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Five inspiring cities and their exemplary efforts to deal with the silent urban killers | Society

Ella Kissi-Debrah died when she was 9 from an asthma that was aggravated by the exposure to excessive air pollution in London. That is not what her death certificate stated, however – although it was recognized by the court some time later. That was a decade ago. Today, her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, is still in the fight to prevent premature deaths due to poor air quality. “There are lives that can be saved. I’m telling all the mayors: you have to do something. We want clean air to be a human right,” she pleaded before the delegations of 50 cities from all around the world, who gathered at the first Summit of the Alliance of Healthy Cities, held on March 15 in the British capital.

The vast majority of the 41 million annual deaths from chronic diseases (74% of all deaths in the world) happen among the elderly. However, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 17 million people die prematurely each year from these non-communicable diseases before reaching 70. Of those deaths, 86% occur in low- and middle-income countries; poverty and a greater exposure to environmental risk factors (poor air quality) or unhealthy habits (an inadequate diet or drug abuse) go hand in hand, the agency points out.

“There are low-cost solutions for governments and other stakeholders to reduce common modifiable risk factors,” states the WHO. The goal established in the UN 2030 Agenda is to reduce by one third the probability of dying prematurely from a non-communicable disease, and cities, which bring together more than half of the world’s population, are one of the main battlefields against such factors.

“Polluted air is a silent killer. But it can be reduced. If national governments don’t do it, we mayors will have to assume that leadership,” stated Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, one of the 70 members of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, which is supported by the WHO and the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Vital Strategies organizations and has the goal of assisting cities in their unpopular war against these enemies of health. In that context, five initiatives were honored at the Summit for their actions in this regard, and will receive $150,000 to continue their work.

Montevideo (Uruguay): Guaranteeing a healthy diet for public employees

Uruguay (3.4 million inhabitants) is one of the countries where the percentage of overweight and obese people has increased fastest in the last decade: 65% of adults and almost 40% of children suffer from these diseases, which trigger and aggravate problems such as hypertension or diabetes. “Montevideo has a long history of defending the health of its population, starting in the 1990s with the ban on smoking in the City Hall building,” explains Mayor Carolina Cosse, one of the honorees for her latest effort to stop malnutrition: ensuring that public employees have access to healthy diets in their workplace.

We will exempt canteens in public institutions accredited as healthy from certain taxes

Carolina Cosse, Mayor of Monevideo

After the introduction of the 2018 decree to reduce the consumption of salt in restaurants — having it on the table or offering it to customers is forbidden – city authorities have been working to increase the supply of healthy food through other means. On June 30, 2022, the Uruguayan capital approved new nutritional standards for the food and beverages served in its 48 public institutions and hospitals, as well as the restriction on the sale and advertising of ultra-processed products. Its latest measure, which earned it the recognition of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, is the Healthy Cafeterias program.

“We will exempt from certain tax burdens the cafeterias in public institutions that have been accredited as healthy by meeting certain conditions such as not displaying products with excess fat, sodium or sugar. They can sell them, but not display them,” explains Cosse. In addition, their menu should include inexpensive healthy options, created with the help of a nutritionist. “Now it’s up to us to carry out a great promotional campaign and convince them one by one. We can’t do it in schools because they are regulated by the federal government, but we are going to expand the program to the private sector.”

Bangalore (India): Creating tobacco-free spaces

According to the WHO, tobacco kills half of its users. Each year, there are more than eight million deaths in the world, of which 1.2 million are non-smokers who die as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke, which also increases the risk of lung cancer by 30% and that of suffering from coronary diseases by 25%.

Most measures to reduce consumption – the most effective being price hikes – are the responsibility of national governments, explains Kelly Henning, head of the Public Health program at Bloomberg Philanthropy. “But local authorities can implement very interesting interventions such as banning smoking in certain areas or advertising tobacco on city billboards,” she says. City administrators also have a responsibility to monitor compliance with the country’s anti-tobacco laws. The Indian city of Bangalore (population 13.6 million) was recognized for its determination in this regard.

