The Global Fool

our planet is our village

TB Unmasked: Healthcare Workers and the Global Tuberculosis Epidemic
Mar21

TB Unmasked: Healthcare Workers and the Global Tuberculosis Epidemic

By Roberta Attanasio World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, is approaching — it reminds us that tuberculosis (TB) is a massive global health problem. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases. It is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. In 2013, an estimated 9.0 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from it — mostly in developing countries. However, TB is curable and preventable. The WHO estimates that 37 million lives were saved between 2000 and 2013 through effective diagnosis and treatment. Despite the many saved lives, the death toll is still unacceptably high. Last month, Anthony S. Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Progress is being made in the international fight against TB; however, the disease remains entrenched in many countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa.”   TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It spreads from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB bacteria into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these bacteria to become infected. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB — people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot spread the bacteria. When a person develops active TB (disease), the symptoms (cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss and others) may be mild for many months. For this reason, people with active TB may delay seeking care, and bacteria can spread to others. People ill with TB can infect up to 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, up to two thirds of people ill with TB will die. Unfortunately, the vaccine currently available to prevent TB has limited efficacy. Healthcare workers who come into contact with patients affected by active TB are at considerable risk of contracting the disease. Indeed, every day, millions of healthcare workers around the world put their lives at risk as they combat tuberculosis. They’re vulnerable to TB exposure and infection. And they deserve to be protected. Therefore, Aeras — a nonprofit biotech advancing the development of new tuberculosis vaccines for the world — launched the TB UNMASKED campaign on September 24, 2014. TB UNMASKED supports and empowers people who put themselves at risk of tuberculosis infection through caring for patients, and gives healthcare workers on the front lines of the TB epidemic the opportunity to tell their stories using photographs,...

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Climate Change: A Key Driver of the Syrian Conflict?
Mar11

Climate Change: A Key Driver of the Syrian Conflict?

By Roberta Attanasio Climate change is happening here and now, with significant damage to natural systems and society. The shrinking of the Arctic sea ice, the melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, the acidification of the oceans, the sea level rise, the shifting patterns of precipitation, and the amplified threat of wildfires, are some of its well-recognized effects. There are also significant concerns related to the consequences that climate change could have on freshwater availability and agricultural productivity worldwide — resulting in increasing poverty and further weakening of fragile governments. Indeed, climate change has been identified as a “threat multiplier” — it can exacerbate political instability in the world’s most dangerous regions. “Droughts, floods, food and water shortages and extreme weather can uproot communities, cause humanitarian crises and increase the chances of armed conflict.”   Now, results from a study carried out by researchers at Columbia University and the University of California Santa Barbara (published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 2, 2015) show that the Syrian conflict has been caused, at least in part, by a record drought. The drought occurred approximately from 2007 to 2010, and was worsened by global warming. The researchers wrote: “For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest.” The Syrian uprising began in the Spring of 2011 and then escalated into an ongoing civil war, leading to one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history — neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are struggling to accommodate the displaced populations. According to the BBC, “Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. Syria’s bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighborhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.” In addition, the war has now acquired sectarian overtones. In their published study, the researchers point out that the 2007−2010 record drought caused widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. In 8 years, the Syrian urban population rose by 50%. But what caused, precisely, the widespread crop failure? According to the researchers, unsustainable farming practices led to a massive depletion of groundwater while the region was experiencing a long-term decline in rainfall. At the same time, summer temperatures rose, drying out much of the remaining moisture in the soil. Colin Kelley, leading author of the study, wrote in The Conversation: “We found that there is very little evidence to suggest that long-term trends toward higher...

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Early Menopause: Links to Ubiquitous Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Feb23

Early Menopause: Links to Ubiquitous Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

