What Are the Biggest Global Threats to Public Health?
Dr. Larry Brilliant played a key role in eradicating smallpox from the world – so what are the biggest dangers humanity faces now? Brilliant rates politics as on-par with infectious disease.
Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH, is the author of Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventures of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History. Dr. Larry was Vice President of Google and Executive Director of Google.org. He is board-certified in preventive medicine and public health and co-founder of The Seva Foundation, an international NGO whose programs and grantees have given back sight to more than 3.5 million blind people in over 20 countries. Dr. Larry lived in India for more than a decade working as a United Nations medical officer where he played a key role in the successful World Health Organization (WHO) smallpox eradication program in South Asia. He currently serves as the acting Chairman of the Board of the Skoll Global Threats Fund whose mission is to confront global threats like: pandemics, climate change, water, nuclear proliferation and the Middle East conflict.
Larry Brilliant: If I were asked what are the greatest global threats to health today I would divide that into two parts. One, of course, would be the biology the Ebola, Zika, bird flu, swine flu world and I will talk about that. But far more than that are the kind of centrifugal forces that are pulling us a part as a nation, pulling us apart as a world, the deterioration of all of the international and national organizations that we depend upon to keep us safe. The World Health Organization, which failed to protect the world against Ebola and didn't do a great job on Zika either and it will have a new leader in May of this year. There are a couple of candidates who are terrific and some that aren't so good, but either way WHO is going to be going through a period of years of introspection and re-organization.
We have a new Secretary General of the UN. He's a good guy. He's from Portugal, Gutierrez. He just started. It will be a while before he can find all the bathrooms in the UN buildings. We've just lost the head of CDC. We have a new acting head of CDC, who is also good. But CDC will go through a headless period. And then we have Trump and we have a White House which would almost reflexively discard anything that had the word of public in it and one of those words is public health. And they have not shown a keen interest in pandemics. And the whole idea of America first, which might be good for many things, is singularly not good for a global pandemic. It's an oxymoron. It doesn't work. These centrifugal forces that put us in a period of vulnerability are the gravest threats.
On the biology side, in the last 30 years we've had 30 novel here before unknown diseases that jumped from animals to humans, they're almost all viruses. In addition to Ebola and Zika and bird flu and swine flu we have coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, we have arboviruses and a lot of other viruses that continue to jump at the rate of about one a year. That rate is increasing slightly. I don't think it's increasing at a catastrophic rate. The causes of its increasing are that animals and humans are living in each other's habitat now more than ever. Part of that is the clear cutting of forests to grow soybeans and things of that nature. Another reason is that as countries have gotten slightly more wealthy they begin to consume more protein and more animal protein.
I remember when I work at a Google I gave a talk to 3000 young Indian Googlers in Hyderabad and I asked them to raise their hand if their grandparents were vegetarian. They all raised their hand. Then I asked them to raise their hand if their parents were vegetarians and about half raise their hand. And then I asked them if they were vegetarians and no one raise their hand. And I think that's leads to the increase in chickens and pigs that we've been saying in China and India, not pigs so much in India. And that means the kind of way in which Asia houses and farms are all together and you can go to Laos and see a pancake house that has pigs on the ground floor, chickens in the middle, and humans up on top. When pigs are eaten what's left to them is fed to the chickens, and when the chickens are eaten what's left of them is fed to the pigs. And of course everything is fed to humans. That's like a natural virus experiment. You really wouldn't want to do that if you were trying to keep the world safe from viruses.
So we are having more viruses jump from animals to humans for lots of different reasons related to modernity. And normally our ability to protect the world keeps apace with that, maybe even is a little bit ahead and every year we're a little bit safer. That's not true right now. Right now because of the re-organization and nationalism and re-organization and dislike for the United Nations and its agencies I think we're in a period of grave vulnerability. So it's those two things together.
The greatest global threats to health can be divided into two categories, explains epidemiologist and former head of philanthropy at Google, Dr. Larry Brilliant: there is the biological, and the socio-political. In the last 30 years, there have been at least 30 heretofore unknown viruses that have jumped from animals to humans, for worrying reasons Brilliant attributes to modernity and our increase in animal protein consumption. Still, the socio-political threats are the more immediately dangerous. There are centrifugal forces at play that are pushing society to two extreme camps. The domestic and global division caused President Trump’s ‘America First’ mentality and disregard for public health leaves us vulnerable to new viruses that, if they aren’t detected early enough, could be the next pandemic. "Right now because of the re-organization and nationalism… and dislike for the United Nations and its agencies, I think we're in a period of grave vulnerability," says Brilliant. Larry Brilliant is the author of Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physician Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History.
Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.
Maybe you should enjoy this article with a cup of coffee or tea.<p> The <a href="https://drc.bmj.com/content/8/1/e001252?T=AU" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> involved 4,923 type 2 diabetics living in Japan. The average participant was 66 years old. All of the participants were taken from the rolls of the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry, a study geared at learning about the effects of new treatments and lifestyle changes on the health of diabetics. <br> <br> The participants filled out questionnaires concerning their health, diet, habits, and other factors. Among the questions were two focused on determining how much green tea or coffee, if any, the participants consumed over the course of a week. The health of the participants was recorded for five years. During this time, 309 of the test subjects died from a variety of causes. <br> <br> Subjects who drank more than one cup of tea or coffee per day demonstrated lower odds of dying than those who had none. Those who consumed the most tea and coffee, more than four and two cups a day, respectively, enjoyed the most significant reductions in their risk of death. This level of consumption was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201020190129.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p><p>Most interestingly, the effects of drinking tea and coffee appear to combine to reduce risk even further. Those who reported drinking two or three cups of tea a day and two or more cups of coffee were 51 percent less likely to die during the study, while those who drank a whopping four or more cups of tea and two or more cups of coffee had a 63 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/diabetes-coffee-and-green-tea-might-reduce-death-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p>
So, should I start swimming in a vat of coffee and green tea?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LY0E-JQxeoY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Not quite. </p><p> The primary takeaway from this study is that Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes who drink a lot of green tea and/or coffee die less often than similar people who do not. If this effect is caused by something in the drink, lifestyle choices people who drink that much tea all make, or something else remains unknown. The finding must be considered an association at this point. <br> <br> The eye-popping reductions in mortality rates are compared to the risk of death of others in the study. The people who died reported drinking less tea and coffee than those who lived. Unless you have several demographic and conditional similarities to the subjects of this study, you probably won't suddenly be at a two-thirds lower risk of death than your peers because you drink green tea. </p><p> Like all studies that depend on self-reporting, it is also possible that people misstated how much they consumed any one item. The study also did not look into other factors like socioeconomic status or education level, also known to impact death rates and potentially linked to coffee and tea consumption. </p><p> However, it is yet another study in the pile that suggests that <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">coffee</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">green tea</a> are good for you. That much is increasingly <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/health-benefits-linked-to-drinking-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">agreed</a><a href="https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/health-benefits-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> upon</a>. This study also suggests the benefits are additive, which is a new development.</p><p><br> So, while it isn't time to start the IV drip of green tea, a cup or two probably won't <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20201022/coffee-green-tea-might-extend-life-for-folks-with-type-2-diabetes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hurt</a>. </p>
But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.
On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.
- During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
- The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
- Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939.
Credit: Library of Congress
Credit: Herald Tribune
Postcards from Camp Siegfried