On July 28, Silicon Valley Global Health in partnership with Aaroogya International hosted a forum featuring Dr. Desiree LaBeaud, physician-scientist, epidemiologist, and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the Stanford University school of medicine. Interviewed by Richard Dasher, board member of Silicon Valley Global Health and Aaroogya International, the conversation regarded how plastics have an impact on the spread of infectious diseases.
After her pediatric residency, wherein for a time she was stationed in Laos during a monsoon season saturated with Dengue fever infections, Dr. LaBeaud decided to study infectious diseases, especially those born by mosquitoes. Dengue fever, characterized often by debilitating headache, joint pain, high fever, and body pain, is the most popular mosquito-borne viral disease, Dr. LaBeaud posited, impacting 400 million people a year and causing at least 20,000 deaths per year. There is no treatment to date for the disease.
Later in Dr. LaBeaud’s career, she and her colleges discovered during an intervention project in Kenya to educate children on how to identify and avoid disease-carrying mosquitos, mosquitos congregate where plastic trash is gathered. Deposited plastics hold enough water and provide enough enclosure for many mosquitos, namely Aedes aegypti mosquitos (which can spread dengue fever, yellow fever, and zika) to breed. In the absence of treatments for many mosquito-borne illnesses in many nations around the world, one of the best ways to prevent mosquito-borne disease in many regions “is by cleaning up all that trash, and making it so that the mosquitos are not in your back yard feeding on you,” Dr. LaBeaud said.
While mosquito-related infections in Kenya are still widespread, the diseases are receiving more press coverage and a successful ban on plastic bags in 2016 has elicited steps in the right direction. As well as meeting with the Ministry of Health in Kenya to discuss the first steps in policy-making to prevent mosquito-borne illness, Dr. LaBeaud has also started a non-profit called the Health and Environmental Research Institute (HERI) in Kenya to use her and her team’s research to create actionable, community-wide change, to educate and empower youth to take action to eradicate plastics and prevent mosquito-borne illness, and inform beneficial public policy decisions in the region.
In the near future, Dr. LaBeaud plans to work with researchers in the UK who are developing an anaerobic digestion fuel cell; Using bacteria discovered in 2016 that naturally eats plastic as a food source, these researchers have been able to create a cell that “eats” PET plastic (the kind used in single-use water bottles), and produces 1) a bio-rich fertilizer and 2) methane-rich bio-gas that can be harnessed to create energy.
In recalling an expert’s shocking word’s Dr. LaBeaud called her audience to action; “we have the solutions to clean up the ocean’s plastic, it's just that no one wants to pay for it.” “We need to figure out who is accountable, us, and then we need to act on it,” Dr. LaBeaud asserts. Even the small decisions matter, like eliminating individual use of single-use water bottles or plastic straws. Get intentional with your choices of materials you use in your daily life, and try to refuse wastefulness.
For more information on how Dr. LaBeaud is transforming her research into environmental policy and more, visit the link to HERI: Heri-kenya.org
Watch the full forum here: