Tag Archives: health

Development of natural product drugs in a sustainable manner

For approximately 85% of the world’s population, plant materials are a primary source of health care (Fabricant & Farnsworth 2001). This fact is not sufficiently accepted by pharmaceutical companies that are producing synthetic drugs for decades as solutions for incurable diseases. Knowledge of plants and their medicinal properties that were transmitted from generation to generation is in danger of disappearing. Developed countries in alliance with their large pharmaceutical companies, constantly in the struggle for new markets, do not permit the development of local pharmaceutical companies in developing countries.

Although it is generally known that nature provides right solutions in a form of medicinal plants corresponding exactly to the homeland of a particular human community, it often happens that we treat diseases with preparations originating from very distant countries. Even nowadays, we are facing a paradox with the same problem present for centuries: Outside parties frequently manipulate and interfere with local policy makers in order to gain access to local communities’ environmental resources. In addition, mainstream science and more developed society exploit environmental knowledge for locating and extracting natural resources, and making use of medicinal plants for commercial purposes. Developing communities or countries rarely benefit economically. At a time when we are facing global economic crisis, which most severely affects developing countries, assistance in raising their own capacities, including development of renewable natural products, would strengthen the economy of these countries, and economically unburden the rest of the world.

Humankind is not sufficiently aware that natural products drug discovery is important for new generations as a tool for their health care (Cordell & Colvard 2012). We know that for the major lethal diseases, there are no truly effective drug treatments. In addition, drug resistance to existing chemotherapeutic regimens for fungal and bacterial infections, AIDS, cancer, and malaria is increasing. Because of the challenges for health care in the future, this is the call for decision-makers, governments, international agencies, and pharmaceutical companies to commit to the sustainable development of natural products as medicinal
agents, particularly in developing countries.

Medicinal plants, both endemic and widespread, their resources and knowledge about their usage must be preserved since these plants could be renewable source for new drugs. It is known that chemicals and chemical reagents are typically non-renewable, and their use depletes our future resources. Consequently, all drug discovery programs, synthetic or natural, must be the concept of sustainability (Cordell 2011).

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Role of Modern Biotechnology in Sustainable Development; Addressing Social-Political Dispute of GMOs that Influences Decision-Making in Developing countries

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) technology has been widely used in agriculture in the last years in several regions, and has diverse potentials in addressing the challenges of sustainable development such as pest and diseases, drought, malnutrition and food insecurity, in developing countries. However, controversies surrounding the possible risks of GM technology have also spread on public concern. Despite potential risks, no reported case has been documented regarding negative impact from GMOs in the country since 1996 when GM crops were first commercialized (James, 2014). This is consistent with a recent study based on 15 years of intense research and risk assessment, that GM crops do not pose greater risks for human health or the environment than traditionally bred varieties (Fagerstrom et al., 2012). Moreover, analyses have shown substantial socio-economic and environmental
benefits of GM crops (Brookes and Barfoot, 2012; James, 2014).

GM technology has yet to make any visible impact on food security almost two decades after the first GMO products were released, partly due to lack of consensus as to how to regulate GMO products and controversy surrounding the adoption of GMOs (Adenle et al., 2013). For example, the genetically modified rice called ‘Golden’ rice, developed 20 years ago, aimed to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency in developing countries including countries in Africa, has suffered another huge setback due to a recent destruction of rice field trials in the Philippines as vandals claimed that the GMOs represent a threat to health and biodiversity.

Social-political dispute between developed nations (e.g., the US and Europe) has influenced the regulation and decision-making on GMO issues in many developing countries. This dispute has spilled over to international regulation of GMOs, with the US aligning its GMO policy with the World Trade Organization (WTO) whilst the EU strictly applies precautionary principle of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Dibden et al., 2013).

