Never before have so many humans enjoyed longer and healthier lives. Across the world, even in some of the poorest countries, deaths from most infectious diseases are declining precipitously, while every region is seeing increased longevity. The data are resoundingly clear:
As The Economist reported, progress in global public health has been as rapid as it is substantive:
Worldwide, an average girl can expect to live to 75 and a boy to 69, gaining seven years apiece. Life expectancy has risen in virtually every country, bar a handful that are blighted by war or disease, and the global mortality rate has plummeted by 28%. The reduction is in part due to tackling maternal and newborn health and infectious diseases, which accounted for a third of deaths in 1990. By 2015 this had fallen to 20%, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the Lancet. Since 2005 alone, deaths from both HIV/AIDS and malaria have been reduced by 40%, and maternal mortality by 30%.
Lifestyle-related diseases are a growing problem; seven out of ten people now die from some form of heart disease, stroke, dementia, or cancer. But in a rather morbid way, this reflects progress: we have eliminated most of the communicable diseases that used to kill us long before we would grow old enough for our hearts and minds to give out (one of the greatests risk factors for heart disease and most cancers is old age). More and more members of our species, once mired in abject poverty and starvation, now struggle with an abundance of calories and conveniences, which account for much of the rapid growth in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
No doubt we will have to work hard to surmount these new and unprecedented global health problems, but given how far we’ve come in vanquishing dozens of previously common diseases, I’m confident we will figure it out. Fortunately, our track record thus far has been encouraging.