BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Archive for August, 2019

Cosmetics and beauty care products are one of the most consumed products in the world. There are many types and forms of these products found in constant distribution throughout the globe. According to an Article by the European Union, cosmetic is a general term that refers to any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the external part of the human body such as the epidermis, hair, nails, lips and external genital organs. They can also be applied on the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with the aim of exclusively or mainly cleaning them, changing their appearance, protecting them , keeping them in good condition or correcting odors.  Cosmetics are generally divided into leave on and rinse off products. A leave on product is a one that needs to remain on the surface to which it is applied for an extended period of time in order to effectively achieve it’s function, examples include perfumes, body and face creams, oils and ointments, leave=n conditioners, powders, lotions, antiperspirant etc. on the other hand, the rinse off cosmetics are those products intended to be washed off after a short stay on the skin or mucous membranes examples include shampoo, soaps , toothpaste and some conditioners .

Given their functions and significance in everyday use, cosmetics are made with the general intention of beautification and correction. However, many of these products contain numerous substances and chemicals that can be toxic to both human health and environment. Sometimes, the concept of going natural doesn’t ensure safety as some products still contain heavy metals that can still can still cause harm. Common toxic ingredients used in some cosmetics include Parabens- found in lotions and soaps; Asbestos- associated with talc found in baby powders; Parfum- in perfumes; Toluene- in nail polish and hair dyes, Polyethylene glycol- in shampoos an d sunscreen; Formaldehyde  and many others . These substances can potentially cause several health complications including endocrine disruption, allergies, irritation, , birth defects, respiratory problems , reproductive problems and cancer. For example, studies have shown that 99% of all cancerous breast tumor samples contained parabens. In addition to the health effects of cosmetics, they also pose some threat to the environment because they constitute chemicals that do not undergo decomposition or metabolic transformation after getting into the environment from body surfaces through bathing and washing. Chemicals from cosmetics are found in large quantities in comparison to other chemicals, and they are constantly released into the aquatic and terrestrial environment thus leading to pollution and intoxication.

With knowledge of the large quantities of cosmetics produced, circulated and used, one would expect or even assume that enough measures and regulations are taken towards ensuring their safety. Unfortunately, this is actually far from the truth… Health advocates say that the lack of strong regulation is a major problem as there are few laws that keep cosmetic companies and manufacturers in check and these laws are hardly reviewed allowing this problem to continue. Furthermore, some countries have no laws that require manufacturers to test the safety of the cosmetic ingredients and products before they go into the market. Needless to say, the governments, in association with global, public and international health organizations have to take measures regarding this issue. Health workers may also help with tackling this issue by moving motions for the quick review of the rules and laws covering the production of cosmetics. People should be informed about the dangers that these products could cause and seek advice on personal care products… we have the right to know!

The increasing population and industrialisation of the modern world has led to a vast increase in production of wastes which has drawn much public health attention. Waste management involves collection, transportation and disposal of wastes, which according to UNEP are substances or objects that are disposed of, are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law. There are many types of waste but the most important ones are the municipal wastes which include house-hold and commercial wastes, biomedical wastes from health care centres and hazardous waste including electronic, explosive and radioactive wastes. Waste collection generally involves use of collection bins and bags- which are sometimes colour coded depending on the region or country, and are then transported with trucks to the disposal site. They are then burnt in an incinerator to reduce waste volume, or are buried in landfills which are typically distant from residential areas.

Aside the aesthetic importance of proper waste management, there are several important health and environmental consequences. Wastes dumped close to residential areas such as along the streets, roadsides, farm lands and in rivers could easily lead to all forms of pollution, which is another grave problem. Water pollution poisons the water we drink and harms aquatic life while Air pollution results in other environmental health problems like global warming and climate change. Land pollution from wastes and other hazardous wastes can lead to long term devastating effects on the population. Poor waste disposal can also increase vector-borne disease burden. Although nobody still thinks that wastes can suddenly turn into organisms like the 18th century man once thought, improper waste management could still lead to accumulation of disease causing organisms or vectors like mosquitoes, houseflies etc. Health care wastes can harbour potentially lethal infectious organisms like HIV, hepatitis viruses etc. Exposure to radioactive wastes could lead to birth defects, cancer and even death.

Given the vast amount of wastes churned out on a daily basis, the task of waste management is quite a challenging one. This seemingly challenging problem has actually given rise to a fast growing industry- the waste management industry which creates employment for a large number of people. Armed with principles of proper waste management- reduce, reuse and recycle, and seen in policies such as: “don’t waste your waste” and “zero waste campaigns”, these industries focus on recycling and conversion of wastes to energy. Unfortunately, this is not existent in developing countries and is not very effective in some developed nations; indeed only few countries like Sweden have waste industries so effective that they even import wastes. This Swedish success is partly due to government policies like progressive payment with more wastes that discourage waste generation.

Government can help by providing more waste storage and transport facilities to remove wastes from residential areas. Also, placing huge fines and setting up laws against improper waste disposal could help dissuade the public from dumping wastes carelessly. Public health officials can also help to educate the general public on the importance of waste management. If the health risks are effectively communicated and that everyone in their own little way can help, it becomes an easier task. Research into the long term environmental effects of current waste management methods has favoured reduction and recycling to be the most appropriate ways to handle wastes. International bodies like the EU should raise the minimum recycle targets to nudge member states towards this direction.

