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Halcyon's 52:52:52 campaign on this site and on Twitter will start in mid 2020. It will help you address 52 issues with 52 responses over 52 weeks.

Part consultancy, part thinktank, part social enterprise, Halcyon helps you prepare for and respond to personal, organisational and societal change.

A Mundane Comedy is Halcyon's new book. Extracts will appear on this site and on social media during late 2020. Please get in touch with any questions about the book or related Halcyon services.

Halcyon monitors change for more than 150 key elements of life.

See here for Halcyon's regular roundup of key developments concerning the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What's Changing? - Health

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Please see below selected recent health-related change. This page includes general updates on mental health, but please see Halcyon's pages on anxiety, depression and therapy for more detailed content on those elements.

 

See also:

 

In figures:

 

July 2020

  • McKinsey warned that, despite the progress of the past century, in a typical year, poor health and health inequity continue to limit economic prosperity. This plays out in two ways. First, premature deaths limit growth by reducing the size of the potential labour force. Over 17 million people lost their lives prematurely in 2017. Second, poor health or morbidity makes it hard for those suffering from health conditions to be economically active and realise their full productive potential. For example, a total of 580 million person-years was lost to poor health among those aged 15 and 64 in 2017, leading them to be absent from work or quit employment altogether.
  • The World Health Organisation appointed a committee to evaluate the global response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the WHO's own handling of the pandemic. The move came at a critical time for the global public health body, which had come under fire from President Trump for being too cozy with China. The WHO denied that the review had anything to do with pressure from the US, but the question is whether a panel appointed by WHO member states will be powerful enough to conduct a credible probe, noted GZEROMedia.
  • In Prioritizing health: A prescription for prosperity, McKinsey measured the potential to reduce the burden of disease globally through the application of proven interventions across the human lifespan over two decades. By intervention, McKinsey means actions aimed at improving the health of an individual. These range from public sanitation programs to surgical procedures and adherence to medication and encompass interventions recommended by leading institutions like the World Health Organisation or national medical associations, as well as the potential to reduce the disease burden from innovations over the same period.
  • In Mental Health Strategies That Work and Don’t Work, authors Katie Ledger and Alan Watkins argued that mental health is rooted in physiological and emotional regulation. Many people use the term mental health incorrectly, because most of the problems that fall under the mental health label - such as anxiety or depression - occur in people who have perfectly normal cognition. Their problems aren’t mental. They stem from an inability to regulate emotions. Most children learn some degree of emotional regulation around age three to four, but development often stops there.
  • 20% is the estimated share of Americans who suffer from a mental health condition. Of these, people, about 43% received treatment for their condition in 2018.
  • At least 5.4 million Americans lost their health insurance between February and May 2020 because coverage was linked to jobs that they lost. That's a 40 percent increase in uninsured workers from the previous high a decade ago when 3.8 American adults were stripped of their health insurance during the 2008-2009 recession.

 

June 2020

  • Public health signs will most likely be prominent in people's lives for the foreseeable future - and prominent is exactly what they need to be. Quartz analysed the careful thought that goes into signs that could actually change people’s behaviour.
  • With three fifths of employees experiencing mental health issues related to work, business leaders have acknowledged that the wellbeing of their staff is at least partly their responsibility. But, while there has been some improvement in the amount of support offered to workers, more needs to be done.
  • The World Health Organisation warned that because health systems in developing countries have been overwhelmed by COVID-19, many women are at greater risk of dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Lack of access to critical medical care could result in increased infant and child mortality rates, too, the group has said. Even before the pandemic, millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America struggled to access safe, affordable, and timely sexual and reproductive healthcare, with 94 percent of all maternal mortalities occurring in low income countries. Maternal and newborn deaths are now expected to skyrocket in remote and poor areas, far outpacing deaths from COVID-19 itself.
  • IBM is coordinating an effort to use supercomputers to combat COVID-19, As part of the newly launched COVID-19 High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium. It represents the blend of computers and biology: they’ll be using powerful computers to do high volumes of calculations and speed up understanding of COVID-19, including viral interaction, viral structure and drug repurposing.
  • Technology in healthcare is increasingly becoming big business. According to a recent report from Markets and Markets, the global healthcare IT market is projected to reach $280.25 billion by 2021, up from $134.25 billion in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate of 15.9 per cent. It’s not surprising that some of the world’s biggest IT players are turning their attention to this rapidly expanding field. Big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things all have clear applications in the world of healthcare, and the major players are getting in on the act.

