TB, AIDS and polio on the verge of extinction

Golden years: As of 2015 the average global life expectancy for humans was 71.4 years.

Can we defeat all disease? Alarmist reports of health crises are common in the news. But behind these stories lie deeper trends which prove that humans have never been so healthy.

Right now, headlines are warning of a deadly flu crisis spreading across the globe. And in recent years, high-profile epidemics like the Ebola outbreak have fuelled a seemingly never-ending succession of global health scares.

But for all the lives ravaged by these terrible diseases, more are being quietly saved by historic advances in medicine.

Some of the most deadly diseases are slowly being wiped out. Tuberculosis has killed more people than any other infectious disease in history, responsible for over a billion deaths in the last 200 years. Yet since 2000 the global number of deaths has fallen by 37% — meaning that over 50 million lives have been saved.

Similarly, a global vaccination drive has almost completely eradicated polio.

But as these highly infectious diseases are eradicated, other non-contagious illnesses become more common. This includes diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.

Yet even these are becoming less deadly. One study found that globally, premature deaths caused by these four major conditions decreased by 16% between 2000 and 2015. In the USA cancer deaths alone fell by 23% between 1991 and 2012 — saving 1.7 million lives.

But can these trends lead to a world free from disease?

Gut feeling

It is possible, some say. A century ago, the idea of totally eradicating polio would have seemed ridiculous. But through cooperation, ingenious research, and sheer force of will, we have almost done it. Nothing stops us from attempting the same thing with more diseases.

Diseases could actually get worse, others respond. With antibiotic resistance increasing, the day may come when super-resistant bugs will devastate human populations. Furthermore, we must focus less on cures and more on the cause of disease.

You Decide

  1. Is it possible to eradicate all the diseases in the world?

Activities

  1. Many diseases are due to infections which can be spread due to poor hygiene. What steps can we all take to reduce the chance of passing on infections to others? Design a poster which includes tips on how to reduce the chance of spreading germs and disease.

Some People Say...

“Life is only precious because it ends.”

Rick Riordan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Diseases vary between regions of the world. For example, in the USA in 2016 there were 2.9 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. By contrast, in 2015 Sub-Saharan Africa recorded 276 cases per 100,000 people.
What do we not know?
For some diseases there is still no cure. For example, HIV medication is designed to prevent the sufferer from developing AIDS, not cure the virus.

Word Watch

Ebola
Disease which causes vomiting, diarrhoea, and internal bleeding. Between 2013 and 2016 an outbreak in Africa killed over 11,000 people.
Polio
Deadly disease which can also cause paralysis. Once common across the world, in 2017 there were only 22 cases of wild polio reported from just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Chronic respiratory disease
Includes conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, and lung cancer.
Antibiotic resistance
When bacteria adapt so that they can survive the antibiotic medicines used to kill them in the past.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.