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Still, the overbearing Covid-19 pandemic kept it from front pages and ensured that a near-fatal blow to a deadly disease occurred with little fanfare.

“It doused the massive jubilation, and publicity, and recognition such a milestone deserves,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, the person more responsible than anyone else for the eradication of wild polio from Nigeria, and with it Africa.

But the moment was “a huge sigh of relief,” added Funsho, whose work as chair of Rotary International’s polio-eradication program in Nigeria earned him a spot on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

“Having seen and held children paralyzed by wild polio virus … that kind of sight has become history,” he told CNN, the scale of the accomplishment still wavering in his voice as he speaks. “No child ever again would be paralyzed by the wild polio virus in Nigeria.”

Funsho’s year reads like 2020 in reverse; rather than watching a disease spread indiscriminately and freeze the world in shock, he strangled the last embers of a different virus and unlocked huge amounts of human potential.

But his is not the only achievement to be lost amid the dizzying expedition that was 2020.

Even before Covid-19 existed, humans had an unmistakable and scientifically pinpointed tendency to believe the world is poorer, angrier and more unsettled than it really is; an unconscious desire to hold onto negative stereotypes and ignore the scale of progress unfolding right in front of us.

It’s a habit picked up in childhood and reinforced by media coverage and our own psychological peculiarities, many experts believe. Put simply, we think the world is a bad place that’s getting worse — a sense that undoubtedly grew in the last 12 months.

The only problem? We’re wrong.

“I’m a born optimist,” said Funsho, reflecting on the challenges that his years-long effort encountered: from a Boko Haram insurgence that prevented children in northern Nigeria from being vaccinated against polio, to treacherous terrain that forced his team to travel by motorbike, donkey and camel to deliver shots.

“When the world comes together for one common purpose — to improve the lives of every citizen in the world, no matter where they live — we can succeed in achieving that,” he said. “I was quite optimistic, and proven right.”

Good things continued to happen in 2020, even as loss and isolation spread on an epic scale.

And, according to scores of scientists and data experts, accomplishments like Funsho’s are rolling out constantly in a rapidly improving world. We’re just not paying attention.

‘This is probably the best of times’

“In a world with a lot of problems, you’re kind of banned from talking about good things,” bemoaned Ola Rosling. Rosling is the co-author of a bestselling book, “Factfulness,” which sought to educate people about under-appreciated improvements in global poverty, health and wellbeing.

Rosling is one of a clutch of experts forcing people to think differently about our world. And in 2020, their efforts are particularly poignant.

“Even during years without a pandemic, people are very reluctant to believe that the world is better than it used to be,” he told CNN. “We could improve the world a lot. There are lots of problems,” he admitted. “But I think the main problem is our mindset.”

Changing that mindset has been the mission of Rosling and his late father, Hans. Their 2018 book was hailed by Bill Gates, who paid for any US college grad to buy it for free. And it revealed an alarming human tendency; when the authors asked thousands of people around the world to estimate rates of extreme poverty, girls in education, children vaccinated against measles and dozens of other metrics, respondents systemically assumed each measure was worse than it is.
In fact, if the authors had “placed a banana beside each of the three (options) and let some chimps have a go at picking the answers, they could be expected to get one in three questions correct, beating most humans in the process,” Hans Rosling wrote in 2015.
A vendor sells green peppers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in April. According to the World Bank, poverty decreased more in Tanzania than any other country between 2000 and 2015.
“There is no partisan or political divide in this misconception,” Ola Rosling, who now runs the Gapminder organization, told CNN. “In a changing world, systemically, on the left and on the right, people are equally outdated about the world.”
It seems we don’t want to let go of those negative assumptions. In a 2018 study cited by psychologists, including Canadian-American author Steven Pinker, as evidence of people’s ignorance of global improvements, Harvard researchers asked participants to look for different things, such as blue dots, threatening faces, or unethical actions.

