The World May No Longer Know These 4 Deadly Diseases By 2030
In all of human history, we’ve only ever been able to completely wipe out one disease: smallpox. Declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980, smallpox was cleared from the face of the Earth following an aggressive global immunization campaign.
The annual letter by Bill and Melinda Gates was recently published, and it includes some predictions for the future primarily in the way of public health.
The letter ambitiously hopes and predicts that the world will have eradicated four diseases from the Earth in the next 15 years, thanks in part to vaccines and drugs becoming more readily accessible with time.
The letter isn’t specific on which four diseases those will be, although it strongly predicts polio and Guinea worm as being two of the four. Other possible candidates for the remaining two include elephantiasis, river blindness and blinding trachoma.
“The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent,” the Gates letter states. “We can get polio out of Africa this year and out of every country in the world in the next several years.”
A Clean Slate
Polio (short for poiliomyelitis) is caused by a virus that invades the nervous system, resulting in fever, headaches, limb pain and paralysis in some cases. While there is no cure, there is a vaccine to prevent the disease.
Three countries remain polio-endemic today – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – with the disease common and sustained. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention additionally reported that there were scattered cases in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Syria in 2014 for a total of 350 cases worldwide.
Since 1998, the incidence of polio has been down by more than 99 percent, according to WHO. And with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the dream of global eradication of polio may be within easy grasp.
The Gates letter also specifically targets Guinea worm, stating, “Guinea worm, an incredibly painful disease whose sufferers spend months incapacitated while worms that can be several feel long burst out of their legs, will also be gone soon, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center.”
The Carter Center Guinea worm eradication program has existed since 1986.
The disease is caused by the roundworm Dracunculus medinisis which is contracted when the victim drinks stagnant, contaminated water. Once consumed, the Guinea worm can remain inside the victim’s body for up to a year and grow to be several feet long.
One method that can be used to remove Guinea worm from the body is to slowly draw it out (once it emerges from the body) by wrapping it around a stick.
The painful and bizarre disease is luckily on track to be the second disease to be eradicated after smallpox according to public health experts.
Since the disease is easily diagnosed and can be controlled with simple interventions like clean-water campaigns, the WHO identifies it as an eradicable disease. In 2014, only 126 cases were reported worldwide. Country by country, it is disappearing – on January 15, Ghana became the latest country to be declared Guinea worm free.
“Life will get better, faster, because the number of innovations reaching the poor will be greater than ever before,” concludes the letter on the topic.
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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.