The leading cause of death in developing countries might surprise you

Richard Fuller via Ensia

It’s time to pay attention to a startling stealth killer

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What’s the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries?

A.  malnutrition and undernutrition

B.  tuberculosis, malaria & HIV/AIDS

C.  pollution

If you guessed “C,” you got it. Exposures to polluted soil, water and air (both household and ambient) killed 8.4 million people in these countries in 2012.

Another statistic worth pondering: That 8.4 million is out of about 9 million people killed by pollution worldwide in 2012. In other words, this is not a “rich country” problem. This is a problem contained to the developing world.

To put this in perspective, World Health Organization statistics show that 56 million people died in 2012 — that’s every person who passed away on the planet, whether from car accidents, suicides, old age, cancer, hospital errors, lightning strike, infectious diseases, parachute failures, war or any number of other reasons. So, pollution killed nearly one in seven of them.

Contaminated outdoor air accounted for 3.7 million deaths. Another 4.2 million people died from particulates exposure in indoor air from cooking stoves. About 1 million died from chemicals and contaminated soil and water. And 840,000 succumbed to poor sanitation. All of these data come directly from WHO’s website and databases, except for the soil statistics, which are sourced from more recent numbers (likely understated) from the Global Alliance for Health and Pollution.

In the same year, 2012, 625,000 people died from malaria, 1.5 million from HIV/AIDS and 930,000 from tuberculosis. That’s one-third the number of people that pollution kills, and yet this troika of terrible diseases attracts over $20 billion per year from international charities and governments.

Slow and Indirect

It’s important to note that pollution rarely kills people directly or quickly. Instead, it causes heart disease, chest infections, cancers, respiratory diseases or diarrhea. Pollution acts as a catalyst, increasing the rates of these diseases above normal. For this reason, WHO considers pollution a risk factor — a threat to human health similar to obesity, smoking, malnutrition or poor exercise. But pollution is the king of all risk factors. Worldwide, its fatality numbers dwarf those caused by any other risk factor in any other context.

It’s hard to imagine just how bad it can be. Try, though, to imagine this scenario:

You wake up each day on the dirt floor of a shack you and your family lashed together with cast-off materials from a nearby construction site for a five-star hotel. Your husband works 70 hours a week sorting chemicals in a badly run pesticides factory. Lately, he’s come home coughing up blood. He looks thinner and more exhausted each week, and you want to tell him to stop, but how can you? The pennies he earns are the only things feeding your kids.

So you head to the local pond with your plastic bucket. The water you scoop from the pond is brown and stinks of human waste, but there’s nothing else to drink. You try straining it through cheesecloth, but it doesn’t do much good. Meanwhile, the factory next door to your slum, the one the government recently shut down, has started operating again — but only at night. Its chimneys pump out serpents of thick smoke, and there’s no way of knowing what’s burning. Last week, your eldest child started coughing through the night. The rest of your children are sickly and slow to learn even the most basic concepts. None of your friends or family can help you since, curiously, almost everyone in your neighborhood has the same problems.

Our economy is global and so are the pollutants it generates.

You are one of the poisoned poor, without voice and without hope. Regulations that might exist to combat the conditions are never enforced. You cannot simply pick up and move to another town — it took you years to establish yourself to this extent. And anyway, where exactly would you go? Every village shares this plight. Like the rest of the world’s underprivileged, you have become cannon fodder in the ongoing war of growth.

How can we fix this problem?

Our economy is global and so are the pollutants it generates. Contaminated air from China can now be measured in other countries. Mercury from gold mining and coal plants can be found in fish, and arsenic has been found in rice.

Many highly polluting industries have moved from developed countries to poor countries with less environmental regulation and technology to manage and remediate chemicals. Clean technologies and green growth are possible for emerging economies and can prevent decades of future contamination that will harm us all. Western nations have had success in cleaning up pollution and can now transfer technology and funding to low- and middle-income countries.

Of critical importance is making sure pollution is included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which look at how to achieve future development sustainably after the current Millennium Development Goals expire this year.

Prioritizing the prevention and cleanup of pollution will not only save lives, but also mitigate climate change and reduce threats to biodiversity. Glancing through the program priorities of major international organizations, the low priority of pollution is startling, given its impact. The likely reason for this is a lack of awareness, as well as not knowing where to begin to address this complex set of problems.

Of critical importance is making sure pollution is included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which look at how to achieve future development sustainably after the current Millennium Development Goals expire this year and include topics such as ending poverty, promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring equitable education and more. The current draft does not include a goal for pollution on its own, although pollution is included in the health goal. That text — sub-goal 3.9 — currently calls to reduce death and disability from all types of pollution. This language needs to stay in the final text, because the SDGs will define international and national efforts for the coming years.

