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Gaza now has a toxic ‘biosphere of war’ that no one can escape

Israel/Palestine

 and  on 

Gaza has often been invaded for its water. (What water? No rivers passing through and no mountain-caped snow)

Every army leaving or entering the Sinai desert, whether Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ottomans, or the British, has sought relief there. But today the water of Gaza highlights a toxic situation that is spiralling out of control.

A combination of repeated Israeli attacks and the sealing of its borders by Israel and Egypt, have left the territory unable to process its water or waste.

Every drop of water swallowed in Gaza, like every toilet flushed or antibiotic imbibed, returns to the environment in a degraded state.

Palestinian workers drill water wells, in Gaza city, on June 01, 2014.

Palestinian workers drill water wells in Gaza city, June 1, 2014.

Over pumping the coastal aquifer, Gaza’s main water source, has significantly lowered the groundwater level which has led to contamination of the aquifer’ by seawater seeping in, and saline groundwater rising from deeper in the reservoir. (Photo: Ezz al-Zanoun/APA Images)

When a hospital toilet is flushed, for instance, it seeps untreated through the sand into the aquifer. There it joins water laced with pesticides from farms, heavy metals from industry, and salt from the ocean.

It is then pumped back up by municipal or private wells, joined with a small fraction of freshwater purchased from Israel, and cycled back into people’s taps. This results in widespread contamination and undrinkable drinking water, about 90% of which exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for salinity and chloride.

Incredibly, conditions are getting worse: the emergence of “superbugs”. These multi-drug resistant organisms have developed thanks to an over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors desperate to treat the victims of the seemingly endless assaults.

The more injury there is, the more chance there is of re-injury. Less regular access to clean water means infections will spread faster, bugs will be stronger, more antibiotics will be prescribed – and the victims will be ever-more weakened.

The result is what has been termed a toxic ecology or “biosphere of war”, of which the noxious water cycle is just one part. A biosphere refers to the interaction of all living things with the natural resources that sustain them.

The point is that sanctions, blockades and a permanent state of war affects everything that humans might require in order to thrive, as water becomes contaminated, air is polluted, soil loses its fertility and livestock succumb to diseases. People in Gaza who may have evaded bombs or sniper fire have no escape from the biosphere.

War surgeons, health anthropologists and water engineers – including ourselves – have observed this situation developing wherever protracted armed conflict or economic sanctions grind on, as with water systems in Basrah and health systems throughout Iraq or Syria. It’s now well past time to clean it up.

There is water – for some

It’s not as if there is no fresh water nearby to alleviate the situation in Gaza. Just a few hundred metres from the border are Israeli farms that use freshwater pumped from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) to grow herbs destined for European supermarkets.

As the lake is around 200 km to the north and lies 200 metres below sea level, a massive amount of energy is used to pump all that water. The lake water is also fiercely contested by Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestinians in the West Bank, each of which is seeking their legal entitlement of the Jordan River basin.

Gaza City on one side of the border, Israeli farms on the other. (Image: Google Maps)

Gaza City on one side of the border, Israeli farms on the other. (Image: Google Maps)

Meanwhile, Israel desalinates so much seawater these days that its municipalities are turning it down. Excess desalinated water is being used to irrigate crops, and the country’s water authority is even planning to use it to refill Tiberias itself – a bizarre and irrational cycle, considering the lake water continues to be pumped the other direction into the desert.

There is now so much manufactured water that some Israeli engineers can declare that “today, no one in Israel experiences water scarcity”.

But the same cannot be said for Palestinians, especially not those in Gaza.

People there have resorted to various ingenious filters, boilers, or under-the-sink or neighbourhood-level desalination units to treat their water. But these sources are unregulated, often full of germs, and just another reason children are prescribed antibiotics – thus continuing the pattern of injury and re-injury.

Doctors, nurses, and water maintenance crews meanwhile try to do the impossible with the minimal medical equipment at their disposal.

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UNRWA USA@unrwausa

The implications for all those who invest in Gaza’s repeatedly destroyed water and health projects are clear. Providing more ambulances or water tankers – the “truck and chuck” strategy – might work when conflicts are at their most acute, but they are never more than a band aid. Yes, things will get better in the short term, but soon enough Gaza will be onto the next generation of antibiotics, and dealing with teflon-coated superbugs.

Donors must instead design programmes suited to the all-pervasive and incessant biosphere of war. This means training many more doctors and nurses, providing more medicines, and infrastructure support for health and water services.

More importantly, donors should build-in political “cover” to protect their investments (if not the local children), perhaps by calling for those who destroy the infrastructure to foot the bill for repairs.

And there is an even bigger message for the rest of us.

Our research shows that war is more than simply armies and geopolitics – it extends across entire ecosystems. If the dehumanising ideology behind the conflict was confronted, and if excess water was diverted to people rather than to lakes, then the easily avoidable repeated injuries suffered by people in Gaza would become a thing of the past. Palestinians would soon find their biosphere a whole lot healthier.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

The toll of history’s worst epidemic surpasses all the military deaths in World War I and World War II combined. And it may have begun in the United States

Camp Funston
An emergency hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918. “Of the 12 men who slept in my squad room, 7 were ill at one time,” a soldier recalled. (New Contributed Photographs Collection / otis historical Archives / National Museum of Health and Medicine)
Smithsonian Magazine

Haskell County, Kansas, lies in the southwest corner of the state, near Oklahoma and Colorado.

In 1918 sod houses were still common, barely distinguishable from the treeless, dry prairie they were dug out of. It had been cattle country—a now bankrupt ranch once handled 30,000 head—but Haskell farmers also raised hogs, which is one possible clue to the origin of the crisis that would terrorize the world that year. Another clue is that the county sits on a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species, including sand hill cranes and mallards.

Scientists today understand that bird influenza viruses, like human influenza viruses, can also infect hogs, and when a bird virus and a human virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.

We cannot say for certain that that happened in 1918 in Haskell County, but we do know that an influenza outbreak struck in January, an outbreak so severe that, although influenza was not then a “reportable” disease, a local physician named Loring Miner—a large and imposing man, gruff, a player in local politics, who became a doctor before the acceptance of the germ theory of disease but whose intellectual curiosity had kept him abreast of scientific developments—went to the trouble of alerting the U.S. Public Health Service.

The report itself no longer exists, but it stands as the first recorded notice anywhere in the world of unusual influenza activity that year.

The local newspaper, the Santa Fe Monitor, confirms that something odd was happening around that time: “Mrs. Eva Van Alstine is sick with pneumonia…Ralph Lindeman is still quite sick…Homer Moody has been reported quite sick…Pete Hesser’s three children have pneumonia …Mrs J.S. Cox is very weak yet…Ralph Mc-Connell has been quite sick this week…Mertin, the young son of Ernest Elliot, is sick with pneumonia,…Most everybody over the country is having lagrippe or pneumonia.”

