Category Archives: Health

Seaspiracy: A Must-Watch Documentary but Don’t Believe the Message!

Recently, some of my friends called me in anger after watching Seaspiracy, one of those highly controversial documentaries streaming on Netflix. They said the documentary was spreading nonsense and hurting the work of dedicated environmental activists and that I should watch it. So I did. And yes, I found my friends were right to be angry. So I published an article about it on Impakter, here is the opening of my article:

Seaspiracy: Shocking Revelations but Wrong Data and Wrong Message

by Claude Forthomme – Senior Editor

After the award-winning 2014 Cowspiracy documentary funded by Leonardo di Caprio and the 2017 What The Health film, now we have from the same people Seaspiracy – out on Netflix since 24 March 2021. Cowspiracy argued that animal farming is the primary source of environmental destruction, What The Health advocated for a plant-based diet. Seaspiracy,  directed by Ali Tabrizi, a British filmmaker using the same narrative framework as Cowspiracy, aims a powerful “J’accuse!” to the sustainable seafood movement and suggests that the Dolphin Safe and Marine Stewardship Council labels probably do not give the assurances consumers expect. 

George Monbiot, the noted environmentalist and Guardian columnist who was given a prominent role in the documentary as a commentator, described it on Twitter as “a brilliant exposé of the greatest threat to marine life: fishing”.

Read the rest on Impakter, click on the title or click here.

You may not agree with my conclusions – but surely it seems rather absurd to call on people to stop eating fish as a way to address the deep and complex problems of our oceans – not to mention the fact that a lot of artisanal fisheries and coastal populations live off fishing (and their type of fishing does not destroy the oceans). 

In short, to solve the problem, much more needs to be done, stopping our fish consumption is just plain silly. Do read my article and see if you agree!

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Filed under Health, politics, United Nations

Christmas in Palestine at the time of COVID-19

 My latest article, just published on Impakter:

Christmas in Bethlehem: The COVID-19 Experience of the Holy Family Hospital

What is Christmas like in Palestine at the time of COVID-19? There is no better place to find out about the challenges brought on by the COVID emergency than in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. And in a hospital like the Holy Family Hospital run by the Order of Malta where most of the children in Bethlehem are born: It is both a center and a mirror of life in the region.

Until March 2020, life was normal in this sunny city of 25,000 people, six miles south of Jerusalem. Administered by the Palestinian Authority (PNA), people lived off tourism. And at Christmas, there was a peak of presence as pilgrims visited the Church of the Nativity, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2012. In 2019, the Church was even removed from the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in Danger because it had been so well-restored. And people flocked there for Christmas, as always. 

Not this year. 

When COVID-19 hit, Bethlehem was the first city to go under curfew, closing hotels, tourist shops, and all economic activities. Later on, COVID-19 spread to the surrounding district and also to the other districts in Palestine. As most families in Bethlehem depend on tourism for their income, the pain was immediate and long-lasting. 

The movement of people was drastically curtailed, except for medical personnel allowed to reach the medical centers. And I wondered how hospitals in the region addressed the COVID-19 emergency.

Read the rest on Impakter: click here.

Have a Happy Holiday!

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Filed under Health, philanthropy

Fighting the Next Pandemic and Watching Trump

I must apologize for the long silence: I have been so busy writing for Impakter that I never got around to updating you, my friends, on my blog. My latest in-depth article (out on 17 May) is about something that really worries me: The threat of pandemics and our general lack of readiness.

WHO’s quick reaction to the Ebola outbreak in D.R.Congo should not delude us into thinking we’re safe. We’re not. We really need to do something about this. Here is the start of the article:

 

GLOBAL HEALTH SYSTEMS: READY FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC?

In a world traumatized by Trump’s America First agenda, many worry that nuclear conflict is around the corner. As a result, global health tends to be down at the bottom of the list of things to worry about. Yet, as we learned when Ebola struck in 2014, our lead institution, the World Health Organization (WHO), was shockingly slow on the uptake. Our global health governance was just not up to the task.

Now, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has just sent a letter to WHO Director-General – a letter also signed by the heads of Norway and Ghana – asking his organization to help draft a “Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All” to be discussed at the 10th World Health Summit in Berlin in October 2018.

….

The rest on Impakter, click here.


