TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Death Toll Tops 3,000

More than 6,500 cases have been confirmed

At least 3,080 people have died of Ebola in West Africa, the World Health Organization said Friday, bringing the death toll from the worst Ebola ever above 3,000 for the first time. More than 6,500 total cases have been confirmed.

The newly-released figure, which includes deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, comes after a week of worsening news about the deadly disease. Estimates released Tuesday suggest that as many as 1.4 million people may be infected by the end of January under worst-case-scenario circumstances.

Under the best of circumstances, the disease will still have wrecked havoc on a region that has been wholly unprepared for the public health disaster. Currently, countries from around the world are contributing millions of dollars to build facilities to treat patients. WHO officials noted in a statement Friday that current heath facilities are overwhelmed and struggling to handle routine ailments.

“The current situation is so dire that, in several areas that include capital cities, many of these common diseases and health conditions are barely being managed at all,” the WHO said.

TIME health

Climate Action is a Health Priority

World Leaders Speak At UN Climate Summit
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Judith Rodin is President of The Rockefeller Foundation

The addition of human and planetary health priorities to our fight against climate change is a bold - but necessary - step

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in cities around the globe demanding the world take action against the rising threats of climate change. On Tuesday, leaders converged on the United Nations Secretary General’s Climate Summit to make concrete commitments to mitigate climate change and build resilience.

Meanwhile, the Ebola virus continues to spread across large swaths of West Africa, a tragic example of how under-resourced national health systems can lack the capacity to contain a disease outbreak. The World Health Organization recently predicted the death toll could rise as high as 20,000, while officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned the toll could grow even higher.

On first glance, the two events might not seem related. But the link between climate change and human health has become ever clearer in recent years. From pollution and ocean acidification to declining freshwater resources and the loss of biodiversity, these trends are not only causing changing patterns of known diseases. They are raising the likelihood that new, unknown diseases will emerge. And on a planet undergoing rapid changes due to population growth, economic development, environmental degradation and climate change, the emergence of a disease in any one place is no longer a local issue but a global concern.

As the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit this week calls for greater action, it is critical to understand that climate change has both immediate and future consequences for human health. Already today we are seeing threats to health that range from waterborne diseases in degraded, polluted watersheds to the emergence of novel diseases transmitted from wildlife. Grave future threats include changes in temperature and rainfall patterns that can result in the spread of diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus, to higher latitudes and shifting altitudes. And rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may cause substantial declines in the nutritional content of key crops.

Scientists and policy makers are calling for deeper and broader research and responses on the interactions between human health and the rapidly changing planetary environment, and there is a rising awareness that tackling these challenges may require radical new approaches, new ways of thinking and, perhaps even an entirely new discipline around the idea of planetary health. The Rockefeller Foundation is working with the medical journal The Lancet to escalate attention to this potential new field.

Planetary health offers a bold new framework for thinking about the interconnections between the health of our planet and the resilience of our ecosystems in an era of globalization, urbanization, and climate change. Consider the trajectory: from the field of “medicine” to the evolution over the past century of “public health,” and onward to the more recent conceptions of “international health” and “global health,” each shift from one conceptual framework to another has meant fundamental changes in the way the world takes on its most pressing health challenges. In the last century, for example, the creation of the modern field of public health involved huge changes in public policy, the creation of new government agencies and programs, transformations in training and radical changes in public expectations. Now, with massive ecological and environmental changes underway, the time has come to consider planetary health and how we organize our efforts to support it.

The frame of planetary health would fill important gaps not yet recognized within the framework of global health. For example, global health does not fully take into account the effects on human health of changes in the natural foundation on which human beings live: the planet itself. And it does not take stock of our civilization’s capacity to change our environment and then suffer potentially drastic health consequences.

By applying instead a planetary health lens, we could begin to answer large and vital questions. What risks does our civilization face, and how will we identify them? Are we living through a key transition for our species and civilization, and how will we know if we are? What will determine human health, sustainability and resilience in the face of environmental and planetary dangers?

The addition of human and planetary health priorities to our fight against climate change is a bold – but necessary – step. We must integrate the health of the world’s ecosystems and the health of its people. Because, in the words painted on a sign spotted in this weekend’s New York Climate March, “There is no Planet-B.”

