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Susan McFie, 4th October 2020

 

coronavirus-blue2Not long ago few of us had heard of the coronavirus, and yet this curious entity has rapidly altered life as we know it. The spiky bugs have been around for millions of years infecting almost everyone but seldom killing us – at least not until 2003 when SARS-CoV appeared in Hong Kong with a death rate of around 10%. No coronavirus had ever done that before. The outbreak was blamed on animals. 

Thousands of civets were killed as suspects, and then wild pigs, bats, and snakes also tested positive for SARS-like viruses.  

A similar coronavirus appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It was named MERS and blamed on camels. Then in December 2019 Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organisation that a novel coronavirus was circulating, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2. Once more animals were blamed, this time bats and pangolins. It was said to have emerged from the live animal market in Wuhan but there was growing scepticism, as Wuhan is also home to a high security bio-laboratory involved in long-term research into bat coronaviruses.  

Concerns that the pandemic may have resulted from a laboratory accident were refuted in March by Scripps Research Institute claiming that “If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness.” The statement was backed by a representative of the UK Wellcome Trust who said the investigation showed that the virus was “the product of natural evolution” which they claimed ended “any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering.”

Read more: Invisible Enemies

A WHO staff member's parting salvo to the international health agency and its neoliberal approach to health Sam Burcher

Hands-HIVSocial scientist, Alison Katz has left the World Health Organisation (WHO) after 17 years of devoted service, condemning its “Let us live and let them die” attitude, which sums up the neglect of millions of people over the past three decades, suffering and dying from diseases of poverty, including notably HIV/AIDS [1]. She is the second AIDS researcher to leave within the past 12 months (see On Quitting HIV [2]).

“For over twenty years now, the international AIDS community has persisted in a reductionist obsession with individual behaviour and an implicit acceptance of a deeply flawed and essentially racist theory.” Katz writes. She believes that the narrow and totalitarian approach to AIDS by the WHO not only has had negligible effect, but also has betrayed public health principles and perversely forbidden exploration of any alternative perspectives. Like many others, Katz questions the exclusion of a plethora of co-factors known to increase biological susceptibility to infection by all disease agents, including HIV, among which are under-nutrition, poverty, powerlessness, and the basic necessities for a healthy and dignified life.

She believes that the WHO has fallen victim to neoliberal globalisation, and by default, to the economic interests of powerful nations and the transnational corporations. In an open letter dated January 2007 [3] addressed to Dr. Margaret Chan, the incoming Director-General of WHO, Katz set out seven key points to steer her focus back to serving the public, including the critical importance of addressing the commercialisation of science, and the close relationship between industry and academia as highlighted in Institute of Science in Society's discussion paper Towards a Convention on Knowledge [4].

Read more: “Let Us Live and Let Them Die”

1st December 2017

As Europe renews glyphosate’s licence for another five years, a timely documentary on the International Monsanto Tribunal shows the devastating health impacts of Roundup taking us to the brink of a public health crisis. Sam Burcher 

9782707197399Le Roundup face à ses juges (2017) [1] is Marie-Monique Robin’s second documentary film exposing the activities of agri-giant Monsanto. Her earlier film, The World According to Monsanto (2008) [2] dealt with the hold the multi-billion dollar corporation has over the global food system. This one documents the Tribunal Against Monsanto at the Hague in 2016, which followed the format of proceedings of the International Courts of Justice. Five eminent judges heard compelling evidence of damage to human, animal and environmental health by Roundup, the company’s best-selling herbicide from witnesses, experts and lawyers [3]. Monsanto declined to attend. 

Roundup contains 41% glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine), together with adjuvants, chemicals that are added to enhance its effect. Monsanto patented glyphosate first in 1974 as a broad spectrum weedkiller [4] to be sprayed from a bottle, backpack or tractor, or from low flying aircraft. Glyphosate was patented again in 2010 as a general human antimicrobial/antibiotic. [5]. In 2016 it was classified as “probably a human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) whose task is to conduct and coordinate research into the causes of cancer. Over half a century, the IARC has assessed nearly a thousand substances.

The film takes us to the Hague, to the towns, villages and homes in France, Argentina and Sri Lanka, to see the effects of exposure to glyphosate ranging from rashes, skin lesions, mouth ulcers and swollen joints. We hear of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, miscarriage, kidney and liver disease, and death in shocking testimonies given by victims of glyphosate.  

