region governor, said the kidnapped Somali pair had been due to fly to Italy on Tuesday.

The WFL charity trains Somali geologists.

Kidnapping is lucrative business in Somalia, with hostages generally treated well in anticipation of a large ransom.

But the attacks are hampering the operations of aid agencies at a time when U.N. officials say Somalia ranks as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises along with Sudan's Darfur region, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over 1 million of Somalia's 9 million people live as internal refugees, and their plight has been worsened by record food prices, hyper-inflation and drought.

The insurgency has killed 2,136 civilians so far this year, bringing the death-toll since it began in early 2007 to 8,636, according to a local human rights group.


San Francisco Chronicle

Anthropology chair found 'Lucy's Daughter'
David Perlman
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Headlines around the world hailed the fossils as "Lucy's Child" and "Lucy's Daughter" when anthropologists first reported finding the skull and bones of a 3-year-old girl who lived and died more than 3.3 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia's Afar Desert.

"But she lived at least 150,000 years before Lucy was ever born, so that little girl couldn't ever have been any child of Lucy," said anthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged with a laugh.

"Yet she certainly belonged to Lucy's lineage - and they both lived in what we can now call the cradle of mankind."

Lucy, of course, is the most famous fossil ever discovered. Her bones were found in Ethiopia in 1974, and she gave scientists fresh evidence for a crucial epoch in evolution when chimplike creatures first walked upright along the many-branched paths toward modern humans.

Zeresenay and his colleagues had found their 3-year-old child's bones in 2000, and the discovery swiftly made his career. Her bones provided the most nearly complete skeleton of her species ever unearthed, and she was the first to offer such rich insights into the form and function of all her hominid kind as infants - the species called Australopithecus afarensis.

Zeresenay (Ethiopians use first names as their formal names) named her Selam, which means "peace" in the Amharic language, and her bones are now safely under study by his team in his country's National Museum in Addis Ababa.

Now Zeresenay lives in Woodside with his wife, whose name is also Selam, and their daughter Alula, who by coincidence is also nearly 3. He has just been named chairman of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences, and his office - still barely furnished, but with his computer up and running - is in the academy's dramatic new building in Golden Gate Park.

After Nina Jablonski, then the academy's renowned chair of anthropology, announced she was leaving to become a professor at Penn State University in 2007, academy leaders advertised in scientific journals that the post was open. Thirty scientists applied, and after search committee members vetted the records of them all and interviewed several, they chose the Ethiopian scientist from Germany.

His new post makes him curator of more than 17,000 anthropology specimens and artifacts - a collection representing just about every kind of culture in the world - Native American ceremonial dolls, Japanese folk toys, ancient Mayan ceramics, Inupiat art from Alaska and much, much more.

Many of those objects will be on public view from time to time after the new academy opens on Sept. 27, and meanwhile Zeresenay - everyone at the academy calls him Zeray - is boning up on the unfamiliar.

"I don't necessarily specialize in Native American culture," he conceded with a grin during an interview, "or Japanese dolls, but I'm certainly interested in what makes us all human - and how we and our cultures have changed over time.

So part of my job here is to find new ways of bringing all the fascinating material from our anthropology collections out where visitors can see them and understand how they reflect the cultures of so many different people."

Zeresenay, 39, was born in Axum, the Ethiopian city where the biblical Ark of the Covenant is believed to lie hidden in an ancient church and where the Queen of Sheba was supposedly born.

He studied at the University of Paris, wrote his doctoral thesis in French, and was back in Ethiopia as a research fellow at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Human Evolutionary Studies in Leipzig in December 2000. That's when he and a colleague first spotted the fossil skull's tiny face peering, eye sockets up, from a block of sandstone on the desert floor.

The barren, rocky site, called Dikika, is about 6 miles from the Hadar site where Lucy was found, and Zeresenay's tiny prehuman creature has already added fresh insights into the infancy of pre-humans, he said. Her lower-leg development indicates that even at the early age 3 she could probably walk upright, while her arm bones confirm that her tribe might have still retained a chimp's ability to climb trees and swing from branches - a neat way to escape quickly from predators prowling the ground.

Even while he is curator at the academy, Zeresenay will continue his fossil hunting in Ethiopia. He is heading back to Dikika in January - studying the region's geology and the varied animals that lived there - and, hopefully, finding the fossil bones of more Australopithecines, young or old. They might even be Salem's parents, or Lucy's other relatives - who knows?