BUENOS AIRES - Many people think of it as an illness of the past, something you see only in books and historical movies.
Wrong: Leprosy is a reality in modern Argentina, and the passage of time has not eradicated the stigma of the disease. Lepers are discriminated against at work and even by their own families out of misplaced fear of contagion.
The Argentine Society of Dermatologists has just finished its 13th annual campaign for education and prevention on leprosy. This campaign is part of a larger effort to combat myths about the disease and inform the population of Argentina about the benefits of early detection.
According to the most recent statistics, there are 736 cases of leprosy being presently treated in Argentina, of which 354 were recorded in 2011, or nearly one case per day. Specialists estimate that at least three out of 10 infected people do not even realize they have leprosy. This means the number of actual cases could be over a thousand.
Jorge Tiscornia, a dermatologist at the Ramos Mejia hospital and director of the leprosy campaign warns that it is important to be aware of possible symptoms of the disease, like spots, changes in skin color, hair, or perspiration, and loss of feeling or numbness in the affected area. The problem is that “it’s a disease that doesn’t hurt” so most patients do not see a doctor until they have some kind of complication, and by then the disease is advanced.
In other cases, the delay in diagnosing leprosy can come from doctors who aren’t aware that the disease still exists, says Cecilia Medina, a dermatologist at a hospital in Buenos Aires.
Prejudice and discrimination
In addition, “the patient might think that he or she has leprosy but is afraid of being discriminated against,” says Tiscornia.
In the 30 years that he has worked with people suffering from leprosy, he has accumulated several examples of stigmatization that have wrought havoc on the patient’s social life, causing anguish and embarrassment. “A grandfather suffered because his grandson’s doctor said that he shouldn’t pick up the baby. A man abandoned his wife and kids when he found out that she was infected.”
That is why today one of the main goals of the doctor’s campaign is to “fight the prejudices. Today leprosy is a completely curable disease. We have antibiotics that can cure it in very little time. No one should be afraid to spend time with a patient, to drink tea with him or her or to let them pick up a baby. You have to spend a lot of time living with a patient to catch the disease, and even that isn’t a guarantee that you will catch it. Most people have a natural immunity to the bacteria that cause leprosy.” The most important thing, Tiscornia stressed, is early detection, to avoid damage that can affect peripheral nerves, internal organs or vision.
The education campaign has managed to decrease the prevalence of leprosy in Argentina over the past 13 years, but the number of new cases every year has remained constant, which means that the chain of infection has yet to be broken. Maria Molinari, the initiative’s coordinator, says that is because “in general, the population is not receptive. There is a sort of refusal to accept that this disease exists.”
“In literature, in the movies and in the Bible there are references to the fear of leprosy, and we are still fighting against those prejudices. Our goal is for a person suffering from leprosy to be able talk about it with the same ease as someone with hepatitis,” Tiscornia said.
Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.
BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.
TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.
For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.
No Western equivalent to WeChat
The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.
The flow of innovation is now changing direction.
The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."
Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."
This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.
10,000 new startups per day
There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."
In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.
The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.
Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."
China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.
China's super-app WeChat
The whole market runs on tech
Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."
As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.
Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.
Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.
The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.
Still lagging in some key sectors
There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.
China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.
Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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