Impact of glyphosate on children

The film opens with testimonies of adverse health effects in children. Sabine Grataloup is a mother who used glyphosate over a 700m2  paddock around her home in France during the early stages of her pregnancy [7]. Since her son Theo was born nine years ago he has undergone fifty operations, including a tracheotomy, to help him breathe, and a gastrectomy tube to feed his stomach. Now he can do without the feeding tube, but will depend on the tracheotomy and an oesophageal voice box until he is eighteen and fully grown.

Maria Liz Robledo lives in Baigorrita, an agricultural province of Buenos Aires. Her daughter Martina was born with an abnormal breathing condition: oesophageal atresia with a tracheoesophageal fistula, as a result of glyphosate being routinely sprayed in neighbouring gardens and fields, “which for us is normal,” she says. Canisters of glyphosate are piled high in a barn next to her house. Another child in the locale was born with the same condition as her daughter, and neither mother carry the gene that would cause that malformation. She wants to see changes in the law regarding spraying public places that is making people sick [8].

Read more: Roundup Facing its Judges

GMFreeMAntonio8th July 2017

A new campaign using portraits and selfies is letting the UK public have it's say about GM crops 

 

GM Free Me is an online visual petition for people  concerned about the effects of genetically modified food and farming. So far, more than 2,250 people have put their faces, names and comments about the subject on the website http://www.gmfreeme.org. The campaign is the brainchild of Pat Thomas, a former editor of the Ecologist, and to get things rolling Pat and I toured farmers markets, health food shops, conferences and cities across the UK to find out how ordinary people feel about GMO's (genetically modified organisms).

Well-known supporters of GM Free Me include fashion leader Vivianne Westwood, increasingly outspoken about protecting the environment, TV gardener Alys Fowler, organic cosmetics producer Jo Woods and musicians Don Letts and Bez. Westwood commented on her GM Free Me page, “GMOs are a democratic issue. They are a massive, unethical experiment in human and environmental health. People are voicing legitimate concerns about why, if so many unanswered questions remain about GMOs, our government is continuing to try and force them on the British public."

Read more: GM Free Me

No RoundupGlyphosate, the active ingredient in the best-selling weed killer Roundup, widely used as a crop herbicide and drying agent is classed by the WHO as a probable human carcinogen. California State agency orders danger labelling. Should the rest of the world follow suit?

 

Roundup is ubiquitous and much like fast food chains can easily seep into communities. In Corfu, men in hill villages stagger along the road, trembling with each step. In the olive groves plastic canisters are strung about the olive trees emblazoned with the words Roundup Gold. The containers are perforated to let the toxins leech out (see photo).Trucks are loaded with spraying gear. Could these damaged men be agricultural workers suffering from tremors, a sure indictor of coming into direct contact with a powerful nerve agent such as glyphosate, the principal ingredient of Roundup?

In October 2016, a Tribunal Against Monsanto in the Hague heard testimonies from all over world about the dangers of Roundup from academics, toxicologists and victims [1]. In April 2017, after months of reviewing the evidence the Tribunal Judges found that glyphosate negatively impacts human health and the environment [2]. Their findings are a vindication for thousands of farmers, agricultural workers, their families and members of the public all over the world who claim to have suffered a range of adverse health effects, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, from short exposures to Roundup.

In February 2015, Monsanto executive William Heydens emailed his staff to ghostwrite a scientific study saying Roundup is safe, and that he would tell scientists to “just edit and sign their names, so to speak.” [3]. It was a strategy that worked for their initial safety study in 2000 when Roundup was successfully launched onto the market. In 2017, it's sales account for around a third of Monsanto's $15billion annual revenue. To counteract Monsanto’s safety claims, a group of leading international scientists have written a letter in support of banning glyphosate [4]. This is an excerpt from their letter:

Read more: A Worldwide Ban On Glyphosate?

26 August 2016

mwhauthor It came as quite a shock when Dr Mae-Wan Ho and her colleague, genetics Professor Joe Cummins, died within months of each other in April and January, respectively. Both were vociferous critics of GMOs, but it was Mae-Wan Ho's seminal book, Genetic Engineering, Dream or Nightmare? (1999), that flung the doors open for this unpredictable biotechnology to be hotly debated since the late 1990s.

Her funeral at London's Golders Green Crematorium was sombre and intimate: a celebration of her many achievements, culminating in the playing of Peter, Paul and Mary's 1960's political anthem, Where have all the flowers gone, when will they ever learn? Poignant lyrics by Pete Seeger, reflecting Mae-Wan Ho as a teacher and scientist on a world scale.