Bangalore launched a training program for local police officers on how to detect and punish violators of the national anti-smoking law

A 2018 survey revealed that the anti-smoking law was only complied with in 10% of the city’s public spaces. With the support of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, the authorities came up with two strategies to deal with this: the mayor’s office launched a training program for police officers on how to detect and sanction offenders, and it also launched awareness campaigns in the local media. “Studies have shown that this can change individual behavior and build popular support for tobacco control policies. And they are quite profitable. Research confirmed that for every six cents spent, one person tried to quit smoking; for every $2.60, one did it; and for every $9.20, one death was prevented. Think about it for a moment: for less than $10, these ads can save a life,” says Dr. Vishal Rao, head of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology at the Healthcare Global Enterprise Hospital in Bangalore.

Among other actions, the Indian state of Karnataka, whose capital is Bangalore, launched the Stop Tobacco app earlier this month: to denounce a “violation against their right to health,” reports The Indian Times, citizens can upload a photograph of any smoker who violate the rules, so that a brigade can take the proper measures. The tool also makes it possible to denounce people who sell cigarettes outside schools.

Athens (Greece): Reducing overdose deaths

Kostas Bakoyannis, mayor of Athens, assures that his priorities are public health and protecting the most vulnerable population. With this in mind, he decided to replicate a model that has already been tested in other cities around the world to prevent overdose deaths among drug users (mainly homeless people) by opening supervised injection rooms with proper materials.

Drug addicts inject heroin on the streets of Athens.
Drug addicts inject heroin on the streets of Athens.Timothy Fadek (Corbis via Getty)

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist medication that acts as an antidote in case of an overdose. Administered in time, it can save the life of a user. However, in most countries, it can only be obtained with a prescription. Until very recently, Greece used to be one of them. Bakoyannis had a crucial role in advocating for the newly passed national law allowing the over-the-counter distribution of this treatment. His program to provide naloxone to relatives and close friends of addicts, with the aim of preventing their death in case of fatal acute poisoning, can now move forward without legal obstacles.

“We have one of the highest levels of drug abuse-related mortality in Europe,” explains the mayor. Despite the fact that the number of opioid users has decreased since 2008, the most recent data shows that in 2018 there were 274 drug-induced deaths in Greece: 38 per million inhabitants between the ages of 15 and 64, twice the European average of 16.7. “Now that we can ensure 24/7 accessibility to naloxone, we’re going to see a big change. It has been proven to work in other countries with a drastic reduction in overdose deaths,” he explains.

Mexico City (Mexico): Improving road safety

Every year, 1.25 million people die and 50 million are injured in traffic accidents. The WHO warns that this is the leading cause of death among persons aged 15 to 29. These incidents have increased in Mexico City, becoming a most significant public health problem: only in the third quarter of 2022, according to official data, 157 people died and 9,042 were injured – a 24% increase compared to the same period of the previous year.

The city’s actions to stop this have been recognized. The road safety plan promoted by Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum in 2021 includes the construction of 28 and a half kilometers of bike lanes, which has prompted a 275% increase in cyclists in the city, reports Bloomberg Philantropist. The committee that selected the winning cities also took into account the elaboration of a guide for safe school environments that offers strategies to optimize the design, management, maintenance and operation of accesses and routes, after discovering that 80% of all trips to school are made on foot or by public transport.

A woman rides a bike in Mexico City.
A woman rides a bike in Mexico City.Cortesía

Vancouver (Canada): Using data to improve health

This Canadian city has been recognized for making public health data more inclusive and accessible by launching an online tool that tracks population health indicators, as well as by collaborating with urban indigenous communities to improve data management, states the Partnership for Healthy Cities.

Specifically, the program that made it win the financial award is its Healthy City Dashboard, created with the support of the Partnership, which monitors its progress in relation to 23 indicators of well-being: from the number of homeless people to the diet of the population or the amount of time they spend exercising.

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Chemistry Problems & Quantum Computing

The researchers compared the results of a conventional and quantum computer to minimise error calculations, which could eventually be scaled up to solve more complicated problems.

Scientists in Sweden have successfully managed to use a quantum computer to solve simple chemistry problems, as a proof-of-concept for more advanced calculations.

Currently, conventional supercomputers are used in quantum chemistry to help scientists learn more about chemical reactions, which materials can be developed and the characteristics they have.

But these conventional computers have a limit to the calculations they can handle. It is believed quantum computers will eventually be able to handle extremely complicated simulations, which could lead to new pharmaceutical discoveries or the creation of new materials.

However, these quantum machines are so sensitive that their calculations suffer from errors. Imperfect control signals, interference from the environment and unwanted interactions between quantum bits – qubits – can lead to “noise” that disrupts calculations.

