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MELINDA GATES: Deadly diseases are close to being wiping out, but we could blow it

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Melinda GatesMelinda Gates.Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2000 Melinda and Bill Gates launched the Gates Foundation. Since then, they’ve spent a chunk of their fortune tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. More than $45 billion has been poured into their organization.

One of those problems is that millions of children under age 5 are dying from preventable health issues and diseases. This is particularly true in impoverished areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Thanks in part to big global health initiatives, the number of deaths has gone down significantly, from 11.2 million children in 1990 to 5 million in 2017. And the number of children dying from infectious diseases has been halved.

Only a handful of polio cases remain in the world, down from 350,000 in 1988 (despite some backward traction last year — there were 22 cases of Polio in 2017 and 29 cases in 2018). The UN has a sustainable development goal to end the epidemics of malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS by 2030.

But four major funds supported by the Gates Foundation and governments around the world are running out of cash: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, or GPEI, and the Global Financing Facility, or GFF, which aids mothers and children. 

Within the next two years, each will need billions more to help get the job done.

Replenishing these funds may not work. Some see them as bottomless pits of cash — it’s hard to predict exactly when or how a disease will be killed off. The original deadline to eradicate polio, for example, was 18 years ago.

Other world leaders are less motivated to give foreign aid now than they have been in the past (Bill and Melinda Gates have invested almost $10 billion in these four funds, but governments are often able to provide much more money than nonprofits can afford).

The Gates believe that if these groups do not receive the cash infusions they’re asking for, the chance to eradicate certain deadly diseases will slip away.

“In the early 2000s…it looked like people might give up [on polio], which if you do give up, then the disease comes back and spreads back,” Bill Gates said in a conference call on Wednesday. 

“And depending on how much you give up, you could go all the way back to the 300,000 kids a year being paralyzed. And so, even though a lot of money has been put into this, we can also say that we’ve saved literally millions of kids who were not paralyzed because of that.”

He added that if all goes well, at some point soon the investments should stop.

“The magic result is when you get to zero and then you get the benefits forever without having to continue to invest,” he said.

Saving the lives of children isn’t just a moral decision, Gates explained. It’s also an economic one. Young people are a sort of human capital. When they are educated and employed, they can supercharge a country’s growth. If health epidemics cause them to die or fall ill, their countries loses that upside.

Business Insider spoke with Melinda Gates about these issues. She also dropped a hint about what her and Bill’s annual 2019 letter will be about.

Interview condensed and edited for clarity.

Alyson Shontell: Why is right now such a critical time in global health, and why could the year 2030 look more like 2000 than 2018 if we’re not careful?

Melinda Gates: We are seeing that HIV rates are down, malaria deaths are down, and more children are surviving. So it is a hugely good news story. But sometimes people will then think, “Well, is the job done.”

If we don’t make these investments, the converse will happen. Not only will the number of childhood deaths go up and the rate of diseases go up, but we have the largest-ever youth population coming through Africa. They are having their population boom right now. And if we make the right investments, they can become like South Korea became.

People seem to have forgotten that, as the US, we made investments in South Korea that helped them with their primary healthcare and their health system. They went on to build a great educational system, and they grew from a low-income to a middle-income country [and graduated from the bulk of aid funding]. There are many African nations that are poised to do that in the next decade, but we have to keep making these investments. They are not forever.

We have got to make these investments or we are going to see more death, more disease, and more instability in the world. And that’s going to show up on the doorstep of the US, and in Europe.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation child death chartThe number of children dying before age 5 has dropped by more than half since 1990. Vaccines and taking measures against infectious diseases have contributed significantly to this decline.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Shontell: A key metric you use to measure success in these programs is the death rate of children, or death before age 5. What are some of the most common causes of death?

Gates: The biggest childhood killers right now are diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia. Because of [the global vaccine alliance] Gavi and that fund, there are new vaccines that prevent those diseases.

If you look back to 2000, more children were dying. And if you looked at all the children who were dying, more were dying between 30 days of life and 5 years. That’s where we have cut the most deaths, is from 30 days to 5 years. Now the biggest percentage of children, about 40%, die during first month of life.

So that is why you need something like the Global Finance Facility [which focuses on child and maternal health] because it tackles the newborn issues that you can’t necessarily really get at with a vaccine.

Some of [saving lives comes down to] really basic things, like getting a woman to space her births. If she has children too often and too close together, the children are more likely to be born preterm, and then they have all kind of complications — and a lot of them die in the first 30 days.

