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.


Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

Updated 19 September 2019

Huawei in public test as it unveils sanction-hit phone

  • Hit by US sanctions, Huawei's Mate 30 will not be allowed to use Google’s Play Store
  • Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
BERLIN: Chinese tech giant Huawei launches its latest high-end smartphone in Munich on Thursday, the first that could be void of popular Google apps because of US sanctions.
Observers are asking whether a phone without the Silicon Valley software that users have come to depend on can succeed, or whether Huawei will have found a way for buyers to install popular apps despite the constraints.
The company has maintained a veil of secrecy over its plans, set to be dropped at a 1200 GMT press conference revealing the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro models.
Huawei, targeted directly by the United States as part of a broader trade conflict with Beijing, was added to a “blacklist” in Washington in May.
Since then, it has been illegal for American firms to do business with the Chinese firm, suspected of espionage by President Donald Trump and his administration.
As a result, the new Mate will run on a freely available version of Android, the world’s most-used phone operating system that is owned by the search engine heavyweight.
While Mate 30 owners will experience little difference in the use of the system, the lack of Google’s Play Store — which provides access to hundreds of thousands of third-party apps and games as well as films, books and music — could hobble them.
Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.
The tech press reports that this yawning gap in functionality has left some sellers reluctant to stock the new phones, fearing a wave of rapid-fire returns from dissatisfied customers.
Huawei president Richard Yu said at Berlin’s IFA electronics fair this month that his engineers found a “very simple” way to install the hottest apps without going via the Play Store.
Huawei could offer its own app store in a preliminary version, setting itself up as a competitor to the dominant Apple and Google offerings, observers speculate.
Over the longer term, the company could build out a similar “ecosystem” of devices, apps and services as the Silicon Valley companies that would bind users more closely to it.
The world’s second-largest smartphone maker after Samsung, Huawei earlier this month presented its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS, a potential replacement for Android.
The Mate 30 will not yet have HarmonyOS installed.
But it could make for a new round in the decades-old “OS wars” between Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS, then Android versus Apple’s iOS.
Meanwhile, Eric Xu, current holder of Huawei’s rotating chief executive chair, has urged Europe to foster an alternative to Google and Apple.
That could provide an opening for Huawei to build up Europe’s market of 500 million well-off consumers as a stronghold against American rivals.
“If Europe had its own ecosystem for smart devices, Huawei would use it... that would resolve the problem of European digital dependency” on the United States, Xu told German business daily Handelsblatt.
He added that his company would be prepared to invest in developing such joint European-Chinese projects.