Several Haskell men who had been exposed to influenza went to Camp Funston, in central Kansas. Days later, on March 4, the first soldier known to have influenza reported ill. The huge Army base was training men for combat in World War I, and within two weeks 1,100 soldiers were admitted to the hospital, with thousands more sick in barracks.

Thirty-eight died. Then, infected soldiers likely carried influenza from Funston to other Army camps in the States—24 of 36 large camps had outbreaks—sickening tens of thousands, before carrying the disease overseas. Meanwhile, the disease spread into U.S. civilian communities.

The influenza virus mutates rapidly, changing enough that the human immune system has difficulty recognizing and attacking it even from one season to the next. A pandemic occurs when an entirely new and virulent influenza virus, which the immune system has not previously seen, enters the population and spreads worldwide. Ordinary seasonal influenza viruses normally bind only to cells in the upper respiratory tract—the nose and throat—which is why they transmit easily.

The 1918 pandemic virus infected cells in the upper respiratory tract, transmitting easily, but also deep in the lungs, damaging tissue and often leading to viral as well as bacterial pneumonias.

Although some researchers argue that the 1918 pandemic began elsewhere, in France in 1916 or China and Vietnam in 1917, many other studies indicate a U.S. origin.

The Australian immunologist and Nobel laureate Macfarlane Burnet, who spent most of his career studying influenza, concluded the evidence was “strongly suggestive” that the disease started in the United States and spread to France with “the arrival of American troops.”

Camp Funston had long been considered as the site where the pandemic started until my historical research, published in 2004, pointed to an earlier outbreak in Haskell County.

Wherever it began, the pandemic lasted just 15 months but was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, according to the most widely cited analysis.

An exact global number is unlikely ever to be determined, given the lack of suitable records in much of the world at that time. But it’s clear the pandemic killed more people in a year than AIDS has killed in 40 years, more than the bubonic plague killed in a century.

The impact of the pandemic on the United States is sobering to contemplate: Some 670,000 Americans died.

In 1918, medicine had barely become modern; some scientists still believed “miasma” accounted for influenza’s spread. With medicine’s advances since then, laypeople have become rather complacent about influenza. Today we worry about Ebola or Zika or MERS or other exotic pathogens, not a disease often confused with the common cold. This is a mistake.

We are arguably as vulnerable—or more vulnerable—to another pandemic as we were in 1918.

Today top public health experts routinely rank influenza as potentially the most dangerous “emerging” health threat we face.

Earlier this year, upon leaving his post as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden was asked what scared him the most, what kept him up at night. “The biggest concern is always for an influenza pandemic…[It] really is the worst-case scenario.” So the tragic events of 100 years ago have a surprising urgency—especially since the most crucial lessons to be learned from the disaster have yet to be absorbed.

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Initially the 1918 pandemic set off few alarms, chiefly because in most places it rarely killed, despite the enormous numbers of people infected.

Doctors in the British Grand Fleet, for example, admitted 10,313 sailors to sick bay in May and June, but only 4 died. It had hit both warring armies in France in April, but troops dismissed it as “three-day fever.”

The only attention it got came when it swept through Spain, and sickened the king; the press in Spain, which was not at war, wrote at length about the disease, unlike the censored press in warring countries, including the United States. Hence it became known as “Spanish flu.

By June influenza reached from Algeria to New Zealand.

Still, a 1927 study concluded, “In many parts of the world the first wave either was so faint as to be hardly perceptible or was altogether lacking…and was everywhere of a mild form.” Some experts argued that it was too mild to be influenza.

Yet there were warnings, ominous ones. Though few died in the spring, those who did were often healthy young adults—people whom influenza rarely kills. Here and there, local outbreaks were not so mild.

At one French Army post of 1,018 soldiers, 688 were hospitalized and 49 died—5% of that population of young men, dead.

And some deaths in the first wave were overlooked because they were misdiagnosed, often as meningitis. A puzzled Chicago pathologist observed lung tissue heavy with fluid and “full of hemorrhages” and asked another expert if it represented “a new disease.”

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/61KT7oyskwtxDJC__uq-BJXPmYs=/fit-in/1072×0/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/63/81/6381c3ad-ff8f-4607-a771-16f8566d404a/nov2017_e01_fluhistory1918.jpgA ravaged lung
A ravaged lung (at the National Museum of Health and Medicine) from a U.S. soldier killed by flu in 1918. (Cade Martin)

By July it didn’t seem to matter. As a U.S. Army medical bulletin reported from France, the “epidemic is about at an end…and has been throughout of a benign type.” A British medical journal stated flatly that influenza “has completely disappeared.”

In fact, it was more like a great tsunami that initially pulls water away from the shore—only to return in a towering, overwhelming surge. In August, the affliction resurfaced in Switzerland in a form so virulent that a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, in a report stamped “Secret and Confidential,” warned “that the disease now epidemic throughout Switzerland is what is commonly known as the black plague, although it is designated as Spanish sickness and grip.”

The second wave had begun.

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The hospital at Camp Devens, an Army training base 35 miles from Boston that teemed with 45,000 soldiers, could accommodate 1,200 patients. On September 1, it held 84.

On September 7, a soldier sent to the hospital delirious and screaming when touched was diagnosed with meningitis. The next day a dozen more men from his company were diagnosed with meningitis. But as more men fell ill, physicians changed the diagnosis to influenza. Suddenly, an Army report noted, “the influenza…occurred as an explosion.”

At the outbreak’s peak, 1,543 soldiers reported ill with influenza in a single day. Now, with hospital facilities overwhelmed, with also doctors and nurses sick, with too few cafeteria workers to feed patients and staff, the hospital ceased accepting patients, no matter how ill, leaving thousands more sick and dying in barracks.

Roy Grist, a physician at the hospital, wrote a colleague,

“These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of La Grippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most vicious type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis”—the term refers to a person turning blue from lack of oxygen—“extending from their ears and spreading all over the face….It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes…It is horrible….We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day…For several days there were no coffins and the bodies piled up something fierce…”

Devens, and the Boston area, was the first place in the Americas hit by the pandemic’s second wave. Before it ended, influenza was everywhere, from ice-bound Alaska to steaming Africa. And this time it was lethal.

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The killing created its own horrors. Governments aggravated them, partly because of the war. For instance, the U.S. military took roughly half of all physicians under 45—and most of the best ones.

What proved even more deadly was the government policy toward the truth.

When the United States entered the war, Woodrow Wilson demanded that “the spirit of ruthless brutality…enter into the very fibre of national life.”

So Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, which was inspired by an adviser who wrote, “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms….The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”

At Wilson’s urging, Congress passed the Sedition Act, making it punishable with 20 years in prison to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United State…or to urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production in this country of any thing or things…necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war.”