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Environment

Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton all attended

At the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, a 4-ft.-tall walking banana was passionately articulating his feelings about wind turbines.

“They can make things run just by the wind,” said 9-year-old Danny Haemmerle, who dressed up as the yellow fruit to attend the march with his family. “And my parents don’t have to pay as much,” added his brother Eddie Haemmerle, 11, sporting a lime green wig.

The Haemmerles were joined by an estimated 400,000-strong crowd that flooded the streets of Manhattan to demand U.N. action on global warming — a showing that quadrupled expected attendance and made the march the largest climate protest in history and largest social demonstration of the past decade.

Timed to coincide with the U.N. summit on climate change, which meets this week to discuss an international carbon-emissions agreement, the demonstration was an international effort with 2,646 events in more than 150 countries, attended by hundreds of thousands more people.

Coalesced by several organizations, including Bill McKibben’s 350.org, the swarming crowds were there to pressure Obama and other leaders to make addressing climate change a top political priority. “Today, civil society acted at a scale that outdid even our own wildest expectations,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, in a statement. “Tomorrow, we expect our political leaders to do the same.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an appearance, along with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, and movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton. Nearly every labor union joined the march, including the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the city. The march was supposed to start at 59th Street, but the throng of people stretched past 93rd Street, and there were so many marchers that it took the back of the line over two hours to start moving. The march was so well attended that organizers had to send a text at 5 p.m., asking marchers to leave because the route had filled to capacity.

People marched in clogs, dreadlocks, optimistic T-shirts, Native-American headdresses, bike helmets, feathered hats, Lorax costumes and biohazard suits. Babies wore diapers. One woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin and carried a sign depicting a blackened earth, with just the word “Oops.” And Danny Haemmerle wasn’t the only person dressed as a banana.

Zak Davidson, a 20-year-old junior at Tulane, iconoclastically wore a suit, explaining, “A lot of conservatives try to marginalize environmentalism as a fringe movement, like just people wearing hemp skirts. But I have a job offer in the government for when I graduate, and I’m going to continue fighting for climate change within the system.”

Davidson and 60 of his classmates drove 26 hours up from New Orleans to attend the march, and after it’s over, they’ll hop right back on the road and drive 26 hours again in order to make it to class on Tuesday.

“Moving to New Orleans really politicized me about climate change, since the Gulf Coast is predicted to have the worst sea-level rise,” said Davidson’s classmate, Emma Collin, 21. “It’s like being in Rome before the fall.”

The props at the Climate March were as colorful as the costumes: a massive model of the earth, along with hundreds of smaller balloons and beach balls; a giant, inflatable cow intended to highlight how the meat industry hurts the environment (a U.N. report found that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse-gas emissions). People carried massive sunflower signs, sculptures of waves, goddess puppets and angel kites.

There was also a dinosaur, made of car parts and gas jugs, named BP-Rexosaurus, built by BikeBloc, a group dedicated to promoting bicycle transportation. “He’s here to tell us how to get pass fossil fuels before humans go extinct like dinosaurs,” explained Elissa Jiji, who was biking with the group. Other bikers dressed their bikes as swordfish, noting that swordfish bills often pierce oil pipelines. People chanted, “Exxon Mobile, BP, Shell, take your oil and go to hell!”

Often, people’s attire reflected the particular social issues within climate change to which they felt the closest.

A cohort of doctors marched in lab coats to protest the global health effects of climate change. “It’s one of the most important threats to world health, and it’s completely preventable,” said Dr. Erica Frank, who specializes in preventative medicine in British Columbia. “It would be irresponsible for us to do nothing.”

“Carbon pollution directly results in asthma, heart disease and cancer,” said Dr. Steve Auerbach, a New York City pediatrician who also marched in his lab coat. “From a micro and macro point of view, climate change is a global health issue.”

For demonstrator Favianna Rodriguez, climate change is inextricable from social issues like feminism and immigration policy. To protest a “culture of hypersexuality,” she marched topless, with yellow butterfly stickers over each nipple.

Rodriguez works with CultureStrike, an organization that supports the arts movement around immigration, but she helped design signs for the Climate March because she says climate change is an example of social inequality.