“We found that when participants were looking for a category that became less common over time, they ‘expanded’ that category to include more things,” the study’s lead author, David Levari, told CNN. “So when blue dots became rare, people called a wider range of colors blue. When threatening faces became rare, people called a wider range of facial expressions threatening.”

“These findings suggest that when people are on alert for something negative that is becoming less common, rather than celebrating their good fortune, they may start to find that negative thing in more places than they used to,” he said.

Outdated assumptions are passed down through generations, taught through childhood and reinforced by media coverage of negative, but exceptional, events, Rosling suggested.

And when things get really bad, like in 2020, the human tendency to assume the worst matters. “In our worldview, any huge catastrophe immediately becomes the worst catastrophe ever,” Rosling said.

“The world is in really bad shape, but this is probably the best of times,” he added. “And most people can’t imagine that, because of how our brains are wired.”

Finding positives in a difficult year

Negativity may be a human tendency, but experts say that challenging it can help us put even a year as cumbersome as 2020 in its proper context.

The pandemic, for instance, stalled efforts to solve any number of scientific achievements. But it also covered up a string of accomplishments — and ensured that we spent far more time focusing on a new health crisis, rather than celebrating the fact that others are slowly but surely nearing an end.

One such milestone was clinched by a team of doctors, including virologist Ravindra Gupta, who cured HIV in a person for only the second time ever; an achievement made in 2019 that became public knowledge in March.

“It was really huge news,” Gupta told CNN. “The first time it happened was nearly 10 years ago, and people had not been able to do it again, so people wondered whether this was real or whether it was a fluke.”

Adam Castillejo, known as the London Patient, in London's East End in March. Castillejo's treatment for HIV/AIDs marked a major milestone in the battle against the disease.

“It reinforces hope that a cure for HIV is possible,” said Richard Jefferys, science project director at the US-based Treatment Action Group.

The pandemic also prompted a historically speedy vaccine that rewrote all the rules about how quickly such a shot could be produced.

“I think it is unique,” said David Matthews, a Virology professor at the University of Bristol, of the multiple vaccine candidates to near or reach approval in 2020. “It is important to remember that at the beginning of the year we had literally no idea if any kind of vaccine was possible against SARS-CoV-2.”

“We’re entering a new era of vaccine development,” added Andrew Preston of the University of Bath. There’s even hope that the mRNA technology used for the first time in some Covid-19 vaccines could work against a huge range of other infections, including cancer.

And the crisis also gave rise to a renewed appreciation of scientific work, according to Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “For the first time that I can remember, people are hearing from scientists directly on a regular basis. And I think people like what they’re hearing, [about] how we think through a problem, how we make assessments, how we react to different situations,” he told CNN.

“I think that’s a really important and positive development, and one we need to build on.”

Progress begets progress: as wild polio was stifled in Africa, Funsho told CNN his team quickly repurposed their operation to tackle Covid-19 in the region, shielding it from the virus in a way that would otherwise been impossible.

And the crisis may have had even deeper implications elsewhere. “This pandemic helped us see all the actual actors of what we call society — all these people in uniform, who were always talked bad about,” said Rosling.

A tribute to healthcare professionals in New York in April.

“I think it’s sharpening our seriousness about what a society really is and the kind of solidarities needed to keep it running.”

Meanwhile, Rosling is keen to highlight the steady but vital improvements that happened in the background.

“The trends that really form and shape the lives of the future generation are things that never show up in the news,” he said. He cited increasing access to electricity, the decline of mortality in childbirth and progress against diseases such as malaria and polio as sources of light that shone throughout the year.

“To realize how good the world is and how many things are improving, you first have to confront people’s worldview and show them that actually, no, you’re wrong a lot,” he summarized.

“Being aware of the progress makes you realize that the problems you hear about tonight, you hear because we’re going to try to solve them.”

“Problems are for solving,” Rosling concluded. “And we have managed to solve the biggest problems historically.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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