What’s the good news about global health?

1: This week we’ve been exploring the incredible medical advances against infectious diseases and the incredible increase in human health. Yesterday we looked at diseases which have been eradicated or are on the verge of eradication, including small pox, rinderpest, polio, elephantiasis, river blindness, and blinding trachoma.

But there’s more good news.

“Even diseases that are not obliterated are being decimated,” writes Steven Pinker in Enlightenment Now. “Between 2000 and 2015, the number of deaths from malaria (which in the past killed half the people who had ever lived) fell by 60 percent. The World Health Organization has adopted a plan to reduce the rate by another 90 percent by 2030… The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted the goal of eradicating it altogether.”

2: In the 1990s the prevalence of HIV/AIDS reversed humanity’s progress in lengthening life spans. “But the tide turned in the next decade, and the global death rate for children was cut in half, emboldening the UN to agree in 2016 to a plan to end the AIDS epidemic (though not necessarily to eradicate the virus) by 2030,” Steven observes.

Beginning in the year 2000, there has been a massive reduction in the number of children dying from the four most lethal infectious diseases, including pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles. “In all, the control of infectious disease since 1990 has saved the lives of more than a hundred million children,” writes Steven.

3: As spectacular as the conquest of infectious disease in Europe and America, the continuing advances among the global poor is even more amazing. “Part of the explanation lies in economic development, because a richer world is a healthier world,” Steven observes.

The other driving factor?

“The expanding circle of sympathy, which inspired global leaders such as Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton to make their legacy the health of the poor in distant continents rather than glittering buildings close to home,” Steven notes. “George W. Bush, for his part, has been praised by even his harshest critics for his policy on African AIDS relief, which saved millions of lives.”

The Nobel laureate, Angus Deaton “notes that even the idea that lies at the core of the Enlightenment—knowledge can make us better off–may come as a revelation in the parts of the world where people are resigned to their poor health, never dreaming that changes to their institutions and norms could improve it.”

More from Steven Pinker in weeks to come.

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Reflection: Take a moment to be grateful for the advances in medical care and resulting increase in human life

Action: Share this information with a friend or colleague.

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