Category: united nations

Combatting Climate Change Is “A Matter Of Survival” Says Fijian Minister

Climate change may still be a matter of debate in some pockets of the United States, but globally, there’s not much controversy. These days, most world leaders are not reluctant to discuss climate change, one of the defining issues of our era. This was certainly the case at this year’s United Nations Global Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York City in late September — there was no shortage of conversations dissecting strategies to cut emissions and slow the pace of warming.

But one leader framed the stakes in a way that left little room for debate. On September 21, during a panel discussion focused on uniting for climate change held in the media zone (outside the general assembly), Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister of Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, told a small audience that mitigating climate change is necessary for our survival.

“For Fiji and the South Pacific, this is not just a matter of sustainable development, but it’s a matter of survival as well. For us it’s very critical to build resilience so that we can achieve sustainable development in the long-term,” Seruiratu said. He continued:

We [Fijians] are low-emitters. But we are also contributing towards mitigation. For us, more mitigation now means less adaptation in the future. We keep insisting that we have to equally balance between adaptation and mitigation because for us, as a small island state, mitigation is critical — it’s important because it’s a matter of survival. Therefore, for us to have resilience in the future, we have to have a balance between adaption and mitigation.

Fiji, as Seruiratu noted, is an island in the South Pacific, a region among the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of sea level rise and destructive storms. In February 2016, tropical cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, causing US$1.4 billion in damage. Fiji is better equipped to mitigate that damage and adapt to new conditions than some of its neighbors, such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, according to assessments from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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Smaller island nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati, are at risk of disappearing completely.

Financing this shift is critical, Seruiratu said. Nations like Fiji need to put money into updating infrastructure to be more resilient (and to put insurance policies on them), to implement climate policies like turning to energy sources that don’t emit as much carbon dioxide. Who, exactly, should pay for all that has been a matter of debate as more countries have agreed to international climate treaties such as the Paris Accord.

Seruiratu is one of the leaders for the COP23, the UN’s climate meeting that will be held in Bonn, Germany in November.

Seruiratu reiterated that taking action against climate change isn’t up to any one country, or community, or individual. Everyone must play a part. “In uniting for climate action, we must understand that first we are all vulnerable, and we must all act. We all have to take responsibility,” he said.

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UN: Artificial Intelligence Could Destabilize World Through Unemployment and War

Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robots

As it prepares to open the new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, a headquarters in The Hague which will monitor developments in artificial intelligence (AI), the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has explained the need for the new center with a warning that robots could destabilize the world.

AI, and robots that benefit from it, pose a range of potential threats to humans: from the standard fears of automation and the mass unemployment that follows it, to more dramatic concerns that autonomous killer robots will be deployed by those with nefarious aims — or that they will be self-directed, for that matter. It will be the task of the UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to second-guess each possible threat.

The Guardian reports that UNICRI senior strategic adviser Irakli Beridze said that the team at The Hague will also generate ideas about how AI advances could help achieve UN targets. His point seemed to be that while there are risks associated with developments in AI that needed to be addressed, there is a bigger picture that the center will consider, as the UN’s first permanent office focused on AI.

Image Credit: thehorriblejoke/Pixabay
Image Credit: thehorriblejoke/Pixabay

“If societies do not adapt quickly enough, this can cause instability,” Beridze told the Dutch newspaper de Telegraaf. “One of our most important tasks is to set up a network of experts from business, knowledge institutes, civil society organizations and governments. We certainly do not want to plead for a ban or a brake on technologies. We will also explore how new technology can contribute to the sustainable development goals of the UN. For this we want to start concrete projects. We will not be a talking club.”

Getting Ready for AI

The UN isn’t alone; others who understand the industry are preparing for advancements in AI. The United States, China, and Russia are all striving to develop weapons supremacy in the realm of AI, and Israel is also developing autonomous weapons technology.

In August, over 100 leaders in AI and robotics, including Elon Musk, urged the UN to act against autonomous weapons: “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” they wrote. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Stephen Hawking shares Musk’s concerns about AI, warning in 2016 that it would be “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.” And while many AI experts, including Bill Gates, do not share these concerns, or feel they are overstated, a UN center focusing on the issue is probably a good idea. In any area with quickly developing technology that is disruptive, human rights can be a concern; this is the UN’s overall focus.

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Watch Live as Experts Tackle Our Planet’s Most Critical Issues

Toward Sustainable Development

Every year, the United Nations (U.N.) holds a week-long event as part of its General Assembly. This event, which runs from September 19-25 at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, brings together academics, innovators, and world leaders to discuss the world’s most pressing issues.

