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UN World Health Day – 2020 is the WHO International Year of Nurses and Midwives and the UN International Year of Plant Health

7th April 2020

Today, International World Health Day 2020, celebrates the contribution of Nurses and Midwives to our global health efforts. Essential to healthcare, nurses and midwives support “maternal and child health, emergency preparedness and response, patient safety and the delivery of integrated, people-centered care”.

2020 is the WHO International Year of Nurses and Midwives and the UN International Year of Plant Health, a timely reminder of the relevance of plants to our own health. Plants are essential to the Earth’s ecosystem in being THE major primary producer of biochemical energy from the sun through photosynthesis. They form the basis of our diet and are more recently being acknowledged in studies as aiding our health through benefits to our mental and physical wellbeing.

Plants provide many of the foundations for medicine. Every day, all over the world; nurses, midwives and a huge range of health professionals use Aspirin to promote human health. First documented uses of this chemical for health-giving properties date back thousands of years ago; when chewing Willow bark was known to reduce pain and had anti-inflammatory properties. This original natural herbal remedy harnessed the phenolic compound Salicylic Acid concentrated in willow bark, whereas modern Aspirin is an acetylated form of this compound. Acetylated Salicylic Acid being more stable than the raw product and surviving the human digestive system to the gut, where it is noted to confer a number of beneficial health impacts including combatting cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Salicylic Acid forms a signalling compound now well-known as a part of the plant immune response, particularly to plant pathogens. Early research identified SA as a trigger for the Hypersensitive Response in plants – that dead patch of cells or bright yellow tissue you can see when plants kill off their own cells to stop pathogen spread. Plant pathology researchers use elements of the Salicylic Acid signalling pathway as evidence that the plant immune system is being triggered.

A brief look at many recent publications in Molecular Plant Pathology highlight the widespread importance of Salicylic Acid as an indicator of the plant immune response. This 2013 review describes the role of Salicylic Acid in plants and the multiple pathways in which Salicylic Acid is involved in interactions with a multitude of plant diseases. The many parallels between humans and plants have also been highlighted, for example in a 2015 PlosOne article describing the Salicylic Acid Receptor: Glyceraldehyde 3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (GAPDH),  present in both.

Providing effective plant healthcare is vitally important. It mirrors human healthcare in many aspects though receives a fraction of the resources and attention. Humans and Plants alike are susceptible to a range of diseases and share any number of molecular strategies to overcome ill health. Bio-sanitary measures are also a powerful way to reduce the spread of diseases to vulnerable areas. Research to explore disease epidemiology and define infection strategies combined with innovation to discover new methods to control disease are vital tools to reduce disease and sustain health.

On World Health Day 2020, we are celebrating the value of midwives and nurses who are supported by medical researchers, pharmacists and other clinicians. In the same way plant scientists, agronomists and advisors support farmers, horticulturalists and foresters to sustain the health of our global population through food and resources. The solutions to maintaining plant and human health can often be a joint effort, cross-fertilising each other for mutual gain.

Like nurses and midwives, plant scientists are part of the team currently fighting the global health pandemic by using all of the tools they have to reduce the spread promote global health.