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 4 positive stories about global development prospects in 2022

Amid a series of setbacks to global development in 2021—pandemics and lockdowns, hunger and conflict, debt crises and inflation—there were also some positive development victories, which offer some reason to be more optimistic in 2022 and beyond….

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By Homi Kharas

Amid a series of setbacks to global development in 2021—pandemics and lockdowns, hunger and conflict, debt crises and inflation—there were also some positive development victories, which offer some reason to be more optimistic in 2022 and beyond.

1. Hopeful signs of better global public health.

To start, the astonishing science of vaccine development presents promising prospects for victory over the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022. A significant ramp-up in vaccine availability for developing countries is underway. COVAX is reported to have delivered around 300 million doses in December alone, bringing its annual total to 910 million. That’s a shortfall compared to the initial January 2021 target to deliver 2.3 billion doses to low-income countries, but above the midpoint of the lowered range that was revised midyear after greater demand for boosters in advanced countries and reduced supply and shipping disruptions made the initial target unfeasible. COVAX should be able to regularize its supply in 2022. Its current target is to achieve 70 percent immunization coverage across low-income countries by mid-2022.

Coupled with the seemingly milder health effects of the omicron variant and the advancement in oral antiviral pills, there is every hope that the pandemic will morph into an endemic phase in 2022. Of course, there are huge uncertainties with this prognosis, but the limited evidence is encouraging.

There’s also a deeper institutional reason for optimism on global public health. The deficiencies of the current system have been identified, and there is global political leadership to understand better what needs to be done to protect us from the next pandemic. A high-level panel issued a very practical Global Deal for our Pandemic Age, and, while the recommendations (especially the call for coordinated finance) have yet to be taken up, it represents an initial serious effort to restore one pillar of multilateralism. At a minimum, the standing of the World Health Organization (WHO) seems to have improved.

With so much focus on the pandemic, the progress in the fight against malaria went largely unrecognized. But it was significant. The WHO declared China malaria free on June 30, 2021. This was a major achievement for a country that once suffered from 30 million new cases a year. Initial success depended on the scientific discovery of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), coupled with effective delivery techniques (long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets). But complete eradication required a different strategy of identifying, monitoring, and responding to malaria outbreaks everywhere in the country. Malaria continues to be a scourge in Africa—some 240 million cases and 627,000 deaths in 2020 according to WHO. What is exciting is that there is now a scaling up of the community-based testing and response approaches developed in China to other countries, along with continued progress on the science front. A vaccine suitable for use by children was approved by WHO just a few months ago, in October 2021.

Entering 2022, then, the prospects for improved financial, scientific, and institutional backing for public health—while not sufficient—are grounds for optimism.

2. The huge expansion of awareness of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the growing commitment from society to advance the goals is a major below-the-radar story.

The chart below (taken from my joint work with Simon Evenett and Sam Fankhauser) shows the explosion in the number of English-language mentions of the SDGs.

Of course, words do not by themselves change results on the ground, but the upswell in awareness of the SDGs is palpable and significant. Awareness builds change, and change builds greater awareness and learning. A positive cycle is established.

One specific action that was put in place in April 2021 was the European Commission’s proposal for a corporate sustainable reporting directive. This directive extends nonfinancial environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting requirements to all large companies, harmonizes standards, and requires audited information and machine-searchable publication. It strives to put in place an information system that will create incentives for large companies to move toward sustainable and inclusive impact.

Better data will improve the allocative efficiency of sustainable finance. In 2021, new issues of sustainable bonds roughly doubled compared to 2000, surpassing $1 trillion. Much of this is related to green finance; the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a group of investors managing $130 trillion in assets, promised to support global decarbonization.

It is early days, but sustainable and green finance are entering the mainstream with the prospects of more growth, standardization, and attention to avoiding greenwashing in 2022. The reallocation of global capital—several disappointments on climate finance notwithstanding (such as the failure of advanced countries to deliver the promised $100 billion in annual, additional climate finance)—coupled with growing corporate attention to sustainability is very positive for global development in 2022.

3. Technology is finally delivering on its promise to make major economic production and consumption structures more sustainable.

Consider that two-thirds of new cars sold in Norway in 2021 were electric. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), over half of the global increase in electricity supply in 2021 came from renewables. Electricity, in turn, was the fastest growing component of energy supply. The forecasts are even more optimistic. The IEA projects that 95 percent of incremental power capacity through 2026 will be from renewables, despite higher prices of materials used in wind and solar photovoltaic installations. This is not fast enough to get to net zero by 2050 but does represent a significant advance in the first step of the green transition—making all new investments as green as possible.