The effects of vector borne diseases have been strongly felt throughout the course of human history even though the relationship between vectors and diseases was not established until 1890s. Ever since then, they have been recognized as important global disease burden accounting for about 17% of all infectious diseases. Vector borne diseases are diseases that are transmitted by vectors- insects that harbour infectious agents. Vectors can harbour virtually any infectious agent including bacteria, viruses, protozoa and can transmit more than one infectious agent e.g. mosquito which transmits malaria and filariasis. Vectors also tend to be distributed based on the environmental parameters leading to unequal disease distribution, for e.g. mosquitoes in tropics and sand flies in Asia. However, the drastic effects of climate change coupled with advances in human transportation and industrialisation is blurring this line.

Despite being public health threats, vectors are also part of our ecosystem and help to create balance. Environmental parameters like climate change are perhaps the most significant causes of imbalance which accounts for the increased incidence of diseases. Also, pollution can serve as a breeding ground as seen in mosquitos or housefly in improperly disposed sewage. This reason coupled with weak public health response is why poorer communities, especially in Africa, tend to have more vector burden compared to the developed world. Another factor is seen in the late 20th century when the war over vectors was thought to be almost over. A shocking incidence followed- mosquitoes suddenly developed resistance over insecticides like DDT which was effectively used to control them. This is even worsened by the infectious agents that can also become resistant to drugs, and can even mutate to more pathogenic strains as seen in influenza. There seems to be really no way around these mechanisms of microbial adaptation, mutation and evolution.

Whether it’s the vectors or the organisms themselves, it takes time for these survival mechanisms to develop and it is within this time lag that public health responses and efforts can be useful to control the spread of these diseases. This is illustrated by the significant reduction of these diseases during the widespread public health campaigns in early 1900s. Generally vector borne diseases are controlled by educating the public on the importance of the environment on health; reducing pollution, better housing and sanitation could reduce disease spread. In addition, removing the source of these organisms like stagnant water and providing materials like nets to prevent their contact with people would go a long way in reducing spread. There should be increased provision and availability of vaccines for better coverage against infection as well as research into newer vaccines to include newer types of organisms. Funding of public health services in remote areas with higher prevalence is essential to educate people on the lifecycle of vectors and where we can intervene to limit their spread. Research into more efficient ways of vector control has led to novel approaches involving biological control like use nanotechnology such as nanoparticles and genetic engineering as well as the Oxitec friendly mosquitoes.

Human history is littered with horrors of disease outbreaks ranging from as far back as the Justinian plague to the recent Ebola outbreaks. These outbreaks could be global- known as pandemics like the 1918 influenza pandemic; or localized involving a large part of a continent-known as epidemics  like the 14th century bubonic plague that almost wiped out half of Europe. Most of these outbreaks are caused by viruses but some are also caused by bacteria and parasites. These infectious agents are mostly communicable, spreading quickly by air like influenza; localizing in body fluids like blood and saliva e.g. HIV or travel via vectors like mosquitoes as in the case of Zika virus and malaria parasite. Given the death toll from these outbreaks as evidenced by the fact that the bubonic plague claimed more lives than the First World War, it is important to understand why they happen and how to prevent, control or manage their occurrence.

There are several reasons that account for outbreaks. Firstly, infectious agents can become resistant to already available treatments and vaccines, something known as antimicrobial resistance. They do this by several forms of genetic adaptations like the antigenic shifts and drifts seen in influenza virus. Also, some infectious agents can create conditions for spread of other agents as exemplified in the resurgence of TB due to HIV. Secondly, environmental modification such as climate change can cause spread of pathogens via vectors from a resistant human population to a vulnerable population like the increasing incidence of dengue fever in the United States. Additionally, increased population pressure could lead to movement to uninhabited areas which results in exposure to newer pathogens and vectors. Improper waste disposal and sanitation practices could also lead to increased spread of these agents. There are also cases of biological warfare like the US anthrax attack in 2001. Finally, the higher rate of globalization and human travel can lead to a faster spread of these diseases before they can be controlled.

Most outbreaks are caused by novel agents or known agents which are resistant to already available modes of treatment. Consequently, they often constitute a public health emergency. With threats to health care givers and patients In hospitals, hospitalized care is paralyzed leaving public health prevention practices as the only safe and reliable method of control and prevention. Widespread education and awareness programs about disease symptoms, route of spread and vectors- if any, are important for identification and prevention of disease outbreaks. As stated in SDG goal 4, the importance of the environment to heath should be stressed to reduce the rate of climate change. More so, better sanitation practices would reduce the rate of spread. Government must also place strict restrictions to immigration, especially people from known affected areas and also quarantine if needed until effective treatments are discovered. There is really nothing to do about genetic adaptations but to keep on researching and providing drugs and vaccines to cover resistant organisms. Sadly, outbreaks will keep occurring probably because it is an evolutionary and survival mechanism for these organisms but we must also fight for our survival by being prepared and ready to control them.