Government posters and advertisements urged people to report to the Justice Department anyone “who spreads pessimistic stories…cries for peace, or belittles our effort to win the war.”

Against this background, while influenza bled into American life, public health officials, determined to keep morale up, began to lie.

Early in September, a Navy ship from Boston carried influenza to Philadelphia, where the disease erupted in the Navy Yard. The city’s public health director, Wilmer Krusen, declared that he would “confine this disease to its present limits, and in this we are sure to be successful. No fatalities have been recorded. No concern whatever is felt.”

The next day two sailors died of influenza. Krusen stated they died of “old-fashioned influenza or grip,” not Spanish flu. Another health official declared, “From now on the disease will decrease.”

The next day 14 sailors died—and the first civilian. Each day the disease accelerated. Each day newspapers assured readers that influenza posed no danger. Krusen assured the city he would “nip the epidemic in the bud.”

By September 26, influenza had spread across the country, and so many military training camps were beginning to look like Devens that the Army canceled its nationwide draft call.

Philadelphia had scheduled a big Liberty Loan parade for September 28.

Doctors urged Krusen to cancel it, fearful that hundreds of thousands jamming the route, crushing against each other for a better view, would spread disease. They convinced reporters to write stories about the danger. But editors refused to run them, and refused to print letters from doctors. The largest parade in Philadelphia’s history proceeded on schedule.

The incubation period of influenza is two to three days. Two days after the parade, Krusen conceded that the epidemic “now present in the civilian population was…assuming the type found in” Army camps. Still, he cautioned not to be “panic stricken over exaggerated reports.”

He needn’t have worried about exaggeration; the newspapers were on his side. “Scientific Nursing Halting Epidemic,” an Inquirer headline blared.

In truth, nurses had no impact because none were available: Out of 3,100 urgent requests for nurses submitted to one dispatcher, only 193 were provided.

Krusen finally and belatedly ordered all schools closed and banned all public gatherings—yet a newspaper nonsensically said the order was not “a public health measure” and “there is no cause for panic or alarm.”

There was plenty of cause. At its worst, the epidemic in Philadelphia would kill 759 people in one day. Priests drove horse-drawn carts down city streets, calling upon residents to bring out their dead; many were buried in mass graves. More than 12,000 people in Philadelphia died—nearly all of them in six weeks.

Across the country, public officials were lying. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue said, “There is no cause for alarm if precautions are observed.” New York City’s public health director declared “other bronchial diseases and not the so-called Spanish influenza…[caused] the illness of the majority of persons who were reported ill with influenza.” The Los Angeles public health chief said, “If ordinary precautions are observed there is no cause for alarm.”

For an example of the press’s failure, consider Arkansas. Over a four-day period in October, the hospital at Camp Pike admitted 8,000 soldiers.

Francis Blake, a member of the Army’s special pneumonia unit, described the scene: “Every corridor and there are miles of them with double rows of cots …with influenza patients…There is only death and destruction.” Yet seven miles away in Little Rock, a headline in the Gazette pretended yawns: “Spanish influenza is plain la grippe—same old fever and chills.”

People knew this was not the same old thing, though. They knew because the numbers were staggering—in San Antonio, 53 percent of the population got sick with influenza. They knew because victims could die within hours of the first symptoms—horrific symptoms, not just aches and cyanosis but also a foamy blood coughed up from the lungs, and bleeding from the nose, ears and even eyes.

And people knew because towns and cities ran out of coffins.

People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown. How long would it last? How many would it kill? Who would it kill? With the truth buried, morale collapsed. Society itself began to disintegrate.

In most disasters, people come together, help each other, as we saw recently with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But in 1918, without leadership, without the truth, trust evaporated. And people looked after only themselves.

In Philadelphia, the head of Emergency Aid pleaded, “All who are free from the care of the sick at home… report as early as possible…on emergency work.” But volunteers did not come.

The Bureau of Child Hygiene begged people to take in—just temporarily—children whose parents were dying or dead; few replied.

Emergency Aid again pleaded, “We simply must have more volunteer helpers….These people are almost all at the point of death. Won’t you…come to our help?” Still nothing.

Finally, Emergency Aid’s director turned bitter and contemptuous: “Hundreds of women…had delightful dreams of themselves in the roles of angels of mercy…Nothing seems to rouse them now…There are families in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high and they still hold back.”

Philadelphia’s misery was not unique.

In Luce County, Michigan, a couple and three children were all sick together, but, a Red Cross worker reported, “Not one of the neighbors would come in and help. I …telephoned the woman’s sister. She came and tapped on the window, but refused to talk to me until she had gotten a safe distance away.”

In New Haven, Connecticut, John Delano recalled, “Normally when someone was sick in those days [people] would bring food over to other families but…Nobody was coming in, nobody would bring food in, nobody came to visit.” In Perry County, Kentucky, the Red Cross chapter chairman begged for help, pleaded that there were “hundreds of cases…[of] people starving to death not from lack of food but because the well were panic stricken and would not go near the sick.”

Red Cross workers carried a stretcher in 1918; names fill an Army hospital ledger.
Red Cross workers carried a stretcher in 1918; names fill an Army hospital ledger. (Hollie Chastain)

In Goldsboro, North Carolina, Dan Tonkel recalled, “We were actually almost afraid to breathe...You were afraid even to go out…The fear was so great people were actually afraid to leave their homes…afraid to talk to one another.”

In Washington, D.C., William Sardo said, “It kept people apart…You had no school life, you had no church life, you had nothing…It completely destroyed all family and community life…The terrifying aspect was when each day dawned you didn’t know whether you would be there when the sun set that day.”

An internal American Red Cross report concluded, “A fear and panic of the influenza, akin to the terror of the Middle Ages regarding the Black Plague, [has] been prevalent in many parts of the country.”

Fear emptied places of employment, emptied cities. Shipbuilding workers throughout the Northeast were told they were as important to the war effort as soldiers at the front.

Yet at the L.H. Shattuck Co. only 54% of its workers showed up; at the George A. Gilchrist yard only 45 percent did; at Freeport Shipbuilding only 43 percent; at Groton Iron Works, 41 percent.

Fear emptied the streets, too.

A medical student working in an emergency hospital in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s largest cities, encountered so few cars on the road he took to counting them. One night, driving the 12 miles home, he saw not a single car. “The life of the city had almost stopped,” he said.

On the other side of the globe, in Wellington, New Zealand, another man stepped outside his emergency hospital and found the same thing: “I stood in the middle of Wellington City at 2 P.M. on a weekday afternoon, and there was not a soul to be seen; no trams running; no shops open, and the only traffic was a van with a white sheet tied to the side with a big red cross painted on it, serving as an ambulance or hearse. It was really a city of the dead.”

