Stephen Hawking says eliminating neglected tropical diseases ‘within our grasp’

British physicist Stephen Hawking cited polio and guinea-worm as success stories of diseases on the brink of disappearing. (Reuters)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Stephen Hawking says eliminating neglected tropical diseases ‘within our grasp’

CAMBRIDGE, England: Parts of the world have made huge progress toward stamping out debilitating tropical diseases such as river blindness and elephantiasis, and success is “within our grasp,” British physicist Stephen Hawking said.
“The last mile on the journey to elimination is always the most difficult,” Hawking said in a speech on Tuesday, citing polio and guinea-worm as success stories of diseases on the brink of disappearing.
Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease aged 21 and communicates via a cheek muscle linked to a sensor and computerized voice system, also honored his late father’s medical work in Africa, China and the US.
Frank Hawking pioneered a treatment for lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, which causes enlarged body parts.
“He worked in sometimes very difficult conditions, but he never gave up and he believed fully in the role of science to build a better world,” said his son. “He believed in humanity and our ability to find solutions to problems.”
The event in the English city of Cambridge marked the one billionth treatment of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by international charity Sightsavers, dispensed in the Nigerian village of Kudaru. Hawking called it “a monumental milestone.”
NTDs are a group of painful infections affecting one in five people globally, according to Sightsavers which trains thousands of community volunteers to dispense medication and gather data.
The diseases are most prevalent in areas of extreme poverty, and often trap individuals in a cycle of social exclusion.
They are also found in parts of North America and Europe, not just in developing countries, said Anthony Solomon, medical officer for NTDs at the World Health Organization.
“Having them also increases the likelihood that people will stay poor and become poorer, because it affects people’s income-generating ability,” he said on the sidelines of the event.
Despite this, Solomon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation there is now enormous momentum to “consign these diseases to the history books.”
Philip Downs, technical director of NTDs at Sightsavers, said funding and political will had galvanized around the diseases, leading to major wins.
Ghana, for example, is on course to become the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate trachoma, a leading cause of blindness.
Sightsavers plans to sustain progress by working with government water and sanitation departments and strengthening national health systems to build resilience.
“We don’t want the diseases to come back,” said Downs.
Britain has pledged £360 million (SR1.802 billion) toward NTD programs between 2017 and 2022.
Michael Bates, minister of state at the UK Department for International Development, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation British taxpayers had funded about a quarter of the 1 billion treatments.
Hawking said his work to answer pressing scientific questions had led him toward black holes and the Big Bang theory.
“Your challenges are huge and more practical than mine, but your search for solutions to your big questions is no less important,” he told the event.


King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology unveils self-guided Black Shark boat at 38th GITEX Technology Week

The development of the Black Shark smart boat is part of a KACST initiative to localize and transform transport technology and logistics, to help achieve the aims of Vision 2030. (SPA)
Updated 20 October 2018
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King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology unveils self-guided Black Shark boat at 38th GITEX Technology Week

  • These trucks are equipped with electronic pairing technologies, which effectively improve the shipping and distributing of goods, reduce human error

JEDDAH: King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) has unveiled its Black Shark self-guided boat at the 38th GITEX Technology Week in Dubai. The vessel, which can carry out coastal surveillance and many other tasks, was developed in collaboration with Taqnia for Robotics and Smart Systems.
The development of the craft is part of a KACST initiative to localize and transform transport technology and logistics, to help achieve the aims of Vision of 2030.
The boat includes sensor systems that allow it to monitor and create a 3D map of a 200-meter area surrounding the boat, and automated control technology that gives it the ability to navigate independently and avoid collisions without human input. It can also be equipped with a flexible range of weapons, acting as a firearms platform that uses gyroscopic self-balancing technology. It has the ability to survey beaches at a range of 15 kilometers, in addition to accurately identifying its precise location with a margin of error of less than 20 centimeters using differential GPS, as well as specifying, monitoring and tracking targets.
The Black Shark also has long-range radar that covers up to 150 kilometers, and a telecommunication system to track its location, monitor its status and connect to multiple domains through command centers that allow wireless communication and remote control. It is fitted with a digital camera powered by electro-optic and infrared technology that can produce HD-quality video, and also has night vision capability.
As part of its initiative to develop transport technology and logistics, KACST has also worked on automated control technology, included self-driving heavy-duty trucks, with the University of California, Berkeley. These trucks are equipped with electronic pairing technologies, which effectively improve the shipping and distributing of goods, reduce human error, preserve resources, and reduce harmful emissions and fuel consumption.
The same technology can also, for example, transform a four-wheel-drive vehicle into a remote-controlled vehicle equipped with video cameras, infrared technology, a microphone and a control device wirelessly connected to a command center, where an operator can guide it using images from the video cameras.