Tag: pandemic

UN report: 690 million people went hungry in 2019 ; achieving zero hunger by 2030 in doubt

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Photo- FAO

By SAT News Desk/WHO Media

Rome, 13 July 2020 – More people are going hungry, an annual study by the United Nations has found. Tens of millions have joined the ranks of the chronically undernourished over the past five years, and countries around the world continue to struggle with multiple forms of malnutrition.

The latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, published today, estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. The hungry are most numerous in Asia but expanding fastest in Africa. Across the planet, the report forecasts, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. (Flare-ups of acute hunger in the pandemic context may see this number escalate further at times.)

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition. It is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Writing in the Foreword, the heads of the five agencies warn that “five years after the world committed to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off-track to achieve this objective by 2030.”

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The hunger numbers explained

In this edition, critical data updates for China and other populous countries have led to a substantial cut in estimates of the global number of hungry people, to the current 690 million. Nevertheless, there has been no change in the trend. Revising the entire hunger series back to the year 2000 yields the same conclusion: after steadily diminishing for decades, chronic hunger slowly began to rise in 2014 and continues to do so.

Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million). The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9 percent, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014. This means that over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population.

This, in turn, hides great regional disparities: in percentage terms, Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished. This is more than double the rate in Asia (8.3 percent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 percent). On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry.

The pandemic’s toll

As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems – understood as all the activities and processes affecting the production, distribution, and consumption of food. While it is too soon to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, the report estimates that at a minimum, another 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of the economic recession triggered by COVID-19. iii The setback throws into further doubt the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger).

Unhealthy diets, food insecurity, and malnutrition

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in all its forms (including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) is about more than securing enough food to survive: what people eat – and especially what children eat – must also be nutritious. Yet a key obstacle is the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families.

The report presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than US$ 1.90/day, the international poverty threshold. It puts the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only. Nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods (plant and animal-sourced) are the most expensive food groups globally.

The latest estimates are that a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57 percent of the population – though no region, including North America and Europe, is spared. Partly as a result, the race to end malnutrition appears compromised. According to the report, in 2019, between a quarter and a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted – too short or too thin. Another 38 million under-fives were overweight. Among adults, meanwhile, obesity has become a global pandemic in its own right.

A call to action

The report argues that once sustainability considerations are factored in, a global switch to healthy diets would help check the backslide into hunger while delivering enormous savings. It calculates that such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset; while the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion, could be cut by up to three-quarters.iv

The report urges the transformation of food systems to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and increase the affordability of healthy diets. While the specific solutions will differ from country to country, and even within them, the overall answers lie with interventions along the entire food supply chain, in the food environment, and in the political economy that shapes trade, public expenditure, and investment policies. The study calls on governments to mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture; work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food – including by reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste; support local small-scale producers to grow and sell more nutritious foods, and secure their access to markets; prioritize children’s nutrition as the category in greatest need; foster behavior change through education and communication; and embed nutrition in national social protection systems and investment strategies.

The heads of the five UN agencies behind the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World have declared their commitment to support this momentous shift, ensuring that it unfolds “in a sustainable way, for people and the planet.”

READ FULL REPORT HERE

Pandemic conforms biological diversity is fundamental to human health

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Photo: IPS/Ajani Francis

By Samira Sadeque

UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2020 (IPS) – This year’s International Day of Biological Diversity falls amid the coronavirus pandemic and the slow easing, in some nations, of a global lockdown. While the lockdown has forced most people to stay at home, there have been reports of more wildlife being spotted – even in once-busy city centers.

This change is fitting for this year’s theme: “Our solutions are in nature.” Experts say that this is an opportunity for humans to see the footprint they are leaving behind on earth, and time to reflect on how to work towards a better future for the sustainability of the environment and for wildlife in the future.

“We know that humanity stands at a crossroad with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS. “As noted by the recent IPBES [Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services ] Global Assessment report, the current global response has been insufficient, given that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world. Transformative change is necessary in order to restore and protect nature.”

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Photo: IPS/Ali Mansoor

‘Pandemic of complacency’

“I’m hoping what this pandemic does for us it draws attention to the pandemic of complacency that we were in before and [how that] contributed to the higher carbon [footprint], to greater human footprint, [and] plastic pollution in the ocean,” Roderic Mast, Co-Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, told IPS. “Hopefully it’ll make people realize they were having an impact.”