Or if the woman doesn’t know to do immediate and explicit breastfeeding and she thinks, “Oh, I gave the child goat’s milk” or “My mother-in-law says I should mix something with water” but the water is dirty.

So you have to work on that first 30 days of life, and that’s what Global Finance Facility really goes after.

And of course, the Global Fund goes after HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. It’s getting women to do things like sleep under a malaria bed net when they are pregnant, or getting young children to sleep under a malaria bed net, which is incredibly important in keeping childhood death down.

fertility child death overpopulation chart Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationStopping children from dying does not lead to overpopulation. Numbers show that parents will have fewer children once they determine that two of their children will survive and thrive.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Shontell: There is a misconception that if you’re saving all these lives, it could lead to overpopulation. Could you explain that?

Gates: That’s a really common myth. When we first started this work, Bill and I started saying to ourselves, “OK, we are going to save all these children, but now aren’t these women and men going to end up with lots of children?”

Luckily, the converse is true. If a parent knows their children will grow up to thrive and survive, they will actually naturally bring down the number of children they have. I have met women all over the world who tell me, “I don’t want to have this many children; it’s exhausting. I’m tired, and I can’t feed five children.”

The best longitudinal study ever done in global health was done in Bangladesh, where they gave a set of villages family planning contraceptives and another set of villages didn’t get them. The villages that got family planning were healthier and wealthier, and the kids were better educated over time.

Shontell: It’s almost like an insurance policy for these parents to have more children because they are afraid the ones that they have won’t survive.

Gates: Exactly.

overpopulation chart Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationWhile the population is increasing, the growth rate isn’t. Numbers seem to show that preventing children from dying does not lead to more children and larger populations.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Shontell: You have said that contraceptives are the greatest anti-poverty tool ever created, but more than 200 million women don’t have access to them. Why are they such a great anti-poverty tool, and what are the benefits?

Gates: If a woman can time and space her births, she’s more likely to survive childbirth and her children are likely to survive childbirth and be healthier when they’re born. We know that there is no low-income country that has made the transition to a middle-income country without first having wide varieties of voluntary contraceptives accessible to their communities.

It’s not unlike in the United States. What is it that allowed women to go in droves into the workforce in the United States? It was the advent of the pill. And when that came out, women then had more economic means for their family, which means they can invest more in feeding their kids and educating their kids.

So it’s this incredible virtuous cycle that family planning starts.

Shontell: The US has the highest death rate for women during childbirth than any developed country, I believe. More than 700 women die a year here, and black women have three times as high a mortality rate than white woman. Are you thinking about maternal health in the US?

Gates: Those statistics are incredibly disturbing, so we are definitely looking at that.

Bill and I are actually writing about that a little bit in our annual letter this year. A lot of those births have to do with preterm birth, which is happening more with African-American women. We need to unpack why that is happening. Is it barriers in their communities? Is it something genetic? Is it both? Is it stress?

We need to focus on that in the United States. So yes, we are looking at that.

Melinda GatesGates visited Benin, in West Africa, to speak with long-suffering people during a visit to the hospital Auberge de l’Amour Redempteur, 2010.Reuters

Shontell: We are close to eradicating a couple of diseases — three by 2030, potentially [TB, AIDS, and malaria]. It sounds like a no-brainer — of course we should get rid of things like polio, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. But are there any unforeseen butterfly effects that could come into play if we wipe these diseases off the face of the earth?

Gates: Smallpox is the best example. It’s the only human disease that’s been wiped off the face of the planet, and there don’t seem to be any negative effects to the environment, humanity, or to animals.

One of the things that is really important to remember is, why do we have infectious disease?

If you go back in the history of the earth, there was far less infectious disease. It is because people lived further away from one another. But once we started to come together and live in these communities and to urbanize, disease spread, and it spreads incredibly quickly.

If you look at the trends of urbanization and you look at places even in Nairobi and townships and slums, you are getting people in closer proximity all the time. Also with jet planes, disease travels really fast. So all the more reason you just want to eradicate these diseases so we are not dealing with them.

Malaria has been particularly hard. It’s been around since the time of the Egyptians, because of the way the parasite moves from the mosquito to the human and in the way it lives in our guts.

But the scientific advances that are coming look incredibly promising. We have new tools like disease modeling so that we can look at, “OK, which tools should be applied in which areas, and how are people moving around and spreading the disease?”

So we don’t see any downside in getting rid of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, any of them, quite frankly. We would be healthier as a populous.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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