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The Power of Prevention

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The Power of Prevention

Imagine living a century ago, when on average you could expect to live only to about 47 years in the U.S., or to about 30 years in India or China. Life expectancy today has increased in China to 75 years and in India to 66 years; you can now expect to live about 78 years if you are born in the U.S., and even longer if you live in Japan or Iceland. Astoundingly, about half the gains in health over all recorded history were achieved in just the past 60 years—and most occurred before the introduction of modern drugs, medical devices or treatments. They came from public health programs and disease prevention.

It doesn’t take great imagination to recognize that preventing diseases provides far greater value than trying to treat them after people are sick. Consider some of the great prevention successes to date, such as vaccines. Childhood infectious diseases used to kill or cripple millions of children. Yet thanks to vaccines, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and polio are almost unknown today. People can debate whether to take the H1N1 influenza vaccine now, but if the current strain of “swine flu” were as virulent as the 1918 H1N1 strain, without a vaccine, 50 million to 100 million people worldwide would lose their lives.

Deaths from heart disease in the U.S. have dropped by more than 60 percent, and strokes, by 70 percent, since 1950. A major part of that improvement came from the drop in cigarette smoking among U.S. adults from 42 percent in 1950 to now less than 20 percent. Part of the reduction in heart disease was achieved with better diet and exercise; the remainder can be credited to preventive treatment for people at risk with drugs, like antihypertensive agents, lipid-lowering medications and aspirin.

Primary prevention strategies will continue to focus on avoiding known risks, such as smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, and exposure to toxic materials in the environment. An obvious future challenge will be to develop new preventive vaccines against the big infectious killers—HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria—and the viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause diarrhea and respiratory diseases, particularly in poor countries.

The success of vaccines and other preventive measures has enabled most of us to survive to older ages, which affords us the ironic luxury of developing chronic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and more. Ongoing research will focus on developing drugs that can specifically prevent or delay such ailments, and enable us to function well even while afflicted with inevitable ones. The ultimate challenge will be to make the products of modern scientific knowledge—those vaccines and drugs for prevention and treatment—affordable and accessible to people of all countries.

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Radoslav Bozov says:

September 28th, 2010 - 4:51AM

Infectious diseases in the past came from poor understanding of how living matter is handled which is the same as today’s chronic diseases. Without understanding of evolutionary mechanism for disease causing organisms one can not predict future outbreaks of a given disease. Clean air, proper “waste” stream, and proper nutrition management has been in the core of preventative health. If we provide conditions for evolving living matter, we will get into battle with it! In the mountains of longevity the life expectancy for women was 100 years while men was close to 75 due to traditional exposure of particles irritating lungs or smoking related cardiovascular diseases. Yet Systems are inseparable from each other. In fact if we constructed behavior that eliminates disease agents, vaccines are unnecessary as long as there is no source of agent creation. The origin is of particular interest in post modern health.

Douglas Hawes says:

September 29th, 2010 - 8:10PM

As the overweight teens and preteens approach maturity and old age will there not be a severe drop in life expectancy? Certainly medical statistics seems to indicate that overweight and out of condition adults are very prone to certain severe medical conditions.

Now think what will be the case for adults that have been overweight and out of condition all their lives.

DHewage says:

October 2nd, 2010 - 4:57PM

Life style changes are needed to make the society healthier. Government cannot do that only by imposing taxes on everything. Governing Styles need to be changed inorder to make people change their life styles. For example, If naturally obese people are recruited to deliver mail fom home to home what would happen. Ban processed – Junk foods or introduce limits to it. Too extreme or save billions.

We make the country rich. We neglect how many are paying for that.

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