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How Environmental Factors Contribute to Human Health
Preventing illness is the best way to get health care costs down. So why aren’t governments doing more to protect the environment? We’ve long known that environmental factors contribute to disease, especially contamination of air, water and soil. Scientists are now learning the connection is stronger than we realized.
New research shows that 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans—those that rapidly increase in incidence or geographic range—start with animals, two-thirds from wild animals. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS, AIDS ... these are just a few of the hundreds of epidemics that have spread from animals to people. A study by the International Livestock Research Institute concludes that more than 2 million people a year are killed by diseases that originated with wild and domestic animals. Many more become ill.
According to an article in the New York Times, “emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century.” The increase is mainly due to human encroachment into and destruction of wildlife habitat. For example, one study concluded that a four percent increase in Amazon deforestation led to a 50 percent increase in malaria because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the cleared areas.
Another example from the article shows how interconnected life is. Development in North America has destroyed or fragmented forests and chased many predators away. This has led to a huge increase in white-footed mice, which carry Lyme bacteria. The mice are not good at removing ticks and their larvae, so the ticks pick up bacteria from the mice and spread it to other mammals, including humans. Because the number of Lyme-infected ticks has multiplied, more are transferring the disease to humans.
“When we do things in an ecosystem that erode biodiversity—we chop forests into bits or replace habitat with agricultural fields—we tend to get rid of species that serve a protective role,” Lyme Disease Researcher Richard Ostfeld told the New York Times, adding that our actions tend to favour species that act as disease carriers.
Global warming is adding to the problem. A study in the journal Nature titled Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health notes that heart attacks and respiratory illness due to heat waves, altered transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures can all be linked to a warming planet. And economic and political upheaval brought on by climate change can damage public health infrastructure, making it difficult for people to cope with the inevitable rise in sickness, according to a study in the Archives of Medical Research called Global Warming and Infectious Disease.
Research has also shown that warming ocean waters are increasing the incidence of waterborne illnesses, including those caused by toxic bacteria in shellfish.
This is costly to the economy as well as to human health and survival. The World Bank estimates that a severe influenza pandemic could cost the world economy $3 trillion. Environment Canada says air pollution alone costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars a year because of increased health-care costs, missed work days and reduced productivity.
A key solution, according to the One Health Initiative, is to look at the links between human, animal and ecological health and to manage our activities in a sustainable and holistic way. The U.S.-based initiative is bringing experts in human, animal and environmental health together to study these links.
Another promising area of research is natural capital evaluation. Although it’s difficult, if not impossible, to put a dollar value on the numerous services nature provides, leaving them out of economic calculations means they are often ignored. Forests and green spaces filter water and store carbon. Urban green spaces provide cooling and protection from storms. And, ecosystems in balance help to protect us from disease outbreaks. Destroying these systems and replacing them with human-built infrastructure or paying for the consequences often costs much more than profits gained from exploitation.
With the world’s human population now at 7 billion and growing, and the demand for technology and modern conveniences increasing, we can’t control all our negative impacts. But we have to find better ways to live within the limits nature and its cycles impose. Our physical health and survival, and the health of our economies, depend on it.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.
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'How Dare You Put Our Lives at Risk': Pennsylvania Democrat Brian Sims Rips GOP Members for 'Coverup' of Positive COVID-19 Tests
Brian Sims, a Democratic representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, ranted in a Facebook Live video that went viral about the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers who are pushing to reopen the state even though one of their members had a positive COVID-19 test.
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World Health Organization officials today announced the launch of the WHO Foundation, a legally separate body that will help expand the agency's donor base and allow it to take donations from the general public.
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Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
By Nicholas Joyce
The coronavirus has resulted in stress, anxiety and fear – symptoms that might motivate a person to see a therapist. Because of social distancing, however, in-person sessions are less possible. For many, this has raised the prospect of online therapy. For clients in need of warmth and reassurance, could this work? Studies and my experience suggests it does.
Telehealth Versus Traditional Therapy<p><a href="https://www.cigna.com/hcpemails/telehealth/telehealth-flyer.pdf" target="_blank">Private insurance companies</a> like Cigna and Aetna, have come around; they now provide coverage for what they see as a "legitimate" service. And <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-wells-2019-consumer-survey-finds-majority-of-consumers-open-to-telehealth-adoption-continues-to-grow-300906438.html" target="_blank">surveys show</a> consumers are receptive to telehealth counseling: no driving to an appointment, no searching for a parking space, no worries about childcare while they're away, no need to switch providers if they move, and no problem if the specialist happens to be far away.</p><p>Online therapy opens doors for clients who wouldn't otherwise seek help, <a href="https://www.worldcat.org/title/empirical-examination-of-the-influence-of-personality-gender-role-conflict-and-self-stigma-on-attitudes-and-intentions-to-seek-online-counseling-in-college-students/oclc/941976505" target="_blank">particularly patients</a> who feel stigmatized by therapy or intimidated by a stranger sitting across the room from them. Often, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295" target="_blank">people open up</a> more easily in telehealth sessions. Firsthand accounts have detailed <a href="https://www.romper.com/p/i-tried-online-therapy-for-a-month-this-is-what-happened-13630" target="_blank">positive experiences from consumers</a>.</p>
Overcoming Prejudices About Online Counseling<p>Now COVID-19 is forcing most traditional psychotherapists to adapt their practice to <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/202003/covid-19-etherapy-in-times-isolation" target="_blank">online counseling</a>. After experiencing the medium, they are <a href="https://www.wecounsel.com/blog/why-every-therapist-in-private-practice-needs-a-telehealth-option/" target="_blank">overcoming their prejudices</a>. Many will convert some or all of their caseloads to telehealth after the pandemic ends. Most of our clients seem to be good with it: responding to a satisfaction survey, 85% of USF students strongly or somewhat agreed their telehealth experience was comparable to an in-person visit.</p><p>All this allows a continuity of care for clients that before was impossible; there is, however, a caveat. Because of the coronavirus, some of my clients at USF who live out-of-state have moved back home. That means, legally, I can no longer serve them. Even though they are still USF students, my license is valid only in Florida.</p><p>For telehealth to work effectively, our national system of licensing and regulation law needs to adapt. Although the federal government temporarily halted HIPAA regulations to promote telehealth during this time, not all states are allowing out-of-state practice. The coronavirus may not be here forever, but spring break and Christmas holidays always will. We need seamless telehealth across state lines.</p>
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Kevin Frayer / Stringer / Getty Images
By Jessica Corbett
Even after the world's largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.
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