“The destruction we’re facing has been wrought under male leadership, and women and children are disproportionately affected,” she said. “Addressing climate change is going to require a very strong shift in leadership, and require us to include the vision of women and youth.”

The one thing that the whole crowd seemed to agree on, whether doctors, vegans, bike enthusiasts, hippies, feminists, students, Christians, toddlers, Native-Americans, farmers or grandparents: changing nothing about global environmental policy is a scary prospect.

“Inaction, dude,” said green-haired fine-arts student Joe George, when I asked him what was the scariest part about global warming. “I keep imagining where I live in Brooklyn, just under water. It’s horrifying. You can’t stop the Atlantic Ocean.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Early Deaths Could Fall By 40% in the Next 20 Years

Baby on fur rug
Getty Images

According to researchers writing in The Lancet, we’re doing a good job of reducing the number of premature deaths—those occurring in people under 70. And if current trends continue with some improvements, such early deaths should drop by 40% over the next two decades.

When a group of 16 researchers from across the world looked at mortality trends from 2000 to 2010, they were encouraged by the results. “We actually found that mortality is falling very rapidly,” says lead author Ole Norheim, professor of global public health at the University of Bergen, Norway–by one-third for children and one-sixth for everyone below age 70. In low-income countries, where avoiding premature death is often more challenging due to weaker health systems and infectious diseases, the news was even better — deaths fell by an even larger percentage: 24% over the last ten years.

A number of factors are responsible, Norheim says, including improvements in child and maternal health, more effective ways to combat infectious diseases, economic factors, and cleaner water. “I don’t think people realize how positive these trends are and how important this would be for health worldwide,” he says. “People’s probability of surviving up to the age of 70 is actually much, much better now, compared to 1970.”

If those trends continue, and get even better, the 40% reduction over the next 20 years is both realistic and possible, Norheim says. One thing that would accelerate the process — helping more people to quit smoking. While preventive services, access to vaccines, treatments, and better nutrition are critical for hitting the goal, “If prices [of cigarettes] were doubled, that would reduce smoking by 1/3. That would mean millions of lives saved,” he says.

TIME Infectious Disease

Watch a Science Cop Take on Donald Trump

TIME's Jeffrey Kluger takes on The Donald for crimes against science

The Ebola outbreak that is causing such fear and suffering in Africa is a very real and very deadly thing. But the fact is that the nature of the Ebola virus is such that it stands a very low chance of ever causing a pandemic like AIDS or H1N1. That hasn’t stopped America’s great foghorn—Donald Trump—and others like him from spreading all kinds of misinformation about the disease, warning people that patients should not be brought to the U.S. and that flights from West Africa should be stopped, otherwise we face an American epidemic.

But Trump and his ilk are committing a science crime—the crime of misinformation. Here’s the truth, from TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger.

 
 

TIME global health

Photos: How Muslim Families Around the World Break the Ramadan Fast

From Istanbul to Sydney to Beijing, here's what Muslim families are eating to break the fast

TIME global health

Aid Group: Cholera Threatens Thousands in South Sudan

Zacharias Abubeker—AFP/Getty Images
South Sudanese refugees fetch water at a watering point in the Kule camp for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, on July 10, 2014. Zacharias Abubeker—AFP/Getty Images

"Children are especially vulnerable."

Thousands of people in South Sudan are being put at risk by a cholera outbreak, says international aid group Save the Children. Cholera has infected 2,600 people in 9 of the the country’s 10 states, according to the group, leaving 60 dead since cases were first reported in May.

“Save the Children’s feeding clinics are dealing with an influx of severely malnourished children. We urgently need to further funds to provide families with life-saving food supplements,” said Save the Children’s Country Director Pete Walsh in a statement Friday.

The cholera outbreak is tied to an ongoing conflict in the country. South Sudan is home to a long-standing civil war, with the most recent violence escalating in December after President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy of attempting to launch a coup.

Aid agencies are struggling to receive needed funding even as the fighting has pushed the country to famine. Save the Children says the seven major international aid agencies operating in the country face closure, currently short an excess of $92 million.

“We are seeing a lot of cases of malnutrition at our treatment centers,” Save the Children Director Francine Uenuma tells TIME. “Children are especially vulnerable.”

