29 May 2024 01:44 AM

Egypt's First Harm Reduction Summit: “Empowering Effective Change”

Tuesday، 14 November 2023 - 12:00 AM

Under the auspices of the Ministries of Environment, Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment, opened on Tuesday 11/14/2023, the activities of Egypt’s First Harm Reduction Summit, under the theme “Empowering Effective Change”, with the participation of Dr. Sherif El-Gabaly, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chemical Industry Chamber of the Federation of Egyptian Industries, and Engineer Heba Hammad, Director General of the General Administration of Standards, responsible for the environment and climate change file at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), on behalf of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Egyptian General Authority for Standardization and Quality, and an elite group of experts and specialists, including the government and the private sector, whether in Egypt or the Arab region.

Objectives

The summit aims to shed light on the concept of harm reduction and reduce the negative effects of harmful practices on the environment, health, and society. The Summit aims to create a platform to showcase successful case studies that have had a positive impact on both businesses and communities to achieve national development goals in line with Egypt's Vision 2030.

The Summit expects attendance from various government entities, unions, and business organizations, with support from several major local and international institutions and companies. Egypt’s First Harm Reduction Summit will bring together a distinguished group of local and regional experts and specialists from the government and the private sector, representing a wide spectrum of fields. The Summit’s focus will be on enhancing harm reduction strategies and principles aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Additionally, the Summit emphasize the importance of partnership between the government and the private sector in expanding green projects that contribute to economic development, environmental protection, and promoting harm reduction within society.

The opening session of the summit discussed government efforts to change perceptions and approaches toward unfavorable behaviors and habits and empower harm reduction in areas that directly impact society, including initiatives such as the National Initiative for Smart Green Projects, the NWFE program, and the outcomes of the COP27 conference hosted in Sharm El Sheikh last year, which aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change worldwide and the initiative to reduce single-use plastics.

In her speech, Minister of Environment, Dr. Yasmine Fouad, thanked the organizers of the event and talked about the correlation between environmental awareness and harm reduction.
Fouad talked about the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund on the United Nations Climate Conference (COP 27) which took place in Egypt last November.

She stressed the significant role of the Loss and Damage Fund, which aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. 

Dr. Sherif El Gabali, Chairman of the Board of the Egyptian Chamber of Chemical Industries, and Eng. Heba Hammad, General Manager of Egyptian Standards (EOS), Convenor Egyptian Codex, and ISO Convenor of DCCG/TC292 also stated in their speech the importance of the summit and their aspirations for it to grow and branch out to different sectors in the upcoming editions, they also talked about multiple successful examples of implementing harm reduction majors in different field, such as AI, and the importance of making a risk assessment on the AI since it’s becoming more and more an integral part of our daily life. 

Discussion Panels

The First Panel is titled: “Harm Reduction Perspectives from Medical Experts”, explores innovative scientific methods aimed at mitigating health risks stemming from natural environmental factors and harmful human habits and behaviors. It also emphasizes the significance of early prevention, early detection, and effective management, particularly in the case of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular issues. Topics covered in this session included strategies for preventing skin cancer and minimizing the dangers of excessive sun exposure, promoting healthy diets, and increasing physical activity to lower the risk of heart and lung-related conditions.

Dr. Adel Khattab, Professor of Chest and Respiratory, and Dr. Helmy Adnan Darwish, Pulmonologist in Beirut, both highlighted that the number one factor that affects the lungs is smoking; it affects the body and harms it in various ways. They also clarified that smoking isn’t only a habit, but it’s an addiction. The respiratory system can develop cancerous tumors and of course the overall performance of the system is affected when someone smokes. Such harmful habits can lead to the usage of oxygen tanks for a lifetime. Smoking doesn’t only affect the smoker, but everyone surrounding them. Children of smoking individuals are more prone to having serious issues with their respiratory system.

It was also emphasized that Nicotine is what develops the addiction, it affects the focus of the brain and nervous system functions overall. The patient can try to defeat this issue by replacing normal cigarettes with other elements like Nicotine patches and sprays. There are also now heated cigarettes and electronic cigarettes that can act as a replacement for normal cigarettes. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all for all smokers, so the patient has to work it out with their doctors. 

Dr. Adnan stressed that if we want to make a social change, we have to focus on individual behaviors and that there are other factors that might have a negative effect on the respiratory system, such as air pollution, so we need to offer alternatives not only for smokers but for anyone who contributes to air pollution in general. Every doctor has a responsibility to understand his patients and offer the most suitable solution for each patient.

Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, cardiologist and researcher at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens-Greece, at the Department of Pharmacy, University of Patras-Greece, and at the National School of Public Health-Greece, talked about the importance of harm reduction, saying that medicine is a harm reduction approach as it reduces the rate of diseases progression.

He also talked about the relationship between smoking and obesity, and it’s impossible to treat one of them without treating the other one. So as a harm reduction major for obesity, we have to focus on dieting and exercising. He also mentioned Sweden and how it’s becoming almost a smoke-free country, due to "snus," which is a smokeless tobacco product that is banned elsewhere in the EU but is marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes.

