At 8:30pm local time on Saturday, March 28, people in cities around the world – across 172 countries – turned off their lights and screens for one hour. This was for Earth Hour, meant to show support for tougher action to confront climate change. In Ottawa, lights were off at the Parliament Building, though I admit that I did not remember the event until Sunday morning, and spent my Saturday night watching the Senators lose to the Maple Leafs (wish I had turned off my TV). Unfortunately, local officials indicate that, as the novelty of Earth Hour – started in 2007 – has begun to wear off, the event’s impact has diminished. In response, efforts have been undertaken to shift the event’s focus to promoting a general conversation about energy conservation. In support of this, and as penitence for forgetting Earth Hour, I decided to write a piece about the growing global health consequences of pollution, perhaps the most obvious and problematic result of our fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyles.
Few will have heard that it is coming up. With Breast Cancer Awareness month just behind us, and “Movember” in full swing (also Lung Cancer Awareness and Diabetes month, for those keeping track), most people are unaware that November 17-23 is Antibiotic Awareness Week. The campaign, launched by the Public Health Agency of Canada, centers on the growing concern surrounding antibiotic resistance, both in Canada and globally. And, while it does not involve fun-runs, mustaches, or ice buckets, this is also a cause that deserves our attention.
Poverty in Canada
Compared to other affluent countries, Canada has low rates of public spending and high child poverty rates, and has received several UN reprimands for failing to improve child and family poverty1,2. Though estimates vary, poverty affects approximately three million Canadians, 20% (or 600,000) of whom are children3. It is believed that around 15% of children, almost one in six, live below poverty thresholds4,5. Meanwhile, child poverty rates in Ontario lie around 14%, suggesting that almost 19,000 children are born into low-income families every year6,7. Perhaps most disappointingly, this is not a new, or unrecognized problem. In 1989, recognizing the high child poverty rates in Canada, the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty by 20008; this was followed shortly after by Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. However, almost 25 years after this original motion was passed, some argue that the situation has deteriorated rather than improved9.
As health officials struggle to contain an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever that originated in Guinea, and has already spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, renewed concern and anxiety has arisen regarding emerging infectious diseases. Caused by a virus genus in the family filoviridae, Ebola is a vector-borne disease with several species of fruit bats as the suspected (though unconfirmed and not necessarily only) hosts. Initial infection is believed to occur from bites, scratches, and even consumption of infected bats. Illness can result in high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding (CDC, 2009). The virus spreads via exchange of bodily fluids and has a case fatality rate ranging from 25-90%. In this particular outbreak, Ebola currently has an estimated fatality rate of 62.5%.