Save the Children is working closely with local treatment centers, hoping to develop assessment plans and prevention education. However, with the rainy season approaching, conditions are only expected to deteriorate further. Walsh says that flooded roads will only slow down the delivery of life-saving drugs.

 

 

 

TIME health

A Third of the World is Now Obese or Overweight

No country on earth has reduced obesity rates in more than three decades

Almost 30 percent of the earth’s population is obese or overweight, a new study reports, estimating that this affects about 2.1 billion people.

Obesity rates have increased in countries all over the world, but it’s not an evenly distributed health problem, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported on Wednesday.

In the developed world, adult men have higher rates of obesity (defined as having a Body Mass Index of 30 or more) than adult women. In the developing world, the opposite is true.

The prevalence of overweight and obese children and adolescents worldwide has increased by nearly 50 percent since 1980, the study says, and no country on Earth has successfully reduced obesity rates in the last 33 years.

Childhood obesity rates are notably higher in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly among girls.

Though the rate of increase in obesity has slowed in the developed world, in the developing world, home to two-thirds of the world’s obese people, obesity rates are projected to continue their climb.

TIME Religion

White House, Congress Should Remember Pope Francis During Budget Process

Remember the world's poor throughout the federal budget process

The United States has had a long and proud history of being a world leader on global health issues. Over the last decade, the U.S. has led the charge in tackling numerous challenges such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases, showing both pragmatic and moral leadership in the effort to improve health worldwide.

In doing so, the U.S. has demonstrated particular attention to the poor, a focus that Pope Francis has strongly encouraged in his first year in office. After his meeting last month with the Holy Father, President Obama said he and the American people had been inspired by the new pope’s global leadership on poverty.

“I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems,” the president shared after his conversation with the pope.

One of the biggest indicators of a country’s priorities from a moral perspective is how it chooses to spend its revenue. The United States has steadily increased its aid in important global health efforts, most notably those that improve the lives of the poorest people on earth. In the most recently passed budget, a bipartisan group of lawmakers continued this trend, increasing federal funding for global health.

Sadly, the budget proposed by the president last month for the coming year is a step backwards. The White House document includes significant and worrisome cuts to programs tackling health conditions affecting the world’s poorest people, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.

The human cost of these cuts would be profound. The impact of last year’s sequester on global health programs made that painfully clear. But, beyond the humanitarian dimension, there are strong pragmatic reasons to maintain and even increase our investment in global health.

We already know that investing in health has tremendous returns. For instance, the global effort to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases that infect over a billion of the world’s poorest people is scaling up–and with dramatic results. A person treated will not suffer severe symptoms, such as blindness and disfigurement. They can stay in school, find work, and provide for their families. The cost of treating and preventing the most common neglected tropical diseases is just $0.50 per person annually. This is a small investment with large and immediate returns. Provided adequate funding can be found, we will succeed in eliminating these diseases as public health threats by the end of the decade.

While the United States weighs the value of its investment in this and other areas of global health, the world community is stepping up. Just last week, pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists, and international leaders committed more than $240 million in new resources to the fight against neglected tropical diseases.

The United States must not back away from its global leadership on these issues. President Obama and leaders in Congress, who have found new inspiration in Pope Francis, must act on his call “to remember the people, especially the poor, who are affected by the economic decisions we make.”

The Holy Father is right: governments must work together to protect the poor. And as the richest country on earth, the United States has a moral obligation to lead on global health. Though we spend far less than one percent of the federal budget on global health programs, these funds save lives while strengthening America’s security and economic interests abroad. An investment in the fight against neglected tropical diseases creates a crucial rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The Catholic Church has said it again and again: the federal budget is a moral document that represents the priorities of a nation. While Washington might consider these cuts a small sliver, the poor who benefit from these programs know otherwise. They are the ones who will be disproportionately impacted by a budget that cuts global health funding.

Pope Francis was recently named the most influential voice in Washington. Let’s hope this is true. If our leaders follow his example, the poor will see the dollars and cents of moral leadership.

And that is an investment worth making.

Emily Conron coordinates faith-based outreach for END7, a campaign of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and is a member of the Young Leaders Council of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. She can be reached at emily.conron@sabin.org.

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