Science Rocks

Science Week – Modern Medicine

ScienceDay two of my science extravaganza is here and I’m going to talk about modern, western medicine. The reason I think this topic is important is because of how it has affected all our lives. I do not think modern medicine is perfect and some alternative choices have merit but I’m a major proponent of research and modern cures.

I’m going to start it off with a description of a diabetic ward in 1912 Canada. Dr. Frederick Banting, his student Charles Best, and biochemist James Collip used newly purified insulin for the first time. If you can read this and complain about modern medicine … well … I have no words for you.

Children dying from diabetic ketoacidosis were kept in large wards, often with 50 or more patients in a ward, mostly comatose. Grieving family members were often in attendance, awaiting the (until then, inevitable) death.

In one of medicine’s more dramatic moments, Banting, Best, and Collip went from bed to bed, injecting an entire ward with the new purified extract. Before they had reached the last dying child, the first few were awakening from their coma, to the joyous exclamations of their families.

Now I’ll go onto some statistics.

  • In the 18th century Smallpox killed an estimated 400,000 people a year. Today it is eradicated. Thank you, Vaccine Act of 1813 and Louis Pasteur.
  • Maternal death rate was historically around 1%. In modern, western countries it is now around .024%. That’s about 976 more mothers alive per 100,000 births. Thank you, Ignaz Semmelweis and Lawson Tait.
  • In 1952 58,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States resulting in 3,000 deaths and 21,000 cases of mild to disabling paralysis. In 1994 the Americas were declared Polio free. Thank you, World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation.
  • Whooping Cough effects 48 million people worldwide and kills 295,00 people a year. In the 1940 it was reduced to 1 case in 100,000 in the U.S but declining vaccination has produced an increase in cases. Whooping Cough vaccine doesn’t last a lifetime and must be retaken. Recent negative publicity has caused a drop of vaccination rates. Whooping Cough is highly contagious. If a child at your daycare gets it because they aren’t vaccinated you are at risk.
  • Dental disease was a common killer prior to modern dentistry. It’s not easy to find exact statistics because dental disease often led to death in other ways. Diseases of the teeth quickly spread to the heart. With modern dentistry many lives are saved. Thank you, Pierre Fauchard.
  • My sister is cancer free thanks to Trastuzumab, thank you Axel Ullrich and H. Michael Shepard.

As I said at the beginning of the article I’m not completely against non-western medicine where it is shown to be effective. There is some evidence that Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and Massage Therapy can be effective. However, there are tremendous dangers to alternate medicine. Because it’s efficacy is largely unproven it leads to practitioners who are unregulated and prey on ill people desperate for a cure. It is particularly dangerous when used as a substitute, rather than a complement, to regular care.

I don’t really want to get into that debate. What I will say is that the odds are strong that you know someone who is alive and well because of modern, western medicine.

So thank you to all the researchers, assistants, technicians and the rest who are out there who are trying to find cures. Keep up this important work!

Comment, Like, Tweet, Stumble, Digg, or otherwise share if you want to say thank you as well!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist