5 Diseases Close to Being Cured
Vaccines play a vital role in eliminating diseases and prevention is often said to be better than a cure. While vaccines for some of the deadliest diseases on the planet still don’t exist, here are five that are being developed that could make a huge difference to people’s health worldwide.
Although treatment drugs, such as antiretrovirals, have seen great advances and price drops since the 1990s, and prevention campaigns have had broad success, there is still no vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
HIV is particularly tricky to catch as it has developed ways to evade the body’s defense mechanisms, meaning the traditional vaccine approach just won’t work. Scientists are therefore getting more creative in their work to make an effective vaccine.
Bill Gates recently announced that malaria will be his next target for disease eradication once polio has been dealt with. It should come as no surprise then that a malaria vaccine could be right around the corner, which is great news for the 207 million people infected by this disease every year.
The most promising candidate, and the one closest to market, is the RTS,S vaccine. In recent trials published in 2014, the vaccine was found to be 46 percent effective, when used with other interventions, such as insecticide treated bed-nets.
The BCG vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) is more than 90 years old by now. Although it protects against some of the most deadly forms of tuberculosis, it does not work well against pulmonary (lung based) TB, which is the most infectious form of the disease and accounts for most of the disease burden worldwide. When 1.4 million people are still dying of the disease every year, and cases of antibiotic resistant TB are rising, the need for a new vaccine has been growing stronger.
Luckily recent trial suggests that one new vaccine may fit the bill, by promoting better immunity to TB in mice, which could prove helpful in addressing this need for protection.
Ebola emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, it has involved relatively small numbers of cases in Central and West Africa, remerging throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In light of the recent epidemic, questions are now being asked about why, 28 years after the first outbreak, there is still no vaccine available. But with the impetus now there, trials are being fast-tracked and currently are taking place in UK, Mali and Switzerland.
Vaccines against cancer? Remarkably, they’re already in use, with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helping reduce incidence of cervical cancer across the world and the hepatitis B vaccine targeting a major cause of liver cancer. But scientists want to go further.
Vaccines are now also being developed for infectious causes of stomach cancer and a type of liver cancer (hepatitis C), both of which could be useful preventative tools globally. Vaccines are also being targeted at other types of cancer, and a recent intervention that helps the body fight off cancerous cells involved in up to 80 percent of breast cancers has recently done well in a small trial in the U.S.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.