Friday, November 14, 2014

Is a contraceptive that costs $4-6 per annum inexpensive enough?

                                               Comments due Nov. 23, 2014

Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive given once every three months, is
already a popular choice of women in developing countries, who value the
convenience and discretion of not having to take a daily birth control pill.
But the injections are out of reach for many more women because they
live in rural areas that are too far from a health clinic to make the
treatments practical.

Now, a major collaboration between Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer,
and several global aid groups is aiming to change that by providing
financing to make a new version of the drug — redesigned with developing
countries in mind — available in 69 nations throughout Africa, Asia, Latin
America and Eastern Europe.

The new product, called the Sayana Press, is a single-use syringe
designed to be portable and easy to use.

Depo-Provera is typically injected into the muscle by health care
workers who must first draw the drug into a syringe from a glass vial. The
new product has been reformulated into a lower dose and uses an existing
device, called a Uniject system, that looks like a plastic bubble with a short
needle attached. It is injected under the skin by squeezing the bubble and
can be administered with minimal training.

“You can imagine somebody sticking this in their satchel and going into
a very remote area,” said Peter Stevenson, vice president for portfolio
management at Pfizer’s Global Established Pharmaceuticals.

The product is already being used in several African countries, but
Pfizer said it planned to expand distribution through a financial partnership
that would allow the product, which typically costs about $1.50 a dose, to be
sold to health care institutions in those countries for about $1.

Several groups, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and
the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, as well as the United States
Agency for International Development, will help subsidize the cost and
assist in introducing it in countries around the globe.

Women will most likely receive the product free or at a reduced cost.
Chris Elias, president for global development at the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation, said the Sayana Press could be an important new choice
for the estimated 225 million women worldwide who would like access to
contraception but do not have it. “Family planning is an important priority
for us, and this is expanding the range of methods,” he said.

Pfizer declined to comment on the revenue it expected to generate from
sales of the Sayana Press, but John Young, president of Pfizer’s Global
Established Pharmaceuticals, said it was not seen as a major revenue driver
for the company. Depo-Provera sells to health institutions in those countries
for about 75 cents a dose.

Dr. Amitasrigowri S. Murthy, an assistant professor at NYU Langone
Medical Center in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, did not
work on the project but said the Sayana Press carried advantages because
injecting Depo-Provera into muscle requires the skills of a knowledgeable
health care worker. With the new product, “you press it and it injects it,” she
said. “It’s similar to insulin.”

Fiona Walugembe, who is overseeing the introduction of the Sayana
Press in Uganda through the global health group PATH, said women were
eager to hear about the new product. About a third of Ugandan women have
no access to family planning options, she said.

She said many women like Depo-Provera because they do not have to
tell their husbands that they are using a contraceptive.
Now, they will not have to make a long trip four times a year to receive
the injections.
“It is exciting,” she said. “It is really a big thing.”
NYT 11/14/2014)

Friday, November 07, 2014

New Mechanism Behind Arctic Warming Revealed

                                     Comments due Nov. 16, 2014

We all know that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, but new research identifies a new mechanism that could turn out to be a major contributor to melting sea ice, specifically in the Arctic region.
Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have studied a long-wavelength region of the electromagnetic spectrum called far infrared. Far infrared is a region in the infrared spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. While it is invisible to our eyes, it accounts for about half the energy emitted by the Earth’s surface.
Despite its importance in the planet’s energy budget, it’s difficult to measure a surface’s effectiveness in emitting far-infrared energy. In addition, its influence on the planet’s climate is not well represented in climate models.
Current models assume that all surfaces are 100 percent efficient in emitting far-infrared energy. However, scientists found that open oceans are much less efficient than sea ice when it comes to emitting in the far-infrared region of the spectrum. This means that the Arctic Ocean traps much of the energy in far-infrared radiation, a previously unknown phenomenon that is likely contributing to the warming of the polar climate.
“Far-infrared surface emissivity is an unexplored topic, but it deserves more attention. Our research found that non-frozen surfaces are poor emitters compared to frozen surfaces. And this discrepancy has a much bigger impact on the polar climate than today’s models indicate,” says Daniel Feldman, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and lead author of the paper.
Simulations conducted by the researchers revealed that far-infrared surface emissions have the biggest impact on the climates of arid high-latitude and high-altitude regions.
In the Arctic, the simulations found that open oceans hold more far-infrared energy than sea ice, resulting in warmer oceans, melting sea ice, and a 2-degree Celsius increase in the polar climate after only a 25-year run.
This could help explain why polar warming is most pronounced during the three-month winter when there is no sun.
“The Earth continues to emit energy in the far infrared during the polar winter,” Feldman says. “And because ocean surfaces trap this energy, the system is warmer throughout the year as opposed to only when the sun is out.”
Their research appears this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

European Initiatives on Climate Change

                                                     Comments due by Nov. 9, 2014

BLISS was it in that pre-Lehman dawn to be alive. But to be European was very heaven. Before
the world economy turned turtle in 2008, the European Union presented an attractive face to
the world. Its scepticism about military force and love of global rules was a welcome counterweight
to the cowboy unilateralism of George Bush’s America. The issue of climate change presented a
golden opportunity for Europe to flex its soft power, economic muscle and high-minded
internationalism for the good of mankind. Perhaps, mused some, the EU should rebrand itself
the “Environmental Union.”

