Gamblers make bets at the roulette table in a casino.

We All Stand to Benefit from Biden’s $2 Billion Bet on the Bioeconomy

By Matthew Chun

Business is bustling for biotechnology and biomanufacturing. On September 12, 2022, President Biden signed an executive order, launching a “whole-of-government approach to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing.” And two days later, he backed it up with a national summit and a $2 billion spending plan.

But who stands to benefit from this large commitment of federal money? We all do.

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umbrella covering home under heavy rain.

Weathering the Climate Crisis: The Health Benefits and Policy Challenges of Home Weatherization

By James R. Jolin

Weatherization serves as an important yet strikingly neglected tool not only to meet vulnerable communities’ energy needs, but also to combat the negative health effects associated with the climate crisis.

In the United States, households with lower gross income experience higher “energy burdens” — that is, the proportion of a household’s income that is expended to meet energy costs. Indeed, households earning 200% of the federal poverty line spend an estimated 8% of their income on meeting energy costs, as compared to the national median of 3%. Weatherization, the catch-all term for home improvements intended to improve the efficiency of home energy use, is a way to decrease disparate energy costs across socioeconomic classes.

Standard weatherization measures, which include (but are not limited to) repairing and modernizing temperature control systems and installing insulation, reduce the amount of money households need to spend on heating and cooling. In all, weatherization measures save over $280 on average per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy — a modest but nonetheless important savings.

Crucially, however, weatherization also confers significant health benefits, which are not only ideal in their own right, but also result in further significant financial savings.

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Global connections concept illustration.

21st Century Lawmaking in an Interdependent World

By Caroline E. Foster

A new pandemic instrument should explicitly embrace the three emerging global regulatory standards of due diligence, due regard, and regulatory coherence.

These standards sit at the interface between national and international law to help functionally align the two in ways that will protect and advance shared and competing interests in an interdependent world.

The standards require nations to exercise their regulatory power in certain ways, including demonstrating (i) due regard for the international legal rights and interests of others, (ii) due diligence in the prevention of harm to other States, and (iii) regulatory coherence between governmental measures and their objectives. These international law standards are already implicit in and given effect by the operation of WHO’s current International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005.

As we develop new pandemic instruments, their presence should be made increasingly explicit. Giving a stronger profile to the standards will help generate new political impetus and new legal bases for implementation of world health law, and fit it to 21st century application.

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Close up of a mosquito sucking blood on human skin. This mosquito is a carrier of Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue and Zika virus.

Responsibly Developing Gene Drives: The GeneConvene Global Collaborative

By James Toomey

Researchers believe that gene drives could eliminate vector-borne diseases such as malaria, by modifying mosquito species or eradicating those that carry disease, kill off invasive species, and combat the growing problem of pesticide resistance.

A gene drive is a technique for genetically modifying entire species of wild organisms. Genetically modified individuals of the species are released into the wild, so as to raise the probability that a particular gene will be passed onto the species’ progeny via reproduction.

Over the course of many generations, the gene — even if detrimental — can spread to an entire population.

But as of now, this is all hypothetical. No gene drive has been tested in the wild, and many people are skeptical that they should ever be used.

The GeneConvene Global Collaborative, a project of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, was started this past July to promote the responsible development and regulation of gene drive technologies. It brings together researchers, regulators and stakeholders around the world to develop best practices for gene drive research and implementation.

Because of my prior writing on this topic, I participated in GeneConvene’s fall webinar series and spoke with scientists there about the project. Read More

Climate protest sign that reads "no nature no future."

Climate Change and Pregnancy: Policies for Impact

By Cydney Murray

The ongoing, worsening environmental crisis is exacerbating negative pregnancy outcomes associated with climate change.

Exposure to air pollutants, such as smog (ozone) and PM2.5 (another type of air pollution), is linked to impaired fetal growth, increased likelihood of cancer, autism spectrum disorder, stillbirth, and low birth weight. These health consequences have the potential to impact children’s overall quality of life by affecting their brain development, and their susceptibility to disease.

