Immunization has saved around 9 million lives a year worldwide two centuries after English physician Edward Jenner discovered the vaccine. Another 16 million lives a year could be saved if effective vaccines were deployed against all potentially vaccine-preventable diseases.
So far vaccines have eliminated smallpox, saving approximately 5 million lives a year. In the last five years, over 80% of children worldwide have been immunized against the polio virus, and the annual number of deaths has been reduced by hundreds of thousands.
Another possible eradication candidate is measles, currently killing 1.1 million children annually. A lot has been achieved in this direction in the last five years, such as high levels of routine immunization followed by close monitoring.
Vaccines have brought a total of seven severe diseases under control to some extent – smallpox, tetanus, diphtheria, yellow fever, polio, whooping cough, and measles
Most of the vaccines we are currently using have been available for tens of years, but protection been extended to many children in developing countries in the past five.
According to data of the UN, 223,000 deaths from diphtheria, 990,000 from whooping cough, 2.7 million from measles, and 1.2 million from neonatal tetanus have been prevented so far thanks to vaccination.
Unfortunately, progress with other deadly diseases, such as Ebola and Alzheimer’s, has been slower. Symptoms of Ebola include fever, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and bleeding. It can be treated, but not prevented. Vaccines against a few other hemorrhagic fevers, such as jaundice, are available. What makes Ebola so difficult to cure is the fact that doctors don’t know the location and identity of its natural reservoir.
Alzheimer’s disease is a common type of dementia that involves progressive degeneration of the brain’s memory functions. At the moment, three cholinesterase inhibitors are available to improve memory and postpone disease progression. According to experts, a cure may be found in the very near future. However, this cure is more likely to be related to delaying the onset of the disease rather than repairing the damage by growing new brain cells. Still, doctors are optimistic about the research. Reportedly, it’s moving so fast that new target drugs are emerging on a daily basis.
Alzheimer’s is hard to cure because researchers still don’t know what the origin and cause of the disease is.
In sum, we can say a lot of progress has been made to cure severe diseases in the past five years, and it’ll be even bigger in the next five.