 

May 2020

  • As the world's health systems divert most of their attention to coronavirus, as many as 28 million elective surgeries could end up postponed, according to a new University of Birmingham study. While most are for benign conditions, more than 2 million are for cancer.
  • The World Health Organisation estimated that since early March 2020 there had been 159,000 more deaths in Europe than is normal for this time period. The excess deaths include those known to have died from COVID-19, as well as people who may have struggled to get medical treatment because of the overwhelmed state of hospitals.
  • Lots of companies were already working on biometric scanning and identification systems before the pandemic. Amazon was granted a patent technology that enabled its Alexa devices to determine your emotional state and whether you’re sick (if you cough, sniffle or mention you’re not feeling well.) Walmart filed a patent for a biometric shopping cart handle that would let it better determine if you were ill, based on your temperature or heart rate. As Covid-19 cases have spread, there has been increased investment to develop and deploy biometric scanning technologies, noted Future Today Institute.

 

April 2020

  • Cuba has 8.2 doctors per 1,000 people, by far the highest rate of any country in the world. For decades the Cuban regime has sent them abroad to earn cash and win hearts and minds. In early 2020, hundreds of Cuban doctors have fanned out across the world to help other countries fight the coronavirus.
  • An April 2020 edition of UK-based women’s magazine Grazia featured healthcare workers on the covers. Replacing its usual celebrity cover stars were doctors, nurses, and paramedics from the National Health Service, fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines. The four covers showcased an anesthetist and intensive care doctor, an emergency physician, a paramedic and a senior staff nurse in an emergency department.

 

March 2020 

  • Predicting the coronavirus outbreak: How AI connects the dots to warn about disease threats: Canadian artificial intelligence firm BlueDot was able to warn about the new coronavirus days ahead of the official alerts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation. The company was able to do this by tapping different sources of information beyond official statistics about the number of cases reported. BlueDot’s AI algorithm, a type of computer program that improves as it processes more data, brings together news stories in dozens of languages, reports from plant and animal disease tracking networks and airline ticketing data. The result is an algorithm that’s better at simulating disease spread than algorithms that rely on public health data – better enough to be able to predict outbreaks. 
  • New research highlighted how AI can accurately detect breast cancerstudy undertaken by researchers from Google, Imperial College London and Northwestern University, which showcased the ability of AI to accurately detect breast cancer in mammography images. The system, which was trained on images from around 29,000 mammograms, was able to accurately identify cancer with a similar degree of accuracy to experienced radiologists.
  • Key information sources on coronavirus:

 

January 2020

  • AI is better than doctors at reading mammograms. A new study found that an algorithm outperformed six radiologists in detecting breast cancer.
  • The world will need 18 million more health workers by 2030. That’s based on new data from the World Health Organisation.
  • A study found evidence that childhood exposure to significant traffic-related air pollution, or TRAP, is linked with structural changes in the brain. Conducted by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre, the study discovered that children who were exposed to higher levels of TRAP during their first year of life had reductions in their grey matter volume. That includes in the cerebellum. They also had reductions in cortical thickness at age 12 relative to their peers. Gray matter includes areas of the brain that are involved in sensory perception and motor control. Cerebellar abnormalities, according to the researchers, are "consistently associated with numerous mental health disorders including anxiety, ADHD, ASD, and schizophrenia.

 

December 2019

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) – the United Nations' top public health body – released a list of the most pressing global health challenges that will shape the coming decade. Chief among them, according to WHO, is the climate crisis: Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people every year, while climate change causes more extreme weather events, exacerbates malnutrition and fuels the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria. Delivering healthcare in conflict zones and investing in healthcare workers and resources are also listed as health challenges worthy of greater public attention. 

 

November 2019

 

October 2019

  • An ever growing number of people are being treated for mental illness. Some blame the modern world, yet critics warn that psychiatrists and big pharma have an interest in describing normal, even essential, human behaviour as an illness or disorder and suggest that we should be sceptical of claims that 25% of the population suffer from mental illness each year.
  • Despite the fact that over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year (US$16.8 billion in employee productivity), mental health largely remains a taboo subject. The majority of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status.
  • The world is getting older. By 2030, the population that is over the age of 65 will rise by nearly 40 percent. By 2050, it will more than double. How can healthcare systems manage a big uptick in chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer's without going broke? Is immigration the answer? Or robots? These are just a few of the questions the next generation of political leaders will have to grapple with as our populations get older.

 

September 2019

  • A report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (a joint body of the World Bank Group and the World Health Organisation) warned that the world is facing an uptick in infectious disease outbreaks that are increasingly difficult to control. Between 2011 and 2018, WHO tracked 1,483 separate epidemic events – diseases that spread to a large number of people in a specific population within a rapid timeframe – in 172 countries. In addition to the human cost, epidemic events devastate economies.
  • Obesity is the leading cause of death in America, costing the health care system $1.72 trillion, leading some to call for fat shaming as a means of transforming the lethargic mindset about obesity. 
  • 19 years after the World Health Organisation declared the country free of the disease, the Philippines has declared a polio outbreak, an illness that primarily affects children. (The country has also grappled with a range of epidemics, including measles and dengue fever, as vaccination rates there continue to plummet.)

 

July 2019

  • Soon, we might fight cancer with better food: Researchers are presenting a machine learning model for identifying ‘cancer-beating’ bioactive molecules in foods. The model predicted anti-cancer therapeutics with classification accuracy of 84–90%. Researchers used their findings to construct a ‘food map’ with anti-cancer potential of each ingredient defined by the number of cancer-beating molecules they contain. 
  • Lack of knowledge, discrimination and stigma are often the biggest obstacles to seeking, or providing, care to people with mental health issues and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been systemically addressing the problem with its Mental Health Action Plan since 2013, striving to bolster productive leadership for global mental health, improve information systems and provide comprehensive mental health services in community settings. This is particularly important in developing countries where the combination of poverty, myth and ritual often mean so many people suffer in silence without accessing treatment. Up to 85% of people with severe mental health issues receive no treatment in low and middle-income countries, according to WHO.
  • Malaria has been eliminated from Algeria and Argentina, an important milestone in fighting the mosquito-borne disease, revealed the World Health Organisation, adding that there were now 38 countries and territories that have been declared free of the disease, which had been making a comeback globally. 

 

June 2019

  • The world’s poorest countries are paying some of the highest drug prices, with everyday medicines costing up to 30 times more than in rich nations The Washington-based Center for Global Development examined billions of dollars in spending by developing countries, concluding that low- and middle-income countries were paying 20 or 30 times more for medicines such as omeprazole, for heartburn, or paracetamol, a common pain reliever, found the Financial Times.
  • The World Health Organisation warned that the world has entered a new phase in which big outbreaks of deadly diseases like Ebola have become a new normal. The announcement came after the Democratic Republic of Congo faced the second largest outbreak ever of the Ebola virus and just a few years after the largest was brought to an end.
  • The first cooking school for cancer patients, Life Kitchen, opened in the UK. One side effect of chemotherapy is altered taste: cancer patients often find that their sense of taste changes significantly, or may even temporarily disappear. The Life Kitchen’s three-hour classes teach attendees how to cook meals that are designed to be more enjoyable for those with an altered sense of taste. 

 

May 2019

  • Raconteur warned that there are large disparities in how governments around the world address mental health services, but a number of initiatives are prompting conversations and raising public awareness. Lack of knowledge, discrimination and stigma are often the biggest obstacles to seeking, or providing, care and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been systemically addressing the problem with its Mental Health Action Plan since 2013, striving to bolster productive leadership for global mental health, improve information systems and provide comprehensive mental health services in community settings. This is particularly important in developing countries where the combination of poverty, myth and ritual often mean so many people suffer in silence without accessing treatment. Up to 85% with severe mental health issues receive no treatment in low and middle-income countries, according to WHO.
  • The proportion of elderly people in developed economies will continue to swell as life expectancies rise, but the impact this will have on health services will be unprecedented. Healthcare spending per capita rises sharply in older age as the number of people with more than one health condition (known as multiple comorbidities) expands.
  • Popular Science warned that recent measles outbreaks are a harbinger of doom and that governments need to step in before deadlier diseases take advantage of a drop in vaccinations. 2019 was the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994. All over the world, in fact, places that had previously eliminated or drastically reduced these kinds of outbreaks are seeing flashes of the potentially-deadly virus.
  • Today the average lifespan of a person with Down syndrome is approximately 60 years. As recently as 1983, the average lifespan of a person with Down syndrome was 25 years. The dramatic increase to 60 years is, exerts in the field, largely due to the end of the practice of institutionalising people with Down syndrome.
  • The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Around 80% of the 1.1 billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of healthcare and hinder economic development.

 

April 2019

  • Malawi began a pilot programme for the world’s first vaccine giving children partial protection from malaria. The RTS,S vaccine, produced by UK pharmaceutical giant GSK, trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite. Meanwhile, a global atlas for malaria, containing better maps - ones that show where the disease is and how it moves around - are revolutionising the fight against malaria, according to Bill Gates.
  • Measles cases reported around the world have quadrupled over the past year to more than 112,000, according to the World Health Organization. Africa has been worst-hit, with cases of the dangerous respiratory illness up eight-fold across the continent. Cases are also rising in the US, Thailand, and other countries with traditionally high levels of vaccination – a trend that a WHO official attributed to online anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, noted GZEROMedia.

