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How tweaking your diet can help save the planet

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Food is, of course, fundamental to life.

But in a perhaps ironic twist, the things we eat are fueling some of the greatest threats to humanity’s survival. A growing body of evidence has found our industrialized food production systems are a source of pollution, a contributor to climate change and a cause of biodiversity loss.

You can help change that, though. Here are 10 simple things you can do today to lessen the environmental toll of your diet.

1. Understand food as a process, not a product

People often see food on a grocery store shelf and don’t think much about how it got there.

But between farm and fork, food must be processed, packaged, transported,  marketed and sold. Many of those stages can be damaging to the planet. When you consider the entire food system, you’re better positioned to make informed choices about the things you eat.  

2. Support sustainable agriculture

Buy your food from producers and retailers who specialize in sustainable products.

Sustainable agriculture uses up to 56 per cent less energy, creates 64 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and allows for greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming. And because sustainably produced products are typically more labour intensive, they can create 30 per cent more employment, command higher prices and generate higher incomes.

3. Know what you’re eating

Pesticides, herbicides and antimicrobial drugs are often used to increase crop and livestock yields but can have detrimental effects on human health. Discharge from farms can also contaminate aquatic ecosystems and pollutes the soil.  

Read labels, ask questions and do your research about where foods come from and how they are produced. Choose sustainably-farmed whole foods over intensively-farmed and highly-processed food products when you can. Prepare meals at home, instead of buying take-away.

4. Plant your own garden

Growing your own produce eliminates the need for chemicals, like pesticides, packaging, preservatives, fuel for transport and cold chain storage. Fruits, vegetables and herbs in their most natural form are also the most nutritious. They are high in vitamins with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects – and relatively low in cost. 

Engage neighbours and friends in building a community garden. Grow fruits and vegetables around your home, on your balcony or on your window sill.

5. Buy local

In addition to supporting small businesses and farms, buying locally produced food reduces fossil fuel emissions associated with transport and cold chain storage. It also lessens the potential for food loss along the way.

Building relationships with local producers and retailers is a way to understand how your food was produced, engage in dialogue, express your concerns and exchange ideas.

6. Adopt a plant-rich diet

The demand for resource-intensive animal protein has grown dramatically in recent years.  Currently, about 60 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock grazing and people in many countries are consuming more animal-sourced food than is healthy

Adopting plant-rich diets would use less land, produce less greenhouse gas, require less water and improve animal welfare. It would also make available more cropland, crucial with the global population set to hit 9 billion people in 2050. Moving toward plant-rich diets could also help to reduce chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, as well as the associated costs of treatment and lost income.

7. Diversify your diet

Worldwide, diets are increasingly homogenous and disproportionately based on crops that are rich in energy, but poor in macronutrients. Over the past 100 years, more than 90 per cent of crop varieties have disappeared. Today, just nine plant species account for 66 per cent of total crop production. Nearly one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition, with many countries facing simultaneous challenges of both undernutrition and overweight or obesity.

According to the EAT-Lancet Commission, moving toward healthy diets with a diversity of plant-based foods, and away from highly processed foods and diets heavy in refined grain and added sugar, could prevent up to a quarter of all adult deaths. 

8. Reduce food waste

One-third of all food produced is either lost or wasted. This isn’t only in shops or restaurants and it isn’t just in wealthy households.  The United Nations Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index Report finds it’s a global phenomenon that cuts across income levels.

To cut down on waste, plan ahead and buy only the food you know you will use. Take advantage of every edible part of the foods you purchase. Measure portion sizes of rice and other staples before cooking them, store food correctly (use your freezer if you have one), be creative with leftovers, share extras with your friends and neighbours, and contribute to a local food-sharing scheme. Finally, make compost out of inedible remnants and use it to fertilize your garden.  

9. Avoid unnecessary packaging

Food packaging tends to end up at landfills and every year, about 5 trillion single-use plastic bags pollute land and sea.

Whenever possible, choose unpackaged, sustainably or minimally-packaged food products. Use baskets for food shopping, carry reusable or cloth bags with you and store food in glass jars or wrap it in bee’s wax or other sustainable materials.

10. Make your voice heard

The world spends about 1 million dollars per minute to subsidize existing food systems, distorting markets, impeding change and damaging human and environmental health.

Call on governments and policy-makers to drive a transition toward sustainable agriculture and to prioritize the reduction of food loss and waste in their climate change action plans. Call for transparency of producers, retailers and services about agricultural practices, ingredients and their nutritional values.

Finally, be an advocate in your own social circles. Use your social media platforms to share information, recipes, ideas and inspiration.  Lastly, form networks, start projects, raise your voice. 

UN Environment

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Health & Wellness

COVID-19: WHO expresses hope worst of Omicron wave is over

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Omicron continues to sweep the world, but cases seem to have peaked in some countries, which gives the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) hope that the worst of this latest wave of COVID-19 is over. 

Briefing journalists in Geneva, Tedros Ghebreyesus said that more than 18 million cases were reported last week, and the pandemic itself is far from over, so no country is out of the woods yet.

The number of deaths remains stable, but the agency is concerned about the impact the variant is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems.

“I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they’re unvaccinated”, Tedros said. 

Omicron may be less severe, but for the WHO chief “the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives.”

Tedros noted that the virus is circulating “far too intensely with many still vulnerable” and argued that, for many countries, the next few weeks remain critical.

COVAX

Over the weekend, the UN-backed COVAX facility delivered its one-billionth dose of vaccine. 

Tedros said he was proud of the milestone, but believes it’s essential to keep forging ahead with distributing shots fairly, across the world. 

“Vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection and transmission of Omicron than they were for previous variants, but they still are exceptionally good at preventing serious disease and death”, he explained. 