The risk of errors grows as more qubits are added to a quantum computer, which complicates attempts to create more powerful machines or solve more complicated problems.

Comparing conventional and quantum results

In the new study by Chalmers University, scientists aimed to resolve this noise issue through a method called reference-state error mitigation.

This method involves finding a “reference state” by describing and solving the same problem on both a conventional and a quantum computer.

The reference state is a simpler description of a molecule that can be solved by a normal computer. By comparing the results from both computers, the scientists were able to estimate the scale of error the quantum computer had in its calculation.

The difference between the two computers’ results for the simpler reference problem was then applied to correct the quantum computer’s solution for the original, more complex problem.

This method allowed the scientists to calculate the intrinsic energy of small example molecules such as hydrogen on the university’s quantum computer.

Associate professor Martin Rahm – who led the study – believes the result is an important step forward that can be used to improve future quantum-chemical calculations.

“We see good possibilities for further development of the method to allow calculations of larger and more complex molecules, when the next generation of quantum computers are ready,” Rahm said.

Research is happening around the world to fix the problems limiting the development of more advanced quantum computers.

Earlier this month, Tyndall’s Prof Peter O’Brien told about his group’s work in addressing a key challenge in quantum technology and how quantum communications will make eavesdropping ‘impossible’.

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A Chilling Resurgence Of The “Vampire Fish” In The Great Lakes

The notorious sea lamprey, a creepy parasitic fish, resurges in the Great Lakes, wreaking havoc on native species.

The Creepy Invader Emerges

In the eerie waters of the Great Lakes, a parasitic fish has emerged from the depths, thriving on a bloodsucking mission. Meet the sea lamprey, a creature with a haunting circular row of teeth, a serrated tongue, and an eel-like shape. Native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean, this nightmarish creature invaded the Great Lakes in the early 19th century through the Welland Canal, which links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Once it infiltrated the pristine waters, the lamprey set about its insidious predation on commercially important fish, including trout, whitefish, perch, and sturgeon. The consequences were catastrophic.

A Century of Devastation

Within a mere decade, the sea lamprey gained access to all five Great Lakes, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Its unchecked proliferation led to the collapse of the once-thriving trout fishery within a century. By the 1960s, the lamprey had inflicted such damage that the annual commercial catch of lake trout in the upper Great Lakes plummeted from around 15 million pounds to a meager half a million pounds.

A Battle Against the Vampire Fish

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, alongside the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, took up arms against this highly invasive species. With ardent determination, they sought to manage and reduce the sea lamprey population, and their efforts yielded significant success. The fishery commission proudly boasts on its website that sea lamprey populations have been diminished by a staggering 90 percent in most areas of the Great Lakes.

The “vampire fish” sea lamprey makes a chilling comeback, threatening the delicate balance of the Great Lakes’ aquatic life.

The Pandemic’s Interruption

However, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the agencies’ crucial operations to control the lamprey’s resurgence suffered a chilling interruption. With travel restrictions in place and resources stretched thin, fishery managers faced daunting challenges. The pandemic’s insidious impact reached the heart of the Great Lakes, allowing the parasitic fish to take advantage of the hiatus.

The Reemergence

As restrictions eased and operations resumed, a grim revelation awaited the fishery managers. The parasitic fish had cunningly exploited the opportunity, and their population began to creep back across the Great Lakes. Reports from the Wall Street Journal indicated that the sea lamprey population had resurged, sending shivers down the spines of those who witnessed its wrath in the past.

Lampreys belong to the superclass Cyclostomata and represent the most ancient group of vertebrates. Existing for over 360 million years, they are known as living fossils due to their many evolutionally conserved features

A Fragile Balance

Exact figures of the resurgence remain uncertain, but the implications are undeniably ominous. According to a 2022 report by Undark Magazine, crews responsible for population control were only able to treat about 25 percent of the target streams in 2020, leaving the lamprey unchecked. The following year saw a partial recovery, as the teams reached 75% of their targets. Nevertheless, the challenge remains enormous, and the careful application of pesticides called lampricides is essential to reduce the lamprey population.

After pandemic disruptions, the sea lamprey population surges, posing a formidable challenge for conservationists in the Great Lakes.

