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All people are entitled to quality essential health services, without suffering financial hardship to pay for health expenses when they are sick. This simple but powerful belief undergirds the growing movement towards universal health coverage (UHC), now a global commitment under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Regulating tobacco use using excise taxation, restrictions on smoking in public places, and restrictions on youth access and sale of tobacco products is now a widely-accepted policy action to prevent its harmful health effects. The ruling by the United States Federal District Court that ordered the country’s four largest cigarette makers to make “corrective statements” to inform the public about the harms of cigarettes, including light and low-tar cigarettes, which began on November 26, 2017 for one year, using prime-time television commercials and full-page ads in newspapers, only confirms what is already known on the basis of accumulated evidence over the past half century: the manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery have led to addiction, ill health, and premature mortality and disability among smokers and among those exposed to secondhand smoke. And the recent decision by the Vatican to ban duty-free cigarette sales is a good example of how societal attitude towards tobacco use has changed: a sovereign state is willing to forego revenue from products that clearly harm people's health.
Imagine that today is a vaccination day in a rural health facility in Nigeria. About 25 mothers are sitting in a waiting room to get polio or DTP3 shots for their children. A health worker is about to deliver bad news to the waiting mothers: vaccines are out of stock, and three vials that have arrived are spoiled. Some mothers have traveled from afar and may not return later.
Heavy smog compelled New Delhi to declare a pollution emergency last week. As air pollution soared to hazardous levels and residents donned masks, India’s capital took a series of measures, such as banning most commercial trucks from entering the city and closing all schools, in response to the air quality crisis. Many residents complained of headaches, coughs and other health concerns, and poor visibility caused major traffic accidents.
On September 20th, 2017, a young hunter, in his 30s, arrived at a health center in Kween District, located in Eastern Uganda, on the border with Kenya. He had symptoms of fever, bleeding, diarrhea, and vomiting. Within 5 days he was dead. Two weeks later, his sister also showed up at the same health facility: she had similar symptoms. Within a week, she too was dead. Posthumous samples confirmed that she had Marburg Virus Disease (MVD), one of the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans. On 19th October, the Ugandan government notified WHO and publicly announced an outbreak of MVD. Not long after this announcement, MVD claimed another victim – this time, the hunter’s brother.
Few people today doubt that smoking is bad. But many, including seasoned policy makers, do not realize just how bad it is. Bad for people, bad for economies, and bad for poverty reduction. In fact, tobacco use not only kills millions of people each year but places a staggering poverty and economic burden on low-income families and less-developed countries that is deepening inequalities between and within countries.
The launching of the iPhones 8 and X and the advent of genomic-based precision medicine for disease treatment and prevention, are new reminders that technological innovation is fueling momentous change in our daily lives. Indeed, as Professor Klaus Schwab, the chairman of the World Economic Forum describes, the physical, digital and biological trends underpinning what he calls 'the fourth industrial revolution', are unleashing changes “unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”
When the United Nations negotiators recently met in New York to track progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGSs), a number of side events to the High-Level Political Forum were organized to emphasize the crucial role of agriculture. I attended a couple of these events and took the opportunity to illustrate why investments in livestock will pay dividends for sustainable development, and more particularly for health.