Tobacco is arguably one of the most significant threats to public health we have ever faced. Since the publication of the landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Tobacco and Health in 1964, that provided evidence linking smoking to diseases of nearly all organs of the body (see graph below), the international community slowly began to realize that a century-long epidemic of cigarette smoking was causing an enormous, avoidable public health catastrophe across the world.
In February 2015, my village of Homa Bay County in Kenya experienced a cholera outbreak, claiming the lives of 17 people and affecting nearly 700 others. It was not our first cholera outbreak but it took a devastating toll, not just in my village but in nearby communities, too. As an epidemiologist and a public health professional, I was struck at the lack of capacity to rapidly detect the outbreak and contain its spread. Cholera’s symptoms are generally well understood making it easier to diagnose and treat than many diseases, but even still it took a deadly toll.
The prestigious National Academy of Medicine today named Tim Evans, World Bank’s Senior Director of Health Nutrition and Population, as a new member, in recognition of his distinguished contribution to medicine and health. Tim will be among 70 new members and 9 international members inducted this year. New members of NAM are chosen by their peers in the field of health and medicine for their exceptional work.
Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, observed that knowledge is power and information is liberating. Indeed, the collection, analysis and dissemination of data and information should not be seen only as an instrument of scientific inquiry but more importantly, as a critical tool for guiding the formulation and implementation of policies to address complex problems in society.
Global experts report that a child’s early years are critical to the rest of life. Proper nutrition and brain stimulation improve physical growth and learning ability, while the absence of proper care and feeding in the first 1,000 days can lead to stunting, poor school performance and lower earnings as an adult.
While recent health crises, such as the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have caused much human and economic devastation in the affected countries and tested the resolve of the international community, the past hundred years have witnessed dramatic improvements in human health not seen in previous centuries when life was in most cases “poor, nasty, brutish and short” as Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, observed in the 17th Century.
It really caught my attention when a friend of mine, an otherwise healthy chest physician in his late 40s, told me recently that he almost died of pneumonia. He had to be hospitalized twice, given an IV cocktail of antibiotics each time, only to recover about a month later, totally drained and weak. He told me that it was caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae -- a bacterial infection increasingly resistant to antibiotics and known to strike the immunocompromised, frail and alcoholics -- which he thought he must have gotten from a patient. He considered himself lucky to have survived.
The recent Durban 2016 International AIDS Conference celebrates the success of AIDS treatment in reducing illness and death. The pall of despair and wasting death that hung over the Durban 2000 International AIDS Conference has truly been lifted. In KwaZulu-Natal, where the conference was held, AIDS treatment has increased community life expectancy by a full 11 years, reversing decades of decline -- life expectancy in KwaZulu-Natal is higher today than before the HIV epidemic. This is indubitably one of the great successes of global health.