For him, immunization continues to be “key to protecting hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.”

Tracking the virus

The WHO chief also highlighted the importance of tracking new variants, like Omicron, in real time.

Tedros believes that the pandemic is “nowhere near over” and, with the incredible growth of Omicron, new variants are likely to emerge

So far, more than 7 million whole genome sequences from 180 countries have been submitted to GISAID, a global mechanism that provides open access to genomic data and was initially set up to track flu.

Using all that data, new formulations of vaccines are being developed and assessed for how they perform against different strains. 

Despite those efforts, Tedros is concerned that the world will enter “a second and even more destructive phase of vaccine inequity”, if it doesn’t change course. 

New treatments 

Last Friday, WHO recommended two new COVID-19 treatmentsto fight severe illness and death: a rheumatoid arthritis drug called baricitinib and a monoclonal antibody called sotrovimab.

For Tedros, the challenge, once again, is that high prices and limited supply means access is limited.

WHO is currently working with its partners in ACT-Accelerator to negotiate lower prices with manufacturers and ensure supply will be available for low- and middle-income countries.

Meeting

Next week, the WHO Executive Board, which is made up of 34 Member States, will meet to discuss the world’s health challenges.

The pandemic will remain at the forefront, but Member States will also be discussing the devastating impact of the pandemic on other health issues, and how the backsliding can be stopped. 

According to the WHO chief, the agency willbe working to accelerate progress on negotiations around a global pandemic accord.

Cervical Cancer Awareness

On a final note, Tedros noted that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month.

In 2020, an estimated 604,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 342, 000 women died from the disease.

The main cause of the disease is infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common family of viruses that are transmitted through sexual contact.

There are, however, vaccines that protect against high-risk HPV types, which means it should be one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer.

On Monday, Serbia announced that this year,it will introduce a vaccination programme against HPV, joining the 116 nationswho already do it. 

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UN-backed COVAX mechanism delivers its 1 billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose

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photo © UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

With a 1.1 million jab delivery in Rwanda this weekend, the World Health Organization’s multilateral initiative to provide equal access to vaccines for all reached the one billion milestone.

Along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Vaccine Alliance GAVI, and partners, WHO has led the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history with deliveries to 144 countries to date.

According to a press release published on Sunday, as of 13 January 2022, out of 194 countries members of WHO, 36 have vaccinated less than 10% of their population, and 88 less than 40%.

COVAX’s ambition was compromised by hoarding/stockpiling in rich countries, catastrophic outbreaks leading to borders and supply being locked. And a lack of sharing of licenses, technology, and know-how by pharmaceutical companies meant manufacturing capacity went unused”, the agency explained.

On 24 February 2021, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive vaccines through COVAX when 600,000 doses of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine were delivered to Accra. 

The work that remains

COVAX is currently working with governments, manufacturers and partners to ensure that when countries receive vaccines, they can get them to people quickly.

“The work that has gone into this (1 billion) milestone is only a reminder of the work that remains”, the UN’s health agency underscored.

They added that with updated vaccines in the pipeline, citizens should demand that governments and pharmaceutical companies share health tools globally and “bring an end to the death and destruction cycles of this pandemic, limit new variants and drive a global economic recovery”.

COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched by WHO in April 2020 in response to the pandemic.

The ACT Accelerator is a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. 

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WHO recommends two new drugs to treat patients with COVID-19 

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Around two million doses of Sotrovimab are being produced globally in the first half of 2022. © GlaxoSmithKline

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday reccommended two new drugs to treat patients with COVID-19, one for patients with critical disease, and another deemed effective for non-severe cases.

The first drug, baricitinib, is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor- a class of drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions, blood and bone marrow cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the WHO Guideline Development Group, it is “strongly recommended” for patients with severe or critical disease in combination with corticosteroids.

The group of international experts based their recommendation on “moderate certainty evidence” that it improves survival and reduces the need for ventilation.

There was no observed increase in adverse effects.

The experts note that it has a similar effectas other arthritis drugs called interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors. Because of that, when both drugs are available, they suggest choosing the best option based on cost, availability, and clinician experience.

It is not recommended to use both drugs at the same time.

The experts also advise against the use of two other JAK inhibitors (ruxolitinib and tofacitinib) for patients with severe or critical cases of COVID-19 infection.

According to them, trials undergone using these drugs failed to show any benefits arising using either drug,and suggested a possible increase in serious side effects with tofacitinib.

Non-severe cases

In the same update, WHO makes a conditional recommendation for the use of a monoclonal antibody known as sotrovimab in patients with non-severe cases.

According to them, the drug should only be administered to patients at the highest risk of hospitalisation. In those at lower risk, it onlyshowed “trivial benefits”. 

A similar recommendation has been madepreviously, for another monoclonal antibody drug, casirivimab-imdevimab, and the experts say there is insufficient data to recommend one over the other.

For both, the effectiveness against new variants, like Omicron, is still uncertain. 

The group will update their guidelines for monoclonal antibodies when more data becomes available.

Recommendations

These recommendations are based on new evidence from seven trials involving over 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe, and critical infections.

Developed by WHO with the methodological support of MAGIC Evidence Ecosystem Foundation, the guidelinesprovide trustworthy guidance and help doctors make better decisions with their patients.

According to the agency, the guidelines are useful in fast moving research areas, because they allow researchers to update evidence summaries as new information becomes available.

The latest guidance also updates recommendations for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic corticosteroids for patients with severe or critical COVID-19; conditional recommendations for the use of casirivimab-imdevimab (another monoclonal antibody treatment) in selected patients; and against the use of convalescent plasma, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, regardless of disease severity.

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