Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Cameron Hood, Newsletter EditorJonathan Lambert
Public Health Reporter
Welcome to Grid Health, bringing you stories on the intersections of health and politics, technology, climate change, misinformation and more. In this issue:  
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I may be biased (before becoming a journalist, I was an evolutionary biologist), but I think one of the most underrated and misunderstood threats to public health is the loss of biodiversity.  

The coronavirus pandemic underlines one obvious threat — viruses circulating in other species can spill over into humans and wreak havoc. The risk is magnified by increased deforestation and climate change, which create opportunities for more, and different, species interactions.  

But there are so many more connections. Healthy ecosystems brimming with their full complement of plants and animals filter water, clean the air and store climate-warming carbon, all of which impact our health. Many medications, from malaria-treating quinine to cancer drugs, stem from plant compounds found deep in the rainforest, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Some research even suggests that being in spaces with more plant and animal species boosts
mental health

These effects are so wide-ranging that they threaten to become abstractions, too pervasive to be able to see clearly. That obscures the implications biodiversity loss has for our health: the dirtier air we breathe, the life-saving medications hiding in plants that go extinct before scientists find them or the diffuse drag living in a less green world has on our well-being. 

A study published last week drew one of the clearest lines I’ve seen between biodiversity loss and public health. After a fungal pandemic wiped out frogs in Costa Rica and Panama in the ’90s and 2000s, researchers found that
malaria cases surged fivefold in the years after. They suspect that was a consequence of mosquito numbers swelling in the absence of their long-tongued predators. I spoke with tropical ecologist Karen Lips of the University of Maryland at College Park about the study, and more broadly about why people should view the extinction crisis as a public health problem. 

Here’s an excerpt of our conversation: 

Jonathan Lambert: I imagine that many people wouldn’t necessarily think that biodiversity would relate to public health. Why are they wrong, and what caused you to look for a link between amphibian loss and malaria? 

Karen Lips: I think this is the essential problem with the biodiversity crisis. We’ve kind of made it an issue of saving panda bears and other beautiful, charismatic things. But the reality is that biodiversity is the foundation of life on the planet, including us. 

When we were studying the amphibian extinction crisis, we were really interested to see if there was any way we could link that to a direct impact on humans. The loss seemed like such a huge thing. We thought there must be a connection, but we weren’t sure what that might be at first. We eventually found this correlation between
changes in frogs and changes in malaria

JL: Why did you think that this amphibian loss might have an impact on human health? 

KL: We know that frogs eat insects of all sorts. And it may be that because there was such a huge loss so quickly, that would result in an increase in insects. If there’s no frogs, there’s more bugs, and that could increase diseases that are carried by insects such as malaria. We looked at a really fine scale at when chytrid came through an area and the number of malaria cases. And it turned out that there was a
pretty significant increase in malaria cases for about six or eight years after chytrid was introduced. Compared to what normal [malaria] levels are, it’s an obvious big shift. It’s pretty crazy to think about. 

Read the full story here


💠 When health and climate change collide: Efforts by Puerto Rico’s drug-manufacturing industry to harden its defenses against extreme weather seem to have paid off in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, Climate Reporter Dave Levitan finds. But with roughly half of the island still without power, including several hospitals, the situation demonstrates how uneven adaptation to extreme weather, and climate change more generally, can be. Read more.

The main ingredient of the global food crisis: Russia’s war in Ukraine has affected global supplies of not just food but also the fertilizers that are needed to grow crops around the world, according to Deputy Global Editor Nikhil Kumar. Across West Africa, farmers are already scaling back cultivation. Experts worry that continued pressures in the fertilizer market could drive down the amount of farmland that can be cultivated in coming months in many more areas. Read more.


🎧 Introducing Grid’s new podcast, Bad Takes! Each week, Executive Editor Laura McGann and Editor-at-Large Matthew Yglesias discuss a take that’s gotten under their skin, peeling back its layers to figure out what it tells us about American politics and society. Check out the latest episodes and subscribe here Have a bad take for Laura and Matt to review in a future episode? Send it to us📩


There’s no question the pandemic has been rough on kids. More than 10 million children worldwide lost a parent or caregiver from the disease, national test score performance dropped, and many deal with long-term symptoms from infection. 

But amid the awfulness, there have been a few silver linings, especially for the poorest kids. The rate of uninsured children in the U.S. ticked down to 5.4 percent (4.2 million children), after several years of rising from the historic low of 4.7 percent in 2016, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Pandemic policies that prevented states from involuntarily taking people off Medicaid are largely responsible for the turnaround. If that provision ends, which is expected to happen as early as January,
6.7 million kids could experience a gap in coverage, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. 
Food insecurity also reached a 20-year low in 2021, aided by an expansion of the social safety net in response to covid. Only about 10 percent of U.S. households reported experiencing some trouble accessing food, according to a recent government report. That’s down from about 11 percent in 2019 and about 15 percent in 2011.


  • Wildfire Smoke Is Erasing Progress on Clean Air (New York Times)
  • The controversial embryo tests that promise a better baby (Nature)
  • Why female fans at Qatar World Cup risk prison or flogging for reporting sexual violence (The Athletic


📩 P.S. Do you work at a long covid treatment center, or have you gone to one yourself? We want to hear from you about what these centers offer and what they're like for patients. Email us or tweet at us @gridnews.

👋 Thanks for reading. Until next week, take care. –Jon 

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Alex Leeds Matthews, Cameron Hood and Lillian Barkley also contributed to this edition of Grid Health.
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