The crash, and the devastation unleashed across the euro zone, put paid to all that. But the
environment is back. At their most recent summit, on October 23rd and 24th, Europe’s heads of
government agreed on a climate and energy package that obliges the EU to ensure that by 2030
its emissions of greenhouse gases will be at least 40% lower than in 1990. To achieve that goal,
each of the 28 members will have to meet its own legally binding target (these remain to be set).
The deal succeeds an earlier one, signed in 2007, under which the EU agreed to a 20%
emissions cut by 2020. It is supposed to pave the way to a reduction worth 80-95% by 2050.
The agreement was hard-fought and complex even by EU standards. Poorer countries such as
Poland, which relies on coal for 90% of its electricity, demanded and won various sweeteners to
ease their transition to cleaner fuels. Two “sub-targets” of 27%, on the renewable share of the
energy mix and on improvements to energy efficiency, were included in the deal but have no
teeth (the renewables goal is binding only at “EU level”, which leads one to wonder if the club
will sue itself should it be missed). Spain and Portugal secured commitments to let them export
surplus energy over the Pyrenees into France. An accommodation was even found for Ireland’s
methane-belching cows.

It is not enough, growled the green lobbyists. They fumed that the targets will leave too much to
do to meet the 2050 goal, because later cuts will be much harder to make than earlier ones. A
more ambitious deal was probably politically impossible. But such complaints obscure the
deeper truth: that Europe is on its way to becoming an emissions pygmy. In 2012 the EU
accounted for only 11% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, next to 16% for the United States
and 29% for China. And that number will continue to shrink as Europe’s economy declines
relative to the rest of the world.

Developing countries argue that Europe has historical responsibilities to discharge, given the
cumulative heat-trapping effect of its emissions over the centuries. Fair enough. But one reason
why officials were so keen to strike a deal now is that on the climate (if on little else), the
European example—they believe—can still inspire others. They hope that at a conference in
Paris in December 2015, world leaders will be ready to sign a climate-change compact to govern
emissions after 2020, having failed to do so in Copenhagen five years ago.
Indeed, in the run-up to last week’s meeting, officials wove a happy fable in which the EU deal
would trigger movement in America, which in turn would inspire China. An “at least”
formulation was attached to the 40% goal, enabling the EU to ratchet up its contribution if
others show similar ambition.

Nor is Europe’s influence confined to the “soft” realm of cajoling and persuasion. Officials in
California, for example, made several fact-finding visits to Brussels to investigate the EU’s
emissions-trading regime when preparing their own, the world’s second-largest (it has since
been extended to Quebec). Before its launch two years ago the Californians told sceptics that
they had learned important lessons from the European example—even if these were largely
about what to avoid.

Like so many predecessors, the Paris conference will be billed as the world’s last chance to avoid
calamitous climate change. This time, developments elsewhere may offer slightly more
justification for the wilder hopes of European officials, especially when compared with 2007.
Barack Obama, who has been flexing his regulatory muscles at home, has an eye on his
environmental legacy, even if a Republican-controlled Congress will do its best to thwart him.
The Chinese have hinted they may offer a date by when their carbon emissions will peak.
So the power of the European example may not be a complete figment of officials’ imagination.
But its power is waning. Already relatively green, the EU risks being taken for granted in global
climate negotiations; it is hard to imagine influential countries—China, say, or America—
making concessions to win the Europeans over. The emissions-trading scheme, which covers
12,000 industrial polluters and half of Europe’s total carbon emissions, is at the heart of the
EU’s plans—and it is a farce. The market is massively oversupplied with permits, which now
trade for little more than €6 ($7.60) a tonne, meaning there is little incentive to ditch dirty fuels.
Europe is actually burning more coal than ever. An Anglo-German plan to accelerate a
withdrawal of permits from the market should help, although the Poles will yet again have to be
talked round.

Although the EU will easily meet its 2020 target, that is thanks largely to its sickly economy.
Recession is no remedy for climate woes. Indeed, the green rhetoric from European officials has
lately taken a growth-friendly turn; with unemployment high and growth prospects flat, citizens
will not take kindly to energy-price rises. As they translate their climate pledges into policies,
Europe’s governments will have to tread carefully if they are to lead the world without leaving
behind their voters.

(The Economist)