Look beyond miserable headlines: here are the good news stories you might’ve missed in 2018
Drag queen duo, Paris (left) and Tacky, have spent a month at the Abel Tasman aged care home. (ABC Radio Sydney: Harriet Tatham)
In decades past, the world’s suffering would be streamed into your living room for a limited period on the nightly news. Now, we carry it in our pockets.
The 24/7 news cycle can make our devices feel like ever-present misery machines. It can be hard to remember that the world is becoming, for many, a better place to live.
Each of the following 10 stories represents a sliver of hope on some of the most important issues facing us at home — crime, pollution, old age, cancer — and abroad — malaria, child and maternal mortality, and even hunger.
1. Plastic bag use has dropped by 80% since ban
The ban on single-use plastic bags in Coles and Woolworths has prevented around 1.5 billion bags from being introduced to the environment.
David Stout from the National Retail Association said the “brave” move was paving the way for smaller businesses to follow suit.
“Everyone delivering things in a package needs to take responsibility for what they deliver it in,” he said.
NSW is now the only state or territory that hasn’t moved to phase out plastic bags, but the supermarket ban has still managed to reduce plastic bag use in just three months.
2. Drag queens reduce doctor visits at an aged care home
A Western Sydney aged care facility invited two drag queens to live there for a month, and the results were magical.
“We’ve set up a high-class luxury day spa, we’ve done room makeovers, we’ve done an amazing high tea,” artist Paris (Naomi Oliver) told ABC.
The residency, designed by non-profit organisation Information and Cultural Exchange, included Zumba classes, aromatherapy, nail sessions and lots of tea.
The village’s clinical manager Sophia Markwell said the queens had improved residents’ health.
“We usually have our geriatrician or GP do regular medical changes or monitoring, but we haven’t had to have that many medication reviews,” she said.
In a few short weeks, the queens scored many fans.
“They gave me two cushions — one sparkly one, one satin one, and a picture of cats,” said resident Naomi Raju. “I can never pay them back for their kindness”.
3. Teen refugees training to become Victorian police
Victoria Police’s first South Sudanese officer Kur Thiek hopes to inspire teens. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
As Victoria Police welcomes its first South Sudanese officer, the force has launched an internship program for eight teenagers who arrived in Australia as refugees.
Most are year 10 or 11 students, based at police stations across Melbourne for up to two years.
Vike Ashien now hopes to join the force.
“I thought police were aggressive people, and at the end of the day they’re really friendly and they’re just trying to make a change in the community,” Mr Ashien said.
The force’s first South Sudanese officer, Constable Kur Thiek, has been an inspiration for him at a time when fewer than two in every 1,000 police officers come from non-English speaking African communities.
“If we have more members from the Sudanese community joining to reflect the community, that’ll be great,” said Constable Thiek.
4. This dog can smell malaria in kids’ socks
Freya the Springer Spaniel has been trained to detect the scent of malaria parasites in children’s socks. (Supplied: Medical Detection Dogs)
How do you pick a malaria-infected person from a crowd of thousands?
“I give you The Dog,” said public health entomologist Steven Lindsay from Durham University, referring specifically to a Springer Spaniel named Freya.
“We know that people who have malaria produce a distinct odour in their breath, and if mosquitoes can detect parasites in people through their odours, then why not dogs, which have an extraordinary sense of smell?”
Freya has been trained to sniff out malaria parasites in kids from Gambia’s socks.
This offers a fairly accurate and non-invasive alternative to finger-pricking thousands of uninfected people. While the research is in its early stages, it could help develop a chemical detector to contain the spread of malaria.
5. Man kidnapped as toddler reunited with mum
Lyneth Mann-Lewis is comforted by family after reuniting with her son 31 years after he was abducted. (AP: Tijana Martin)
Jermaine Allan Mann was 21 months old when his dad took him across the border from Toronto to the US, where they lived under fake names.
Jermaine’s dad said his mum had died, but really she was looking for her son and spent the next 31 years doing so.
In late October, Jermaine’s dad was caught using their fake documents to apply for government housing.
Jermaine’s mum, Lyneth, jumped on a plane and had an emotional reunion with her son. She cooked her first meal for him in three decades (chicken), only to discover he was a vegetarian.
6. HIV rates tumble thanks to new approaches
PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis can be used to prevent the HIV infection from developing. (ABC News: James Hancock)
It’s now possible to test for HIV at home with a simple prick-test that can diagnose the blood-borne virus in just 15 minutes.
Early diagnosis is key, as treatment suppresses the virus from spreading. Medication has also just been added to the PBS, slashing the cost from $11,000 annually to just $40 per script, or $7 for concession card holders.
More and more people are using preventative (PrEP) HIV medications too, which is one of the reasons why new HIV cases have hit a 10-year low in WA.
7. Unis offer scholarships to asylum seeker after ABC story
Soumi was school captain at St James College and won a swag of academic awards. (ABC News: Leonie Mellor)
Soumi Gopalakrishnan, 19, was dux and school captain of her inner-city Brisbane school. She dreamed of being a doctor, but as a Tamil asylum seeker, she would be required to pay full fees up front to go to university.
Her elder sisters were also bright but unable to further their studies. They had since found work in a stationery factory.
But after Soumi spoke with the ABC about her situation, things changed.
“It was like a dream — my principal called me and said I’ve got scholarship offers from universities,” Soumi said.
“I woke up this morning and my life has completely changed … I can go to university and achieve my dream and then contribute to the Australian community.
“It’s just a reminder there are still people out there that care about others.”
8. You can now wait five years between smears and DIY it
A new alternative to pap smears is being rolled out across Australia, with the Government describing it as “more accurate, less often”.
The new Cervical Screening Test will be performed every five years rather than every second year.
And if you have trouble with a doctor performing your pap smear, you can now choose to swab yourself behind a curtain or in the bathroom, which experts say is as simple as putting in a tampon.
Federal Government projections show the HPV virus, which is the main precursor to cervical cancer, will kill 258 women this year. But the new test is more accurate at detecting abnormalities early on.
Plus, the new DIY swab will make this easier for groups who are reluctant to have pap smears, whether that’s because of their cultural or religious background, a history of sexual assault or a disability.
The Government predicts the changes will protect up to 30 per cent more women from cervical cancer.
A woman’s first test is now due at age 25, or two years after your most recent pap screen.
9. First breastmilk bank brings ‘liquid gold’ to NSW babies
Donated breast milk can help save the lives of premature and sick babies. (Facebook: Queensland Milk Branch)
A “life-saving” milk bank opening in Alexandria, Sydney, will give premature babies a better shot at survival.
When babies are born prematurely, their mother’s milk supply isn’t ready yet, but donated breast milk increases the baby’s survival by almost 70 per cent.
The bank will supply breast milk to nine neonatal intensive care units across NSW, supporting some of the 1,000 babies born prematurely in the state each year.
10. Global hunger, child and maternal mortality are falling
With all the violence, poverty and hunger in the world, it can be hard to see the progress. But global efforts are making a difference.
Child mortality has more than halved since 1990. In Africa in 1990, 17 per cent of children died before they were five. By 2015, that had fallen to 8 per cent.
Fewer mothers are dying in childbirth, too — maternal mortality fell by 43 per cent in this time.
While there are more people on the planet than ever before, fewer mouths are going hungry. In the early 1990s, a billion people (almost one in five) were chronically undernourished. That’s now fallen to just below 800 million (or one in nine).
It’s still a staggering number, but it shows what can happen when there’s the political and community will to create change.