Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands lie in the Central Pacific near halfway between U.S. Hawaii and the Philippines. The islands consist of 29 sprawling coral atoll-based and volcanic islands. With a population of only 60,000 people, the islands barely amount to a mere American town. Despite its military presence, the U.S. does not ‘own’ the islands.

The Marshall Islands are tactically important but small and very much underdeveloped, supporting happy, simple lives for many of its occupants. However, today, poor and unhealthy shanty towns are sadly commonplace. The rate of poverty in the Marshall Islands in 2019 was 7.2%

A plan to develop or rejuvenate the Islands, and particularly heath care, rests on the shoulders of the U.S. The man-made calamity of nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands is a stark warning to all humankind, of the dangers of nuclear mass destruction in the Pacific proving ground experiment.

Nuclear Damage

During the second world war, the U.S. wrestled the islands away from the Japanese Empire. This was no relief for the inhabitants as “between 1946 and 1958 the U.S. nuclear testing program drenched the Marshall Islands with firepower equaling the energy yield of seven thousand Hiroshima bombs.”

The United States detonated a total of 67 nuclear bombs, some up to seven times more powerful than Little Boy, in the Marshall Islands. Nerje Joseph witnessed the Castle Bravo explosion from the neighboring atoll of Rongelap, an experience that will forever haunt her. Joseph evacuated the island as her hair began to fall out. Almost all those that dwelled on Rongelap that fateful day now have cancer. The locals of Bikini attempted to resettle the atoll in 1969, and nine years later, they evacuated again because the radiation was still too high.

Long Term Damage

In 2010, the National Cancer Institute “suggested that up to 55% of all cancers in the northern atolls are a result of nuclear fallout.” Thyroid cancers are particularly common. Sea life in the Marshall Islands became poisoned, resulting in the need to import processed food, which has in turn led to spiraling diabetes cases.

At the present time, the U.S. has denied calls for compensation on any series level. The United States previously attempted to clean the area up by housing contaminated soil and debris in a concrete tomb known as the Tomb. However, to this day, the contents are leaking out. The Tomb includes domed-in content of 100,000 cubic yards of nuclear waste, some of which comes from as far as the U.S. Nevada testing site. Unfortunately, Washington is now washing its hands clean of the maintenance expense, quite unfairly stating that since the dome is on Marshallese lands, the Marshall Islands, which only has a population of a single American town, ought to pay for it. The Tomb is continuing to leak and become ever more unstable, putting the poor standards of health on the islands at further risk. 

The US Commitment

Fortunately for the Marshallese, the U.S. commits to protecting these islands, Bucholz Army Airfield is the military base there. This base actually has missile testing rights potentially until 2086. Regardless, this base at the very least keeps the island safe from external aggressors. As China grows in power, it for one has set its sights on the islands of the pacific. This has more benefits for the Marshallese than one might think.

The U.S. has acted independently to aid the Marshallese in preparation for extreme weather resilience. The Pacific Partnership 2019 was a U.S. commitment to help the Marshall Islands’ readiness for extreme weather disasters, via seminars and preparation. Additionally, this program includes the installation of rainwater-catching infrastructures, such as the one set up at the Long Island elementary school. This reduces the devastating impact of extreme weather, such as drought. The installation presents clear steps to ensure the viability of the military base, yet benefit the locals greatly, for the islands are ever in danger from extreme weather events. Protection against such events is protection against the poverty they inevitably cause.

US Aid to Help in the Aftermath of Nuclear Radiation in the Marshall Islands

Since 2004, the U.S. has gifted $800 million to the islands, equivalent to 70% of the island’s GDP in that same period. The highest employer on the Islands is the Marshallese Government, followed by the mighty U.S army base. In addition to the local government’s budget, the U.S. has allowed for the setting up of two hospitals and 60 medical clinics. Additionally, the U.S. directly pays for the healthcare of the four atolls that the nuclear radiation has most severely affected.

