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Finding cures for major illnesses at risk due to biodiversity loss, UN warns

Finding cures for major illnesses at risk due to biodiversity loss, UN warns

Finding treatments for cancer, thinning bone disease and kidney failure are at risk due to biodiversity loss, a ground-breaking new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) book cautioned.

“Sustaining Life” – the work of over 100 experts supported by UNEP, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – is the most far-reaching book on this subject to date.

The volume’s authors warn that threats to land and marine-based life forms, reduce the chances of creating such medical treatments as safer painkillers, treatments for blindness and re-growing tissue and organs.

For example, studies of the southern gastric brooding frog, or Rheobatrachus, showed that baby frogs produced substances slowing acid and enzyme secretions, thus leading researchers to believe that new inroads could be made on treating human peptic ulcers, which affect 25 million people in the United States alone.

“But the studies could not be continued because both species of Rheobatrachus became extinct, and the valuable medical secrets they held are now gone forever,” said Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, the book’s key authors.

Experts stressed that the conclusions of “Sustaining Life” are not intended to sanction the harvesting of wildlife in a manner which further endangers species, but instead that they should trigger stepped up conservation and management efforts.

“Habitat loss, destruction and degradation of ecosystems, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change are among the powerful and persistent impacts that are running down the planet’s nature-based capital, including the medical treasure trove of the world’s biodiversity,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.

The head of UNDP, Kemal Dervis, said that people around the world, especially the rural poor, depend heavily on biodiversity, but its loss will “seriously jeopardize our prospects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] by 2015,” he said, referring to the eight poverty targets.