I first met Mae-Wan, aged 60, in 2001. She was youthful and compelling, a tiny dynamo full of intelligence, independence and a childlike charisma. Yet she inspired the respect of the white, male-dominated Western science community. I joined her Institute of Science in Society to help organise briefings in both the UK and European Parliaments, drawing attention to the threat to bees from the toxic weedkiller, glyphosate, marshalling efforts to keep GM crops out of Europe's fields and launching three groundbreaking reports: Food Futures Now, Which Energy? and Green Energies 100% Renewable by 2050 in response to the crises in food, farming and energy. And we set about circulating the radical journal Science in Society.

Read more: Tribute to Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (1941-2016)

The World Health Organisation intends to integrate traditional medicine into national health systems globally. This is an opportunity for building safe, affordable and effective national health systems, especially for Third World countries rich in both medicinal plant resources and traditional knowledge. It is time for governments to fund research into holistic health models instead of squandering more billions on ‘health genomics’ which will increase intervention and iatrogenic damages to health.

herbalistThe World Health Organisation (WHO) unveiled its first Global Strategy for Traditional and Complementary Alternative Medicine (TM and CAM) 2002-2005 in January this year.

Still clouding what could be clear horizons for health practices that go back thousands of years, are questions and concerns over policy, regulation, evidence, biodiversity, and preservation and protection of traditional knowledge.

Dr Yashurio Suzuki, WHO’s Executive Director for Health Technology says, "TM & CAM are victim of both uncritical enthusiasts and uniformed sceptics", and "this Strategy is intended to tap into its real potential for people’s health and well-being while minimising the risks of unproven or misused remedies".

Problems may arise from the incorrect use of TM, as in the documented case of a Chinese remedy, meant for treating respiratory problems in the short term, which was misused as a long-term diet-aid in the USA, resulting in several deaths.

These isolated cases pale into insignificance, however, compared with adverse reaction to prescribed conventional drugs and treatments that makes it the third leading cause of death in the United States (Box 1).

Read more: Global Strategy for Traditional Medicine

Visits to Complementary Alternative Medicine practitioners throughout Europe outnumber those to doctors by two to one. Government figures show UK citizens spend £70 million per year on nutritional supplements and about 20% of the population use vitamins and minerals in their diets. But European Parliament Directives passed in March 2002 will ban food supplements, in a bid to re-classify them as medical drugs.

herbsCriticism is mounting for what is seen as an "over the top" move by pharmaceutical companies to take firmer control of the lucrative health promotion and disease prevention markets. More than 6 million people have protested against these Directives (see box) by signing the largest on-line global petition ever (http://www.vitamins-for-all.org/), demanding continued freedom to access natural remedies.

Fears that high-strength multivitamins and minerals will only be available on prescription are not unfounded. A spokesperson from the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) said, "the freedom of consumers to make their own informed choices is massively reduced."

Present regulations governing high-dose vitamins for long-term use are governed in the UK by the Department of Health and advised by Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Expert Panel on Vitamins and Minerals. Long-term use is essential for many needing extra vitamins and minerals, as in the case of osteoporosis, a debilitating bone disease that affects 1-3 women and 1-12 men at some point in their lifetime. Key minerals boron and sulphur are amongst those targeted by the Directives. Boron boosts vitamin D production and is combined with calcium for bone maintenance, while sulphur eases joint stiffness and arthritic pain.

Read more: Hands Off Vitamins and Herbs

Sam Burcher reports on a nutritional hypothesis with possible implications for prevention and treatment of the global pandemic

SeleniumDuring the last decade, research has indicated an important geographical link between regions of selenium deficient soils and peak incidences of HIV/AIDS infection. AIDS disease appears to involve a slow and progressive decline in levels of the trace element selenium (Se) in the blood along with CD4 cells, which are both independent predictors of mortality.

AIDS infection in Africa has reached pandemic proportions with over a quarter of the population said to be suffering from the disease in some areas, although there is debate over how the WHO has extrapolated their statistics (see "African Aids epidemic?" SiS 22). Figures from Harvard in the United States put infection rates as follows: Zimbabwe 25.84%, Botswana 25.10%, Zambia 19.07%, South Africa 12.91%, Côte D’Ivoire 10.06%, Tanzania 9.42%, Ethiopia 9.31%, and Congo 4.31%.

But Senegal in West Africa has the lowest numbers of AIDS prevalence at 1.77% in the general population, and 0.5% in antenatal clinic attendees along with the highest levels of selenium-enriched soil. Geologically, Senegal is situated in the desiccated or dried up Cretaceous and early Eocene Sea, and the land is formed from sedimentary rocks from dissolved minerals in the evaporating seawater. Consequently, calcium phosphates are one of the country’s mined mineral products used for fertilizers, and are derived from the selenium rich phosphorite. Senegal can also claim the lowest level of cancers on the African continent.

Read more: Selenium Conquers AIDS?

