It can be hard to see from the headlines sometimes, but not all news is bad news. This is the Good News round-up, a weekly digest of positive stories to make you feel better about the state of the world.
This week we cover the woman bringing computers to children in remote African communities; a breakthrough in transportation for donated hearts; the genetically modified mosquitoes that are wiping out dengue fever in parts of Brazil; South Korea’s new pet protection scheme using ‘nose prints’; and the Indian village practising ‘digital fasting’.
Click the video above to get the full digest or continue reading to find out more about this week’s positive headlines:
- The woman bringing computers to children in remote African communities
Nelly Cheboi is on a mission to ensure children in rural Kenya don't miss out on essential IT education.
She founded Techlit Africa, an NGO that collects old laptops from institutions and companies, refurbishes them and brings them to schools in remote communities so that kids can learn computer skills.
Most of the students that take part in the project “would not have used a computer because we are targeting the most remote parts of Africa,” she says.
“Right now we have students who don't even speak Swahili [the most widely used language across East Africa], yet they know how to use a computer and build websites, and the coolest part is that they can still do that in their own village. They do not have to go to Nairobi to do that, they do not have to go to America to do that."
Cheboi was inspired to start Techlit Africa by her own story. She had never touched a laptop until she won a scholarship to study in the United States, and she wanted it to be different for the students of her village.
Sammy Ruto, a student at the Zawadi Yetu Academy says he will make his own website using HTML and CSS thanks to the "visual studio code” he has been taught how to use.
“I was taught about OpenShot and about NASA to make my own rocket when I grow up. So I hope this class will help me in my future to be an IT expert," he said.
Elysee Dusabinema, a teacher at the same academy, says the IT skills will help kids learn how they can “brand themselves online and how they can do business online, because that is where the world is heading."
Techlit Africa is currently running in 13 schools across Kenya, teaching computer skills to around 5,000 four- to 12-year-olds.
2. A breakthrough in transportation for donated hearts
Until recently, donation after circulatory death (DCD) transplants (those that take place after a patient’s heart has stopped beating) were very rare, with most hearts being transplanted after brain death.
According to Dr Yashutosh Joshi, a cardiothoracic registrar at St Vincent's Hospital in Australia, the problem with DCDs is that “you don't know the damage that's happened to the heart while it has stopped.”
But that has all changed thanks to a new machine that allows DCD hearts to be carried while still beating, rather than packed in ice.
This allows doctors to assess whether it is actually viable for transplant.
“That's essentially what we've implemented since 2014, and it's made a big difference to our transplant programme, in that we've been able to increase the number of heart transplants that we've been able to do," said Dr Joshi.
Instead of putting a heart in a portable ice box for transportation, doctors use the new ‘Heart in a Box' machine, which circulates blood through the heart.
“This warm oxygenated blood allows for the heart to be reanimated. It allows the heart to beat and we can then visually assess it, we can perform some blood tests on it, and then, while it's on that machine, we can sort of see if it's usable or not," he said.
Dr Carmine Gentile, senior lecturer at the School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Technology, Sydney, thinks the Heart in a Box is a “terrific idea,” and that it will improve the number of hearts that can be transplanted in Australia and the world.
“It is leading to improved outcomes for the patient, as well as preventing considerable complications that are associated with the transplantation itself.”
3. Genetically modified mosquitoes are wiping out dengue fever in parts of Brazil
Mosquitoes kill more people than any other creature worldwide, and are responsible for about 17 per cent of global deaths from infectious disease.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the world’s primary transmitter of the dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever viruses.
The good news is that a groundbreaking large-scale pilot introducing new Friendly™ mosquitoes achieved 96 per cent suppression of the dengue-spreading mosquito population in urban communities in Brazil.
What precisely are Friendly™ mosquitoes?
They are non-biting, genetically modified, male Aedes aegypti that mate with wild females and pass on a lethal gene that stops female offspring from reaching adulthood.
If you get rid of the female mosquitoes, “you obviously also stop the production of any mosquitoes because you need them to be able to lay eggs. And so when we've done this in Brazil,” Dr Nathan Rose, head of malaria programmes at Oxitec, told Euronews.
Oxitec is the company behind the design and execution of the Friendly™ mosquitoes initiative, and a leading developer of biological pest control solutions, founded at the University of Oxford in 2002.
What does a world without mosquitoes look like? We asked Dr Rose.
“The important thing here is that we're not going to have a world without mosquitoes. This is one mosquito species out of about three and a half thousand different species of mosquito.”
