Humanity has always been susceptible to disease and other serious illness. Over the last few centuries, numerous diseases and other health issues that were once rampant across the globe have become much less common. Edward Jenner’s successful introduction of the smallpox vaccine in 1796 ushered in a new era of global healthcare. Prior to Jenner’s groundbreaking discovery, about 35% of those who contracted smallpox died as a result.
To date, smallpox is the only infectious disease affecting humans that has been eradicated on a global scale. The last case of “wild” smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977, and worldwide eradication of the disease became official in 1980. Without vaccines, smallpox would likely still remain a global threat. And today, vaccination plays an integral role in preventing a number of serious health conditions including polio, pertussis, and tuberculosis.
Yet vaccines are just one of the innovative discoveries that helped reduce global mortality rates from preventable conditions. In 1846 while working in the Vienna General Hospital, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that childbed fever could be spread via the hands. He then advocated for widespread hand washing using a chlorinated lime solution, and his efforts paid off: The 5-30% mortality rate of childbed fever at the hospital fell to 2%.
Despite the strides we’ve made in the realms of vaccination and hygiene, however, more than 3 million people die from preventable diseases every year. The problem is especially pronounced in undeveloped countries that lack access to clean drinking water and experience high levels of pollution. In order to improve global health, various solutions exist, from improving health-related education in developing countries to working to decrease air pollution.
Global Environmental Health Considerations
Across the globe, approximately 85% of children receive vaccines, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But the lifesaving preventative treatment offered by vaccines can’t combat the effects of living in an unhealthy environment. Environmental risk factors including chemical exposure, climate change, and pollution are the cause of nearly 1 in 4 deaths globally.
Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the majority of annual deaths caused by environmental factors are linked to pollution. Excessive outdoor air pollution can cause cancer and respiratory infections such as pneumonia, which can be deadly. On the surface, it may seem that spending more time indoors is a possible solution, but indoor environments aren’t completely safe. Household dust, for example, is an indoor air pollutant that can cause a variety of symptoms including coughing, fatigue, and upper respiratory congestion.
Thus, to improve global health and reduce mortality rates from environmental sources, combating air pollution is crucial. While government legislation is key to reducing pollution on a large scale, individual citizens can do their part as well. Simple ways to curtail carbon emissions are to drive less frequently and utilize alternative forms of transportation as often as possible. Riding a bicycle, hopping on a train or commuter rail, and enlisting a rideshare service are just a few examples of driving alternatives.
Driving less may also lengthen your lifespan, data indicates. Europe’s highest percentage of walkers live in Spain, where 37% of the country walk to work in lieu of driving. What’s more, Spain boasts the healthiest residents in the world, who have an average life expectancy of 83.5 years.
Preventative Measures to Combat Disease
The hand-washing policies Dr. Semmelweis introduced in the mid-1800s served as a significant step towards improved sanitation within the global healthcare industry. Modern hospitals and medical centers have strict hygiene guidelines in place in order to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
In home settings, good hygiene habits can keep families healthy. Along with frequent hand washing and disinfecting any contaminated areas, bathroom hygiene plays a role in reducing one’s chance of contracting diseases and illnesses. In homes with indoor plumbing, a unique way to reduce the spread of germs is by installing a bidet. Bidets significantly reduce paper waste and offer superior cleanliness when compared to toilet paper.
Maintaining good personal hygiene can be challenging for many people around the world, however. Both bidets and indoor plumbing are a rarity in developing nations, along with accessible healthcare facilities and health-related education — especially where sexuality is concerned. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are among the most common diseases in the world, yet they are typically preventable and curable. Emphasizing the importance of STI testing and safe sex in developing nations may reduce global STI rates.
Global health has improved significantly since life-saving vaccines and better hygiene practices were introduced to the healthcare industry. But there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially as the worldwide population continues to grow. Today’s health-related ailments are increasingly linked to environmental factors, and preventable diseases remain a common cause of death within developing nations.
Complex problems require a worldwide emphasis on viable solutions. For starters, combating air pollution and promoting good hygiene on a global scale may serve to reduce the spread of preventable disease.