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High-Tech Solution to PovertyElectric-powered food: it sounds too good to be true. And for now, it probably is. But, according to Business Insider, Finnish scientists with the Food From Electricity project earlier this year synthesized a nutrient-rich protein using only water, electricity, carbon dioxide and microbes. The high-tech solution to poverty is reportedly nutritious enough to serve as a meal, being 50 percent (or more) protein and 25 percent carbohydrates. It is a promising step, but the process must be much more efficient before it can be adopted on a grand scale.

This research is the result of a collaboration between the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). VTT scientist Juha-Pekka Pitkänen has affirmed that, in practice, “all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.” As this method does not require a location with the appropriate temperatures or soil type for agriculture, desert conditions will have no effect on its viability.

Business Insider theorizes two possible ways the technology might be used: to provide food for starving people in areas inhospitable to traditional agriculture and to reduce the demand for food livestock and the crops necessary to sustain it.

The second manner of use would bring down global emissions of greenhouse gases, a large portion of which the livestock industry is directly responsible for. Studies show that poorer countries are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, not least because they lack the financial means to combat those effects. Poorer nations are disproportionately in low-lying areas vulnerable to sea level rises. The nation of Kiribati, spread out over many island reefs and atolls in the Pacific, is a good example of a place already wrestling with less fertile soil and frequent flooding.

As a high-tech solution to poverty, food from electricity has a long way to go. LUT reports that producing one gram of protein in this manner currently takes about two weeks. As researchers model and adjust the process to allow the microbes to grow better, the hope is that the total time required will be reduced. At the same time, researchers want to produce larger quantities of the protein so as to pilot a commercialization effort and eventually develop the process into a compact product for mass production and distribution.

Aside from addressing general poverty, food from electricity has the rare potential to address climate change from both sides of the equation, tackling it at its source while mitigating its impoverishing effects. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops in the future.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Google

End Neglected Tropical DiseasesPrevalent in more than 149 countries, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a range of parasitic and bacterial diseases that affect more than a billion people across the world. Neglected Tropical Diseases disproportionately target poor and vulnerable populations in tropical areas, and if not treated, can often lead to physical and intellectual impairments. Fortunately, humanitarian organizations such as USAID are working alongside U.S. Congress in order to end Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Typically caused by inadequate sanitation and lack of clean drinking water, NTDs vary in their effect but can prove detrimental, especially in children. These diseases can impair intellectual development in children as well as cause blindness and other physical disabilities. The health costs are not the problem caused by NTDs, as they also reduce school enrollment and prevent economic progress because infected individuals are limited in ability. This is why it is critical to end Neglected Tropical Diseases.

USAID is leading the global fight against NTDs. It implemented large-scale treatment programs and research for the affected countries. In the past 10 years, the U.S. made great progress in this fight, giving more than $11.1 billion in donated medicines. This contribution provided more than 1.6 billion treatments to approximately 743 million individuals.

The U.S. impact does not end there. In addition to the treatment programs and research implemented by USAID, Congress also prioritized this issue by introducing the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act (H.R. 1415).

H.R. 1415, sponsored by Representative Christopher Smith (D-NJ), advances the current program working against NTDs. This act prioritizes improving the current program by monitoring funding, including morbidity management in treatment plans and expanding research development. So far, this act has five cosponsors and was referred to three House sub-committees.

Although USAID led a strong battle against NTDs, there is still much work to be done for the one billion people affected by this problem. As NTDs are slowly eradicated, the livelihoods of the world’s poor will begin to improve as children can return to school and adults are able to achieve financial stability.

Kelly Hayes

Photo: Flickr

Singapore's Poverty SolutionSingapore’s poverty solution is KidStart, a pilot program now authorized as a permanent action to give children from low income families equal opportunities. KidStart will also develop early intervention programs for at-risk youth and adults.

KidStart is a three-year pilot program that launched in 2016. The program encourages early childhood education and supports families earning less than $2,500 a month with the additional skills and resources to develop their children’s potential. KidStart monitors children’s academic attendance and progress, and it also holds parenting workshops for parents.

While the nation’s Gini index shrank slightly from 2015 to 2016, 0.463 to 0.458, developing countries still struggle against poverty. The Singapore government plans to adopt KidStart as a permanent program to alleviate poverty and help families know the signs of financial struggle. Last year, nearly half of the applications for short-to-medium-term aid were granted, and some had higher cash quantum or the aid extended if the recipients could not find jobs.

KidStart, among several other actions, is Singapore’s poverty solution. The nation also plans to address inequality and family dysfunction.

Singapore Children’s Society lead social worker Gracia Goh believes that preventative work “requires moral courage to invest resources before a social problem gets worse, or even starts.”

The government hopes that implementing programs such as KidStart will prevent social issues from becoming ingrained in the country’s framework. Preventive actions are the first step to progress and strengthening existing ideals.

According to Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, “For certain family circumstances, we know it is challenging, and the probability of perhaps poorer outcomes for children as they grow up will be higher. So we want to make sure we intervene.”

Mr. Tan wants to expand KidStart beyond its five locations before the pilot ends. Last year, the program helped 1,000 disadvantaged children up to six years of age, and it will reach increasingly more as the government adopts KidStart and it expands to new locations. As Singapore’s poverty solution, KidStart will not only help children, but at-risk youths, adults and families struggling financially.

Sarah Dunlap

Photo: Flickr

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BBC journalist, James Gallagher, reports that researchers have found a strain of Wolbachia bacteria that can infect mosquitoes and make them resistant to the malaria parasite. Malaria is spread by the insects so it is hoped that giving mosquitoes malaria immunity could reduce human cases. Experts said this was a first, distant prospect for malaria control.

Malaria is a major global disease. The World Health Organization estimates that 220 million people are infected and 660,000 die  annually.

Research in Australia has shown that a different strain of the Wolbachia bacterium can prevent the spread of dengue fever by mosquitoes. That research is more advanced and has been shown to work in large trials in the wild. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said this study was a proof of concept that the same could be done for malaria:

“If you can get it to survive and proliferate in the environment of mosquitoes in malaria-stricken areas, this could conceivably have an important impact on the control of malaria…I think the potential for this is very important. The implementation will be the challenge.”

Commenting on the study, Professor David Conway, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, cautioned that it was in just one species, Anopheles stephensi, which carries malaria in the Middle East and South Asia. Anopheles gambiae, in Africa, is a bigger problem.

One of the researchers, Dr Zhiyong Xi, told the BBC: “We have done only one strain. If we target Anopheles gambiae we would need to apply the same technique again.” He added that if it could be shown to work then “the Wolbachia tool can complement currently available tools”, such as mosquito nets and medication.

– Maria Caluag

Source: BBC
Photo: Purdue