Antibiotic resistant infectious diseases have created a public health crisis worldwide. The conventional reductionist approach is failing to cope. Sam Burcher and Mae-Wan Ho argue for the revival of traditional healthcare systems, and for the many safe and effective anti-microbials now documented among indigenous plants that have been tried and tested for millennia.

AntibioticResistanceInfectious diseases are responsible for one-quarter of all the deaths in the world, second only to cardiovascular diseases [1]. They are associated with the new strains of bacteria and viruses emerging within the past twenty-five years, which are also highly resistant to drugs and antibiotics. Infections become more difficult to treat, the severity of illness increases, as does the duration of infectiousness, adverse reactions, the length of convalescence and costs.

Drug and antibiotic resistant infectious diseases have created a public health crisis worldwide, and this was the subject of a series of high level international conferences in 1998, such as the World Health Assembly and the European conference "The Microbial Threat".

In Britain, the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technologies and the Standing Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC) each produced a special report on antimicrobial resistance [2]. These resulted in an Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan in June 2000 [3], which will cover work for the next two years and will be advised by the new Expert Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Read more: Radical Solutions Needed for Antibiotic Resistance

The “mass medication” of UK's drinking water with a listed poison will cost London's health authorities alone more than £21 million

Fluoridation for all

Fight-Against-Fluoride-456x300Fluoridation was introduced into the UK in the 1960s when areas in and around Birmingham and Newcastle were fluoridated, along with the Republic of Ireland, making up 11% of the UK population. The Government has now decided to introduce fluoride into public water supplies throughout Britain, with target areas of Inner London, North-West England and Northern Ireland, with the aim of reducing tooth decay among children in “deprived” areas.

Under the Water Act 2003, water providers will be obliged to add fluoride to their supplies. According to a letter from health minister Hazel Blears and environment minister Elliott Morley to the deputy PM John Prescott, “those who remain adamantly opposed would be able to use water filters that remove fluoride or buy bottled drinking water”.

Campaigners opposed to fluoride include the National Pure Water Association (NPWA), The Green Network and The Green Party. Green Party spokesperson Martyn Shrewsbury says, “The general trend in the world is against fluoridation.” He pointed out that the risk of tooth decay in fluoridated Gateshead and non-fluoridated Liverpool is the same.

Read more: No to Fluoridation

21 st Century maternity care is in crises as ‘actively managed' hospital births create unnecessary suffering for mother and baby.

babiesIn the Republic of Ireland, efforts are increasing to centralise births to hospital wards in and around city centres. Womens groups, unhappy about this , argue that these proposals would put thousands of womens lives at risk. The Medicinal Manpower Forums , which is responsible for the decision, plans to reduce maternity services up to one half by relocating Dublin's two main labour wards to hospitals on the outskirts of the city. They also propose the closure of nine baby units around the country.

These closures evoke memories of the death of a baby girl born on the roadside in an ambulance in December last year. Her labouring mother was turned away from Monaghan General Hospital, whose maternity unit has been closed, with tragic consequences.

The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has echoed calls by the National Birth Alliance for no closures after they were forced to withdraw their services from Monaghan and Dundalk Hospitals in the face of fierce local protests ; and no other maternity facilities have replaced these suspended obstetric services.

Removing services from rural and community settings to larger centralised units began in Ireland in 1976. The decisions were based on national figures of 2 000 annual births and the allocation of one labour ward bed per three women per twenty-four hour period to begin with. Therefore, all pregnant women, regardless of their general state of health, were required to register with consultant obstetricians in big hospitals. Between 1976 and 2000 , 83% of Irelands' smaller maternity units run by midwives and GPs were closed.

Read more: No Place for Birth

Deaths and adverse events in Uganda

Nevirapine LThe United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) began studies on mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda in 1997. A single dose of nevirapine was given to labouring mothers and to their newborn child. Those studies were reported to have lowered transmission of HIV by 50% [1].

But by 2002, problems with the US-funded drug trials had been disclosed by an NIH auditor, medical experts and Boehringer Ingelheim, the makers of nevirapine [2].

The NIH hired Westat-Corp, a professional medical auditing firm to audit the Ugandan testing sites. Westat-Corp's report stated [3], “It appears likely in fact, that many adverse events and perhaps a significant number of serious adverse events for both mother and infant may not have been collected or reported in a timely manner.” The “adverse events ” included 14 deaths and thousands of severe reactions that went undisclosed. The NIH subsequently recorded all deaths and the majority of adverse reactions, but blamed them on the poor health of the patients, not on nevirapine.

Read more: NIH-Sponsored AIDS Drugs Tests on Mothers and Babies