“Over 95% of the world’s population has health problems” said an e-mail I received from The Lancet this morning. The reference was to this newly published paper, which includes the following among its findings:
A wide array of disease and injury sequelae affects the world’s population. Globally, only 4.3% of the population had no burden of disease or injury sequelae in 2013, up slightly from 4.2% in 1990. There were 59 diseases and injuries with a global prevalence of greater than 1%, but each caused little disability. These disorders comprised various causes of mild to moderate vision impairment, hearing loss, soil-transmitted helminths, mild anaemia, caries, and many others.
One of the problems with health care today is the way we report information about it. Over the past 30 years, as we have become better and better at accumulating information about the state of health and disease around the world, we have become worse and worse and placing this information in context.
So let me be very clear … In a world with a population heading rapidly toward 7.5 billion people, in which most of us are living a good deal longer than our great grandparents, it should come as no real surprise that very, very few of us are 100% healthy. And if you want to get a real feel for just how fast we are heading towards that $7.5 billion people on the planet, have a look at the World Population Clock!
If you are over 40, you are inherently unlikely to be 100% healthy (because you are getting older).
If you are a baby or an infant, you are inherently unlikely to be 100% healthy (because exposure to infections is a key component of the development of an effective immune system.)
If you live in most of Africa, much of Central or South America, and large parts of the Middle East and the Far East, you are inherently unlikely to be 100% healthy (because you are probably relatively poor and are exposed to health risks the average American just doesn’t have to deal with at all).
If you live in parts of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places around the world (including parts of America) you are inherently unlikely to be 100% healthy (because you may get shot at or blown up on a regular basis; and that’s very stressful, even if you never get hit!)
But … Humans have been surviving health stresses like this for several million years now. And we’ve only had access to antibiotics for the last 100 of those years!
We obsess with the quality of our health. We assume that if we have perfect health we will be perfectly happy. We think that if we track every epidemiological comma and semi-colon, this will help us to “improve global health”. We agonize over the incidence of mild anemia while failing to completely stamp out polio and ebola.
Time to take a step back and think again … Sickness is a normal part of health. Those who are never sick are actually at very high risk for disorders they can’t cope with. That’s precisely why we give people vaccinations … to induce mild forms of diseases that we then have the preparedness to fight off if and when we need to. It is why it is good to expose ourselves to controlled levels of stress … so that we have the knowledge to deal with higher and less controllable levels of stress when we have to.
A “disorder” is not necessarily an illness. If we want to be able to live successfully with 8 billion people on Planet Earth (currently scheduled for c. 2020), we’d better start to work out that our “health” is not the priority. Our priority needs to be the relative quality of everyone’s lives!
Oh … right … the “dying” part … Sorry folks, its the only absolute certainty that I am aware of that comes after you were born. It’s already happened to Mohammed, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Confucius, Lao Tzu, several Dali Llamas, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Elvis Presley, and most of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine!