Tag Archives: Report

The global response to the pandemic has been “a collective failure”, according to independent health watchdog

The world is failing to learn the lessons of the pandemic and is still doing too little to address the issues it has caused, warns an independent watchdog set up by the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

A new report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) explains in no uncertain terms that the global response to the pandemic has been very underwhelming, and is still plagued by issues. Instead of learning from such a traumatic event, we are leaving those that most need help behind, the report concludes.

The pandemic has exposed a world that is “unequal, divided, and unaccountable”, it concludes.

Leaves much to be desired

“If the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was defined by a collective failure to take preparedness seriously and act rapidly on the basis of science, the second has been marked by profound inequalities and a failure of leaders to understand our interconnectedness and act accordingly,” the report said.

“The health emergency ecosystem reflects this broken world. It is not fit for purpose and needs major reform.”

The report cites WHO estimates which place the overall death toll of the pandemic (both direct and indirect) at 17 million people. While that number in itself is frightening, the authors also point to a sharp — and growing — divide in the vaccination rates between wealthier and poorer areas of the globe.

Despite more than six billion vaccine doses being administered globally to date, only 1.4 percent of people in poor countries have been fully vaccinated, explained World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala earlier this month.

The report comes in the wake of the 2020 GPMB report which was already pointing out how ill-prepared the world was for a global pandemic, despite numerous warnings from researchers and healthcare professionals that such an event was unavoidable.

“Scientific advancement during COVID-19, particularly the speed of vaccine development, gives us just cause for pride,” reads the report’s foreword, written by GPMB co-chair Elhadj As Sy.

“However, we must feel deep shame over multiple tragedies–vaccine hoarding, the devastating oxygen shortages in low-income countries, the generation of children deprived of education, the shattering of fragile economies and health systems. While this disaster should have brought us together, instead we are divided, fragmented, and living in worlds apart.”

The sheer loss of life caused by the pandemic is “neither normal nor acceptable,” he adds.

Against this backdrop, there’s little evidence that we’re actually learning from the pandemic. Deaths from COVID-19 are still mounting, while vaccination efforts are stalling in many areas of the globe. Areas of the world with the resources and infrastructure needed to distribute large quantities of vaccines are starting to ease into the illusion that the pandemic is over. On the other hand, poorer and less fortunate areas are seeing their national health system buckle and break under the strain of extra patients who need intensive care, while their own vaccination drives are progressing painfully slowly — due to a lack of resources, adequate infrastructure, or lack of trained personnel.

But in our interconnected world, there’s no feasible solution for beating this pandemic alone. The growing number of cases is a very real threat even for countries that have achieved high vaccination rates within their own borders. In a globalized society, there is no such thing as closing off your gates and weathering the storm outside.

The solution, GPMB proposes, is “a new global social contract to prevent and mitigate health emergencies”. They sum this contract up around six key points:

  • Strengthen global governance; adopt an international agreement on health emergency preparedness and response, and convene a Summit of Heads of State and Government, together with other stakeholders, on health emergency preparedness and response.
  • Build a strong WHO with greater resources, authority, and accountability.
  • Create an agile health emergency system that can deliver on equity through better information sharing and an end-to-end mechanism for research, development and equitable access to common goods.
  • Establish a collective financing mechanism for preparedness to ensure more sustainable, predictable, flexible, and scalable financing.
  • Empower communities and ensure engagement of civil society and the private sector.
  • Strengthen independent monitoring and mutual accountability.

It’s easy to read such material and feel defensive, even insulted. Haven’t we all suffered our share during this pandemic? Haven’t we all done our best to come through it? What more do these ‘organizations’ want from us, and what do they even know about us? And that’s certainly an understandable reaction.

But we have to look beyond that. Organizations such as the GPMB exist because they serve a role we as individuals, communities, governments, and countries cannot do on our own. Their job is to tell us when we all, as a species, are not acting in our own interest — and to hold us accountable. The hard truth is that our natural inclination during times of crisis is to hunker down and wait it out. But working together is the fastest and most efficient way of dealing with threats, including pandemics. We may not like the idea that our choices here can influence someone’s chances of survival half the world away, but they do. And while there’s precious little we as individuals can do, we can do our own little part, and we can hold those in charge accountable for doing their own, much larger part; both at home, and abroad.

The full report is available on the GPMB homepage.

Crowd.

The UN expects Earth’s 10 billionth inhabitant sometime in the early 2050s

Some 7,5 billion people now call Earth home, but that number may skyrocket to over 10 billion by 2050, the United Nations estimate.

Crowd.

Image via Pixabay.

Just last month, the World Population Clock announced that humanity has passed a huge milestone — the 7,5 billion people mark. While it took us a few thousands of years to get to this figure, it will take us a lot less to reach 10 billion according to a report published yesterday by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. In fact, they estimate that it will only take us a bit over 30 years.

This is the beauty of non-linear growth.

