It’s easy to forget the vast amounts of progress which have been made to the world in recent times. It’s difficult to conceptualise the past, and to try and appreciate the relative luxury in which we live our lives. This isn’t helped by the news, which tends to focus on recent disasters rather than keeping us updated on long term achievements we’re making (I guess the same story every day doesn’t grab headlines). So, this article attempts to honour just how far we’ve come, and how much better things are going to get.
One in seven people suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). They cripple countless people, costing the economy billions, and kill 170,000 people each year. NTDs are caused by a plethora of parasites and have a vast range of symptoms stretching from nuisance to nightmare. Some of these parasites infect babies and compete for nutrition, stunting growth and impairing intelligence. Some cause blinding eye diseases. Some cause horrific disfigurements. Some make people bedridden for months and damage internal organs. My personal least favourite (dracunculiasis) waits a year after infection before revealing its presence as a metre long worm inside your leg. Pulling it out takes weeks. I know none of this sounds too cheerful but stick with me here!
Assuming we’re all agreed that NTDs need eradicating, there’s good news just around the corner. In 1985, there were 3,500,000 global cases of dracunculiasis. In 2015, only 22. What makes this even more impressive than it sounds is that NTDs have a preference for harming isolated communities lacking infrastructure and healthcare. The solution to eradication doesn’t pair well with this, as it involves giving medicine to every single person in every high-risk area around the globe (some of which are 500km from the nearest hospital). This requires millions and millions of doses of medicine over the course of decades, and the planning and technology to distribute these globally. To get around this, a colossal collaboration was called for. Something which would showcase what the modern, industrialised production of medicine is capable of. Something which could provide free unlimited doses of medicine anywhere in the world. Or to put it another way, the biggest medical program in human history: the London Declaration. A promise to eradicate 10 NTDs forever.
Organisations from every field are working together right now to achieve this. The plan was launched in 2012, and $18,000,000,000 has already been spent. In 2015 alone, these treatments reached >850,000,000 people. This is an incomprehensibly positive achievement and is drastically improving the welfare and happiness of so many people. And we’re only talking about one project, focused on one group of diseases. The work that is constantly happening all around us to improve every aspect of our lives is mind-boggling, and it deserves our thought and gratitude.
Science, technology, medicine, infrastructure, education, all of it providing us with lives of happiness and luxury that our ancestors couldn’t have dreamed of. So don’t let the little stuff bother you because as a species, we’re giving ourselves a reason to celebrate every day.