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Fighting Disease:
Health At The End Of The Millennium
Another Wired Curriculum from The United Nations CyberSchoolBus

1 Introduction
2 How They Work
3 How They Spread
4 Poverty and Disease
5 Prevention
6 Immunization

Unit 5
Treatment and Prevention

(GRADES 5-7)

People are living much longer lives than ever before. For thousands of years, human beings rarely lived past the age of 30. At the turn of the century, the average age at death of people living in industrialized countries was around 40; throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America it was slightly over 25.

Table 1
Life expectancy at birth (years)

Industrialized countries7077
Developing countries4761
Least developed countries4051
Since then, people's life expectancies (see Table 1) have risen significantly. Around the world, men are, on average, expected to see their 63rd year of life and women their 67th. Just since 1960, our lives have grown 12 years longer! In other words, people are generally living healthier lives in better social conditions. This is directly related to the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

When children are protected from childhood diseases, they grow older and become productive members of society. In addition, adults who may have been debilitated by diseases such as malaria can now be protected and also be productive. The society then has a greater chance of prospering and, consequently, providing its citizens with better social conditions. Better social conditions - such as sanitation and proper health care - lead to better health and so on. Improving health leads to an upward spiral of improved social conditions.

The spread of infectious diseases has been controlled in a number of ways. Through international cooperation more and more children worldwide are being protected by vaccines. Educational efforts are informing greater numbers of people about the proper ways to deal with infections. The growing use of low-cost interventions like Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) help save children's lives. Access to safe drinking water is increasing. The insect vectors that are responsible for diseases such as malaria have in many places been brought under control. Public health systems have helped many countries monitor and treat infections so that they are stopped before spreading.

International organizations can now mobilize quickly once they are informed of an outbreak, such as happened with the Ebola cases in Kikwit, Zaire. Finally, breakthroughs in science and medicine have helped us understand and treat infections more effectively.

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