One of the many issues covered is the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Described as “a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity,” the U.N.’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) focus on areas that are deemed critical for the survival of humanity and the continued well-being of the planet.

Condensed into 17 fine points, the SDGs include things like the eradication of poverty, securing a quality education for all, obtaining universal gender equality, transitioning to affordable clean energy, and taking immediate climate action.

Of course, most of us probably have a thing or two to say about these issues and how they can be solved. Moreover, any conversation about how to solve the world’s problems that excludes basically all of the people in the world is a little shortsighted. To this end, ideally, everyday people would be able to participate in the discussion.

And now they can, thanks to an innovative program called the Global People’s Summit + Social Good.

Working in tandem with the U.N., it is the “first-ever global virtual summit exploring social innovation, disruptive technology, film and media, and the power of mobilizing networks to address some of the most challenging issues of our time.”

In short, it’s an opportunity for all people to have a voice in matters that are important for the future of the world. William Kennedy, Acting Head of the United Nations Office for Partnerships, spoke of this partnership in a press release:

The United Nations was created to bring nations together to find common ground and build sustainable peace and prosperity. Our partnership with the Global People’s Summit allows us to leverage innovative technology to invite the world, not just the leaders, to join these conversations. In a digital media age, we need to adopt innovative ways to empower global voices and put them at the heart of the work of the United Nations.

Online Conversations for the Greater Good

Technology has made engagement and participation possible on an unprecedented global scale. The summit, convened by The Barmada Group in collaboration with a handful of international development organizations, seeks to anchor on the U.N.’s 17 sustainable development goals. The summit’s more than 55 speakers cover topics like pollution and recycling, social activism, the future of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), the ongoing refugee crisis, and more.

To bring the discussion to the attention of global leaders and influencers inside the U.N., an interactive digital wall has been installed for the duration of the Global Goals Week that’s running parallel to the U.N. General Assembly. This digital wall will feature tweets and social media posts with the #GlobalPeopleSummit hashtag.

“The objective of the summit is to inspire social change. We aim to ignite global engagement and build communities to fight inequality, climate change, and address critical global challenges,” the Global People’s Summit founder and global curator, Hazami Barmada, said in a press statement. “The summit aims to take conversations out of exclusive conference rooms and put them in the public sphere. Transforming the world is only possible if we begin to more effectively engage global networks and unlock capacity for action.”

So, whether you want to actively participate in the discussion or just to be a witness to this historic summit, you can take your seat at the table by signing up at the website of Global People’s Summit. As U.N. SDG Action Campaign director Mitchell Toomey said, efforts like this are needed “to bring together governments, technology leaders, and relevant partners to share key knowledge and tools while inspiring collective action.”

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“We Think That We Beat AIDS. We Think It Is Done. It Is Not.”

The Battleground

Over the course of the 20th century, tens of millions of people have died because of HIV. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, since the epidemic started in the early 1980s, more than 70 million people have been diagnosed with HIV. More than 35 million people have died of HIV. And today, there are more than 36 million people living with HIV or AIDS.

Keep in mind, these are just the numbers that we know about. The actual numbers could be far, far higher.

When the outbreak began, the disease was a death sentence. The chances of survival, all but zero. In previous decades, after being diagnosed with HIV, most individuals developed AIDS within 8 to 10 years. Once an individual was diagnosed with AIDS, they had a life expectancy of just two years.

In a harrowing report, the WHO summed the nature of this global killer:

Untreated disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has a case fatality rate that approaches 100%. Not since the bubonic plague of the 14th century has a single pathogen wreaked such havoc. AIDS has torn apart families and caused untold suffering in the most heavily burdened regions. In hard-hit areas, including some of the poorest parts of the world, HIV has reversed gains in life expectancy registered in the last three decades of the 20th century. HIV/AIDS is a major global health emergency.

Fortunately, recent advances in medicine have allowed us to fight back. In fact, because of these advances, the disease is no longer considered a terminal illness. It is no longer a death sentence. As we previously reported, scientists now list HIV as “chronic, manageable illness.” Although there is no cure, and you will have to take medicine to manage the disease the rest of your life, we can manage it. And in the end, individuals who have HIV ultimately have the exact same life expectancy as those without the virus…at least, they do if they are fortunate enough to have access to basic healthcare.

Globally, 400 million people do not have access to essential health services.

