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Bill Gates: We May Witness the Last Human Case of Polio This Year
But if the campaign isn’t successful, this scourge could return with a vengeance.
Polio (poliomyelitis) has plagued humankind throughout history. Ancient Egyptian records speak of its ravages as far back as 1403 BCE. Outbreaks struck many societies, leaving victims disabled or worse. One particularly bad epidemic in the US in 1916 took 6,000 lives. As the last century progressed, outbreaks burst onto the scene periodically.
Children are most often the ones who catch the virus. It wasn’t unusual during the depression to see kids with leg braces or on crutches. Some even had their bodies put into a chamber called the “iron lung.” This was a negative pressure ventilator used to aid a patient’s breathing. Most patients were out in just a few weeks. But a slim few were relegated to one of these body-long chambers for the rest of their lives.
Polio is passed from one person to the next. Symptoms include pain in the limbs, a stiff neck, nausea, fatigue, and muscle damage. 5-10% of all victims die due to deterioration of the breathing muscles, which is where the iron lung came in.
It wasn’t until 1952 when Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine against polio. In 1961, a version more easily administered was invented. As a result, polio was wiped out in most developed countries by 1988. The wild poliovirus however was still active in 125 others. It left 350,000 paralyzed each year.
A health worker in Yemen administers the polio vaccine. Credit: Getty Images.
It was 1985 when Rotary International first put together a worldwide program to fight polio. In 2007, the World Health Assembly—part of the WHO, conceived of a time when the disease was eradicated and took steps to make it happen. It launched a campaign called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rotary Club together contributed a combined $3 billion to it. Recently, they reported some great news.
Sue Desmond Hellmann, Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently spoke at The Rotary Club’s Fifth Annual World Polio Day Event on Oct. 24. There she announced that the number of cases worldwide had been reduced by over 99%. In 2016, only 12 cases exist in the entire world. These were concentrated in only three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. All the cases are in conflict zones. In Nigeria it’s in areas held by insurgency group Boko Haram and in the others, by the Taliban.
Despite this, Hellmann reported that we may see the last human case of wild poliovirus by the end of the year, two years ahead of schedule. 16 million people have avoided polio and so disability due to their efforts, according to Hellmann. But a lot is on the line. If it isn’t eliminated within the next 10 years, we could easily see a resurgence of 200,000 cases globally or more.
Pakistani health worker gives a child the polio vaccine. Credit: Getty Images.
Back in June, the foundation reported an initiative where they sent health workers to remote areas all over, including some of the most dangerous parts of the world, to get children vaccinated. The initiative has not been absent of danger.
For instance, in the remote, mountainous region of North Waziristan, Pakistan, Taliban forces have made vaccination forbidden, claiming it is un-Islamic. They may be reticent to allow it because in the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden, the agency used vaccination as a cover story to try and discover the 9/11 mastermind’s location.
In Syria, vaccination was at 90%, until the civil war swept through in 2011. While in parts of Africa, health workers have been attacked. Still, the Gates Foundation and Rotary International are upbeat. Both have committed a combined $450 million in this final push to end polio. That may seem like a lot to address just 12 cases. But as long as one single child is infected, according to the WHO, children in all countries run the risk of contracting polio.
Gates gave some context to this and other, similar initiatives in a foundation letter released back in June. “Polio will soon be history,” he wrote. “In our lifetimes, malaria will end. No one will die from AIDS. Few people will get TB. Children everywhere will be well-nourished. And the death of a child in the developing world will be just as rare as the death of a child in the rich world.”
It seems that what Salk started in his lab at the University of Pittsburgh decades ago, Gates is now finishing. But these two paragons share more than a humanitarian mission and a love for science. Remarkably, they have the same birthday, Oct. 28.
To learn more about the state of polio in the world today, watch this:
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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