Mast added that one issue that has come up during this lockdown is a rise in illegal poaching in places such as Indonesia and French Guiana. Although this information is yet to be verified, Mast said he has unofficial accounts from community members on the ground that a lack of enforcers on the job means there more illegal poaching is taking place.

Meanwhile, Mrema of the Convention on Biological Diversity said conservation efforts have actually strengthened under the pandemic.

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“The present COVID-19 crisis has provided us with a reset button – as well as confirming what we already know, that biodiversity is fundamental to human health – and has given new urgency to the need to protect it,” Mrema said.

However, both experts echoed each others’ sentiments that now is not the time to become complacent seeing the changes the lockdowns have brought to wildlife. For example, just because more sea-turtles are seen out in the open does not mean the crisis has been resolved, Mast said.

“This temporary reduction of stress is not sufficient and we need greater changes in the way we treat our environment,” Mrema said.

“The only thing wrong with the ocean is all the stuff that we humans put in it and all the stuff we humans take out,” Mast added. “So if we can limit what we put in the ocean in terms of pollution, boat traffic, and sounds, and if we can limit what we take out in terms of fisheries — that’s when we’re going to start seeing healthier oceans.”

According to the IUCN’s Red List, 31,030 species of the 116,177 that have been assessed are threatened with extinction. Here are glimpses of conservation efforts and endangered species around the world.

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Photo: IPS/Mark Olaide.

Cover photo: Ajay Suri, New Delhi.

Public health and private profits under COVID-19 pandemic

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The pandemic might be devastating countries, the people and their livelihoods, but is good for some companies and their stockholders, like the ones that hold patents for N95 masks, lifesaving medicines or vaccines.

By Prabir Purkayastha

MELBOURNE, 25 April 2020: During an interview with Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow asked who owned the patent for the vaccine. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk, adding, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” This is what drives science and scientists like Salk, that science must be for public good and not the private profit of companies.

While public domain science – universities or public research institutions – create the key components of knowledge for most medicines or vaccines, it is appropriated by private companies, and governed by the World Trade Organization’s patents’ regime. The global stock market may have completely tanked in the last few months, but Gilead Sciences, the holder of the patent on the drug Remdesivir, currently in clinical trials against COVID-19, has seen its share price rise by a whopping 25% in the same period.

Pandemics might be devastating countries, the people and their livelihoods, but are good for some companies and their stockholders. Riding the pale horse of Apocalypse are companies that hold patents for N95 masks, lifesaving medicines or vaccines.

I am not going to get into the debate of many people are likely to get sick, and how sick they are going to be. The simple answer, with the global numbers already nearing 200,000, is that the COVID-19 fatalities are likely to be in millions. As Harry Kennard from Financial Times shows us with UK data, the death rates are far higher for this current period than any flu epidemic we have seen in the past except the 1918 flu pandemic.

The world has forgotten what a pandemic looks like, as the plague and the 1918 kind of virulent flu epidemics have not been repeated for almost a century. Now that we confront the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we realise humanity is only one genetic mutation away from a new pandemic. Medicines and vaccines against viruses and bacteria are not just for the poorer countries, but also crucial for countries who thought they had left this history behind them.

There are three broad areas that are critical in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. They are personal protective equipment (PPE), critically the N95 masks, the drugs that are currently being tested against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the vaccines that will probably take another 12 months before they are available for the general public.

I will start with N95 respirators or masks that the frontline health workers – from doctors, nurses and other health staff – have to use to protect themselves. It is the lack of N95 masks and other protective equipment that have seen infections among the hospital staff, with hospitals themselves becoming hot spots for spreading the infections. In Delhi, we had the Delhi Cancer Hospital shut down for two weeks as 27 of its staff members tested positive from the virus. In Italy, 20% of the healthcare workers in Lombardy became infected due to shortage of protective equipment.

So, who are the world’s largest manufacturers of N95 masks? Eight of the top ten global manufacturers of N95 masks are US companies, with 3M and Honeywell topping the list. 3M holds a number of patents – by one account 400 such patents – on the N95 respirator. Again, its share price is doing comparatively well even under the current stock market meltdown. We are already aware of the importance of N95 masks with stories of shipments being hijacked by the US even from the tarmac, and Trump threatening 3M with dire consequences under Korean War-era Defense Production Act. 3M was also asked to stop exports to US allies Canada and in Latin America, and ship to the US on a priority basis masks produced in 3M factories abroad.

While protective equipment is critical for the hospital staff, for the bulk of the people the question is do we have medicine that can cure us if we fall sick?