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Health and wellbeing in sustainable urban development

Human futures are urban futures. During the last decade, the number of people living in cities exceeded the number living in rural areas for the first time in human history (Ash et al 2008). For the foreseeable future, most human lives will be urban lives. Yet, if anything, these figures underestimate the influence of the global urban transition on humanity and the planet. While urban areas occupy just 3% of land surface, they are responsible for perhaps three-quarters of carbon emissions and natural resource utilization (UNEP 2012b).

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Synergies between healthy and sustainable diets

In its efforts to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets, international policy has focused almost exclusively on the energy sector. Yet, as the global population and per capita demand for food both increase, emissions from agricultural sources risk jeopardising the achievement of those climate targets, as they already account for over a quarter of all anthropogenic emissions. The risk is heightened if the increasing demand for food causes further agricultural expansion and land cover change. Furthermore, increasing per capita food consumption, and also the share of livestock products, can have adverse effects on human health. There is accordingly a close interdependence between consumption patterns, human health and the sustainability of the earth system. Well-designed policies targeting the demand for particular foods could simultaneously improve the health of the global population, and restrict greenhouse gas emissions along with the impacts of land cover change. This briefing paper reviews and summarises evidence for this claim, and urges the need for policies that seek to achieve both better human health and environmental sustainability.

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Anthropogenic Drivers of Emerging Infectious Diseases

The Ebola crisis in West Africa highlighted critical deficiencies in global health infrastructure, as well as the impact of disease outbreaks to developing economies. The recent emergence of other diseases, including SARS, H7N9 and Marburg virus, has been linked to human practices, many which also correlate with the leading drivers of biodiversity loss. The following science brief provides an overview of findings to support a more proactive, integrated and preventive approaches to disease emergence, which emphasize the need for a more coherent set of sustainable development goals and targets that better reflect the interconnected nature of the tripartite health, conservation and development challenges that we face.

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Antibiotic resistance (ABR) – no sustainability without antibiotics

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a missing topic in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can visualize easily terrifying consequences on mankind by not attributing this issue global attention it deserves. It threatens to undermine the effectiveness of modern medicine and with everrising number of resistant bacterial strains (WHO, 2014; CDC 2013) it could mean the undoing of much of the progress made under the MDGs. Resistance to antimicrobial drugs already causes an estimated 700 000 deaths annually and – without effective action – is predicted to cause 10 million deaths annually and cost up to US $ 100 trillion by 2050 (Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 2014). Thus it is not only a public health issue but it is also critical to the global development progress.

The SDGs should emphasize antimicrobial resistance as a threat to global health that must be overcome. As an example, several of the planned targets in the health-dedicated goal three from the SDGs current list will be impossible to achieve without effective antimicrobials, e.g. maternal mortality ratio, newborn and under-five children mortality , communicable diseases epidemics, and a significant part of NCDs (Laxminarayan et al., 2013). Health systems will not be sustainable without effective antimicrobials, specifically antibiotics (Tomson & Vlad, 2014).

Analogies with other fundamental global concerns such as climate change can help us understand the actual scope and irreversible consequences man can face if radical action is not taken (Laxminarayan et al., 2013). The golden era of effective antibiotics is today history and the world has to deliver one holistic solution (Nathan & Cars, 2014).

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Strategically engaging women in clean energy solutions for sustainable development and health

There are three billion people, or 40% of the world, that still relies on biomass for cooking, lighting, and heating (WHO, 2014). This has led to a significant burden for the planet and for those living on it. Unsustainable biomass collection depletes forests, contributes to soil erosion and loss of watersheds, placing additional pressure on agricultural productivity and food security. Searching for and using solid biomass fuels places women and children’s safety at risk and jeopardizes human health and household and community air quality through toxic smoke emissions. In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the lack of access to clean energy solutions and electrification is particularly significant, nearly a third of the urban population and the majority of the rural poor are using biomass for cooking and heating in traditional open fires (GACC, 2014).