Victor Vaughan, formerly the dean of the University of Michigan’s Medical School, was not a man to resort to hyperbole. Now the head of the Army’s communicable disease division, he jotted down his private fear: “If the epidemic continues its mathematical rate of acceleration, civilization could easily disappear…from the face of the earth within a matter of a few more weeks.”

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Then, as suddenly as it came, influenza seemed to disappear. It had burned through the available fuel in a given community. An undercurrent of unease remained, but aided by the euphoria accompanying the end of the war, traffic returned to streets, schools and businesses reopened, society returned to normal.

A third wave followed in January 1919, ending in the spring. This was lethal by any standard except the second wave, and one particular case would have an exceptional impact on history.

On April 3, 1919, during the Versailles Peace Conference, Woodrow Wilson collapsed. His sudden weakness and severe confusion halfway through that conference—widely commented upon—very possibly contributed to his abandoning his principles. The result was the disastrous peace treaty, which would later contribute to the start of World War II. Some historians have attributed Wilson’s confusion to a minor stroke. In fact, he had a 103 degree temperature, intense coughing fits, diarrhea and other serious symptoms. A stroke explains none of the symptoms. Influenza, which was then widespread in Paris and killed a young aide to Wilson, explains all of them—including his confusion. Experts would later agree that many patients afflicted by the pandemic influenza had cognitive or psychological symptoms. As an authoritative 1927 medical review concluded, “There is no doubt that the neuropsychiatric effects of influenza are profound…hardly second to its effect on the respiratory system.”

After that third wave, the 1918 virus did not go away, but it did lose its extraordinary lethality, partly because many human immune systems now recognized it and partly because it lost the ability to easily invade the lungs. No longer a bloodthirsty murderer, it evolved into a seasonal influenza.

Scientists and other experts are still asking questions about the virus and the devastation it caused, including why the second wave was so much more lethal than the first. Researchers aren’t certain, and some argue that the first wave was caused by an ordinary seasonal influenza virus that was different from the pandemic virus; but the evidence seems overwhelming that the pandemic virus had both a mild and virulent form, causing mild as well as severe spring outbreaks, and then, for reasons that remain unclear, the virulent form of the virus became more common in the fall.

Another question concerns who died. Even though the death toll was historic, most people who were infected by the pandemic virus survived; in the developed world, the overall mortality was about 2 percent. In the less developed world, mortality was worse. In Mexico, estimates of the dead range from 2.3 to 4 percent of the entire population. Much of Russia and Iran saw 7 percent of the population die. In the Fiji Islands 14 percent of the population died—in 16 days. One-third of the population of Labrador died. In small native villages in Alaska and Gambia, everyone died, probably because all got sick simultaneously and no one could provide care, could not even give people water, and perhaps because, with so much death around them, those who might have survived did not fight.

The age of the victims was also striking. Normally, elderly people account for the overwhelming number of influenza deaths; in 1918, that was reversed, with young adults killed in the highest numbers. This effect was heightened within certain subgroups. For instance, a Metropolitan Life Insurance Company study of people aged 25 to 45 found that 3.26 percent of all industrial workers and 6 percent of all coal miners died. Other studies found that for pregnant women, fatality rates ranged from 23 percent to 71 percent.

Why did so many young adults die? As it happens, young adults have the strongest immune systems, which attacked the virus with every weapon possible—including chemicals called cytokines and other microbe-fighting toxins—and the battlefield was the lung. These “cytokine storms” further damaged the patient’s own tissue. The destruction, according to the noted influenza expert Edwin Kilbourne, resembled nothing so much as the lesions from breathing poison gas.

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image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/p_wcu6ylpLCIs0iRm4iIRCsgHu8=/fit-in/1072×0/https://public-media.si-cdn.com/filer/89/c0/89c0e417-97f9-4a9b-aec0-3308e6fc2f0c/02267a.jpg
During the autumn of 1918, the Red Cross ambulance station in Washington, D.C. was especially busy.(Library of Congress)

Seasonal influenza is bad enough. Over the past four decades it has killed 3,000 to 48,000 Americans annually, depending on the dominant virus strains in circulation, among other things. And more deadly possibilities loom.

In recent years, two different bird influenza viruses have been infecting people directly: the H5N1 strain has struck in many nations, while H7N9 is still limited to China (see “The Birth of a Killer”). All told, these two avian influenza viruses had killed 1,032 out of the 2,439 people infected as of this past July—a staggering mortality rate. Scientists say that both virus strains, so far, bind only to cells deep in the lung and do not pass from person to person. If either one acquires the ability to infect the upper respiratory tract, through mutation or by swapping genes with an existing human virus, a deadly pandemic is possible.

Prompted by the re-emergence of avian influenza, governments, NGOs and major businesses around the world have poured resources into preparing for a pandemic. Because of my history of the 1918 pandemic, The Great Influenza, I was asked to participate in some of those efforts.

Public health experts agree that the highest priority is to develop a “universal vaccine” that confers immunity against virtually all influenza viruses likely to infect humans (see “How to Stop a Lethal Virus”). Without such a vaccine, if a new pandemic virus surfaces, we will have to produce a vaccine specifically for it; doing so will take months and the vaccine may offer only marginal protection.

Another key step to improving pandemic readiness is to expand research on antiviral drugs; none is highly effective against influenza, and some strains have apparently acquired resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

Then there are the less glamorous measures, known as nonpharmaceutical interventions: hand-washing, telecommuting, covering coughs, staying home when sick instead of going to work and, if the pandemic is severe enough, widespread school closings and possibly more extreme controls. The hope is that “layering” such actions one atop another will reduce the impact of an outbreak on public health and on resources in today’s just-in-time economy. But the effectiveness of such interventions will depend on public compliance, and the public will have to trust what it is being told.

That is why, in my view, the most important lesson from 1918 is to tell the truth. Though that idea is incorporated into every preparedness plan I know of, its actual implementation will depend on the character and leadership of the people in charge when a crisis erupts.

I recall participating in a pandemic “war game” in Los Angeles involving area public health officials. Before the exercise began, I gave a talk about what happened in 1918, how society broke down, and emphasized that to retain the public’s trust, authorities had to be candid. “You don’t manage the truth,” I said. “You tell the truth.” Everyone shook their heads in agreement.

Next, the people running the game revealed the day’s challenge to the participants: A severe pandemic influenza virus was spreading around the world. It had not officially reached California, but a suspected case—the severity of the symptoms made it seem so—had just surfaced in Los Angeles. The news media had learned of it and were demanding a press conference.

The participant with the first move was a top-ranking public health official. What did he do? He declined to hold a press conference, and instead just released a statement: More tests are required. The patient might not have pandemic influenza. There is no reason for concern.

