Fighting Disease, Thinking Differently

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June 2, 2012 Blog Leave a comment

One of the most popular subjects to be taken on by TED thinkers is the eradication of disease. AIDS, polio, malaria, smallpox, TB, all sorts of STIs – the concepts of tracking, treating, and fighting these ailments (and others) have been taken on by some of the brightest minds in the world. And while it’s never an easy task, especially in today’s unstable geopolitical climate, with an ever-increasing population and natural resources being stretched further, there are some bright lights shining hopefully through the cloud.

Our methods of tracking disease are evolving constantly with technological progress – causing revolutions in the way we think about tackling it.

Ever-popular TED favourite Hans Rosling works his data visualisation magic again in his short 2009 talk to deconstruct the myths surrounding the spread of HIV infection throughout the world. He argues for a more respectful, mindful standpoint – we shouldn’t categorize the whole of Africa as having a high infection rate, because it’s comprised of a variety of disparate countries, economies and cultures. What is is that correlates with the high spread of the virus? Is it war and violence? The war-torn Congo has a much lower rate than peaceful Zambia. Is it poverty? On a wider scale it appears to be the opposite  - the wealthier the country, the higher the spread of HIV. Simplistic thinking won’t help us eradicating the disease, but unfortunately, it’s better at making its way into public policy than the real facts.

Canadian epidemiologist Bruce Aylward is a leader in the worldwide fight against polio, laying out his roadmap in a talk delivered to TED2011 in California. In it, he outlines a plan to stamp out the small scattering of polio cases across the world, changing it from almost eradicated to eradicated.

Malaria is another disease under the microscope in Bill Gates’ talk exploring how we stop a deadly disease spread by mosquitoes (involving his infamously provocative opening of a jar of them to a nervous audience – it’s worth seeing). His work on fighting and preventing a large number of infectious diseases through the Global Health programme of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is extensive -work which is further promoted by his partner Melinda’s TED talk  on the power of effective contraception.

In another post I’ll be writing about health and medicine from an individual standpoint – the collaboration between consumer technology and health/medicine treatment for individuals, both in the developing world and the Global North. The worldwide strive for better healthcare for all is one of TED’s key ideals, and is a topic you can dive into for hours. Here’s a good place to start.

- Michael Metcalf

Michael Metcalf

Editor and Head of Media for TEDxSalford / Reluctant Optimist / Explorer of All Things Manchester

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