An Effective Ebola Vaccine Has Been Developed

Following a horrific epidemic in West Africa that claimed the lives of over 11,000 people — the deadliest the world had ever seen — we finally have a breakthrough vaccine against Ebola. As Vox.com reported:

Today, the same researchers — who hail from the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Public Health England, and other international partners — have unveiled their final results in the Lancet, and they’re just as remarkable. The vaccine was tested in a trial involving nearly 12,000 people in Guinea and Sierra Leone during 2015 and 2016. Among the 5,837 people who got the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded. By comparison, there were 23 Ebola cases in the control group that had not gotten the vaccine.

“This trial, confirming the 100 percent efficacy of the rVSV Ebola vaccine, is a simply remarkable outcome”, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said of the research. “We’ve shown that by working collaboratively, across international borders and sectors, we can develop and test vaccines rapidly and use them to help bring epidemics to an end”.

You can read the published study here. It was one of fifteen clinical trials for an Ebola vaccine conducted around the world in a single year, and is a vindication of what collective action and responsibility by the international community — including the U.N., NGOs, and national governments — can accomplish. It is a shame it took so many deaths spanning a nearly three year period to finally come up with a promising form of prevention, although the vaccine is far from ready to hit the market.  Continue reading

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Kicking Off 2016 With A Big Milestone

It is not everyday that a nasty parasitic disease is wiped off the face of the Earth…in fact, this has yet to have ever happened — until this year, when the Carter Center seems poised to complete its decades-long work in eradicating the debilitating guinea worm infection.

Once the scourge of the developing world — affecting nearly 4 million people less than three decades ago — this painful disease has been reduced to less than two dozen cases as of 2015 (which in turn was 83 percent less than in 2014). Continue reading

The World Is Getting Better

In my last post, I made the provocative claim that 2015 — with its rash of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, escalating geopolitical confrontations, droughts, and more — was in fact the best year in human history. And some weeks before, I also shared the latest findings of the Global Development Index, which concluded that nearly all the world’s nations have made gains in education, healthcare, and income.

Now, Vox.com offers over two dozen infographics that reaffirm an increasingly obvious trend: the average human is experiencing unprecedentedly high gains in their standard of living, with improvements in areas ranging from malnutrition to Internet access. The visual data better show just how dramatic human progress has been.

Here are just some of the heartening developments I am highlighting.


absolute-poverty-by-region-0

High economic growth in India and China — which together account for almost one-fifth of the world’s population — as well as in other developing nations has to a massive decline in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day — from 53 percent over thirty years ago, to 17 percent as of 2011.

Continue reading

When Mexicans Crossed the Border to Help Americans

And not just in terms of working millions of difficult, thankless, and necessary jobs, such as construction, farming, and caregiving. Amid yet another cycle of widespread anti-Mexican sentiment, with public perceptions of the country colored by the drug war and illegal immigration, the Washington Post reminds us that for all the acrimony and difficult historical relations, Mexico is a good neighbor to have.

The Mexican soldiers were on a relief mission to feed tens of thousands of homeless and hungry Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Setting up camp at a former Air Force base outside San Antonio, they distributed potable water, medical supplies and 7,000 hot meals a day for the next three weeks…

…The 45-vehicle convoy crossed the border at Laredo at dawn on Sept. 8 and arrived in San Antonio later that day. The only glitch was that the USDA would not allow the Mexicans to serve the beef they had brought because they couldn’t prove it had been produced in a mad-cow-free facility. Undeterred — and un-insulted — the Mexicans bought their beef locally.

By the time their mission in San Antonio ended Sept. 25, the Mexicans had served 170,000 meals, helped distribute more than 184,000 tons of supplies and conducted more than 500 medical consultations.

Mexican sailors also assisted with clearing downed branches and other storm debris in Biloxi, Miss., where they posed for photos with President George W. Bush, who thanked them for their help.

It is also worth pointing out that Mexico was the only country in the world besides Canada to offer direct military assistance, in addition to private sector donations. The U.S. had declined direct military support from other nations, which says a lot about how much we trust our sole international neighbors.

Moreover, dozens of other countries assisted the U.S. during this severe time of need, from Afghanistan, which donated $100,000 despite its bigger worries, to Russia, which was among the first to respond with heavy jets bearing medical and emergency response supplies.

Many might cynically chalk up the support to political self-interest or diplomatic etiquette, but in most instances there would have been little to gain from helping, often in private, a country then under a highly unpopular leader.

This is a valuable lesson for a society accustomed to viewing foreign nations as threats or ungrateful, aid-hungry parasites. Even some of the world’s poorest nations pledged whatever resources they could to help the world’s hegemon as it reeled from this historic natural disaster. The vast and diverse world outside our borders has its problems, but it is a lot friendlier of a place than most of us realize — even where we least expect it.

The Ice Bucket Challenge Bears Fruit

Amid a fair amount of skepticism and uncertainty — including, to some degree, by yours truly — it appears that the ALS ice bucket challenge that went viral some months ago has literally paid off:

According to Vice’s Mike Pearl, the $100 million in funding the challenge generated has led to breakthroughs in our understanding of what causes ALS and how it can be treated. Researchers now report that ALS — a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles in the body to deteriorate — is caused by a defective protein, and stem cell therapy has shown promising results in lab tests.

