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Over Easy: Bioprospecting in Panama

In Gamboa, Panama, medical researchers who oppose deforestation are looking at ways to fight deadly disease like malaria and others by examining the fur of sloths, observing ant colonies and studying other rainforest plants and animals. The researchers in Panama are speaking of ‘biological hot spots’ in the rainforest, that serve as stable reservoirs for otherwise undisturbed diseases — until, that is, the human practice of deforestation which displaces otherwise stable reservoirs.

Yesterday in the Washington Post, in an article titled “How deforestation shares the blame for the Ebola epidemic,” Terrence McCoy discusses the commonality of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa with deforestation, a practice unprecedented in this area. The article explains:

Such a conclusion is particularly troublesome for West Africa, which has never before experienced an Ebola outbreak like this one, and is reported to have one of the world’s highest rates of regional deforestation.


‘There are no longer any frontier forests in West Africa for future generations to exploit,’ researcher Jim Gockowski, who co-authored a study tracking Guinea’s deforestation, said in a statement.

What does that mean for Ebola? Quite a lot. For one, it brings people and wildlife into closer contact than before. And it also means a lot more bats, thought to carry Ebola, which increasingly pervade some forested communities.

Unbridled deforestation for profit must stop. The practice began with too many unknowns. The other issue of great concern is antibiotic resistance. Some of the answers may be in the rainforest, but unfortunately, and this is only an opinion, Big Contracts, Big Hospital Buying Groups coupled with Big Pharma are interested not in the least in investing in collecting sloth firs to investigate reduction in non-Big-Selling Diseases. Two thousand people die each day from malaria. But that’s someplace else. Same with Ebola. Rather, developers would much rather cut down the rainforests and replace them with developments.

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