However, for advanced care arising from nuclear radiation, such as late cancer treatment, islanders have to travel to the Philippines as the facilities are lacking in the Marshall Islands. Healthcare improvements are a great opportunity for moral correction, one that is desperately necessary, even outside the realms of radiation poisoning. For example, despite a reduction of 20% in the past 40 years, the child mortality rate is still high at 30.7 per 1,000

The country’s GDP has more than doubled in the past 20 years. About 0.9% of the Islanders live in absolute poverty as of 2019 or about the same level as Spain, a developed European nation. Development, reducing health poverty and righting wrongs are very much achievable and it feels with the right push, hope for the Marshallese could be just around the corner. The difficulties that arose from nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands can become a thing of the past and the Marshallese can work on developing their sublime islands without this plague if those proven wrongs are put right.

– William Fletcher
Photo: Flickr

Pharmaceutical CompaniesBiopiracy, the act of expropriating a resource from a foreign land and profiting from it, has been a normal practice for pharmaceutical companies and governments for many years. Medicinal compounds with vital medicinal benefits stole from indigenous and impoverished areas without reparations/royalties in exchange. Invasive countries reap millions of dollars from biopiracy. In the process, they strip irreplaceable compounds from populations that fiercely depend on them. Many of these poorer countries lack the financial strength to fund analysis of plants for medicinal value. This analysis can widen the research gap between developing countries and the industrialized world even further. In an effort to reconcile these past injustices and inequalities, some pharmaceutical companies and research institutes have pledged funding to facilitate the growth of the medicinal drug industry in indigenous areas.

Berkeley and Samoa

In 2004, the University of California at Berkeley struck a deal with the government of Samoa, a small Pacific Ocean island nation. The university will share royalties from the highly revolutionary and precious compound prostratin, native to the Samoan mamala trees. It was discovered the drug was effective in treating HIV/AIDS by flushing the virus out of reservoirs in the body. The university pledged to equally split all revenues generated from the drug. It was used commonly on the island to treat hepatitis. After isolating the genes responsible for producing the drug in the tree, the researchers were able to carry out microbial production.

National Cancer Institute and Samoa

Three years prior, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued a license to the AIDS Research Alliance (ARA) to conduct research on the drug prostratin. The NCI exclusively patented this. The methodology behind the research is significantly different from Berkeley’s, as it does not rely on gene sequencing. The percentage of total royalties returned to the island is 20%. This is much lower than the charitable cut Berkeley would offer in the future.

However, this partnership was highly influential in staging the blueprint for American companies to share their copious wealth with the lands they took from. Much of the revenue returning to Samoa continues to be funneled into villages. In addition, it provides healers on the island with more sophisticated equipment and labs. In congruence with the deal, there will be over $500,000 of combined value to the construct water tanks, a medical clinic, three schools, a trail system and a tourist walkway from which the village would keep all revenue.

Merck & Co. and Costa Rica

In 1991, Merck & Co. is one of the pharmaceutical companies that sought to turn obscure compounds into gainful products in the agriculture and pharmaceutical markets. It extended a two-year deal to the nonprofit biodiversity institute in Costa Rica INBio. This entailed the exchange of plant and insect samples for $1 million. This was a mutually beneficial investment. Costa Rica was looking for donors in the private sector to help preserve its tropical and sub-tropical forests. There are ethical concerns surrounding the usage of said investment in building more commercially viable tourist attractions instead of natural preserves. However, regardless of Costa Rica’s money management, the company’s investment was nothing short of magnanimous.

ICBG and Coiba

The island of Coiba, 12 miles off the coast of Panama, was designated as a national park in 1991. It drew much interest in its coral reefs in 2005 when scientific research suggested that they contained an abundance of new species with medicinal and commercial potential. By far, the most promising discovery was octocoral, from which anti-malarial properties can be extracted. Following these exciting developments, the International Co-Operative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) invested millions in building scientific infrastructure on the mainland of Panama. For instance, testing and processing sites for potential medicinal compounds.

