The world made several big strides against major diseases that afflict the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people in 2015. Gains were made against polio and malaria, and the Ebola outbreak was stopped in its tracks. While the war against deadly diseases will be a long one, there were victories to celebrate.
Ebola outbreak at an end
Last week, the World Health Organization reported no new cases of Ebola in all of West Africa. If this status can be maintained until Jan. 14, the whole region will be deemed Ebola free. The little-understood disease broke out across West Africa in the spring of 2014 and killed more than 11,300 people.
This summer, NPR reported on a new Ebola vaccine that one study estimated to be 100 percent effective. “The current data basically tells us that the vaccine works to protect people against Ebola,” said Dr. Bertrand Draguez, the medical director of Médecins Sans Frontières.
The three most affected countries have all made great strides. Guinea has now gone 30 days without a new case of Ebola and will be declared free of the disease on Dec. 28. With luck, Liberia will follow in January. Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free on Nov. 7.
To celebrate Sierra Leone's Ebola free status, rapper Block Jones created a joyful song called "Bye Bye Ebola." The video even features a cameo by Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma.
Africa is polio free
Nigeria was declared polio-free this year, which means so was the rest of Africa, according to the Wall Street Journal. It was a big step to defeat a disease that paralyzes children for life but can be prevented with a vaccine that costs as little as 50 cents.
Polio is only active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, NBC News reported. “Eradicating polio will be one of the greatest achievements in human history,” the World Health Organization said in a statement.
There are three strains of the polio virus, each with a slightly different structure. All three can be prevented by a vaccine that was first developed in the 1950s and can even be administered orally, but multiple doses are required for it to be effective.
Type 3 polio has likely been defeated forever, according to the New York Times. Three years have passed since a case of type 3 polio has been detected in the world. Type 2 hasn’t been seen since 1999, and only type 1 remains.
Malaria on the ropes
Malaria killed fewer than half a million people in the past year, down from more than 800,000 in 2000, reported Reuters last week. Many countries are approaching elimination of malaria entirely, with Swaziland leading the way this year, reporting only 603 cases in 2015. A century ago, malaria was endemic to almost every country on Earth and killed millions of people every year.
Director of Malaria No More James Whiting likened the elimination of malaria to “our generation’s moon landing” in an op-ed for The Huffington Post. “Our ambition to eradicate malaria will not only save countless lives, it will also make a significant contribution to creating a more prosperous and secure world for us all. As malaria is defeated, trillions of dollars would be created in economic output.”
Even in Africa, where malaria has historically done the most damage, deaths from malaria have dropped by 66 percent since 2000 and by 71 percent among children under 5. Bed nets that keep mosquitos from biting at night, along with insecticide spraying, have brought this disease under control over the past 14 years.