By 2030, Earth could harbor some 8.6 billion people, the report explains. By 2050, this number will likely increase to 9.8 billion, and populations will peak in 2100 at 11.2 billion, it goes on. This estimate is based on the current natality of around 83 million people per year worldwide, which the UN expects to keep driving up population numbers even as overall fertility rates go down.

This growth won’t be evenly spread around the globe, of course. Nigeria for example, which currently boasts world’s 7th largest population but the fastest growth of the world’s most populous countries, is estimated to become the world’s 3rd largest by 2050, a place currently held by the USA. The most populous country today, China, is expected to cede its place to India and sink to the 2nd place in around seven years as its policies limit growth.

Overall, this means that nine countries will concentrate about a half of the population growth estimated between now and the 2050 mark: Nigeria, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United States.

The report doesn’t just look at the flat number of people currently living in the world but also takes into account factors such as fertility, life expectancy, immigration and refugee movements, to paint an accurate picture of how populations will evolve in time. One encouraging find is that although population numbers are on the rise, fertility rates (aka how many kids each couple has) are dropping almost throughout the globe, even in Africa. At the same time, life expectancy has risen globally from 65 to 69 years for men and 69 to 73 years for women, although the UN cautions that there are huge disparities between different countries.

Population Change Report.

Europe stands out a bit from all other areas in the report. With a predominantly old population, high life expectancy, and low fertility, Europe’s population is estimated to remain relatively stable — experiencing a slight drop up to the 2060’s as the older generations pass away, and a slight increase by 2100 close to today’s levels. All other areas are estimated to experience a definite decline in population growth by 2100.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division says that the report could help agencies better tailor and implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

Massive report on cannabis confirms health benefits, calls for more research

A new comprehensive analysis of the known health risks and benefits of marijuana concluded that it can be effectively used to treat chronic pain in some patients.

Image credits Chuck Herrera / Pixabay.

Released Thursday by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the report analyzed over 10,000 scientific papers to come up with almost 100 conclusions regarding the possible uses and risks of marijuana. They largely regard unanswered questions and areas of insufficient research of the plant’s health benefits and potentially negative effects. But probably most important conclusion reached by the paper is that marijuana does have legitimate medical uses — a conclusion that calls into question the DEA’s decision to keep marijuana listed as a Schedule I drug, a substance of no medical use.

Up in smoke

Marijuana is a controversial topic. But, no matter what your personal opinion on the drug and on its use may be, there is one fact that I think we should all agree on: with so much literature pointing at possible health benefits, we should let our scientists test it out. The problem is that they can’t. Schedule I listing throws huge hurdles in the path of researchers that want to research marijuana or its components.

Right now, marijuana regulation is a bit foggy. Although banned at a federal level, several states have passed or enacted laws that allow for medical and recreational use. Despite this scientists are still struggling to get their hands on materials they can actually work with.

“It is often difficult for researchers to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions on the health effects of cannabis use,” concluded the paper, authored by a panel of experts led by Harvard pediatrician and public health researcher Marie McCormick.

The authors didn’t comment on the DEA’s decision to keep marijuana on the Schedule I list, saying that the issue fell outside the scope of a scientific review and into the political. This federal-level ban does raise some issues for future research: President Obama’s administration largely left the issue of legalization in each state’s hands, but it’s unclear if President-elect Trump will continue this lenient approach or enforce the federal law.

Trump’s nominee attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, has previously been critical of the former’s administration stance on the issue. During his confirmation hearings on Tuesday however, he said:

“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law […] I think some of [the Obama-administration’s measures] are truly valuable in evaluating cases”

“Using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won’t be an easy decision, but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”

Here are some of the other findings of the report

  1. Cannabis and cannabinoids are effective in treating chronic pain, particularly related to multiple sclerosis. The substances also show effectiveness in mitigating chemotherapy-related symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting.
  2. The paper found no links between these substances and smoking-induced cancers, such as lung or neck cancer. However, smoking may increase respiratory problems, like chronic phlegm, if it’s done on a regular basis.
  3. Smoking marijuana while pregnant seems to result in lower birth weights, but it’s unclear if there are any long-term effects for the children. However, states in which cannabis use is legal do show a small increase in child accidental poisoning cases.
  4. There is some evidence that smoking marijuana could trigger a heart attack. However, there’s not enough research done on the issue to offer a definite answer.
  5. There is some evidence that marijuana could have anti-inflammatory effects. However, there’s not enough research into how cannabis and cannabinoids interact with the immune system or how it affects those with compromised immune systems.
  6. Several papers point out that marijuana use could increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.
  7. Some evidence points to the fact that using marijuana may increase your chance of using other drugs — especially tobacco. The authors report a clear link between people who use cannabis and those who are prone do developing substance dependence.
  8. Cannabis use has an immediate effect on mental processes by impairing learning, memory, and attention. Some evidence suggests that these effects could persist in people after they’ve stopped smoking and that it could negatively impact education and employment for those who start off young

The authors hope their conclusions will help steer discussions, policies, and decisions on the issue of legalization that we’re bound to see in the coming years.

The full report “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (2017)” is available here.