Dr. Rania Mamdouh, Professor of Psychiatry, Addiction Unit at Cairo University, stressed that most mental health issues patients either smoke or use drug substances, from depression to OCD to eating disorders and so much more. The harm reduction measures for such patients should lead the patient to completely quit smoking or drug intake. Addiction to smoking, food, social media, and more are all bad uses of such elements.

The brain functions rely heavily on nicotine or drugs so the patient isn’t able to function normally and can’t have quality time with his family, so harm reduction measures are crucial in such cases. Now we have medications that can trick the brain.

Dr. Peter Harper, Physician and Medical Oncologist, and one of the four founder partners of the London Oncology Clinic, has a long history of fighting against smoking since the late 70s, he is also a consultant to several pharma companies and consultant to Philip Morris international but exclusively on reduced-risk products, clarified that harm reduction is not a new concept, but it’s a term that arose in the context of drug addiction, and we need to accept that on some level our bad behaviors are inevitable therefore we need to target to minimize the harms people suffer as a consequence.

Dr. Peter also stated that tobacco is the leading cause of cancer, and although quitting is by far the best option, we need to resort to innovations that might bring us the solution for helping people quit.

Dr. Mohamed Zidan, Professor of pulmonology & allergology at the Faculty of Medicine, Alexandria University, Egypt, highlighted that harm reduction is very important and has been proven effective for the past few years. The goal of harm reduction regulations is to reach a point where the patient quits smoking or drinking as Nicotine and alcohol consumption have been proven harmful on all levels.

The Second Panel is titled: “Harm reduction as a mutual beneficiation for businesses and communities”, explores how adopting harm reduction strategies can positively impact the private sector and businesses in terms of cost reduction, energy efficiency, and reducing their negative footprint on the environment. Simultaneously, the session sheds light on how these practices contribute to communities in terms of quality of life, personal health, and well-being.  

Mr. Sherif Hamouda, Chairman of GV Investment Group Egypt, said “Harm reduction is a broad term, our company focuses on creating a green area in a time that’s difficult economically. Climate change isn’t optional now and WHO issued rigid laws to help restrict and reduce its harms.
From day one, we wanted to create a green city which again is a difficult concept. We focus on the Development of Electronic Butchering, which the waste coming out of it is astronomical, we’re talking tons and tons of waste. I am optimistic that the future holds something so much better as harm reduction measures are actively being applied."

Mr. Ankush Arora, Mansour Automotive CEO, stated that in the last 50 years, we have witnessed a huge change, but the next 10 years are not to be compared with the rollout of new technology, the rise of new visions, and the rapid growth of climate changes, harm reduction programs are crucial. Every one of us has a role to play.

Mr. Bassel Shoirah, General Manager of Polaris Parks, stressed the importance of harm reduction and that it’s not a luxury at this point, it is an essential topic that needs to be addressed. He also said that Polaris Parks implements harm reduction in 3 sectors, the environmental sector, the personnel safety sector, and in business contractions.

Mr. Ayman Essam, External Affairs and Legal Director in Vodafone Egypt, said that harm reduction is a topic that needs to be studied and events like this summit are great opportunities to exchange ideas in that field. "As a telecommunications company, we have a responsibility that our electromagnetic frequencies comply with Egypt’s standards. Vodafone also focuses on recycling the electronic waste from the signal towers, and of course, focuses on the safety of the staff that works at the signal towers. He also stressed that as a telecommunication company, they have a role in raising awareness towards harm reduction. Mr. Essam also talked about COP27 and how it was a bright light in the field of environmental awareness and Vodafone was a principal partner for the event.

He added that Vodafone also signed an agreement to receive 100% of its energy from renewable energy sources. As a first step, we started to use equipment and recycle them successfully and safely and with regulations that abide by WHO. We thought of every single small detail, from 360 degrees.
Also, since everyone has a smartphone and normally the phone might get damaged or broken Vodafone is now able to receive damaged phones from users and provide the clients with store credit in Vodafone and partner companies. We also now use eco-sim which is a sim that least uses plastic so it’s eco-friendly.

Eng. Ahmed Taleb, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Jazeera Paints, said that painting products is one of the major causes of pollution based on the WHO, and there is a great responsibility to produce material that is safe to use, and eco-friendly. 


Recommendations

The Summit concluded on Wednesday 15-11-2023, issuing 12 vital recommendations to accelerate harm reduction approaches and mitigate practices that negatively impact health, the environment, and society.

These 12 key recommendations include establishing a national alliance to set risk reduction standards, integrating harm reduction into university curricula, educating the public on harm reduction practices, and aligning risk reduction policies with international laws. Other proposals involved increasing recycling facilities for medical and electronic waste, financing green projects, supporting a green economy, and promoting the use of electric vehicles and eco-friendly building materials in the construction of green cities.


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