Monday, August 4, 2008

ESOF - day 1

Wow! Such a long time without writing and now, so many things happened in such a short time, I don't have time to tell you about it all.

It's because of the ESOF, the European Science Open Forum which started last Friday and which joined 4800 participants from all Europe. There was just too much going on from Friday till Tuesday, it was impossible to see it all (and continue with your work and life!). But here's an excerpt of some of the things I've seen.

The inauguration was presented by a very good guy, Toby Harper. He's an actor who I assumed leaves in Barcelona (his Catalan accent was very good!) and did a great presentation during the whole evening. He pointed out nutrition, HIV/AIDS, petrol prizes and global warming as the big issues of our time, and indeed some of them were subjects extensively discussed during the whole forum.

Then came the politicial speeches (8 people in total, a little bit too much), before Pedro Alonso, a researcher who studies malaria and just got the Premio Príncipe de Asturias for his work, gave the inaugurational speech, entitled “Global Health Challenges”.

Alonso mentioned how health had improved a lot, in all parts of the world, over the last centruy, with an increase in the life expectancy of 25 years (this, I assume, in the developed world). He made a specific mention of the erradication of smallpox as being the biggest achievement in medicine (and even in science) of all times so far.

Yet, despite this encouraging start, communicable diseases were mentioned as the biggest challenge in medicine right now. He talked about the close relationship between diseases such as AIDS, TB and malaria, and poverty, citing Winslow: “Men and women were sick because they were poor, they became poorer because they were sicker, and sicker because they were poorer” (here's some food for thought!).

Continuing with this link and the unfairness of the situation, he confesed that from the 1,233 drugs that came into the market in the last 25 years aprox., only 13 were for tropical diseases that affect mainly the poor. Also known as the Gap 90/10, 10% of the global research budget is for diseases that cause 90% of the disease-burden. 40% of the population live in countries were malaria is endemic, and a person dies from malaria every 30'' (that's about 5 or 6 people dead since you started reading this entry!!!!!). Another negative effect of malaria, less obvious than the deads, is the economic slaughter it causes in already struggling countries. Alonso gave an estimate of $12 bilion/year for the money that has probably been lost in Africa due to malaria.

It's amazing how we've heard these things time and again, and we are shocked when we hear them (for the nth time), and yet, we keep on forgeting... Let's hope at least these 5 days of ESOF have help everyone reflect about the role of science in the world (all the world), and how we should help science help us.

(just to finish on a brighter note: after Alonso's interesting talk, Pep Bou came along, a Catalan architect, it seems, who currently earns his life and entertains huge audiences making impossible soap bubbles on a stage. Check the pictures!)