There is now evidence to support the idea that when technology and economics provide the right conditions, countries can overperform on their climate pledges by a large margin. As one example, India pledged, in 2015, to generate 40 percent of its electricity in 2030 using nonfossil fuels. It reached that target last year, nine years ahead of schedule. Its new target is to quintuple its renewables capacity by 2030—a 20 percent compound annual rate. Breakthroughs in storage (cheaper batteries) and product innovations (think solar roofs) add to the practicality of incorporating more sustainable technologies to drive structural change.

Technological advance remains in the forefront of the green transition but is now moving to specific areas—the potential to use green hydrogen to generate the high temperatures required by steel and cement, for example. Airline and maritime bunker fuels are other examples.

The harder challenges, perhaps, are political. Strong vested interests from those in existing fossil fuel industries and technologies are resisting change. State-owned utility companies, particularly distribution companies that often have inefficient and subsidized pricing structures, are another bottleneck reducing market forces toward green transition goals.

4. The outlook for world population trends is becoming more favorable.

The U.N. has been steadily reducing its medium-fertility-variant forecast of global population in its annual report on world population prospects. It now estimates that the global population will be 10.9 billion in 2100—a compound growth of just 0.4 percent per year—and even this could be a high estimate.

One side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that, except for a few Scandinavian countries, fertility rates appear to have fallen. In India, which released the major National Family Health Survey, 2019-2021 in November 2021, the total fertility rate is already much closer to the U.N.’s low variant than its medium variant. This may sound like technical nitpicking, but the impact is huge. For India, the difference in its population in 2100 in the low-fertility variant compared to the medium-fertility variant is more than a half billion people! For the world, the difference in these two variants is 3.5 billion people.

In March 2022, the U.N. will release its new outlook for the world’s population—look for the forecast of the number of people living in 2100 to be far lower than the current forecast. This will be good news because so many of the threats facing the planet, from carbon emissions to depletion of natural resources and biodiversity destruction, stem from the continued encroachment of people into the natural environment. Slower population growth will permit more countries to sign onto, and implement, the 30×30 conservation plan to protect the planet. Seventy-two countries (including EU members and the United States) have already committed to this plan. It could be enshrined in a U.N. agreement when the Phase 2 meeting is held in Kunming in April/May 2022.

Four long-run drivers of development—public health, financial alignment with SDGs and transformative green technologies, technological progress, and demography—are looking up. While short-term challenges of debt, inflation, and high food prices will doubtless afflict many countries this year, the underlying global trends are starting to improve. That’s a good sign for 2022 and beyond.

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A dog has caught monkeypox from one of its owners, highlighting risk of the virus infecting pets and wild animals

The monkeypox virus can easily spread between humans and animals. A veterinary virologist explains how the virus could go from people to wild animals in…

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A dog in Paris has become the first case of a pet contracting monkeypox from its owners. Cavan Images via Getty Images

A dog in Paris has caught monkeypox from one of its owners, both of whom were infected with the virus, according to a scientific paper published on Aug. 10, 2022. This is the first case of a dog contracting the monkeypox virus through direct contact with skin lesions on a human.

I am a veterinary pathologist and virologist who has been working with poxviruses for over 20 years. I study how these viruses evade the immune system and am working on modifying poxviruses to prevent infection as well as treat other diseases, including cancer.

With monkeypox spreading in humans throughout the world, my colleagues and I have begun to worry about the increased risk of monkeypox spreading from humans to animals. If monkeypox spreads to wildlife species in the U.S. and Europe, the virus could become endemic in these places – where it has historically been absent – resulting in more frequent outbreaks. The report of the infected dog shows that there is a decent chance these fears could become a reality.

A microscope image of a bunch blue circles in a brown-colored cell.
The monkeypox virus – the blue circles in this image of an infected cell – is a poxvirus similar to smallpox and cowpox and can easily infect many different species. NIAID/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

A species-jumping virus

Monkeypox is a poxvirus in the same family as variola – the virus that causes smallpox – and cowpox viruses and likely evolved in animals before jumping to humans. Monkeypox causes painful lesions in both humans and animals and, in rare cases, can be deadly. Researchers have found the monkeypox virus in several species of wild rodents, squirrels and primates in Africa, where the virus is endemic. Monkeypox does not need to mutate or evolve at all to be able to infect many different species. It can easily spread from animals to people and back again.