Like nearly all global environmental problems, the consequences of reliance on biomass for cooking and lighting impacts women significantly more than men (ICRW 2010). Women and children, usually girls, spend several hours per day gathering fuel, increasing their daily drudgery and increasing their vulnerability to sexual violence. As forests are degraded, the energy burden increases and women are forced to walk even further to collect fuel or use more toxic fuels, such as dung or trash. Risks for displaced and refugee women are even more alarming as 75% – 90% of the rapes reported occur when women leave camps for cooking fuel (WRC, 2011). The health risks of household air pollution are substantial. As the primary managers of household energy, women are disproportionately at risk for harmful emissions exposure every day. Recent global health estimates show that household air pollution leads to over 4 million deaths annually, while millions more suffer from cancer, pneumonia, heart and lung disease, blindness, and burns (Lancet 2013). Approximately 300,000 of the deaths, 88% of which are women, are attributed to burns resulting from traditional cooking fires (Lancet, 2013).

While women and girls bear the brunt of clean energy poverty, their central and pivotal role in sustainable development is becoming increasingly clear (WB, 2014; UN Women 2014). The strategic engagement of women in the clean energy sector is directly in line with the landmark 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development which states, “sustainable development is economic, social and environmental development that ensures human well-being and dignity, ecological integrity, gender equality and social justice, now and in the future.” Building upon the synergies between gender equality, environment, economics and health are critical as we move forward on the path towards sustainable development.

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Towards sustainable tackling of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases

The recent rate, spate and global dimension of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) is quite alarming and presents the human race with abundant challenges, including the need to propose proportionate research, responses, strategies and policies. An understanding of the multifaceted social and ecological settings in which infectious diseases occur is also desirable. Over the years, the human race has been confronted with EIDs including Nipah virus, West Nile virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and dengue hemorrhagic fever (Weiss, 2008). In July 2003, the World Health Organization declared that the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) had been contained; less than six months later, in December of 2003, an even greater threat–the avian influenza H5N1 virus–emerged (WHO, 2005). Recently came Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS), which has spread quite rapidly from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Lebanon, Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait and Iran) to North Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria), Asia (Malaysia, Philippines), and Europe (United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Greece, and Italy). The first case was diagnosed in the United States on May 2nd 2014 (Adeyemo, O.K. 2014). The ongoing Ebola virus disease which was first detected in March in West Africa is the latest in the epidemic of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

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Swamping our defences: the rising tide of antibiotic resistance

Several health authorities have recently issued stark warnings that we are on the threshold of a post-antibiotic era (CMO, 2011; CDC, 2013; WHO, 2014). The loss of these antibiotic drugs would be a severe public health setback, taking
humanity back to a time when patients succumbed from infections now routinely treated. Antibiotic resistance also puts at risk key attainments of modern medicine, such as intensive care medicine, transplant surgery and chemotherapy for cancer, which are all reliant on antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections already exact a severe toll: an estimated 23,000 persons die from resistant bacterial infections in the United States, with associated treatment costs of US$20 billion (CDC, 2013). A high percentage of bacteria that cause common infections – such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections – show resistance in all areas of the world (WHO, 2014).

Despite the documentation of the rapid rise of resistant bacterial strains worldwide, the full extent of the problem has arguably not been fully recognized and understood by policy makers, the health establishment, and the public. To date, this emerging global healthcare crisis has received less attention than other threats, such as HIV/AIDS. Crucially, maintaining antibiotics in the arsenal of modern medicine will depend on the actions of many actors, from parents not demanding antibiotics for their children’s routine coughs, to changes in livestock raising, and re-focussing drug development.

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The promise of synthetic biology for sustainable development

The field of synthetic biology opens up the possibility of finding solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges – water, energy, food, health – but at the same time raises novel questions about appropriate regulation of new technologies.

Synthetic biology builds on the achievements and uses the techniques of genetic engineering, which involves the alteration of an organism’s genetic material using biotechnology. Synthetic biology has been defined as “the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes” (Nature). It has also been described as “the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis” (ter Meulen, 2014). Synthetic biology represents the convergence of technologies from the life sciences, such as DNA recombination, with other fields like engineering, computational technology and nanotechnology (OECD, 2014).

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