Archive

Environmental health

Image

On April 11th 2012, the FDA finally took a step in the direction of protecting humans from the build-up of drug resistant bacteria.

Many don’t like to admit that bacteria are often smarter than even our best scientists. But the truth is that for every antibiotic we create, a stronger and more drug resistant strain of bacteria is generated.

NYTimes journalist Gardiner Harris writes, “Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected” (The New York Times). The New York Times also gives the estimate that 99,000 people die each year from infections they contracted at a hospital, and that the majority of these are due to resistant strains of bacteria.

Despite all of the research and data that has been collected, the US has done very little to cut back on the unnecessary use of antibiotics, specifically in the meat industry. Are we naively allowing industries interest to threaten the health of our entire population and especially of future generations?

The meat industry has been routinely including antibiotics in healthy livestock’s feed and water since the realization that it induced phenomenal growth.

One of the reasons antibiotics are not sold over the counter for human use is to reduce unnecessary use of such drugs that can create resistant strains of harmful bacteria. Until this April, however, there was hardly any regulation of antibiotic use for livestock.

The FDA announced on April 11th that in order for livestock to be given antibiotics, the antibiotics would need to be prescribed by a veterinarian. This was a victory in helping to preserve humans right to health. However, many more steps towards eliminating unnecessary antibiotic use are needed. Some are also concerned that both the meat and antibiotic industries will hold off making any changes in hope that the administration after the upcoming election will change the policy.

I am curious to see if people think this is a human rights issue where the government is failing to protect our right to health, or if people feel this is simply a policy issue.

Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/antibiotics-for-livestock-will-require-prescription-fda-says.html

South African gold miners are at greater risk of developing TB due to the heavy presence of silica dust in their working environment

This past Saturday, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, spoke at an event held at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The event was being held in observance of World Tuberculosis Day–a bacterial disease that has become all too common among South African mine workers. Individuals within this particular profession have been known to have a greater risk of contracting the disease due to the heavy presence of silica dusk within their working environment. Although silica is nothing more than a mineral found in rocks and soil, repeated inhalation of the mineral can lead to serious implications. In fact, a staggering 22,000 mine workers are infected with the disease yearly. However, TB is not the only illness in which these mine workers must battle daily; there is that widespread virus that occurs outside the workplace: HIV. Between 60%-70% of mine workers who have been infected with TB have also been infected with HIV as well. But these startling statistics have not stopped South Africa from doing all that it can to combat these two life-threatening illnesses.

Standing before an audience that included Gold Fields mine workers and their mining managers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers and government representatives, Motlanthe vowed that the South African government would continue its initiative in supplying its citizens with the programs needed to successfully thwart TB and HIV. As a matter of fact, Motlanthe states that within the last few years, South Africa has made testing for TB and HIV more of a regular initiative, as opposed to an initiative that arises only during emergency outbreaks. Nick Holland, CEO of Driefontein Gold Fields mine, has also hopped on the bandwagon in making TB testing more readily available for his own mine workers. At the event, he spoke of the necessity of Gold Fields mine being able to diagnose TB in its earlier stages, as well as being able to develop more efficient means for testing for TB.

Even so, the progress that South Africa has made in their fight to stop the spread of TB has been incredibly noteworthy thus far. Just last year, South Africa embarked on a new approach in actually traveling to the homes of individuals who have had contact with a TB infected person. Furthermore, individuals were also tested and educated about HIV. During that mission, roughly 160,000 people were screened, where 3,000 individuals tested positive for TB. What is more, another 3,200 individuals actually tested positive for HIV. In addition to home screenings, since last year, South Africa has also been utilizing the GeneXpert machine, enabling the successful diagnosis of drug-resistant and drug-sensitive TB patients. At the moment, South Africa is number one in the manufacture of GeneXpert tests, having completed roughly 300,000 tests.

I think that it is important to acknowledge here that although South Africa is still in some aspects a developing nation, the initiatives, however, that the Country appears to be taking in the prevention of TB and HIV, in my opinion, would illustrate its advancement into a developed nation. When a nation’s own government makes it their endeavor to provide the utmost care to their citizens, a sense of unity transpires between all. As we saw in class during our attempts to revise TRIPS, it was difficult for us to come to an agreement on how high-income and middle-income countries could not only efficiently provide foreign aid to low-income countries, but also continue to recognize some of their own personal goals as well. In my opinion, South Africa sets a wonderful example of the potential that developing and also underdeveloped nations have in terms of the combat of life-threatening epidemics.

This week, Human Rights Watch reports on a continuing lead-poisoning crisis in Zamfara state in northwestern Nigeria.  Hundreds of children have died, thousands have been sickened, and many more are in danger of disabling neurologic problems.  They need chelation therapy, which removes lead from the body by binding lead ions and allowing lead to leave the body in the urine.

The situation has to do with gold mining, an important industry in that part of the country.  A 2010 Business Week article explains (with text and video) how small-scale gold mining and processing can be especially toxic to the environment and dangerous for children.

The problem isn’t new: it has been going on for a couple of years, at least.  The Blacksmith Institute has been doing emergency cleanup in Zamfara.  Here’s what they have to say about the situation:

  • THE LEAD POISONING OUTBREAK IN NIGERIA IS UNPRECEDENTED.
  • HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN HAVE DIED, MANY UNDER FIVER YEARS OLD.
  • VILLAGES ARE DOTTED WITH FRESH TINY GRAVES – ONE VILLAGE LOST ONE-THIRD OF ITS CHILD POPULATION.
  • MANY OTHERS ARE ILL, BLIND, DEAF, UNABLE TO WALK AND TALK.
  • MANY MORE AT RISK.
  • DEATHS WERE DISCOVERED WHEN OFFICIALS REALIZED THERE WERE VIRTUALLY NO CHILDREN IN SEVERAL VILLAGES during the country’s annual immunization program.
  • BLACKSMITH IS DOING EMERGENCY CLEANUP AT THE REQUEST OF THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT, working with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders and local authorities.

One human rights concern is access to chelation therapy for children who already have high blood-lead levels.  The HRW report notes that thousands of children need therapy.

Another concern is the possibility that lead exposure is leading to miscarriages among women in the area.

A final concern remains, even if lead-exposed kids do get chelation therapy and cleanup removes the threat to women of childbearing age for now: the problem will continue because children continue to work in the gold mines.  This practice is in violation of international conventions on child labor such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But it’s hard to see how to convince Nigeria to stop children from working in gold mines or on gold processing stations.  Gold fetches a high price on world markets:  over $1700 per ounce.  People need to make money.