At the Social Good Summit today (Sept. 17, 2017), an event organized by the United Nations Foundation and Mashable, Whoopi Goldberg, the Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, outlined the ways that we are—to be blunt—failing.

Recognizing a Truth

Goldberg began her discussion with Quinn Tivey, who is the Trustee for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, by noting a harsh truth: “We are under the impression that we beat AIDS. We think that it is done. It is not.” She continued her criticism by asserting that, while there are many people globally who are living normal lives with HIV, there are many more who are dying. “Yes, there are people living on medication, but we have not eradicated the disease.”

The truth of Goldberg’s assertions cannot be denied. Unfortunately, HIV education and treatment is not universal, and access to both effective prevention and medication dramatically impacts an individuals fate. These things are, quite literally, the difference between life and death.

In impoverished areas—in poor communities in wealthy societies—HIV remains a death sentence.

Although people living with HIV who have access to the latest medical advances can lead relatively normal lives, in impoverished countries and in poor communities in wealthy societies, HIV remains a death sentence. As Tivey noted in his conversation with Goldberg, “Poverty, inequality and HIV and AIDS are inextricably linked issues, particularly in the United States.”

Ultimately, facts like this are precisely why the Social Good Summit exists. Organized during the annual United Nations General Assembly week, the Summit aims to bring together entrepreneurs and innovators, scientists and thought leaders, politicians and citizens discuss how we can unlock the potential of science and technology and harness them to make the world a better, more equal, place.

The key, the first step, according to Goldberg, is to recognize that this is not an issue faced by one nation or people. This is an issue that we all must contend with, “It does not matter how wealthy you are. The disease doesn’t care…and that is the great equalizer.” She continued by noting that assisting others does not just help them, it greatly contributes to our own well-being by encouraging new collaborations and innovations. In this respect, Goldberg noted that “If you have, then you have to share.”

It is simple. It is small. But according to many experts and political leaders, developing a global consciousness is the first step to building the future that we all want.

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The UN Passes the First-Ever Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Worldwide

A Timely Move

On Friday, the United Nations passed the first-ever treaty imposing a total nuclear weapons ban. With North Korea openly continuing to test its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, each capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the decision couldn’t be more timely. In a press briefing Thursday, U.N. conference president Elayne Whyte Gomez said that “we are on the verge of adopting the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.” 

Warfare 2040: The Future of Military Technology [INFOGRAPHIC]
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“This will be a historic moment and it will be the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty to be concluded in more than 20 years,” Gomez added, according to Time. “The world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years.”

The decision to pass this treaty is a historic one: the U.N. recently reopened discussions of a global nuclear ban back in March, after more than 2,500 scientists from 70 countries signed a petition in favor of total nuclear disarmament.

“I am really confident that the final draft has captured the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of those participating in the conference, including civil society,” Gomez said, referring to the final review of the draft last Wednesday. After Friday’s vote to formally adopt it, the draft is now a 10-page document called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A Wasted Effort?

More than 120 countries are ready to adopt the treaty — despite a boycott from countries that are supposedly armed with nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and, as we already know, North Korea. These countries have proposed strengthening the almost 50-year old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that gives only the five original nuclear powers —the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — the right to keep their destructive arsenal.

The voting results, however, seemed to be more encouraging: 122 member states voted in favor of negotiating “a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.” Of the nine supposed nuclear-armed nations, only North Korea didn’t participate in the voting. Eight nations voted yes, the Netherlands voted against the decision, while Singapore abstained.Still, the U.S., Britain, and France released a joint statement after the treaty was adopted, stating “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”The three nations explained that “a purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security.”

Would the U.N.’s historic treaty be a wasted effort? As the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Beatrice Fihn said, “If the world comes together in support of a nuclear ban, then nuclear weapons countries will likely follow suit, even if it doesn’t happen right away.”

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A New UN Report Projects Worldwide Populations to Approach 9.7 Billion by 2050

Rapid and numerous advances in medical science are keeping us alive longer and helping us deliver the next generation of healthy babies. A new report from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the world’s population is going to continue to boom, with the worldwide population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. The projection also indicates the population will top 8.5 billion by 2030.

Fertility rates are down in almost every region of the world, yet the ever increasing life expectancy is still allowing population growth continue to increase — albeit with an increasingly older populace.

That being said, many of the resources our survival here on Earth depends on are finite. Conversations on how to sustain those resources with some semblance of equity are paramount to our ability to accommodate such a big population increase.

