The Transmission

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CAHFS Weekly Topic: Taking stock of 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Taking stock of 2018

As the year draws to a close, it’s natural to look back and reflect. Last year was eventful on all fronts.

In food safety, we saw repeated outbreaks of potentially deadly E.coli on US romaine lettuce and the largest ever Listeria outbreak. Infectious disease news brought about the deadliest flu epidemic in years, which killed 80,000 Americans, and an increase in tick-borne diseases. Hepatitis A outbreaks have also been on the rise, and the devastating opioid epidemic seems to be ever-spreading.

Sadly, the year brought with it the news that US life expectancy has continued to decline, now averaging 78.6 years. This trend is against the growing global life expectancy. Global average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, the fastest increase since the 1960s. Some countries, like the UK, share a similar fate with the US, but others like Canada and all the Nordic states have seen consistent increases in life expectancy.

Food Safety News

Outbreak News Today

NY Times

The silver linings: Literacy, infant mortality, and endangered species

Let’s not forget, that even though the year brought about an abundance of bad news, things have also improved on many fronts. Unfortunately, for many of the robust population statistics from this year, we will have to wait for another six months to receive the data. Hence, I’ll cover the positive trends that have been taking place prior to and during 2018.

First of all, literacy rates have been increasing steadily. For example in 2016, 11.5 million people more could read than in 2015. Similarly, global infant mortality has been steadily decreasing, as has global maternal mortality rate, childhood stunting and teen pregnancies. These are trends to celebrate.

We are also constantly better at saving endangered species, and more than 10% of the world’s energy now comes from renewable sources. Bad news makes the headlines more easily than good news, but good headlines are still out there. We are on the right track.


Preparing for 2019

So how should we use all that we learned from 2018 to be better in 2019? Clearly, there are an abundance of challenges to tackle. Writers of the Contagion Live website propose that infectious disease specialists should aim their weapons with hand hygiene and stewardship programs to fight antimicrobial resistance, the number one global health threat of our time. Another good new year's resolution would be to take on leadership roles and raise awareness on all the detrimental health effects global warning will bring about, including the spread of vector-borne diseases.

Personally, I would also love to see more women from both academia, agriculture and health sectors to step up and say yes to interviews, to write books, to go on tv and to speak in radio. I wish we would do so not only on matters concerning our own field of expertise, but also bravely share our opinions on timely societal issues.  Being comfortable with public speaking and opinion sharing is an uphill battle for many women of science, but our voices are desperately needed. Pseudoscientists with no degrees whatsoever answer interview calls with an immediate yes, fueled by the devious Dunning-Kruger effect. Men step into to the spotlight often with ease, supported by their upbringing of bravery and aura of authority. Yet our voices are needed to bring balance, perspective and more.

So let's not listen to the impostor syndrome, but rather embrace the challenge and welcome the risk. We can do this!

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Heidi Vesterinen

Heidi Vesterinen

Heidi is a Finnish Public Health veterinarian who has previously worked with creatures great and small in Finland, the United Kingdom, India and Nepal. She graduated from the University of Helsinki in 2013 and is also a Veterinary Leadership Program Alumni from Cornell University. Heidi has a background in meat inspection, NGO work and lobbying and she enjoys analysing complex system and problem solving. Outside of work she loves yoga, photography and her cats.