Eight global health updates from the decade that overshadowed all the bad news
The decade has been full of scientific and medical breakthroughs that have ensured the health of many.
Don’t you just love it when you hear good news? Of course you do, and this decade has been full of scientific and medical breakthroughs that have ensured the health of many. These developments have given us immense hope that even though the world faces many challenges - most of them related to incurable diseases and epidemics - spreading awareness and coming up with innovative ways to deal with these challenges can spread a lot of cheer.
Here are some happy health stories that got our undivided attention over the last decade.
1. Sweden’s blood donation text message service
Can anything be more encouraging than getting the news that the blood you donated recently has saved the life of a patient? That’s precisely what a blood donation service in Stockholm, Blodcentralen, started doing in 2015. The service aims at recruiting more blood donors so that shortages in blood needed for emergency transfusions can be met with.
Blodcentralen lets donors know via SMS that their blood was successfully accepted by another person in need, which is meant to encourage them to donate more often. If this is working for Sweden, then how about something similar to encourage blood donors across the world?
2. Farmers use ducks instead of pesticides to grow rice
The ill-effects of pesticides seeping into our crops are very well known, and this is the reason why most health-conscious people are now choosing to buy organically-grown, pesticide-free grains and foods. But farmers in Japan have found a natural way to counter the use of pesticides by releasing ducks into their rice fields. What does that achieve? The ducks eat weeds and insects but do not touch the rice plants at all.
This is a low-cost, environment-friendly method of agriculture (now called Rice-Duck farming) and it’s also being used by countries like South Korea, China, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal and Iran. If it eases the pressure on farmers to invest more in pesticides and gives the rest of us more organic products for cheap, what could be better?
3. Stem cell transplant cured HIV positive man
Since the 1980s, more than 35 million people have lost their lives to AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and a cure for this fatal disease has eluded researchers so far. But that does not mean that breakthroughs haven’t been made in ridding the world of this disease.
In fact, a man in London became the second person ever to be in remission from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after receiving a stem cell transplant in 2018. His doctors revealed in 2019 that he had been in remission for 18 months, and none of his tests (even the highly sensitive ones) found any trace of HIV in his body. While more research still needs to be done to find out if stem cell transplant can cure more HIV/AIDS patients, the London patient’s example has offered new hope indeed.
4. Daytime discos help senior citizens deal with dementia and loneliness
Nothing stimulates our brain’s reward centres like dancing to some peppy music. Clubs in Seoul, South Korea have taken this scientifically-backed concept to an all-new level to help senior citizens. These daytime discotheques in Seoul, collectively called Colatecs, became popular in 2019 and are bringing some joy to the large population of over 65-year-olds (6.8 million seniors, according to their 2016 census) in the country.
This is not just helping the senior citizens stay physically fit, but also helping them cope with loneliness and signs of depression and dementia. Now if it’s helping out people in South Korea, how about more of these daytime discos for seniors in India?
5. Type A blood converted to type O (universal donor blood) successfully
Emergency surgeries, routine blood transfusions and scheduled operations - all of these procedures require donated blood, and most hospitals across the world tend to face a dearth of matching blood for their patients every day. But what if every hospital had enough Type O or universal donor blood to meet the needs of all their patients? No, you are not dreaming this up because researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada have found that this could actually be possible.
The team discovered two enzymes secreted by the human gut bacteria that can help convert the extremely common blood Type A into the universally acceptable donor blood Type O. As of 2019, the research is showing some promise, but the actual clinical implementation might take some time. However, it still inspires a lot of hope, doesn’t it?
6. Pets are good for your health
Having a cuddly pet isn’t just cute, it’s also very good for your health. The American Heart Association announced in 2013 that owning a pet can reduce the risk of heart diseases and increase longevity. The researchers also revealed that pet owners tend to be more active, and can battle the signs of depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, loneliness and obesity by walking or playing with their pets. This is especially true for dogs more than cats or other animals though. You definitely don’t need any more reasons to adopt a canine friend now do you?
7. New diagnoses of diseases and mental health issues
If falling sick is depressing then just imagine how painful being undiagnosed can be. There are millions of humans who suffer from conditions that are underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed and left untreated because even healthcare providers don’t have enough knowledge about them. Even if the scientific research community is coming to understand these issues better, how do healthcare specialists working at the grassroots level diagnose and treat you for them? This is where the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), compiled and published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 comes in.
This popular diagnostic manual now throws better light on Asperger’s, schizophrenia, gender dysphoria and even includes eating disorders (like binge eating disorder) that weren’t recognised before. Add to that the fact that the WHO released the International Classification of Diseases’ 11th edition (ICD 11) in 2018. The ICD 11 not only endorses the changes suggested by DSM-5, but also expands greatly upon mental health issues, and highlights sexual health issues and traditional medicine in new chapters. Strokes have been reclassified as a neurological disorder, allergies now fall under diseases of the immune system, and advances made in HIV/AIDS therapy are also discussed at length. These tools will give our doctors more knowledge at their fingertips, and help us get diagnosed and treated better than ever before.
8. Say goodbye to plastic forever
The harm that plastic does to our environment is quite well known, and in 2019, the Indian government banned single-use plastic in most states. The state of Maharashtra paved the way for this by completely banning plastic carry bags in 2017. If executed properly and completely, this plastic ban will not only mark a qualitative improvement in human lives but also save Indian rivers and land from pollution and protect animals from experiencing a slow and painful death by suffocation. Indian entrepreneurs and innovators are also coming up with great alternatives for plastic products, and the efforts of Narayana Peesapaty and Kruvil Patel are making the use of edible cutlery cheaper and more viable. Clearly, a plastic-free India is in the making, and you should be excited about it too.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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