The Cost of Confrontation

The battle against the lamprey is not merely a spooky tale—it comes with a substantial price tag. Controlling this aquatic menace is estimated to cost around $15 to $20 million annually, reflecting the magnitude of the threat it poses to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Joining the Fight

As the resurgence of the “vampire fish” casts a shadow over the Great Lakes, the need for decisive action becomes evident. Stakeholders must unite in their mission to protect the delicate balance of this vital ecosystem. The battle against the sea lamprey requires collective effort and resources, with innovative approaches to safeguarding the region’s rich biodiversity.

A Race Against Time

With the sinister sea lamprey gaining ground, time is of the essence. As this dark chapter unfolds, the eyes of the world are on the Great Lakes, waiting to witness the outcome of this gripping struggle. The clock is ticking, and the stakes have never been higher.

Seizing the Opportunity

For environmental advocates, researchers, and those invested in the well-being of the Great Lakes, the resurgence of the “vampire fish” serves as a chilling reminder of the fragility of our ecosystems.

Embracing sustainable practices, collaborative efforts, and innovative solutions, there is hope that the Great Lakes can once again emerge victorious against this formidable foe.

A Battle for the Ages

As the lamprey saga continues, it will be a tale of resilience, perseverance, and the relentless pursuit of balance. The world holds its breath, awaiting the final chapter in this eerie narrative—a chapter that will determine the fate of one of North America’s most treasured aquatic ecosystems.

Contact us now to learn how you can support the battle against the “vampire fish” and join the ranks of those committed to preserving the Great Lakes for generations to come. Let your voice be heard in this harrowing tale of nature’s tenacity and mankind’s dedication.

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The Implications Of Controlling High-Level Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI)

By Clint Bailey | ‘The Voice of EU’

The notion of artificial intelligence surpassing humanity has long been a topic of discussion, and recent advancements in programs have reignited concerns. But can we truly control super-intelligence? A closer examination by scientists reveals that the answer is highly unlikely.

Unraveling The Challenge:

Controlling a super-intelligence that surpasses human comprehension necessitates the ability to simulate and analyze its behavior. However, if we are unable to comprehend it, creating such a simulation becomes an impossible task. This lack of understanding hinders our ability to establish rules, such as “cause no harm to humans,” as we cannot anticipate the scenarios that an AI might generate.

The Complexity Of Super-Intelligence:

Super-intelligence presents a distinct challenge compared to conventional robot ethics. Its multifaceted nature allows it to mobilize diverse resources, potentially pursuing objectives that are incomprehensible and uncontrollable to humans. This fundamental disparity further complicates the task of governing and setting limits on super-intelligent systems.

Drawing Insights From The Halting Problem:

Alan Turing’s halting problem, introduced in 1936, provides insights into the limitations of predicting program outcomes. While we can determine halting behavior for specific programs, there is no universal method capable of evaluating every potential program ever written. In the realm of artificial super-intelligence, which could theoretically store all possible computer programs in its memory simultaneously, the challenge of containment intensifies.

The Uncontainable Dilemma:

When attempting to prevent super-intelligence from causing harm, the unpredictability of outcomes poses a significant challenge. Determining whether a program will reach a conclusion or continue indefinitely becomes mathematically impossible for all scenarios. This renders traditional containment algorithms unusable and raises concerns about the reliability of teaching AI ethics to prevent catastrophic consequences.

Air France – Deals & Special Offers

The Limitation Conundrum:

An alternative approach suggested by some is to limit the capabilities of super-intelligence, such as restricting its access to certain parts of the internet or networks. However, this raises questions about the purpose of creating super-intelligence if its potential is artificially curtailed. The argument arises: if we do not intend to use it to tackle challenges beyond human capabilities, why create it in the first place?


Urgent Reflection – The Direction Of Artificial Intelligence:

As we push forward with artificial intelligence, we must confront the possibility of a super-intelligence beyond our control. Its incomprehensibility makes it difficult to discern its arrival, emphasizing the need for critical introspection regarding the path we are treading. Prominent figures in the tech industry, such as Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, have even called for a pause in AI experiments to evaluate safety and potential risks to society.

The potential consequences of controlling high-level artificial super-intelligence are far-reaching and demand meticulous consideration. As we strive for progress, we must strike a balance between pushing the boundaries of technology and ensuring responsible development. Only through thorough exploration and understanding can we ensure that AI systems benefit humanity while effectively managing their risks.

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By Clint Bailey, Team ‘THE VOICE OF EU

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