Then, of course, I continued the series of TRUMP WATCH articles. For those of you who are curious to check them out, here’s a listing since the last one I told you about here – in chronological order:

  • North Korea Talks?  Trump seems ready to treat his upcoming North Korea talks as another game of ping pong, telling reporters on Wednesday…
  • Thank You Mary Matalin! On 22 April, out of a clear blue sky, Trump suddenly fawned over Mary Matalin: “I can die happy now…
  • The United States and France Forever!  Trump’s numerous tweets welcoming France’s President Macron on the first state visit of his administration, have been pompously presidential, replete…
  • A Total Witch Hunt  The Russia investigation is a “total” witch hunt, the just released House Intelligence Committee Report has confirmed it! Trump instantly…
  • Russian Collusion is Fake News! Listen to the Donald: This business about the “Witch Hunt” and Russian “Collusion” needs to stop, it’s all “fake news”,..
  • The Iran Deal and North Korea Show is On Nobody noticed but Trump once more exhibited his fine-tuned Reality TV showmanship when he conflated the news about pulling out…
  • Saving Chinese Jobs On Sunday, Trump tweeted his concern for Chinese jobs, vowing that he was working with the Chinese leader to “save…
  • Beautiful, Clean Coal! Coal, historically, is the dirtiest source of energy ever used. Yet, once again, this week-end, Trump tweeted that it was…

Wow, that’s eight Trump Watch articles in one month, and they all zero in on one of the many character traits of the man – it wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t the most powerful man on earth. But the closer you get to him (as I do, reading his tweets and his pronouncements every day), the scarier it gets…

Incidentally, when I look back, I see that over the last month I also added another article to my series on Bitcoin, reporting on a new development which is (in my view) deeply puzzling:

Sorry for not posting all those updates here, but you can see that I have been overwhelmed with work this month, with 10 articles published on Impakter. Not to mention the work I usually do as Senior Editor…

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Filed under Business, climate change, Health, politics, social media, writers rights

The World Number One Killer: Non-communicable Diseases

Here’s my latest article published on Impakter Magazine: 

Non-communicable diseases are the major global health issue that most people have never heard of. Yet it kills nearly 40 million people every year, more than traffic accidents (1.3 million) or scary communicable disease outbreaks like Zika and Ebola that do make it in the news, but rarely exceed 10,000 deaths. For example, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed 11,310 (latest Centers for Disease Control data).

NCDs include four major diseases that you can’t catch from someone else:

  • cardio-vascular diseases (stroke and heart attacks, 48% of NCD deaths),
  • cancer (21%),
  • chronic respiratory diseases (12%),
  • diabetes (3.5%).

This is not to belittle the threat or devastation caused by communicable diseases. Currently, the massive cholera outbreak in Yemen that has infected some 800,000 people in the past year and a plague outbreak in Madagascar that has killed nearly 100 people in two months are making the news. Rightly so, these are people in urgent need of help.

But NCDs should not be underestimated: They cause 70% of deaths globally, and nearly 50% of global disability. High-income countries are more affected than low-income countries (88% vs. 37%, 2015 data). As a result, there is a misperception that NCDs are a high-income country problem, but that’s not the case.

It’s a global problem.

And as I argue in the article, it’s a global problem the World Health Organization (WHO) has been addressing over the past two decades…almost single-handedly. To find out what is being done, click here. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, and it’s high time it be given the attention it deserves. The future of our children depends on it.

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Filed under Health, Uncategorized

Cocaine: The Hidden Cost – Environmental Destruction

This is the second of a two-part article investigating cocaine, just published on Impakter. Part One surveyed the cost in human terms, focusing on Colombia, the world’s top coca producer (see here). Part Two investigates the environmental destruction caused by cocaine and also takes a look at Peru.

Uncle Sam’s fumigation program in Colombia has added a grim dimension to the environmental devastation that is, in any case, inherent to coca production when it is made illegal. When coca fields are mechanically torn up by the army or the police, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into the jungle to clear more areas to grow coca along with the food needed for their own sustenance.

IN THE PHOTO: RAINFOREST PHOTO SOURCE: ANAHI MARTINEZ ON UNSPLASH

But when coca fields are sprayed with potent herbicides, fumigation turns the fertile earth into a desert, threatening local farmers’ health. In fact, for decades, Colombia has been the only government in the world that has allowed aerial herbicide spraying of coca, hurting its own population. But it did so at the bidding of the United States that ended up paying US$ 2 billion for the spraying.

An extraordinary cost to the American taxpayers with zero results in terms of reduced cocaine supplies.

It had, however, very measurable results in terms of environmental destruction of Colombia’s rainforests – precious not just for Colombia but for the whole world, as they act as major carbon sinks, playing a key role in stabilizing global climate.

To read the rest, click here. I feel very strongly about the conclusion of the article: The solution, in my opinion, is not yet another “war on drugs” to try and limit cocaine supplies (it never works) but treatment to limit demand. Addicts are not children to be punished, they are people who need our help. Your views?