Though there is a fair bit of research on monkeypox, a lot more work has been done on cowpox, a similar zoonotic poxvirus that is endemic in Europe. Over the years, there have been several reports of cowpox infection spreading from animals to humans in Europe.

From people to animals

Until recently, most monkeypox infections occurred in specific areas of Africa where some wildlife species act as reservoirs for the virus. These outbreaks are usually contained quickly through isolation of infected individuals and vaccinating people around the infected individual. The current situation is very different though.

With nearly 40,000 cases globally as of Aug. 17, 2022 – and more than 12,500 cases in the U.S. alone – monkeypox is now widespread within the human population. The risk of any one person transmitting the virus to an animal – particularly a wild one – is small, but the more people are infected, the greater the chances. It’s a numbers game.

There are a number of ways viruses can transfer from animals to people – called spillover – and from people back to animals – called spillback. Since monkeypox is most easily spread through direct skin-to-skin contact, it is a bit more difficult to transmit between species than COVID-19, but certainly possible.

The case of the dog in Paris provides a clear example of how cuddling or being close to a pet can spread the virus. Previous studies on poxviruses like monkeypox have shown that they can stay active in fecal matter. This means that there is a risk of wild animals, likely rodents, catching it from human waste.

A grey rat.
There are a number of species that host monkeypox in Africa – like this gambian rat. Monkeypox can spread from humans to many other animals, including dogs and likely cats and other species of rodents. Louisvarley/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The monkeypox virus is also present in saliva. While more research needs to be done, it is potentially possible that an infected person could discard food that would then be eaten by a rodent.

The chances of any one of these events happening is extremely low. But I and other virologists worry that with more people becoming infected, there is a greater risk that rodents or other animals will come into contact with urine, feces or saliva that is contaminated with the virus.

Finally, there is the risk of people giving monkeypox to a pet, which then passes it on to other animals. One case study in Germany described an outbreak of cowpox that was caused when someone took an infected cat to a veterinary clinic and four other cats were subsequently infected. It is feasible that an infected household pet could spread the virus to wild animals somehow.

How to help

One of the key reasons that the World Health Organization was able to eradicate smallpox is that it only infects people, so there were no animal reservoirs that could re-introduce the virus to human populations.

Monkeypox is zoonotic and already has several animal reservoirs, though these are currently limited to Africa. But if monkeypox escapes into wild animal populations in the U.S., Europe or other locations, there will be always be potential for animals to spread it back to humans. With this in mind, there are a number of things people can do to reduce the risks with regard to animals.

As with any infectious disease, be informed about the signs and symptoms of monkeypox and how it is transmitted. If you suspect you have the virus, contact a doctor and isolate from other people.

As a veterinarian, I strongly encourage anyone with monkeypox to protect your pets. The case in Paris shows that dogs can get infected from contact with their owners, and it is likely that many other species, including cats, are susceptible, too. If you have monkeypox, try to have other people take care of your animals for as long as lesions are present. And if you think your pet has a monkeypox infection, be sure to contact a veterinarian so they can test the lesion and provide care when needed.

Even though monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency, it is unlikely to directly affect most people. Taking precautionary steps can protect you and your pets and will hopefully prevent monkeypox from getting into wildlife in the U.S., too.

Amy Macneill does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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UBC researchers discover ‘weak spot’ across major COVID-19 variants

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the…

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the recently emerged BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants.

Credit: Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, UBC

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a key vulnerability across all major variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the recently emerged BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron subvariants.

The weakness can be targeted by neutralizing antibodies, potentially paving the way for treatments that would be universally effective across variants.

The findings, published today in Nature Communications, use cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to reveal the atomic-level structure of the vulnerable spot on the virus’ spike protein, known as an epitope. The paper further describes an antibody fragment called VH Ab6 that is able to attach to this site and neutralize each major variant. 

“This is a highly adaptable virus that has evolved to evade most existing antibody treatments, as well as much of the immunity conferred by vaccines and natural infection,” says Dr. Sriram Subramaniam (he/him), a professor at UBC’s faculty of medicine and the study’s senior author. “This study reveals a weak spot that is largely unchanged across variants and can be neutralized by an antibody fragment. It sets the stage for the design of pan-variant treatments that could potentially help a lot of vulnerable people.”

Identifying COVID-19 master keys

Antibodies are naturally produced by our bodies to fight infection, but can also be made in a laboratory and administered to patients as a treatment. While several antibody treatments have been developed for COVID-19, their effectiveness has waned in the face of highly-mutated variants like Omicron.

