Health At The End Of The Millennium
Another Wired Curriculum from The United Nations CyberSchoolBus
Introduction: A concern for all
Everyone gets sick. At some point in your life, you have probably come down with a fever, stayed home with a sore throat or gotten a stomach ache -- all signs that you were infected by a microbe such as a bacteria or virus.
It was possibly 'just a cold', which is caused by a virus called the Adenovirus. Or it could have been the 'flu', another common virus known as Influenza. The Influenza virus changes all the time and travels around the world so fast that it is difficult to track, contain or control. Luckily, under most circumstances the 'flu' does not threaten your life. Your fever runs its course - itself a sign, in fact, that your body is fighting the infection - and your sore throat disappears.
Other infectious diseases cause greater harm and can even kill. In fact, more people die from infectious diseases than from any other cause.
While our bodies naturally defend themselves against harmful microbes, they can not win every battle. Some microbes are just too strong or too numerous. So we have had to be resourceful in combating disease. One of the means we have developed is vaccination, which builds up the body's defenses against disease before the disease attacks the body. Vaccinations are particularly important for infants as they are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of a disease.
Through vaccination campaigns, one major disease, smallpox, has been eradicated and another, polio, is expected to be eradicated by the year 2000. In addition, about 80% of the world's children are vaccinated against six major diseases.
Because of these advances, it seemed for a while as if we might be winning the struggle against disease. But it was too early to celebrate. Infectious diseases are back on the attack.
A host of new and re-emerging diseases are threatening the health of the world. Over the past two decades alone, at least 30 new infectious diseases have appeared or been identified. These include the HIV virus, which has affected millions of people all over the world and the Ebola virus which recently caused a major global health scare when early in 1995 it killed hundreds of people in Kikwit, Zaire, within weeks.
Re-emerging diseases are those that had been subdued for a while but have suddenly returned. These diseases often return stronger than before and sometimes develop new strains that are resistant to the drugs previously used to combat them. Once under control, tuberculosis - including drug-resistant strains of it - is making a deadly comeback, claiming 3.1 million lives a year. Diphtheria had also been subdued. Then in 1990 it suddenly hit the Russian Federation and has since struck 15 European countries.
Whereas poverty and unhealthy living environments make the spread of disease easier, infectious diseases affect people all over the world. They are not limited to one region. In fact, with increased migration and air travel they can easily be transmitted from one region to another.
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