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Filed under Economics, Health, politics, Sociology

Cocaine: The Hidden Cost

My latest article, just published on Impakter:

A TRAIL OF BLOOD (PART ONE)

This is the first of a two-part article investigating cocaine. Part One surveys the cost in human terms, focusing on Colombia, the world’s top coca producer, while Part Two investigates the environmental destruction caused by cocaine.

On August 10, President Trump told reporters he was getting ready to “declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency”, in response to a chilling report from the White House commission on the opioid crisis, that said “142 Americans die every day from a drug overdose”, a death toll “equal to September 11th every three weeks”. Trump promised “a lot” would be done to stop drug flows into the US and ensuring young people never use drugs but he didn’t mention access to treatment. And it is not clear exactly how he would proceed, particularly now that natural disasters wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma demand attention.

So far, Congress has done little except pass the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law by President Obama in 2016. It added US$ 1 billion over two years for drug treatment and disbursement has just started.  Yet Trump talks up the role of the border wall and law enforcement while his proposed budget and congressional efforts to take down Obamacare are going in the wrong direction, preventing access to insurance to pay for treatment.

At state level, the move away from a criminal justice fix to the drug problem has been patchy at best. One reporter from Vox found that at least fifteen states followed Kentucky’s example of tightening penalties for low-level drug offenders, increasing mass incarceration rather than offering treatment.

Yet treatment is key.

The rest of the world, if not the US, has moved on past the obvious failure of the “War on Drugs” to focus on non-military, non-police, non-legal measures as possible solutions. That’s where improved access to treatment comes in. It is part of the UN Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal 3, specifically target 3.5 which reads: “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol .”

Unfortunately, even within the United Nations, the political discourse is largely focused on other issues, like eradicating poverty as evidenced by the latest “outcome report” of the high-level “political forum” (10-19 July 2017), a ministerial meeting that reviews progress on the SDGs every year. Only one sentence addressed the drug problem: “We reiterate the need to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.” Surely stronger statements are required, more needs to be done.

Yet the US-waged “War on Drugs”, started some 60 years ago, and costing an estimated US$ one trillion should have taught us a lesson. It began when President Lyndon Johnson first proposed a toughening of penalties for drug trafficking in 1968; it ballooned with President Nixon in 1971, coming to Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Whatever improvement America was able to achieve at home, it quickly vanished: Since 2009 there are more deaths from drug poisoning every year in the US than from firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and murders, said a recent US DEA report.

Meanwhile, in the Andean countries, the war left a devastating legacy, clearly traceable to US aerial fumigation programs to stop coca cultivation and anti-narcotics policing that quickly spiraled into full-scale civil war, particularly ferocious in Colombia, pitting Marxist-inspired guerillas against the central government. The war in Colombia lasted until 2016 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARCs) agreed to a peace deal with the government, but not before there were some 200,000 dead and five million people forced out of their home.

The lesson from History is clear:  fighting drug trafficking through military or police means solves nothing.

The US is the World’s Largest Cocaine User

The latest report (March 2017) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy on global cocaine trafficking confirms that the US is the largest cocaine user, consuming one third of world production.

Cocaine is known as a “rich man’s drug”, though one form, “crack cocaine” (smoked, not snorted) being much cheaper, is widely used in inner cities and by black communities, ensuring that the drug is prevalent in all social strata.

Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in both Europe and the United States behind marijuana. More people use cocaine than heroin, and the number of cocaine users keeps rising (26 percent more in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health).

The street value of cocaine gives an idea of its importance as a recreational drug.  One calculation, often cited, is based on a model developed in 2005 by the UN drug agency (UNODC) which estimated that the US cocaine market exceeds some US$70 billion in street value per year. This is likely to be a conservative estimate but still true today considering that cocaine prices have been (slightly) dropping over the past decade.

US$70 billion spent on cocaine is a lot, as much as Americans spend on playing the lottery, more than on books, video games, movies and sporting events combined (2015 data) – none of which have the devastating impact on health that cocaine has, particularly from chronic use.

PHOTO CREDIT: HÄGGSTRÖM, MIKAEL (2014). “MEDICAL GALLERY OF MIKAEL HÄGGSTRÖM 2014“. WIKIJOURNAL OF MEDICINE 

Coca Production on the Increase

Increased drug supplies mean more deaths: cocaine-related deaths in the United States have increased by about 60 percent since 2010, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What makes the situation increasingly dangerous, is that production of cocaine in Colombia is higher than ever: according to the UN, it reached 866 metric tons in 2016, a 34 percent increase over 2015 when the war was still on-going. And that’s 200 million tons more than the average annual production of cocaine a decade ago (it stood around 650 million tons).

But some believe the UN data is too conservative.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

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Filed under Economics, Health, politics, Sociology, Uncategorized