I was stunned. This official had not actually told a lie, but he had deliberately minimized the danger; whether or not this particular patient had the disease, a pandemic was coming. The official’s unwillingness to answer questions from the press or even acknowledge the pandemic’s inevitability meant that citizens would look elsewhere for answers, and probably find a lot of bad ones. Instead of taking the lead in providing credible information he instantly fell behind the pace of events. He would find it almost impossible to get ahead of them again. He had, in short, shirked his duty to the public, risking countless lives.

And that was only a game.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/#fuLsC75dykqQbuVc.99
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Story of a girl discovering having a brain cancer

(٥/٣/٢٠١٨):السّرطآن…💜
كتير منكن لح يستغرب و ينقز من هالكلمة:”سرطآن”؛
…صآر مارق سنة كاملة على إصابتي بالسّرطان الدّماغي”Brain Cancer”؛ متل الحلم كل شي صار. كيف عرفت إنّي مصآبة!، و كيف تلقّيت خبر مرَضي من الدّكتور و أهلي!،و أيمتى صآر هيك! و ليش! مآ بعرف!

حبّيت بذكرى مرور سنة على إصابتي بالسّرطآن إسترجع ذكرياتي معكن، كيف بدايتي معو كآنت.

(منبلّش من هون):كنت عم بدرس لإمتحانات نصف السّنة لعام ٢٠١٧-٢٠١٨. درست منيح منيح و رحت قدّمت إمتحاناتي،خلّصت و عطّلنا يومين

،بعد اليومين رجعنا للدّوام بشكل طبيعي. بس الشّي اللّي ما كان طبيعي إنّو إيدي اليمين مش عم بقدر حرّكها أو إمسك فيها قلمي اللّي هو مستقبلي.

فكّرت الموضوع إنّو إيدي تعبانة من ضغط الكتابة. رجعت عالبيت و كنت متضايقة لأنّو أوّل مرّة بسمع كلام من المعلمين بسبب إنّي ما كتبت دروسي. حكيت للماما شو صار معي و هديت.و بقيت على هالحالة جمعتين و إيدي وضعها مش تمام.

و هون بلّشت رحلتي البشعة اللّي دمّرت كل شي أنا كنت مخططلّو و دمّرت كل حياتنا الحلوة…
فحص الدّكتور جهة اليمين منّي و قلها لإمّي إنّو ممكن يكون شلل نصفي أو جلطة،

و بتعرفو الأم و دمعتها قدّيش غالية. شفت دموع إمي مع إنو حكت هي و الدّكتور على إنفراد بخصوص وضعي،هون أنا عرفت إنّي صحّيّاً مش منيحة بس ما سألت عن شي بس مسّحت دموع الغالية و قلتلها كل شي من ربنا خير. و بعدين إمّي حكتلي الموضوع و كآن شي سهل لأنّو كلّو بإيد ربنا.

بلّشنا صور للرّاس لنعرف شو مرضي، عملنا أّول صورة و تاني صورة و خلّصنا.
أخدت أمّي هالصّور عند أخصائي شرايين رآس و دماغ، بس هالمرّة ما كنت معها، كانو كل ّ اللّي بالبيت متجمعين على السّطح.
كانت صدمة لمّن شفتن!

ماما، بابا، إخواتي الشّباب، إخواتي البنات، كلّو عم يبكي إلّا أنا عم بضحك. سألت شو في شو قال الحكيم ما حدا جاوبني .. زعلت ورحت، لحقوني كلّن و قالولي إنّو في كتلتين عالدّماغ و هنّي اللّي عملولي جلطة على إيدي و إجري!

بعد هيك مرق كم يوم و قالولي بابا و ماما إنّو نحنا لازم ننزل على مركز ، بس مركز شو ما عرفت لانّو أصلن ما كنت بعرف إنّو هالكتل سرطآنيّة. وصلت عالمركز و يا ريت ما وصلت!

مجرّد فتت المركز و شفت النّاس المصابة طلّعت بأهلي و قلتلّن كنت بعرف و مش زعلانة لإنّي مش أحسن من حدا بهالمركز، يعني تقبّلت خبر إصابتي بالسّرطآن بكل رواء.
هنّي بكيو قدّامي بس أنا ما قدرت لأن ما لازم أضعف كرمالن وكرمالي.

صرت إتعامل متل أيّ مصاب، كل يوم ٥-٦ ساعات بالمستشفى على فحوصات و أدوية كتير،

بعد هيك إجى وقت الخزعة لإنّو للأسف ما فيهن يستأصلو المرض. عملت العمليّة وقمت بخير و سلامة.
و هون كانت المفاجئة، إنّو المرض مش حميد، خبيث..خبيث كتير…

عرفت انّو لازم إتعرّض ل٣٣ جلسة من العلاج الشّعاعي “Radiotherapy

بلّشنا ب ١٧/٤/٢٠١٨ و خلصنا ب ١/٦/٢٠١٨، ما كان فيهن تعب، بس كان فيهن أشياء مآ حبّيتها متل إنّو شعري يهرّ أنا و عم مشطو بعد رابع جلسة و ما بقي منّو شي غير خصلة وحدة أنا قصّيتها بإيدي و لقيت حالي بالقرعة (الصّلعة) أجمل بكتير من الشّعر الطّويل، بكفّي إنّن مآ دايقوني بالصّيف و كآن الهوا عم يلعب لعب بقرعتي، غير هيك إنّي صرت إنسى شوي، يلّا مش مشكل..أريح!

بلّشنا بالأصعب…
كمان إنفرض عليّي إنّي آخد ٧٠ حبّة كيماوي على مدار السّنة! 
“٧٠ حبّة”!
و هون بلّشنا بالعلاج الكيميائي “Chemotherapy” .أوّل حبّة منّو كانت ب ١/٧/٢٠١٨. و بلّش الوجع…
لعيان، نفسيّة بالأرض، دموع اللّي بتحبّن قدّامك، و كتير أشياء غيرها…
“عنجد وجع”…

بس الحمدالله ما كنت بيّن وجعي لحدا، وجعي اللّي ما بتحملو جبال أنا حملتو ، إي والله حملتو بلا حدا و بعدني عم بحملو و هيدا كلّو من فضل الله عليّي…

و لهلئ بس يسألوني أهلي اذا عم يجعني شي بكذّب و بقلّن لا، لسبب واحد، هو إني ضل شوف عيونن عم تلمع من الفرح و لأنّن عملوني قدوتن بالصّبر و القوّة و أنا اللّي لازم قويهن رغم وجعي.