The short answer is currently we do not have any, and will not be able to develop a medicine tailor-made for this disease in a short period. What we are doing instead, is to look for medicines – re–purposing existing medicines – that are likely to have some effect on the virus. We are currently testing our entire kitty of medicines to see if something works.

Apart from hydroxychloroquine that has made headlines, currently WHO’s Solidarity clinical trials are testing a set of anti–virals to see whether they would provide some relief in helping the body to fight the virus. The sets of medicines being tested are: a) Remdesivir b) Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine c) Lopinavir with Ritonavir d) Lopinavir with Ritonavir plus Interferon beta-1a.

All these medicines, except the old anti–malarial drugs chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, are currently under patent protection. Remdesivir was originally developed against Ebola but did not work well and was moth-balled. It seems to have a better efficacy in COVID-19 cases, though the evidence for benefits are similar to the French trials that used a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. That means that none of them have yet been tested using the standard double blind trials for drug development.

What is important about all the other combinations being tested in WHO’s Solidarity clinical trials is that they are all under patent protection. If any of them works – except chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine – the patent holders will make a windfall.

The key battle over the Uruguay Round of Trade negotiations that gave birth to WTO and Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was whether countries like India who had disallowed product patents for medicines, could continue to do so. Unfortunately, India and other developing countries lost that battle. In 1994, the TRIPS regime came into existence, with countries like India getting a moratorium of 10 years, after which they had to grant product patents.

Unlike AIDS, where India could act as a global supplier of AIDS drugs, can it still act as the global pharmacy for a new COVID-19 drug? For Remdesivir?

The short answer is that it is still possible to break the Gilead patent by compulsorily licensing it under a sovereign right that a country has during health emergencies. Fortunately, India has strong provisions for compulsory licensing that the Left was able to retain when the Patent Act was changed to conform to the TRIPS requirements. The Left held sufficient votes in the Parliament to force the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government to accept its demands. While the Glivec case, in which Novartis was denied a patent in India as it fell foul of Section 3 (d), the section against ever–greening of patents is better known, its compulsory licensing provisions can be particularly useful in the current context. This provision can be used against any patent holder by issuing a compulsory license to a domestic producer, while paying them some royalty. WTO allows, under pandemics, countries to issue compulsory licenses and even import such drugs from other countries. So, countries, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, and who might lack domestic manufacturing capability, can import such drugs from countries like India.

In the past, whenever India has considered use of compulsory licensing for producing, for example, life saving cancer medicines, the US has threatened India with dire consequences under USTR 301 Provisions. In 2019, too, this was one of the key contentious issue as outlined by USTR, while putting India in the Priority Watch List.

A group of Brazilian lawmakers have introduced a bill asking the Bolsonaro government to compulsorily license medicines that might have efficacy against COVID-19. Whether Modi, who rushed hydroxychloroquine to the US under Trump’s threat, will be willing to consider such a move against the US remains to be seen.

Finally, the vaccine. While in the short run, we have lockdowns, physical distancing, contact tracing and quarantine as our temporary weapons for prevention, the only long term preventive strategy is a vaccine. Herd immunity is not from the entire population (or 70-80%) being infected by the virus, as UK PM Boris Johnson believed, but by widespread vaccination. No major infectious viral disease – small pox, polio or measles – has been eradicated or contained without a vaccine.

So, here is the problem with vaccines. The genome sequences are put in public domain by countries, the private companies use these sequences to develop the vaccines, and if successful, can fleece the people and countries. This is the battle over the flu vaccine, where countries’ health systems submit the flu genome that are going around in their countries to public flu databases, but receive no or little benefits for doing so.

The question is, who are in the race for a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2? According to WHO, there are five companies that have entered the phase 1 trials, and another 71 in various stages of development. While most of the vaccine development is either public funded or funded by philanthropic institutions, the patent holder are mostly companies.

So, will the COVID-19 vaccines also sell like the flu vaccine for $20 a shot? Bankrupting poorer countries to protect their people? Or will we follow what Salk said about the polio vaccine – that it belongs to the people? The US is clear: it belongs to companies even if publicly funded. And if we want to compulsorily license it using the pandemic exception of WTO–TRIPS rules, USTR 301 and Super 301 sanctions can be still used against India. And as we know from the history of US sanctions, it believes it that it has a right to sanction any country in the world, even if such sanctions violate international humanitarian law.

Source: Peoples Dispatch