Jonathan Ling, medical researcher at Johns Hopkins, stated in a Reddit AMA that funding from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been instrumental in helping scientists break new scientific ground.

“All of your donations have been amazingly helpful and we have been working tirelessly to find a cure,” Ling wrote.

An infographic from The ALS Association, the global leader in ALS research that received the funds, breaks it down thusly. Continue reading

The James Bond of Philanthropy

In my view, with great wealth comes great responsibility. It gives you the capacity to do tremendous good or harm in the world, far more than the overwhelming majority of fellow humans. A little-known Irish-American businessman named Chuck Feeney exemplifies the incredible moral potential that the world’s richest can exercise if they so choose. Forbes did a piece on this amazing philanthropist in 2012, likening him to James Bond for his uniquely low-key and strategic approach to charitable giving:

Over the last 30 years he’s crisscrossed the globe conducting a clandestine operation to give away a $7.5 billion fortune derived from hawking cognac, perfume and cigarettes in his empire of duty-free shops. His foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, has funneled $6.2 billion into education, science, health care, aging and civil rights in the U.S., Australia, Vietnam, Bermuda, South Africa and Ireland. Few living people have given away more, and no one at his wealth level has ever given their fortune away so completely during their lifetime. The remaining $1.3 billion will be spent by 2016, and the foundation will be shuttered in 2020. While the business world’s titans obsess over piling up as many riches as possible, Feeney is working double time to die broke.

Feeney embarked on this mission in 1984, in the middle of a decade marked by wealth creation–and conspicuous consumption–when he slyly transferred his entire 38.75% ownership stake in Duty Free Shoppers to what became the Atlantic Philanthropies. “I concluded that if you hung on to a piece of the action for yourself you’d always be worrying about that piece,” says Feeney, who estimates his current net worth at $2 million (with an “m”). “People used to ask me how I got my jollies, and I guess I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.”

What Feeney does is give big money to big problems–whether bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s health care system or seeding $350 million to turn New York’s long-neglected Roosevelt Island into a technology hub. He’s not waiting to grant gifts after he’s gone nor to set up a legacy fund that annually tosses pennies at a $10 problem. He hunts for causes where he can have dramatic impact and goes all-in. “Chuck Feeney is a remarkable role model,” Bill Gates tells FORBES, “and the ultimate example of giving while living.”

I highly recommend you read the rest of the article, as it eventually discusses the nuances of Feeny’s character and his rather sophisticated philanthropic methods. The amount of wealth he is donating in both proportional and absolute terms is staggering enough without the added humility and strategic approach.

It is unfortunate that amid ever-higher rates of inequality — best epitomized by the fact that a mere 85 individuals own more wealth than around half of the world’s poorest people (3.5 billion) — most of the world’s elites aren’t following in Feeny’s footsteps, or at the very least donating more than a mere percentage of their assets. There’s a lot of untapped potential out there, and even a number of us who are comfortably well-off could be doing more.

Video

Homeless Man Donates Handouts to Fellow Homeless

This exemplary human being has given away over $9,000 he’s collected through panhandling to a fellow homeless mother and child. When many better off people can’t be bothered with giving the less fortunate the time of day, a man who is scarcely getting by still find the means and the love to give to others. This is a very inspiring story. I especially like the news anchors statement towards the end.

Hat tip to my friend Ray for sharing this with me.

Little Miracles

In the video I’ve posted below, a young woman who has been deaf her entire life hears her own voice for the first time thanks to new advancements in cochlear implants (you can read her blog here). As you might imagine, her reaction is quite heartwarming and inspiring.

This video has touched me in more ways than one. Firstly, it reminds me of the vast benefits that have come out of the application and refinement of science, particularly when coupled with compassion for the public good.

Imagine the millions worldwide that will benefit from this sort of invention once it becomes tenable on a mass scale. Think of the myriad ways that centuries of innovation have already contributed to the well-being of humans today: the multiplication of human longevity to a near century (and increasingly beyond that); the eradication of dozens of debilitating and fatal diseases; the vast understanding we have about the complex world around us; and much more that could not fit within a single post.

But what most impacted me is the realization that numerous miracles enchant our lives on a regular basis, and that they’re very often overlooked and underrated. For the woman in the video, hearing her own voice brought profound joy; for the overwhelming majority of us, such an experience hardly merits any acknowledgement – it’s natural and unspectacular.

Yet much of what we consider to be “a given” is far beyond the reach of many others: an education, literacy, a warm bed to sleep in, good health, full-functioning limbs, eyesight – the list goes on. We could have been born with any number of disabilities and ailments; we could fall victim to crippling or fatal misfortune at literally any moment. Of course, probabilities vary based on circumstances and other factors, but they’re always there – no one is immune to the randomness of birth, freak accidents, or human action.

Basically – and I’ll gladly own up to this – I’m merely issuing another tired tract about the importance of counting every blessing and never taking anything for granted. As cliché as all that might be, it’s a lesson that nonetheless needs constant reinforcement. We’re too quick to forget the little miracles that pervade every moment of our lives, including the very fact that we have lives to begin with.