By Roberta Attanasio There are as many endocrine-disrupting chemicals (also called endocrine disruptors) as there are deleterious health effects caused by them. These chemicals mimic the body’s hormones and confuse our physiological systems — we respond to them with a series of inappropriate changes that, depending on the specific endocrine disruptor, lead to the development of obesity, cancer, malformation of sex organs, and more. They are pervasive in the environment — they’re found in the soil, air and water throughout the world — and many persist for long periods of time. Thus, it’s not surprising that, in 2013, the impact of endocrine disruptors on human health was defined as a “global threat” by a group of experts convened by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization.   Phthalates are some of the most studied endocrine disruptors. They’re used to make plastic more flexible and cosmetics smoother. Phthalate use in children’s toys was banned in 2008. However, results from a recent study show that high amounts of certain phthalates are present in some meats, cooking oils and dairy products, thus contributing to children exposure despite the ban. In her article “A threat to male fertility“, Deborah Blum writes: “A growing body of work over the last two decades suggests that phthalates can rewire the male reproductive system, interfering with the operation of androgenic hormones, such as testosterone, that play key roles in male development. That mechanism, some experts believe, explains findings that link phthalate exposure to changes in everything from testicular development to sperm quality.” In addition, according to results from a new study, two phthalates belong to a group of 15 chemicals that are significantly associated with early menopause and may have detrimental effects on ovarian function. Earlier menopause and decline in ovarian function may adversely affect fertility and lead to earlier development of heart disease and osteoporosis. The other chemicals are nine polychlorinated biphenyls, three pesticides, and a furan. Women that have high levels of these chemicals in their bodies experience menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals. For the study, the researchers analyzed data collected from 1999-2008 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey incrporated data from 31,575 people, including 1,442 menopausal women who had been tested for presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their blood and urines. It was designed so that the women who had undergone chemical testing would represent a population of almost 9 million menopausal women. The strongest association with early menopause was found for mono-(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate and mono-(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate,...

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Global Health Threats: Instant Noodles
Aug17

Global Health Threats: Instant Noodles

By Roberta Attanasio Instant noodles: convenient, cheap, maybe tasty, and bad for your health. Invented by Momofuku Ando after World War II to provide food for the masses, they became popular around the world in a relatively short time. However, back in 1991, tests carried out by the Australian Consumers’ Association showed that a single serving of noodles contained the same amount of fat present in a cup of potato chips. What else? Carbohydrates, chemicals and salt — lots of chemicals and salt. The global demand for instant noodles is expanding, especially in Asian countries. Now, results from a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (Instant Noodle Intake and Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Distinct Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Korea) shows that significant consumption of instant noodles — including ramen — may increase the risk for metabolic syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The study focused primarily on the Asian country with the highest  number of instant noodle consumers in the world — South Korea.  In recent years, South Koreans have experienced a rapid increase in health problems, specifically heart disease, and a growing number of overweight adults. Hyun Joon Shin, lead investigator of the study, said in a press release that he decided to uncover distinct connections between instant noodle consumption and metabolic syndrome — connections that  had not been widely studied. He found that eating instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with metabolic syndrome, especially in women. He said that the gender gap can likely be attributed to biological differences (such as sex hormones and metabolism) between the sexes, as well as obesity and metabolic syndrome components. In addition, men and women’s varied eating habits and differences in the accuracy of food reporting may play a role in the gender gap. Another potential factor in the gender difference is a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA), which is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and is present in the noodle containers. BPA is a well-known endocrine disruptor, and interferes with the way estrogen and other hormones send messages through the body. Regardless of the gender-related findings or their causes, Shin said that the study highlights  the importance of understanding the foods we feed our bodies. “This research is significant since many people are consuming instant noodles without knowing possible health risks,” he said. “My hope is that this study can lay a foundation for future research about the health effects of instant noodle consumption.” Shin...

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It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying: A New Campaign to Raise Awareness of Climate Change
Aug14

It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying: A New Campaign to Raise Awareness of Climate Change

By The Editors Milton Glaser, one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States, has launched an environmental campaign to raise awareness of climate change. He is known for the ubiquitous I heart NY logo, his Bob Dylan poster, the Brooklyn Brewery logo, and a lot more. You can view a collection of his work here.  The campaign — It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying —  is based on a strong message that is meant to create a sense of urgency around climate change, a well-established major global threat. For his campaign, which defines climate change as “The most important fact on Earth“, Glaser designed a visual for buttons and posters — our planet seen as a green disk covered by black smoke, with only a narrow band of life (in still visible green) remaining at its bottom. The green section is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink for maximum impact. “There is no more significant issue on earth than its survival,” Glaser told Dezeen, one of the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazines. “The questions is, ‘how can anyone not be involved?'” And he added: “If half the people on earth wear the button even the ‘masters of the universe’ will be moved to action,” referring to the large corporations he says have prevented significant action to protect the planet against the changing climate. “Global warming” does not convey the seriousness of the problem. Glaser wants to point out what global warming really is — a death sentence — and make people more receptive to truly understand what it’s at stake here. He told Brian Lehrer (listen to the interview here): “Global warming in its own way sounds sort of reassuring and comforting … that’s terrible. You begin by attacking the phrase itself — the word and what the word means — because the truth of the matter is that the earth is dying. And wouldn’t it be nice if today was the beginning of the most important date in human history which is the date we decided not to let the earth die?” A Twitter account provides a stream of news reports and updates about the campaign. Follow this link to buy buttons ($5 for five). All proceeds will be used to produce and distribute more...

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