Medicine and health
How healthy is the world's population today? Has world health improved as a result of the amazing technical advances of modern medicine and pharmacology? Are industrialized and developing countries drawing equal benefit from progress in medical science? Do all peoples attach the same importance to health problems? Do doctors have the same perceptions of health and disease as their patients? Some answers to these and other related questions are suggested by the contributors to this issue of The UNESCO Courier.
While many infectious diseases can now be controlled by immunization, or have been completely eradicated as in the case of smallpox, new diseases and pathological conditions have arisen, often associated with malnutrition and insanitary conditions, as well as with hitherto unknown viral strains such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which today represents an unprecedented challenge to international public health. Even increased life expectancy through improved health care creates a need for costly treatment of degenerative conditions.
Apluralistic approach to medicine and appropriate care for the individual, with consideration given to psychological and social factors as well as to biological problems, may be the only way ahead for medicine if everyone is to benefit from its new technology. In China, for example, the condition of the entire body is taken into account when treating cancer with a combination of traditional medicine, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
The concept of preventive medicine, gaining ground everywhere and especially in developing countries, is basically linked to local systems of primary health care, the family and community support, which can take some of the burden from overstretched medical services, as would a more rational use ofpharmaceutical products.
What does the future hold? Will cures for all human ills eventually be available, limited only by economic resources? Perhaps, but breakthroughs in biotechnology, neurology, genetic medicine, research into new vaccines, advanced therapies such as molecular, micro, or "spare-part" surgery, and all other aspects of"hi-tech" medicine, are only part of tomorrow's medicine. Twenty-first century health care should continue to be based on prevention of disease and on meeting basic human needs for nutrition, hygiene, shelter and education.
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