Climate change is worsening this established association, particularly for those living in urban environments with high air pollutant exposure. This disproportionately affects women of color, since they are more likely to live in more highly polluted areas, and already suffer a higher risk of negative pregnancy outcomes.

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Alicia Ely Yamin.

6 Questions for Alicia Ely Yamin on Partners In Health, Social Justice, and Human Rights

By Jonathan Chernoguz

Among many other accomplishments, Alicia Ely Yamin (Petrie-Flom Center Senior Fellow), will now serve as the Senior Advisor on Human Rights at Partners In Health (PIH).

Partners In Health is a global health and social justice organization committed to improving the health of the poor and marginalized as a matter of justice. PIH works with ministries of health to build local and national clinical capacity and works closely with impoverished communities to delivery high quality healthcare, address the root causes of disease, train providers, advance research, and advocate for global health policy change.

Yamin is a world-recognized pioneer and thought-leader in the field of health and human rights. She has a long track record of working on the ground as well as at policy levels, including in collaboration with PIH sister organizations from Peru to Malawi. Yamin will work across a multi-disciplinary team within PIH and the broader Global Health Delivery Partnership, to advance an advocacy and policy agenda for transformative structural change in global health architecture and its intersections. To learn more about her new role, we asked Yamin a few questions about the position, how it relates to Petrie-Flom, and the goals she aims to accomplish.

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hospital equipment, including heart rate monitor and oxygen monitor functioning at bedside.

Why COVID-19 is a Chronic Health Concern for the US

By Daniel Aaron

The U.S. government has ratified a record-breaking $2 trillion stimulus package just as it has soared past 100,000 coronavirus cases and 1,500 deaths (as of March 27). The U.S. now has the most cases of any country—this despite undercounting due to continuing problems in testing Americans on account of various scientific and policy failures.

Coronavirus has scared Americans. Public health officials and physicians are urging people to stay at home because this disease kills. Many have invoked the language of war, implying a temporary battle against a foreign foe. This framing, though it may galvanize quick support, disregards our own systematic policy failures to prevent, test, and trace coronavirus, and the more general need to solve important policy problems.

Coronavirus is an acute problem at the individual level, but nationally it represents a chronic concern. No doubt, developing innovative ways to increase the number of ventilators, recruit health care workers, and improve hospital capacity will save lives in the short-term — despite mixed messages from the federal government. But a long-term perspective is needed to address the serious problems underlying our country’s systemic failures across public health.

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A satellite image of Hurricane Matthew over eastern Cuba

Should We Consider Climate Editing to Combat Global Warming?

There was a time when humans could impact genes only crudely, such as through radiation. Nowadays, thanks to gene-editing technologies, particularly CRISPR-CAS9, we can edit genes accurately.

Global warming will unleash frequent disasters like hurricanes and flooding. The largely human source of this mess shows that we can impact the climate. So far, that impact remains largely adverse. In the future, we may also develop crude tools for intentional positive impact on the climate. Read More

Landscape of dry and cracked land

Climate Change is Harming Health and the Treatment is Medicine, Law, and Bioethics

By Renee N. Salas

The flurry of media around recent climate change reports may have left your head spinning. These were all released in anticipation of the United Nation’s 24th Convention of the Party (COP24), in follow-up to the Paris Agreement, where the actual nuts and bolts of achieving this historic public health commitment was to be ironed out.

There are two key messages from these reports for the United States. First, climate change is human caused, happening today, and is worse than predicted. Second, climate change is harming the health of Americans now.

As an emergency medicine doctor, telling a patient a diagnosis is something I do frequently. Thus, if America were my patient, I would say that while the health diagnosis of climate change is grave, there is reason to be optimistic — because treatment exists. That treatment is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and switching from fossil fuels to solar and wind.

To achieve this treatment in our current political environment, we need historic teamwork that involves every discipline. This includes medicine, law, and bioethics joining together in novel collaborations that work to improve health and save lives.

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