In 2013, famed British naturalist David Attenborough scathingly expressed his feelings on the population boom, telling The Radio Times that humans are a plague. Adding the warning that “Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.” He cites climate change as one such factor that will limit humanity’s time on Earth if trends are not changed.

Other experts have echoed these thoughts in different terms: Stephen Hawking has even gone so far as to say that humanity only has 100 years left on the planet.

Regardless if the situation is as dire as Attenborough and Hawking believe, increasing Earth’s population while refusing to focus on better sustainability practices is a recipe for catastrophic global disaster.

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The UN Could Help 80 Million People Each Year With Blockchain

Giving That Can Last

Technology has the power to improve people’s lives — and not just by supplying flying cars to millionaires. The computer networks that brought us Bitcoins are advancing in ways that will make humanitarian giving simpler and more secure than ever.

These networks are called blockchains. They are decentralized digital ledgers that allow for an incomparable level of transparency and are equipped with cryptography-based security, making them optimal for making and monitoring transactions. Simply, they take out the middle man (banks) and make the transfer of funds more streamlined and safe.

The United Nations (UN) chose one specific blockchain, Ethereum, to distribute funds from the World Food Program (WFP) in a pilot program earlier this year. The experiment was a success, distributing aid to 100 people in Pakistan.

Meeting a Need

The UN will be putting Ethereum to an even greater challenge now, because, having started May 1, the system will now be used in Jordan to distribute funds to more than 10,000 people. To protect the privacy of those who accept WFP aid, the monetary amount being dispensed is not being announced. Assuming all goes according to plan, the UN expects to use the blockchain to help support 500,000 recipients by 2018.

This program is designed to demonstrate the aptitude of blockchain technology for distributing humanitarian aid to people who need it. It is also a strategic investment for the UN, as the resilient digital infrastructure could allow these charitable services to outlive the UN itself.

The UN is considering more ways it can use blockchain to optimize aid distribution, WFP financial officer Houman Haddad said in an interview with CoinDesk. Strategies include sending funds directly to food stores instead of the actual recipients, thereby cutting down on transactions, and potentially using cryptocurrency instead of state-issued currency to circumvent currency volatility.

With the power of blockchain, the WFP can potentially (and more effectively) help 80 million people each year — and maybe even expand that number.

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3,000 of the World’s Smartest Minds Have Come Together to Ban Nuclear Weapons

Vital Partners

Science and politics are irrevocably intertwined. From whether or not we should conduct research using embryonic stem cells to whether or not the nation should take action against climate change, science and politics are in an eternal dance.

Given that so many scientific conversations are becoming increasingly debated topics, such as climate change, the role of scientists in these debates cannot be overstated. Ultimately, while politicians can discuss how research should or should not be used, experts are the only individuals who truly have the qualifications to speak about what the research itself says. To put it simply, politicians need the expertise of scientists in order to do their jobs properly.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. We need scientists. Knowing the facts is the minimum we need for a sensible approach to negotiations. -David Donoghue

Monday, more than 3,480 scientists came together to meet this need and to support the United Nations’ nuclear ban negotiations. The individuals – who came from more than 80 countries and included 28 Nobel Laureates and a former US Secretary of Defense – signed a letter that was delivered to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who is presiding over the negotiations.

The goal was to urge the UN to stigmatize nuclear weapons like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate mission being to create a “world free of these weapons of mass destruction.” The United States and a number of other nations that actually have nuclear weapons boycotted the talks, saying that “the time was not right and that a ban would be ineffective.

That said, the talks are supported by 120 nations.

At an event held yesterday at the U.N., Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, David Donoghue, noted that these exchanges between scientists and diplomats are incredibly important:

Reading the [letter] left no one in doubt about the unimaginable damage that would be done to human health, to animal health, and to the health of the planet if nuclear weapons were to explode. We see the scientific community as vital partners in what we are doing.

Future of Life

Beyond ‘Rock-Solid’ Deterrence

Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that a few hundred nuclear weapons would suffice for “rock-solid deterrence,” the United States and Russia are in possession of a combined 14,000. As the Future of Life Institute notes, many of these are on “hair-trigger alert and ready to be launched on a minute’s notice.”

In 2011, global annual expenditures on nuclear weapons were estimated to be $105 billion – or $12 million an hour.  Many scientists believe these funds should be redirected toward meeting human needs. For example, official development assistance – the money given by developed nations to developing nations – totaled $128.7 billion in 2010. Current nuclear weapons spending is equal to 80% of this sum.