The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution is galvanizing resources to help low- and middle-income countries address priority pollution problems. In addition to education on all forms of pollution, GAHP helps countries:

— identify and assess toxic pollutant threats, especially for contaminated sites

— create a planning process to prioritize action for problems posing the greatest risk to human health

— implement solutions to save lives.

The technology and knowledge exists in wealthy countries to address this health and economic threat. Solutions can be implemented in low- and middle-incomes countries for a fraction of the cost spent in the West addressing legacy toxic pollutants from industrialization.

Which means, pollution is not inevitable. It is a problem that is solvable, in our lifetime. View Ensia homepage

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Bangladesh bats harbouring possible Ebola variant

Washington, Jan 17 – New York Daily News reports fruit bats in Bangladesh are harbouring a new version of Ebola virus, which causes severe hemorrhagic fever, a fatal condition afflicting humans and primates, says a new finding.

Bangladesh bat release. © www.ecohealthalliance.org

Bangladesh bat release. © http://www.ecohealthalliance.org

The study by EcoHealth Alliance, a non profit organisation that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia. The virus was first detected in Congo.

“Research on filoviruses in Asia is a new frontier of critical importance to human health, and this study has been vital to better understand the wildlife reservoirs and potential transmission of Ebola virus in Bangladesh and the region,” said Kevin Olival, senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, who led the study, the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported.

Ebola virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae.

Filoviruses are zoonotic pathogens (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) that cause lethal hemorrhagic symptoms among humans and non-human primates with fatality rates up to 80 percent, according to a EcoHealth statement.

Natural reservoirs of filoviruses have remained elusive for decades but current literature suggests that bats may be the primary natural hosts of the Ebola virus.

“Bats tend to have a bad reputation and that’s unfortunate since they provide services that are vital for maintaining healthy eco-systems,” said Jonathan Epstein, study co-author and associate vice president at EcoHealth Alliance.

“The next step is to determine whether this Ebola virus is actually causing disease in people, and if so, work to develop strategies that reduce contact with bats to protect human health, without harming bats,” added Epstein.

Read more: http://india.nydailynews.com/newsarticle/c18b0d66a28be61efc2fc2b0d943400f/bangladesh-bats-harbouring-deadly-ebola-variant#ixzz2IGhYlE5U

For more information about bat conservation and health: http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/wildlife/31-bat_conservation_and_health

Third Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

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Join WCFF for an Opening Night Reception & Fundraiser!

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Please join WCFF for an Opening Night Reception & Fundraiser!

Virus Hunters

October 01, 2012 11:48 AM: Beatrice Politi, Claude Adams 

Read it on Global News: Global News | Virus Hunters

Deep in the Amazon jungle, Virologist Simon Anthony is following a Brazilian team of scientists and researchers. Their mission is a life-saving one.

“We’re here in the Brazilian Amazon because we know that 75% of emerging infectious diseases in people come from wildlife and the Amazon is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet,” he says.

Anthony is a Columbia University Virologist, also known as a “Virus Hunter”. On this day, the team is out to trap bats that may be carrying some of the deadliest viruses – viruses that could be deadly and could be transmitted to humans.

“What we’re trying to do is discover the next global pandemic, the next HIV, but before it emerges in people,” he says. “What we are doing is studying wildlife during anthropogenic change.”

Anthony works with the New York based Centre for Infection and Immunity, which has already identified over 500 new viruses.

“Of those I would say probably 25 or 30 are extremely important vis a vis causing human disease,” says the CII director, Dr. Ian Lipkin.

But to date scientists have identified fewer than one percent of all viruses that exist.

“We receive about a hundred thousand samples a year. . . .we receive them from all over the world,” says Dr. Lipkin. “The challenge is to work them up efficiently.”

In his lab, Dr. Lipkin must determine if a particular microbe is a virus, if it causes disease and if it’s contagious.

“It’s like criminology,” he says. “You have to have opportunity, motive and so forth. So we then need to prove the link to disease.”

When the SARS outbreak struck a decade ago, it took weeks to identify the virus that caused it. Today, it would only take days, perhaps even hours, in Dr. Lipkin’s lab.

“I think scientists in general are silent superheroes,” he says.

Read it on Global News: Global News | Virus Hunters

See original article and video here: http://www.globalnews.ca/virus%20hunters/6442725482/story.html