Mental illness affects a fifth of people living in war zones

In this file photo taken on June 13, 1999 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, followed by US troops on their way to Uroshevac walk down the road to Pristina shortly after crossing the border with Macedonia in General Jankovic 13 June 1999. (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019
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Mental illness affects a fifth of people living in war zones

  • The study was funded by the WHO, the Queensland Department of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

LONDON: One in five people in war zones has depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, with many suffering severe forms of these mental illnesses.
The findings highlight the long-term impact of war-induced crises in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the UN’s health agency said, and the numbers are significantly higher than in peacetime populations, where around one in 14 people has a mental illness.
“Given the large numbers of people in need and the humanitarian imperative to reduce suffering, there is an urgent need to implement scalable mental health interventions to address this burden,” the research team said.
Mark van Ommeren, a mental health specialist at the WHO who worked on the team, said the findings “add yet more weight to the argument for immediate and sustained investment, so that mental and psychosocial support is made available to all people in need living through conflict and its aftermath.”
In 2016, the number of ongoing armed conflicts reached an all-time high of 53 in 37 countries and 12% of the world’s people are living in an active war zone, according to United Nations figures. Since World War Two, almost 69 million people globally have been forced to flee war and violence.
The WHO’s conflict mental health study, published in The Lancet medical journal, was carried out by a team of researchers from the WHO, Australia’s Queensland University, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and Harvard University in the United States.
It analyzed research from 129 studies and data from 39 countries published between 1980 and August 2017.
Regions that have seen conflict in the last 10 years were included and mental illnesses were categorized as either mild, moderate or severe. Natural disasters and public health emergencies, such as Ebola, were not included.
Overall in war zones, the average prevalence was highest for mild mental health conditions, at 13%. Around 4% of people living amid armed conflict had moderate mental health illness, and for severe conditions the prevalence was 5%.
The study also found that rates of depression and anxiety in conflict settings appeared to increase with age, and depression was more common among women than men.
The study was funded by the WHO, the Queensland Department of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Restaurants could be 1st to get genetically modified salmon

Updated 21 June 2019
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Restaurants could be 1st to get genetically modified salmon

  • The salmon produced by AquaBounty are the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the US
  • They represent one way companies are pushing to transform the plants and animals we eat, even as consumer advocacy groups call for greater caution

NEW YORK: Inside an Indiana aquafarming complex, thousands of salmon eggs genetically modified to grow faster than normal are hatching into tiny fish. After growing to roughly 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) in indoor tanks, they could be served in restaurants by late next year.
The salmon produced by AquaBounty are the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the US. They represent one way companies are pushing to transform the plants and animals we eat, even as consumer advocacy groups call for greater caution.
AquaBounty hasn’t sold any fish in the US yet, but it says its salmon may first turn up in places like restaurants or university cafeterias, which would decide whether to tell diners that the fish are genetically modified.
“It’s their customer, not ours,” said Sylvia Wulf, AquaBounty’s CEO.
To produce its fish, Aquabounty injected Atlantic salmon with DNA from other fish species that make them grow to full size in about 18 months, which could be about twice as fast as regular salmon. The company says that’s more efficient since less feed is required. The eggs were shipped to the US from the company’s Canadian location last month after clearing final regulatory hurdles.
As AquaBounty worked through years of government approvals, several grocers including Kroger and Whole Foods responded to a campaign by consumer groups with a vow to not sell the fish.
Already, most corn and soy in the US is genetically modified to be more resistant to pests and herbicides. But as genetically modified salmon make their way to dinner plates, the pace of change to the food supply could accelerate.
This month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to simplify regulations for genetically engineered plants and animals. The move comes as companies are turning to a newer gene-editing technology that makes it easier to tinker with plant and animal DNA.
That’s blurring the lines around what should be considered a genetically modified organism, and how such foods are perceived. In 2015, an Associated Press-GfK poll found two-thirds of Americans supported labeling of genetically modified ingredients on food packages. The following year, Congress directed regulators to establish national standards for disclosing the presence of bioengineered foods.
But foods made with the newer gene-editing technique wouldn’t necessarily be subject to the regulation, since companies say the resulting plants and animals could theoretically be produced with conventional breeding. And while AquaBounty’s salmon was produced with an older technique, it may not always be obvious when people are buying the fish either.
The disclosure regulation will start being implemented next year, but mandatory compliance doesn’t start until 2022. And under the rules , companies can provide the disclosures through codes people scan with their phones. The disclosure also would note that products have “bioengineered” ingredients, which advocacy groups say could be confusing.
“Nobody uses that term,” said Amy van Saun of the Center for Food Safety, who noted “genetically engineered” or “genetically modified” are more common.
The center is suing over the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of AquaBounty’s salmon, and it is among the groups that asked grocers to pledge they wouldn’t sell the fish.
The disclosure rules also do not apply to restaurants and similar food service establishments. Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that AquaBounty’s fish will represent a tiny fraction of the US salmon supply, and that many people may not care whether they’re eating genetically modified food. Still, he said restaurants could make the information available to customers who ask about it.
“The information should not be hidden,” Jaffe said.
AquaBounty’s Wulf noted its salmon has already been sold in Canada, where disclosure is not required. She said the company believes in transparency but questioned why people would want to know whether the fish are genetically modified.
“It’s identical to Atlantic salmon, with the exception of one gene,” she said.