صار عندي حياة تانية كلّيًّا، و المفروض اتقبّلها و حب مرضي كرمال وقعو بالفخّ و إقضي عليه..إي..إي، مآ تستغربو هالقد كنت متقبلة الموضوع ،و شبّت فيني قوّة مش طبيعية، قوّة تقلّي إنت الّليِ بدّك تقتلي مش هو! و هون أنا تأكّدت بإنّو اللّي بحط عينو بعين الله الله ما بيتركو،

و أنا من جماعة اللّي بسلمو أمرن لله و بحطّو عينن بعينو و بيسجدولو مع دمعة بس ما كنت أعرف شو سرّ هالدّمعة كل مَ إسجد لربّي و إدعيه بتنزل. أكيد هيدي إشارة من ربّي إنّو سامعني و حاسس فيني و إنّي تحت جناحو. كتير حلو شعور العبد بس يعرف إنّو المعبود معو و حدّو و مآ لح يتركو لو كلّ الدّني تركتو. أنا بحكي ربّي بكل صلاة بصلّيها لإنّي بعرف إنّو عم يسمعني بس إحكيه و لإنّي بعرف إنّو وقت إسجدلو و إستفقد حاجتي عندو شو مَ كانت هو بكون مغطّيني بجناحو و عم يسمعني. و هيدا سرّ قوتي عالمرض، قوتي هو الله…

. بس الله الباقي…و هو الوحيد اللّي بس ننحني إلو بيرفعنا، و تمسّكو بالحياة لو صعبة لإنّو ما في شي مستحيل كلنا قادرين نواجه كلّ الصّعوبات، و كلنا قادرين نعمل كلّ شي منحبّو لو متنا و وقعنا فينا نبلّش من الأوّل 
#CANCERFIGHTER🎗

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Israel Authorizes Organ Harvesting, Weapons-Testing on Palestinian Prisoners: Report

“Palestinian spaces are laboratories,” Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian said in a lecture at Columbia University.

Authorities of the Israeli occupation have permitted large pharmaceutical firms to carry out tests on Palestinian prisoners and has been testing weapons on Palestinian children, a professor with the Israeli Hebrew University said.

RELATED:
Israeli Troops Kill 15-year-old Boy During Gaza Protests

Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a Palestinian feminist activist and the Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law, said she collected data while working on a research project for the university.

“Palestinian spaces are laboratories,” she said in her lecture titled, ‘Disturbing Spaces – Violent Technologies in Palestinian Jerusalem’ at Columbia University in New York City. “The invention of products and services of state-sponsored security corporations are fueled by long-term curfews and Palestinian oppression by the Israeli army.”

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem distanced itself from her claims that Israel has been experimenting on Palestinian children with new weapons systems in order to boost the sale of international weapons.

Just weeks ago, Israeli authorities refused to hand over the body of prisoner Fares Baroud, who died in Israeli custody after suffering several illnesses including glaucoma and liver disease. There are concern and speculation from family and activist site, Palestine Libre, that Baroud was a test subject.

In 2015, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour accused Israeli security forces of harvesting organs from the bodies of Palestinians killed.

“After returning the seized bodies of Palestinians killed by the occupying forces through October, and following medical examinations, it has been reported that the bodies were returned with missing corneas and other organs,” Mansour said

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon responded by rejecting the allegations, saying that the charges were anti-Semitic.

Danon wrote to the then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “I call on you to repudiate this sinister accusation and to condemn the ongoing incitement by Palestinian leaders.”

As far back as 1997, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on the comments of Dalia Itzik, chairwoman of a parliamentary committee, who acknowledged that the Israeli Ministry of Health granted permits to pharmaceutical companies to test their new drugs on prisoners, and noted that 5,000 tests had been carried out, IMEMC reported.

WHY YOUR DOCTOR SHOULD ALSO BE A SCIENTIST

Scientists practiced in applying the experimental mind?

physician-scientists represent just one out of every 100 doctors.

RESEARCHERS AT THE University of Maryland recently announced a potential breakthrough in the fight against “neuropathic” pain— pain that results from malfunctioning or damaged nerves.

Neuropathic pain afflicts 100 million Americans and costs the nation over half a trillion dollars every year.

WIRED OPINION

Kurt Amsler, PhD, is a professor of biomedical sciences at the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Though the condition isn’t caused by physical trauma, it can nonetheless create a phantom sensation ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating agony.

The Maryland researchers developed a new technique that uses ultrasound waves to neutralize this pain.

That research team has a distinctive feature: It’s composed of physician-scientists. These specialized health care providers treat patients while also conducting research to develop new medicines and procedures.

Unfortunately, the physician-scientist is an endangered species—our country is suffering a severe and growing shortage of them. If we don’t reverse this trend, patients could lose out on the next generation of life-saving treatments.

Physician-scientists are defined by their formal training, which includes both a medical degree and a PhD in the biological and/or physical sciences.

Unlike typical lab researchers, physician-scientists have an intimate perspective of the patient experience. They witness firsthand the interaction between different drugs, the success of key surgical techniques, and patterns among patients. They bring those insights into the laboratory, where they guide research and accelerate the discovery process.

Shortly after the University of Maryland team announced its breakthrough, a physician-scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a large research hospital in Los Angeles, discovered a blood protein that is linked to a common type of heart failure.

Other research teams had failed to find such a clear bio-marker. This finding will likely be used to create a simple blood test to determine patients’ risk of developing a catastrophic heart condition.

Other examples abound.

In June, a group of physician-scientists at Oregon Health & Science University published research on a compound that could stop cancer cells from spreading throughout the body. A few years ago, physician-scientists at the Scintillon Institute in San Diego uncovered a molecular link between Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes.

Such monumental discoveries are the specialty of the physician-scientist.

This is the benefit of blending practical medicine with academic research.

Physician-scientists also help patients make informed care decisions. They’re well-equipped to see through flashy pharmaceutical and medical device marketing that saturates the health care industry.

Consider the story of Dr. Jalees Rehman, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois.

In Scientific American, Dr. Rehman recalled a patient asking him about a controversial heart procedure offered by a private clinic in Thailand. For a small fortune, Thai doctors would treat the patient’s advanced heart disease with a bone marrow injection. The stem cells in the marrow would, supposedly, heal damaged valves, chambers, and nerves.

Dr. Rehman’s research specialty—studying the therapeutic application of stem cells to heart conditions—was directly relevant. He knew the procedure was bogus: Bone marrow actually contains very few stems cells and the injection process presented enormous health risks. He successfully deterred the patient from undergoing the procedure.

It’s increasingly difficult for patients to receive such informed advice.

Between 2003 and 2012, the already meager population of physician-scientists shrunk by nearly 6 percent, according to a survey from the American Medical Association. Today, physician-scientists represent just one out of every 100 doctors.

For the sake of medical innovation, it’s imperative to grow a new crop of physician-scientists.

More federal funding for young physician-scientists would help tremendously. Currently, most funding goes to physician-scientists who are already well established in their respective fields.

