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Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue II + TED = Ideas to Tackle World's Most Pressing Ocean Issues

Creative collaboration and brilliant ideas were backed by practical solutions to ocean problems on Mission Blue ll, a TED held aboard the National Geographic Lindblad ship Orion in the South Pacific, Oct. 10 - 16.

MissionBlue founder Sylvia Earle, TED curator Chris Anderson and Lindblad Expedition’s Sven Lindblad, convened an ecosystem of bright people who play unique roles in today’s society to sail together from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. Common traits among the passengers were ingenuity and the will to tackle tough ocean issues through media, science, art, technology, entrepreneurship and, most of all, ideas.

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On the aft deck at sunset, TED Talks were presented in style against a backdrop of softly lit mosaic walls made from recycled bottles. The talks covered a range of topics from satellites and robots to monitor the sea, species extinction, seafloor art, island nations, rising tides and marine protected areas (MPA), to what animals think and feel. Presentations that make the grade will be posted on TED.com.

Ideas for Mission Blue II Initiatives were generated by the stellar guests on board—a constellation of island leaders, scientists, engineers, philanthropists, policymakers, artists, inventors, writers, filmmakers, educators and entrepreneurs. Ten final initiatives were selected from which groups were formed. These collectives focused their ingenuity on new approaches to overfishing, climate change effects, creative ocean education, immersive experiential media, public engagement, MPA, remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV), species recovery, tackling illegal unreported unregulated fishing (IUU) and reversing the global degradation of marine ecosystems that support life on Earth.

One initiative addressed the demise of Pacific Bluefin tuna that have roamed the sea for millions of years. Its population has been reduced to 4 percent of its pre-industrial revolution size. The group brainstormed how to change the public image of tuna in cans, casseroles, and fish ‘n chips to incredibly smart wildlife roaming freely in the sea. Clever plans were devised. For instance, when a member of the group pointed out that the population still has a chance to recover if allowed to reach reproductive age before they are killed, a creative director proposed an amusing campaign about staying away from underage fish.

Earle, who sparked the first Mission Blue expedition to the Galapagos in 2010 through a wish that earned her a TED Prize, pointed out that Mission Blue I and II is one wish that keeps on coming true. She urged everyone to use everything in their power to ignite public support for marine protected areas, which she calls "Hope Spots," referring to their potential to allow the ocean to recover. The topic of expanded protected areas spanned several initiatives including the Micronesia Challenge, which is a commitment of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands to conserve at least 30 percent of nearshore marine resources. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) encouraged the conversation to continue at its World Conservation Congress in 2016.

The Hope Spot initiative delved deeply into how to rapidly scale up. Earle reported that since she launched the idea of Hope Spots at TED in 2009, and the film Mission Blue on Netflix, a groundswell of communities around the world have expressed interest in Hope Spots and are looking to her organization, MissionBlue, for guidance and support. The group addressed what is needed now, including increased capacity and a framework for sharing information and data across cultures and diverse ocean environments with “how to” tools to help others succeed. The group also explored virtual reality models to express why the concept works.

It’s been a tough century for the ocean. Homo sapiens, the newcomers on Earth, have managed to wipe out at least 70 percent of the big fish, and drive many species to extinction. As one participant put it, “We thought we were the boss of the Earth but are finding that we are not.”

On the bright side, Mission Blue II and other projects show evidence that mankind has the mental capacity and consciousness to admit its mistakes, learn tough lessons and attempt a mid-course correction. Passengers were gleeful in their drive to meet the challenge, and turn the tide. Spirits were lifted by sunrise yoga, the magnificence of coral reefs, music and kindred spirit. Shawn Heinrichs of Racing Extinction presented the new film, a sobering reminder of why we need all hands on deck if we want our children to experience the wonderment of the spectacular world underwater, and leave them an ocean that can support human life.

Outcomes from the first Mission Blue have spurred some of the most important ocean initiatives of the past century with projects that continue. Time will tell the full effect of Mission Blue II.

On the last day, TED’s Anderson asked everybody to write down thoughts in the form of a letter. Best-selling author Carl Safina read his out loud:

To All The World’s Children of All Ages,

Someone once said—with a wink—that animals were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another. That's an interesting perspective. It’s true that when animals left the seas in which life arose, they took saltwater with them, in their bodies—an internal environment crucial for cellular survival.  We are, in a sense, soft vessels of seawater. Seventy percent of our bodies is water, the same percentage as covers Earth's surface. We are wrapped around an ocean within. You can test this simply enough: taste your tears.

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.