Physicist Freeman Dyson, who is credited with conceiving of what is known as the “Dyson Sphere,” is one of the many notable scientists who signed the Future of Life’s letter supporting the stigmatization of nuclear weapons.

He explains, “scientists are supposed to be interested in bombs because we learned how to make bombs. I don’t think that that’s the main qualification for scientists to be concerned now.” He continued by noting that scientists’ familiarity with collaboration puts them in a unique position to negotiate and support talks, “We are running an operation that works, and we are accustomed to working as friends with people all over the world in all kinds of countries with all kinds of religions and political systems. That’s why we are useful in dealing with problems of weapons.”

Freeman Dyson On Nuclear Weapons: “We Don’t Need Those Damn Things”
Freeman Dyson. Credit: Futurism

Although he doesn’t believe the UN will decide anything during these specific talks, he notes that the important thing is starting conversations and taking a stand, “somebody’s going to take a big step then the rest of the world will follow.”

The first step, of course, is bringing people together who have the opportunity to influence people or governments on a larger scale. Dyson believes that eradicating nuclear weapons will be easy—or at least, much easier—once those in power come together and stand their ground: “I think that it will be, of course, an easy thing to do once you’ve made up your mind. It turned out the important step is to say ‘we don’t need those damn things,’ and actually, you don’t.”

We don’t need those damn things.

But what about once we do ban nuclear weapons? How do we verify that they really are gone? Experts, says Dyson, work out elaborate systems to verify that there aren’t nukes “lying around” (through the detection of radioactive particles, for example), but he doesn’t believe those verification systems are necessary. In fact, in the case of biological weapons, a good verification system doesn’t exist. To Dyson, the verification isn’t important or necessary.

“You won’t get rid of them all together right away,” he notes, “but it’s important countries announce publicly to get rid of them. That’s already a big step….you want big steps, and not small steps.”

Note: This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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A World Without Antibiotics? The UN Has Elevated the Issue of Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic Resistance

For more than 70 years, we have depended on antibiotics to protect us from disease-causing bacteria. But over time these drugs are developing (or have already developed) a resistance to the antibiotics used to treat them.

To that end, the United Nations (UN), has—for the fourth time in history—elevated a health issue to crisis level. UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon called antibiotic resistance a “fundamental, long-term threat to human health, sustainable food production and development.”

The UN convenes to address the threat of antibiotic resistance. Image Credit: UN News Centre/ YouTube

He cites several realities we will soon face:

More than 200,000 newborn children are estimated to die each year from infections that do not respond to available antibiotics. An epidemic of multidrug-resistant typhoid is now sweeping across parts of Africa, being spread through water. Resistance to HIV/AIDS drugs is on the rise. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been identified in 105 countries. And resistance to antimalarial medicines is an urgent public health concern in the Greater Mekong sub-region.

These alarming scenarios may seem vague and remote from the status quo, but experts warn that we are reaching a critical point in universal health—one that leaves the public vulnerable to major health risks in a post-antibiotic era.

“In a world where all our antibiotics could be ineffective, common infections would kill once again and surgeries and cancer therapies, which are dependent on antibiotics, would be threatened,” notes Joseph Libuano.

Fighting Resistance

In September of this year antibiotic resistance was categorized to be on par with Ebola and HIV. This move illustrates the severity of this health concern, and recognizing it as such means a global commitment is already being made to address it. To date, more and more organizations are working toward adopting policies that hope to lower the overuse of antibiotics and look for alternatives that will help us combat resistant bacteria.

Focused research on the issue has led to studies that rely on recent breakthroughs, such as CRISPR, to reverse antibiotic resistance in bacteria, by transferring “edited” DNA to resistant bacteria, thus killing off resistant strains.

In another study, a new group of antibiotics have been discovered which target the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, or staph. This potential new breed of antibiotics are unique because of their iridium content, a transition metal that doesn’t easily breakdown, which could prove to be a more effective way to deliver antibiotics.

German scientists may also have found a crucial weapon in our fight against superbugs. After discovering a strain of bacterium called Staphylococcus lugdunensis, researchers developed a drug based on the strain that could potentially become a new class of antibiotics. Shifting our current methods of tracking antibiotic resistance may also offer valuable insight into more effective treatment options

While all these steps being undertaken now are laudable, it’s important to remember that the root of this problem is anchored on bacteria’s ability to evolve against drugs. And knowing this, we have to remain consistent in our efforts to find and discover ways to combat resistance.

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