Medical knowledge and treatment of diseases has improved tremendously in the 20th and 21st centuries, resulting in increased life expectancy. Is this true for all areas of the world?
New Cures, New Problems.
In this century, modern medicine has increased life expectancy, at least in Western countries, by nearly 50 %. As more and more people live into their eighties and nineties, new problems are created. Many suffer from senile dementia, others are physically crippled with diseases such as arthritis and heart disease. Most of these people need constant medical care. Today's medicine can cure killer infections such as diphtheria and tuberculosis. As these disappear, other resistant infections take their place. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a viral infection that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse or blood transfusion. There is neither a cure, nor a vaccine developed yet. Only major changes in the sexual habits of men and women can hope to halt the spread of this terrible disease.
Cancer has become one of the major causes of death in almost all developed countries. More accurate diagnosis, with high-tech equipment, has helped doctors find and treat small tumours before they have a chance to spread.
Surgery is the most common method of treatment, but radiotherapy and anti-cancer drugs can be very effective. During radiotherapy powerful rays are directed at the tumour to destroy it. Anti-cancer drugs are used mainly to "wipe up" cancer cells that have already escaped from the tumour and started to travel through the body.
Medicine in Developing Countries
While Western countries have made great strides forward in the field of medicine, far less has been achieved in improving the health of those living in developing countries. Millions of people die each year from malaria; thousands die from yellow fever, bilharzia, and other infections that are found in tropical countries. Far too many children die because of dehydration caused by diarrhoea due to minor stomach infections. These symptoms could easily have been cured if only clean water, sugar and salt were available to replace lost fluids.
Many suffer from leprosy, and others are blinded by cataracts. Both could be cured if there were resources available. Poverty and ignorance are often at the centre of many of these problems and some countries try to overcome them by providing basic education about health and hygiene. They also advise on family planning, since overpopulation is still a huge problem in developing countries with birth rates many times higher than those in the West.
And the Future ...
Medicine by the twenty-first century has achieved miracles, but despite this, or even because of this, society is faced with new health problems. In many cases, the answer is prevention rather than drugs. For example, the only long-term cure for heart disease and cancer is to prevent them!
People are becoming more aware of the connections between a high-fat diet and heart disease, between smoking and lung cancer. Many of the diseases we suffer from can be grouped under the term "lifestyle diseases." Modern medicine alone cannot promise good health. A healthy lifestyle is a major factor in helping to prevent disease.
Tasks and Activities
- Make a list of the "new" problems/illnesses that people in the western world face today.
- Can you explain why life expectancy has increased in the last fifty years?
- How does AIDS spread?
- How can cancer be treated?
- What is the situation today regarding health and diseases in developing countries?
- Which diseases cause death and suffering for people in these countries?
- What is meant by "lifestyle" diseases?
- What is meant by a healthy lifestyle? In groups, note down at least 10 points which you think are important for a healthy lifestyle and then compare and discuss your notes with another group.
- How has society's approach to health changed in recent years?
- Do you think that young people are more active today than 50 years ago? Give examples to support your opinion.