“Antibodies attach to a virus in a very specific manner, like a key going into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “We’ve been looking for master keys — antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after extensive mutations.”

The ‘master key’ identified in this new paper is the antibody fragment VH Ab6, which was shown to be effective against the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, Epsilon and Omicron variants. The fragment neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 by attaching to the epitope on the spike protein and blocking the virus from entering human cells.

The discovery is the latest from a longstanding and productive collaboration between Dr. Subramaniam’s team at UBC and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, led by Drs. Mitko Dimitrov and Wei Li. The team in Pittsburgh has been screening large antibody libraries and testing their effectiveness against COVID-19, while the UBC team has been using cryo-EM to study the molecular structure and characteristics of the spike protein.

Focusing in on COVID-19’s weak points

The UBC team is world-renowned for its expertise in using cryo-EM to visualize protein-protein and protein-antibody interactions at an atomic resolution. In another paper published earlier this year in Science, they were the first to report the structure of the contact zone between the Omicron spike protein and the human cell receptor ACE2, providing a molecular explanation for Omicron’s enhanced viral fitness.

By mapping the molecular structure of each spike protein, the team has been searching for areas of vulnerability that could inform new treatments.

“The epitope we describe in this paper is mostly removed from the hot spots for mutations, which is why it’s capabilities are preserved across variants,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “Now that we’ve described the structure of this site in detail, it unlocks a whole new realm of treatment possibilities.”

Dr. Subramaniam says this key vulnerability can now be exploited by drug makers, and because the site is relatively mutation-free, the resulting treatments could be effective against existing—and even future—variants.

“We now have a very clear picture of this vulnerable spot on the virus. We know every interaction the spike protein makes with the antibody at this site. We can work backwards from this, using intelligent design, to develop a slew of antibody treatments,” says Dr. Subramaniam. “Having broadly effective, variant-resistant treatments would be a game changer in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.”


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German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As “Enemies Of The State”

German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As "Enemies Of The State"

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A top German…

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German Official Trashes Cost Of Living Protesters As "Enemies Of The State"

Authored by Paul Joseph Watson via Summit News,

A top German official has trashed people who may be planning to protest against energy blackouts as “enemies of the state” and “extremists” who want to overthrow the government.

The interior minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Herbert Reul (CDU), says that anti-mandatory vaxx and anti-lockdown demonstrators have found a new cause – the energy crisis.

In an interview with German news outlet NT, Reul revealed that German security services were keeping an eye on “extremists” who plan to infiltrate the protests and stage violence, with the unrest being planned via the Telegram messenger app, which German authorities have previously tried to ban.

“You can already tell from those who are out there,” said Reul. “The protesters no longer talk about coronavirus or vaccination. But they are now misusing people’s worries and fears in other fields. (…) It’s almost something like new enemies of the state that are establishing themselves.”

Despite the very real threat of potential blackouts, power grid failures and gas shortages, Reul claimed such issues were feeding “conspiracy theory narratives.”

However, it’s no “conspiracy theory” that Germans across the country have been panic buying stoves, firewood and electric heaters as the government tells them thermostats will be limited to 19C in public buildings and that sports arenas and exhibition halls will be used as ‘warm up spaces’ this winter to help freezing citizens who are unable to afford skyrocketing energy bills.

As Remix News reports, blaming right-wing conspiracy theorists for a crisis caused by Germany’s sanctions on Russia and is suicidal dependence on green energy is pretty rich.

“Reul, like the country’s federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, is attempting to tie right-wing ideology and protests against Covid-19 policies to any potential protests in the winter.”

“While some on the right, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), have stressed that the government’s sanctions against Russia are the primary factor driving the current energy crisis, they have not advocated an “overthrow” of the government. Instead, they have stressed the need to restart the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, end energy sanctions against Russia, and push for a peaceful solution to end the war.”

Indeed, energy shortages and the cost of living crisis are issues that are of major concern to everyone, no matter where they are on the political spectrum.

To claim that people worried about heating their homes and putting food on the table this winter are all “enemies of the state” is an utter outrage.

As we highlighted last week, the president of the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Stephan Kramer, said energy crisis riots would make anti-lockdown unrest look like a “children’s birthday party.”

“Mass protests and riots are just as conceivable as concrete acts of violence against things and people, as well as classic terrorism to overthrow it,” Kramer told ZDF.

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Tyler Durden Thu, 08/18/2022 - 03:30

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