Afghanistan Opium Up 66 Percent to $3 Billion, Poisoning US Efforts in Afganistan


Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the worlds opium–which becomes heroin–and, although the crop is illegal in the country, it remains the main product of agriculture in large regions, especially in the south. Production in 2013 surpassed its previous record, which was set in 2010.

The UN estimates that Afghanistan has produced almost $3 billion worth of opium products in 2013. In 2012, the number was $2 billion–an increase of roughly 66 Percent.

On Tuesday, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction–john sopkothe watchdog of US spending in the country–informed Congress that the trade was poisoning the Afghan financial sector, inflaming corruption, contributing to the success of Taliban insurgents and criminal networks, and threatened to damage progress America has made in its efforts to improve health, education and government in Afghanistan. The problems associated with the opium trade also make it harder for aid workers to work–hampering rebuilding and oversight programs.

By Cheryl Bretton


Universal Typeless Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex

A team of scientists at Essex University with a goal of providing an artificial blood substitute to hospitals and disaster areas around the world–and overcome the barriers that have stumped 25 years and $3 billion of global scientific and business investment–have made progress with a recent $2.5 million funding boon.Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 2

Overcoming several of blood storage’s perpetual problems, the new blood is hoped to be stored at room temperature, last up to two years, and be available to all patients, regardless of blood type. Donated blood operations are also fraught with concerns about decreasing active donors worldwide and the challenges of distribution to locations where there is need, as well as purity and efficacy concerns.

The Heam02 project  is working on creating an artificial hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier (HBOC). Hemoglobin is the key protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around our bodies. The protein is protected in the body by the red cell, and previous attempts to make HBOCs have failed because the artificial hemoglobins could not survive outside their protective natural environment.

Heam02’s HBOC is detoxified by the body’s own defenses. HaemO2 is engineering recombinant hemoglobin variants with enhanced electron transfer pathways, and the variants will be better able to detoxify the reactive high oxidation state iron and free radicals produced in extracellular haemoglobin under conditions of oxidative stress. 

Universal Type-less Blood Substitute Being Developed at University of Essex 3“It means we could overcome some of the inherent problems with transfusions as there would be no need for blood group typing and a longer shelf life means you are able to stockpile the supplies necessary for major disasters. It also offers the opportunity for routine transfusion support in ambulances or at remote inaccessible locations,” explained Essex’s Professor Chris Cooper, a biochemist and blood substitute expert.

Professor Cooper commented on the $2.5 Medical Research Council-funded Essex project, which was leaving US attempts by the wayside. “This is an exciting time for artificial blood research in Britain. This funding allows our team to take to first step on the road to bridging the gap between top class research and the commercialization of a product.”

By Andy Stern


University of Essex

Wild Poliovirus International Spread “Extraordinary” After Near-Eradication of Virus Last Year, WHO Says

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The IHR Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization met last week on the “extraordinary” international spread of wild polioviruses in 2014, and voted unanimously on measures to stem the resurgence of endemic and internationally exported polioviruses, which were thought to have been nearly eradicated in 2013.

In the informational session of the meeting, affected States Parties presented information on developments in their nations, including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic, after which the Committee called the public health risk to thus-far unaffected States an “extraordinary event” and warned that a coordinated international response was essential.

Wild poliovirus was nearly stopped through the transmission season between January to April, 2012, but eradication of the disease may fail if the current situation continues. During 2013, most wild poliovirus cases were spread internationally, and in 2014–during the low transmission season–the virus has already spread from three of the 10 infected States–from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Syria to Iraq, and Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea. These three States pose the highest risk of further exportations as well.

Polio is one of the world’s most serious vaccine-preventable diseases. Prevention measures focus largely on oral vaccination and routine immunization. The Committee called for the three highest-risk States to vaccinate all residents and visitors prior to international travel. The Committee encouraged the eight non-exporting States to take similar measures.

The high transmission season for wild poliovirus–between May and June–has already started, and unilateral measures called for at by Committee face the challenge posed by compromised immunization services and high re-infection risks in polio-free but conflict-torn States.

The Committee was requested to reassess the situation in three months.

By Cheryl Bretton