A WORLD VIEW
Despite living in a time of the greatest advances in medicine and science, much of the world’s population continues to be sick and/or unhealthy, according to a noted health care expert.
Dr. Susan J. Blumenthal, retired rear admiral and former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, made it clear that much needs to be done to create a healthier world.
“I think this is the moonshot of this generation,” Blumenthal told a Bucknell University audience last week.
Blumenthal, a senior fellow in Health Policy at the New America Foundation, was referencing former President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to America in the early 1960s to send a man to the moon before the decade ended.
She said she’s optimistic that health care’s many problems can be solved if everyone works together.
She called it a global action agenda.
“Be a health advocate,” she told those in attendance.
Chronic illnesses and infectious diseases are taking far too many lives worldwide.
And in the U.S., which spends twice as much on health care than any other nation, the mortality rate ranks far down the list in comparison to other developed nations.
She cited numerous statistics supporting her claim that the nation and the world at large are not addressing the health care problem.
Blumenthal referred to the obesity rate, which continues to increase among adults and children, and is among the leading causes of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses.
Twenty-seven percent of 17 to 24-year-olds are too heavy to serve in the U.S. military.
“One third of all children born today will develop Type II Diabetes,” she said.
She noted that the food intake among most Americans has increased at the same time physical activity has decreased.
Behavior change, she said, is a key component to a person’s health status.
“Chronic diseases, she added, are manageable.
Blumenthal also noted the connection between income status and health.
The poor often die earlier than their wealthier counterparts as a result of lack of access to health care.
“Poverty is a carcinogen,” she said.
So many parts of the world don’t have clean water, a major culprit of the spread of diseases in Third World countries.
Changes with regard to the Earth’s climate and growing and more interconnected populations are also impacting the world and its health.
Blumenthal called air pollution the single biggest environmental risk.
Throughout time, infectious diseases have been the biggest killers of mankind, claiming more lives than wars.
In fact, 1,500 people die every hour from infectious diseases, she said.
Unfortunately, more infectious diseases emerge annually.
“Are we prepared for a pandemic? No,” she said.
She called for new investments in research to come up with vaccines that can prevent and stop the spread of diseases.
But not all is doom and gloom.
A little over 30 years ago, AIDS emerged as an infectious disease, and while it has claimed many millions of lives, incredible advancements have been made in fighting the disease.
“We can be the first generation that lives without AIDS, but there’s always a new challenge,” she said.
Blumenthal cited other positive strides in medicine.
For example, life expectancy has increased, deaths from heart disease and cancer have gone down, if slightly, and the computer age has helped revolutionize medicine.
Enhanced imaging is uncovering medical problems as never before, and robotics are helping change the scope of health care.
Unfortunately, U.S. research dollars for medicine have decreased.
“Nations are at a crossroads,” she said. “Health care is a concern for all countries.”
The challenge for everyone, Blumenthal added, is to find ways to ensure everyone has access to health care.
It means creating a new vision and better education.
“We need a dialogue,” she said.