The collaboration pledged to distill at least half of all profits into trust funds. The trust funds design to protect Coiba from internal and external environmental hazards. The profit will also go to the institutions that aided the project. A biological research station was built on the island. The security systems programmed will eradicate colonists and fisherman that could disrupt the ecosystem. ICBG has been successful in identifying and analyzing medicinal compounds in many other countries including Suriname, Vietnam and Madagascar.

These examples of corporations reconciling past exploitation of resources are certainly worth celebrating. However, there is work left to do. Pharmaceutical companies fund indigenous communities and spurring growth of their medicinal industries is still the minority. There is damage that has been left unrectified. These communities rely heavily on the resources insular to their area and supported by a well-funded and functioning infrastructure. In the fight to end global poverty, one of the first places to start is in the coniferous islands and peninsulas. It was once abundant in medicinal compounds but has since been plundered. It is important that the people in these areas can live healthy lives and benefit from the rich resources native to their land.

Camden Gilreath
Photo: Flickr

cancer in developing countriesMajor progress has been made in recent years in combating leading threats to global health such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, there is a lesser-discussed global health problem that is growing in developing nations. Eight million cancer cases across the world occur in developing countries, accounting for 57 percent of all reported cancer cases worldwide. Ami Bhatt and her coworkers at the School of Medicine at Stanford University are working to change these numbers by reducing cancer in the developing world.

Background on Ami Bhatt

In 2009, Bhatt became aware of the growing danger of cancer in developing countries through her work at Harvard University. She knew that something had to be done. She started a nonprofit with another fellow in her program, Franklin Huang, who became equally as passionate about this topic. The organization, called Global Oncology (GO), has launched numerous programs and projects since its start in 2012. All of them are aimed at creating better care for cancer patients in low and middle-income countries through new technology, education and medical training. In 2014, Bhatt started her work at the Stanford School of Medicine. Since then she has mobilized her coworkers to further explore the pandemic of cancer in the developing world and find ways to combat it.

Educational and Tracking Resources

Working with a design firm in sub-Saharan Africa, Bhatt was able to develop materials with simple messaging and visuals to help patients in developing nations understand potential treatment options, side effects and complications. Many patients in these low-income areas drop out of treatment because they do not fully understand the process of treatments like chemotherapy. These materials are aimed at solving this problem and keeping more patients in treatment. They are currently being used in cancer wards across Rwanda, Botswana and Haiti.

GO also partnered with the National Cancer Institute to develop an interactive map of cancer researchers and program managers across the world. This resource is the first of its kind and has increased interaction and collaboration between those working in the field. The map gives experts equal access to contemporary knowledge and technology being used to combat cancer in the developing world.

Work in Nigeria and Rwanda

In 2017, Bhatt and her colleagues at GO collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria to identify two hospitals that could make a huge impact by taking their cancer care programs to the next level. The northern portion of Nigeria is Muslim-majority while the southern area is Christian majority. For this reason, they chose ABUTH hospital in the north and Lagos University Teaching Hospital in the south.

The programs implemented at these hospitals were aimed toward outlining potential opportunities for hospital faculty to carry out improvements in their cancer programs. After this program had been in place for a few months, Bhatt and a few of her colleagues traveled to Nigeria to complete a comprehensive needs assessment. This formed the foundation for the recommendations to the Federal Ministry of Health that were included in the Nigerian 2018-2023 National Cancer Control Plan.

While teaching classes to physicians in Rwanda, Bhatt discovered that patients with leukemia were being treated with hydroxyurea, a drug that only prolongs a patient’s life for about five years. She found out that the country had lost free access to an alternate drug called Gleevec, which can prolong someone’s life for up to 30 years. Bhatt and her Stanford colleagues spent weeks lobbying the Rwandan Ministry of Health as well as the drug manufacturer to restore free access to Gleevec in Rwanda.

Sixty-five percent of those who die from cancer yearly live in developing countries. Ami Bhatt recognized the existence and implications of this statistic in 2009. She has made it her life’s work to battle cancer in the developing world ever since. As more and more people recognize cancer as a major problem in the developing world, Bhatt and her team get closer and closer to winning the battle.

Ryley Bright
Photo: Flickr