From 2012 to 2017, nearly six in 10 NIH pediatric research grants went to senior-level physician-scientists, according to a JAMA study. When young physician-scientists can’t secure grants, they often decide to abandon their research interests and practice medicine full-time.

Funding more research grants, and earmarking them for young physician-scientists, could lead to breakthrough treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases.

Institutions of higher education also have a role to play. Schools that only offer traditional medical degrees could create physician-scientist programs to attract more bright young people to the profession. My school—the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine—recently launched a seven-year DO/PhD program.

Physician-scientists bridge the gap between scientific theory and practical medicine. We need to boost their ranks.

Re-designing: opportunity to reframe problems and solutions.
Today’s problems are increasingly complex. Take health for example. In a country where access to healthcare costs the same for everyone, we are seeing more inequality than ever.

The wider determinants of health developed by Public Health England show that in fact, things like someone’s education, their job, who their friends are, how they get on with family, and where they live can actually determine how long they will live – even if they’re using the same doctor as someone living down the road but who is likely to live 10 years longer.

In the last two decades, design has been demonstrating a refreshing approach to addressing such complex problems.

This is because design provides the opportunity to reframe problems and solutions. It explores ways of doing things that haven’t been tried before, to address problems that haven’t been well understood before.

In this age of complexity and multiple dependencies, problems are constantly and rapidly changing, and so must solutions. We need to move away from the romantic notion that a solution – whether it’s a service, product or policy – needs to go through a one-off and well-polished design process, beyond which it will continue to be relevant forevermore.

Reality is very different. So we’re making the case here that as designers, we have a mission to build the capabilities of non-designers who work within the organisations that are transforming our future.

This means they are equipped with the problem-solving mindset to constantly interrogate, improve and innovate as realities quickly evolve, and things that worked yesterday soon become obsolete.

image: https://www.uscreates.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/uscreates_asset_mapping_2-1024×683.jpg

Asset MappingWhy this is important

Urgency for prevention and early intervention:

There is a sense of urgency to pre-empt problems before they happen in order to save time, resource and often even lives. The recent NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) demonstrate this urgency.

With an ever-increasing population, public services are at breaking point. But since two-thirds of deaths among those under 75 are a result of preventable illness, there is a growing recognition that keeping as many people as possible healthy is the most sustainable investment.

This is where a lot of the STP plans are focusing their energy. Because design offers a lens into the future and a provocation for possible realities, it provides those committed to prevention and early intervention with the ability to understand future problems and to design solutions that can forestall them.

Systemic complexity

We can no longer think of products, services and policies outside of the systems they exist within and interact with. For example, we worked with the Healthy London Partnership on a deep dive to understand the root causes of childhood obesity and to try out new ways of addressing this chronic challenge.

Our insight revealed that a one-pronged approach will never do. We need to create positive and synchronised triggers at different points in the system: we need behavioural nudges that change the habits of individuals, we need social movements that influence and inspire whole communities, we need levers that transform physical obesogenic environments, and we also need legislation and regulation such as the Sugary Drink Tax to reduce temptation.

Design invites diverse people across the system to confront problems collaboratively, by creating solutions that leverage the collective power of everyone’s experience, expertise, resource and authority.

Ongoing transformation:

In a time of austerity, we just can’t afford to keep slowly chipping away at the problem through little tweaks and tricks in the hope that it will one day disappear. We need to completely and continuously re-imagine how things might work better. When working with a national charity, we realised that funding for children’s centres was at risk, and that they were struggling to reach diverse families.

This meant we needed to completely transform the service, into one where children’s centres can go (literally ‘in a box’) into the homes of those who most need them, for a ninth of the cost and nine times the reach.

A design approach to problem-solving offered staff the opportunity to experiment with transformational ideas at a small and safe scale, fail quickly, learn fast and build confidence in the direction of travel.

What capabilities

Organisations need to develop a number of problem-solving capabilities to future-proof their solutions. In a recent Touchpoint article, my colleagues Jocelyn Bailey and Cat Drew argue that these capabilities are presumably less about skill and more about mindset and culture.

Armed with the right mindset, organisations can then develop (and even invent) the unique skills, methods and tools to solve all types of diverse problems. This mindset is characterised by:

Deep human understanding

the approach invites curiosity and determination to explore what lies beneath people’s actions, decisions and perceptions.

Reframing challenges

the insight revealed through deep human understanding can help reframe the challenge to get to the bottom of the hidden root causes, rather than the visible symptoms.

Working with others

a design approach to problem-solving is humble. We admit that we don’t know it all, and we invite others who have experienced the problem in different ways or who are experts in related issues across the system, to come on board and shape the journey.

Learning by doing

the only way to test innovation is to give it a go. Design is a process of solving problems through doing, learning, improving and scaling. Starting small and imperfect can mitigate the risks of failure, and with every iterative cycle and every improved version, more investment and scale can be justified.

image: https://www.uscreates.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/uscreates_prototyping-1024×683.jpg

 

How to go about this

There are various ways that organisations can build the problem-solving capabilities of their workforce. Last year, I wrote an article with Joyce Yee in the Service Design Impact Report that reviewed different design capability models that the public sector draws on. There is not a one-size-fits-all model, and each presents its own benefits:

Structured training: this varies from one-day workshops to bootcamps. These are best for beginners who would like a taster of the mindset to assess whether it provides potential for the nature of their organisation’s challenges.

Experiential learning: in other words, learning on the job. Often this takes the form of design experts facilitating a series of problem-solving sprints within an organisation, based on a real challenge. Staff are invited to shadow the process, reflect on learning, and experience the benefits first-hand.

Coaching: this model is suited for more experienced organisations who have potentially benefited from structured training and/or experiential learning. They would be keen to lead the problem-solving process themselves, with the support of a design coach for strategic guidance, alignment, and constructive provocation.

Internal disruption: a popular example of this is the lab model, where an organisation invests in an innovation team embedded within, with a role to create and grow a movement and a culture that embraces a design mindset to problem-solving.

In today’s complex and rapidly evolving world, organisations need to start thinking differently about how they are future-proofing what they do and how they do it. They need to invest in people, not solutions. By better equipping their people with a problem-solving mindset, they are creating the enablers for ongoing improvement, innovation and future relevance.

Joanna is Design Director at Uscreates. She is a social designer, author, speaker and lecturer with over 15 years of practical experience in the UK, the Middle East and the United States.

She leads on the development and delivery of service design, user centred innovation, design research, business modelling, communication and digital design projects. Joanna has worked with over 50 public and third sector organisations – including Nesta, The Healthy London Partnership, the Health Foundation and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust – to help them better understand and address their challenges.

She has expertise across a broad range of social challenges including health and wellbeing, social integration, social action, employment, education and social enterprise.

