How did we get significant victories against death in the past?
Well, have a look at the chart below from the great Our World in Data website:
What three diseases used to kill a lot of people in early 1900s in the U.S. but not anymore?
Pneumonia and influenzaSee that spike in the graph? It’s the Influenza Pneumonia Pandemic of 1918. It killed 600,000 people in the United States and +25 million people worldwide. Read more about it.
, tuberculosis, and diarrheal disease.
How did we beat them?
Pneumonia and influenza:
- First, running public campaignsPoster of a public health campaign in the 1920s:
to reduce its spread
Then, with the advent of penicillin and other antibiotics
From the late 1970s, came the vaccines
At first also by working against its spread with public campaigns and also with sanatoria for infected people
Then, came the BCG vaccine, first used on humans in 1921 in France
And, crucially, by using the antibiotic streptomycin, first developed in 1946
- Mostly because of improved hygiene (i.e. widespread sanitation, clean water drinking, and handwashing)
What do these victories have in common?
This just struck me yesterday.
We won because we’ve discovered breakthroughs that helped us killing invaders!
What breakthroughs? It should be pretty obvious to you by now: sanitation, vaccines, and antibiotics.
For centuries, the invaders were out there killing lots of people with impunityThe most famous example of all time is the Black Death, a plague caused by a bacterium that killed 75 to 200 million people in the 1300s.
. That fundamentally changed in the early 20th century.
By using superpowers from the breakthroughs we were able to finally win against them (namely, bacteria and viruses).
Why do we face different challenges now?
And what killsTo be clear, the world is still having a hard time with the ongoing battle against invaders, especially in poorer countries.
people now in the U.S.?
As per the chart above, the top causes of death are heart diseases (e.g. coronary artery disease), cancers, and cerebrovascular diseases (e.g. strokes).
What do they have in common?
They’re a completely different menace. As far as we can tell, they’re all failures of our own machinery.
We do seem to have more subtle challenges now. So, what strategies have we been using to solve them? What are the apparent bottlenecks? What could be and should be done about them?
Stay tuned. I will try to answer these questions in future posts.
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