One other thing about the dengue-spreading mosquitoes that Oxitec is targeting in Brazil is that it is an invasive species. “It originally comes from Central Africa, it should not be in Brazil at all. So it's not a critical part of the ecosystem there,” says Dr Rose.
“Other ways of controlling mosquitoes include spraying chemicals, and those will obviously hit not just the species but many other things in the environment that are really beneficial. So we think that this is a really targeted way just to get rid of this mosquito, which is causing significant problems for human health.”
Oxitec says its tech is the first genetically engineered pest-control product for purchase by governments, households, businesses and communities. It works by simply adding water to the eggs of the mosquitoes, which then hatch within a few days.
4. South Korea’s new pet protection scheme using ‘nose prints’
Thanks to a new biometric recognition technology developed by a South Korean company, dogs can now be identified by their nose print.
With the new technology, which works by simply scanning a dog's nose with a mobile phone camera, people who find lost dogs can instantly locate the owners through an app called Anipuppy.
The Seoul-based company says each dog's nose is as unique as a human fingerprint and that the scans are 99.9 per cent accurate.
“It's a 3D biometric algorithm based on AI and deep learning that we have put into smartphones so that you can take pictures of the nose patterns and use it to identify each animal," explains Sujin Choi, director of iSciLab Corporation.
Currently, it is mandatory to register pets with a microchip or an external ID in South Korea and many places in Europe, but only 38 per cent of South Korea’s pet dogs are registered.
Chae Il Taek, a policy team manager of the Korean Animal Welfare Association, says the traditional problem of the nationwide dog registration system is that “it was not possible to identify who the animal's original guardian was if the ID was removed arbitrarily or intentionally.”
The nose recognition technology is also a viable option for some dog owners who are concerned about “potential health problems caused by microchip implantation."
The nose ID is not intrusive and much quicker to administer than inserting a chip, the company says.
Choi says they have recently agreed to roll the technology at a national level. “We are about to start to set the regulatory sandbox that was approved by the Korean government, and that will happen until 2024, and hopefully by then the government will use the biometric technology, the nose ID, as a means of identifying and registering dogs."
The company says that in the future, animals such as cats, cows and deer can also be tracked with the same technology.
iSciLab's biometric recognition technology is currently patented in South Korea, the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan.
5. The Indian village practising ‘digital fasting’
Several studies have shown we pick up our phones even when we don’t want to. Others have told us that excessive use of technology can make us feel lonely and miss out on real-life interactions.
A village of around 3,000 people in India has taken an active approach to the problem of modern-day addictions: all residents have agreed to do a digital fast for a couple of hours every day, collectively.
A siren has been installed above the village temple, which goes off at 7pm every evening in Vadgaon, in the Sangli district, telling all residents to switch off their TV sets and mobile phones.
Another siren sounds again at 8.30 pm to announce the end of the detox.
Vijay Mohite, president of the village council, told BBC Hindi they decided to act because they noticed children and adults were spending too much time on their devices and not talking to each other, especially after the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Michael Rich, founding director of the Digital Wellness Lab and the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital, told Euronews we could all learn from the Vadgaon digital detox.
“I think it's a wonderful experiment and they can lead the world in teaching us all that we could benefit from lowering our hyperstimulation,” he says, adding that we have fallen into the bad habit of looking at our phones whenever we have a free moment “because we're so averse to boredom.”
“I think we have to embrace and treasure boredom because boredom is where we think the new boredom is, where we are creative and imaginative.”
Dr Rich says boredom is fundamental not only because it opens a quiet space in which to create new thoughts, “but because it's a little uncomfortable, which motivates us to think the new, to try things out, to put things together in different ways in our head, as opposed to jumping online and following the crowd toward whatever the crowd is going toward at this moment.”
However, “it is both unrealistic and unfeasible to do away with digital technology altogether for any period of time,” says Dr Rich, who supports a mindful use of technology. “This [technology] is the way that we communicate, the way we learn, we work, we connect with each other today. However, it's too easy to slide into just by default.”
“So I think [Vadgaon] has a very healthy approach to understanding that while this has an important part in our lives, it is not the most important thing. We're in a world full of distractions, and we need to manage those distractions and actually focus on the things which are important to us.”
A common strategy Dr Rich recommends to his patients at the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital is to constantly remember that we have a finite amount of time each day and that when we are on our digital devices, we should use that time “purposefully and in a planful way, instead of just having it be default behaviour to keep us distracted.”
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