Joanna has a Ph.D. in design for social integration in design for social integration and is an RSA fellow. She is an associate lecturer at the University of the Arts London, Kingston University and Ravensbourne University.

Read more at https://www.uscreates.com/capability-training/#rtyugoxJFYpkkelH.9

Hidden Health Dangers:

A Former Agbiotech Insider Wants His GMO Crops Pulled

by Caius Rommens. Oct. 17, 2018

Genetic engineering isn’t everyone’s childhood dream. I didn’t care for it when I started studying biology at the University of Amsterdam, but my professor explained it was an acquired taste and the best option for a good job.

So, I suppressed my doubts and learned to extract DNA from plants, recombine the DNA in test tubes, reinsert the fusions into plant cells, and use hormones to regenerate new plants.

People say that love is blind, but I started loving what I did blindly. Or, perhaps, what started as an acquired taste soon became a dangerous addiction. Genetic engineering became part of me.

After I received my PhD, I went to the University of California in Berkeley to help develop a new branch of genetic engineering. I isolated several disease resistance genes from wild plants, and demonstrated, for the first time, that these genes could confer resistance to domesticated plants. Monsanto liked my work and invited me to lead its new disease control program in St. Louis in 1995.

I should not have accepted the invitation. I knew, even then, that pathogens cannot be controlled by single genes: They evolve too quickly around any barrier to infection.

It takes about two to three decades for insects and plants to overcome a resistance gene, but it takes only a few years, at most, for pathogens to do the same.

I did accept the invitation, though, and the next six years became a true boot camp in genetic engineering. I learned to apply many tricks about how to change the character of plants and I learned to stop worrying about the consequences of such changes.

In 2000, I left Monsanto and started an independent biotech program at J.R. Simplot Company in Boise, Idaho.

Simplot is one of the largest potato processors in the world. It was my goal to develop GMO potatoes that would be admired by farmers, processors, and consumers.

Genetic engineering had become an obsession by then, and I created at least 5,000 different GMO versions each year—more than any other genetic engineer. All these potential varieties were propagated, grown in greenhouses or the field, and evaluated for agronomic, biochemical, and molecular characteristics.

The almost daily experience I suppressed was that none of my modifications improved potato’s vigor or yield potential. In contrast, most GMO varieties were stunted, chlorotic, mutated, or sterile, and many of them died quickly, like prematurely-born babies.

Despite all my quiet disappointments, I eventually combined three new traits into potatoes: disease resistance (for farmers), no tuber discoloration (for processors), and reduced food-carcinogenicity (for consumers).

It was as hard for me to consider that my GMO varieties might be corrupted as it is for parents to doubt the perfection of their children. Our assumption was that GMOs are safe. But my pro-biotech filter eventually wore thin and finally shattered entirely.

I identified some minor mistakes and had my first doubts about the products of my work. I wanted to re-evaluate our program and slow it down, but it was too little too late. Business leaders were involved now. They saw dollar signs. They wanted to expand and speed-up the program, not slow it down.

I decided to quit in 2013. It was painful to leave behind the major part of my adult life.

The true scope of my errors became obvious to me only after I had relocated to a small farm in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

By this time Simplot had announced the regulatory approval of my GMO varieties. As the company began to plan for quiet introductions in American and Asian markets, I was breeding plants and animals independently, using conventional methods.

And since I still felt uncomfortable about my corporate past, I also re-evaluated the about two hundred patents and articles that I had published in the past, as well as the various petitions for deregulation.

Not so much biased anymore, I easily identified major mistakes.

“With the mistake your life goes in reverse.
Now you can see exactly what you did
Wrong yesterday and wrong the day before
And each mistake leads back to something worse.
(James Fenton)

For instance, we had silenced three of potato’s most conserved genes, assuming that the three genetic changes would each have one effect only. It was a ludicrous assumption because all gene functions are interconnected.

Each change had indeed caused a ripple effect. It should have been clear to me that silencing the ‘melanin gene’ PPO would have numerous effects, including an impairment of potatoes’ natural stress-tolerance response.

Similarly, asparagine and glucose are among the most basic compounds of a plant, so why did I believe I could silence the ASN and INV genes involved in the formation of these compounds? And why did nobody question me?

Another strange assumption was that I had felt able to predict the absence of unintentional long-term effects on the basis of short-term experiments. It was the same assumption that chemists had used when they commercialized DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, rGBH, and so on.

The GMO varieties I created are currently released under innocuous names, such as InnateHibernate, and White Russet. They are described as better and easier-to-use than normal potatoes and to contain fewer bruises, but the reality is different.

The GMO potatoes are likely to accumulate at least two toxins that are absent in normal potatoes, and newer versions (Innate 2.0) additionally lost their sensory qualities when fried. Furthermore, the GMO potatoes contain at least as many bruises as normal potatoes, but these undesirable bruises are now concealed.

There are many more issues, and some of them could have been identified earlier if they had not been covered-up by misleading statistics in the petitions for deregulation.

How could I have missed the issues? How could I have trusted the statisticians? How could the USDA have trusted them? My re-evaluation of the data clearly shows that the GMO varieties are seriously compromised in their yield potential and in their ability to produce normal tubers.

Unfortunately, most GMO potatoes end-up as unlabeled foods that are indistinguishable from normal foods. Consumer groups would have to carry out PCR tests to determine if certain products, including fries and chips, contain or lack the GMO material.

Given the nature of the potato industry, the most common potato varieties, such as Russet Burbank and Ranger Russet, will soon be contaminated with GMO stock.

I have now summarized the new conclusions of this past work (without disclosing company secrets—I am bound by confidentiality agreements) in a book, entitled ‘Pandora’s Potatoes.

This book, which is now available on Amazon, explains why I renounce my work at Simplot and why the GMO varieties should be withdrawn from the market. It is a warning and a call for action: a hope that others will step forward with additional evidence, so that the public, with its limited financial means, has a chance to counter the narrow-mindedness of the biotech industry.

My book describes the many hidden issues of GMO potatoes, but GMO potatoes are not the exception: They are the rule.

I could just as well have written (and may write) about the experimental GMO varieties we developed at Monsanto, which contains an anti-fungal protein that I now recognize as allergenic, about the disease resistance that caused insect sensitivity, or about anything else in genetic engineering.

On May 3rd 2018 the columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post: “Anti-GMO is anti-science.” His statement was echoed by Mitch Daniels, his colleague, who added, “[It] isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral.

But these two columnists are not scientists. They don’t understand the level of bias and self-deception that exists among genetic engineers. Indeed, anyone who is pro-science should understand that science is meant to study nature, not to modify it—and certainly not to predict, in the face of strong evidence, the absence of unintended effects.

The real anti-science movement is not on the streets. It is, as I discovered, in the laboratories of corporate America.

Posted with permission from Independent Science News.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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