Into thinking that the stunning Gold medal Award to young Omani students and inventors, Salim al Habsi, Ashhar al Malki and Amira al Abri, at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva last week, is a vindication of the education system in the Sultanate.
Such an assumption would be clearly disrespectful to these exciting, intelligent, motivated and talented young people.
This remarkable achievement, while it may not see Al Habsi, Al Malki and Al Abri roll off the tongue, or be as internationally renowned as Zuckerburg, Saverin, Moskowitz and Hughes (the Facebook guys), but they have probably engaged in a life-changing experience as young inventors. Their ability to identify a need for, and then develop and produce a simple, economical prototype will change their lives forever.
Most importantly, while ministries and institutions should, and must, applaud and celebrate the achievement, they should defer full credit to the mentors, lecturers, teachers, parents, families, and the young people themselves.
That would be the right and respectful thing to do, and maybe one of the celebrations of the Gold Medal will include all of those driving and inspirational forces, and recognise their contributions.
So let’s look at the invention itself: Simply put, it is a unique form of glucometer with the ability to transform diabetic sugar level readings into the three sensitive forms of colour, vibration and sound, so that particularly the elderly and infirm, can have ownership of their readings, and not have to rely on others.
This is not only an invention that will ultimately save lives, but it will ensure that many people around the world will retain their self-respect and dignity for much longer.
As with most great inventions throughout history, it is the simplicity of this development that must be so rewarding for its innovators, and absolutely galling for the pharmaceutical giants of the world, who spend squillions of dollars in research and development.
To have three graduate students from a tiny country in the Middle East, that if they’ve heard of it they probably don’t know where it is, ‘pull the rug out from under them,’ is massive!
The International Diabetes Federation has identified 415 million with diabetes, worldwide, in 2015, and 90 per cent of those have diabetes mellitus. It is the fourth leading cause of premature death and disability in the Sultanate, so in terms of also changing the lives of others, the Gold Medal winning invention will certainly do that.
Suddenly, the spectre that haunts so many in Oman, and around the world, has a legitimate foe, and millions have a ‘white knight,’ to help them maintain their dignity in a very measurable manner.
This will be clearly evident through the patient’s ability to retain their autonomy, no longer requiring assistance to take their measurements, and therefore being able to take back control, effectively to take back their lives.
The inventor’s own description of their intent was, “to increase the independence and self-reliance of the elderly and people with disabilities… It is hoped this will motivate them to be pro-active in managing their health…and promote their overall quality of life, and their well-being.” Here, to me, are the motivating factors behind these young people, which go far beyond any awards.
They were doing this not for gain, but to improve the lives of others, to offer hope in times of ill-health and infirmity, respect and dignity, to those who could well feel they had lost theirs.
With that in mind, I would implore the community to celebrate these young people as such notable global scientific legends as Ibn Sina, Al Biruni, Zakiriya Razi, and Omar Khayam, and for them to ‘be’ examples of what is possible, but not to be ‘used’ as examples.
They have aimed for the stars… and achieved something of such significant magnitude that most of us will never ever conceive its scope and magnitude.
I wish them all fame and fortune, and may they continue to show the world how good they are, and how good Omanis can be.