 

March 2019

 

February 2019

 

January 2019

 

December 2018

  • A new report from the American Cancer Society found that deaths from cancer have dropped 27% over the last 25 years, with an estimated 2.6 million fewer people dying of the disease. According to the report, the reduction can largely be attributed to a decline in smoking, better detection methods, and treatments of cancer at earlier stages, according to CB Insights.
  • Scientists discovered a breakthrough treatment to fight cancer, and claim the disease will no longer be deadly for future generations. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London believe it is possible to strengthen the body’s defences by transplanting immune cells from strangers. The team now wants to establish “immune banks” to store disease-fighting cells, meaning scientists and doctors could become more like engineers, upgrading the body rather than bombarding it with toxic chemotherapy.
  • Australian researchers claimed in 2018 that they had developed a 10-minute test that's capable of finding cancer cells at any location in the body. If further testing achieves the same results, this accomplishment could be a real breakthrough in fighting cancer. The potential for quick diagnoses could help detect and treat cancer early, potentially helping the outcomes for millions of people. The test works by looking for a unique DNA nanostructure that seems to be common to all types cancers. What's especially remarkable is that the variability of cancers makes finding one simple signature shared by them all very complicated.
  • Raconteur pointed to a vision that "hovers on a distant horizon", in which every citizen will recall their blood pressure and cholesterol levels as easily as their bank card PIN number. Most would have trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation and the location of the nearest life-saving defibrillator machine would be triggered by an emergency call. Drones would fly in medication to beat traffic delays, medical-grade scanning booths could be positioned at supermarkets while condition-tracking sensors would be implanted in our bodies making hospital care an element of health rather than the overbearing and budget-draining norm.
  • Digital health is transforming the way that health care is delivered in many parts of the world, while empowering individuals to more effectively manage their health and navigate an increasingly complex health care system. With increasing number of hospitals implementing digital solutions, digital offerings have improved to more rapidly meet their needs. However, EY warned that costs are rising, physicians are under enormous time pressure, and health consumers are requiring more complex care. Careful thought needs to be given to how to build effective and efficient services. Health businesses should therefore think about digital investments that bring the consumer and physician closer together, building on the trust of that special bond to encourage data sharing.
  • Healthcare platform Ping An Good Doctor unveiled its first staffless medical clinic and  pharmacy. The ‘One-minute Clinics’ include a Smart Medicine Cabinet and Independent Advisory Room. Patients enter the booth to receive a virtual consultation. This is initially via Ping An’s ‘AI Doctor' software, which helps assess a patient’s condition and supports the company’s human physicians’ diagnosis. Patients can then get their prescriptions from the attached Smart Medicine Cabinet vending machine, which stocks over 100 medications; any medicines not in stock can be purchased through the Ping An app and delivered in an hour.
  • It is estimated there are more than 7,000 identified rare diseases, yet only around 400 have licensed treatments. A rare disease is defined as affecting less than 200,000 people, but in some cases it could be as few as one or two families. Therefore, due to the smaller end-market, traditional drug-discovery financing models are often inadequate, noted Raconteur.

 

November 2018

  • Anticipating the most needed drug in the future is a key role of pharmaceutical companies and recent years have seen a big shift in focus to cancer treatments, which are expected to make up almost one fifth of all drug sales by 2024.
  • Diabetes, once a condition that predominantly affected richer nations, is a growing epidemic the world over, warned Raconteur. With the number of people suffering from diabetes expected to increase by a half within three decades, it is estimated that one in ten people worldwide will be living with diabetes by 2045.
  • In 2018, the death of 9,000 chickens on a single farm in northeast China didn’t make global headlines; perhaps it should have. The poultry died from the lethal H7N9 virus. No humans suffered this time, yet this flu kills more than one in three people who catch it; 623 have already died in Asia. The next coughing bird could be incubating a lethal virus that humans could pass on too, warned Raconteur. Like climate change, death and taxes, a global pandemic is a certainty, and with the 100-year anniversary of the Spanish flu making headlines, there’s now a lot more interest in the next large-scale epidemic and what it could look like. In 1918, up to 100 million people died, this time the death toll could be three times as much, more than the population of America.
  • More than 420 million people worldwide have diabetes, four times as many as in 1980, according to the World Health Organisation. But this global figure masks major difference between countries and regions, both in the prevalence and course of the disease, as well as in the problems associated with it. Diabetes prevalence has been rising more rapidly in middle and low-income countries, but some poorer countries have much greater numbers of undiagnosed disease than Europe and America.

 

October 2018

 

September 2018

 

August 2018

 

July 2018

  • For decades, people have heard advice to eat hours before heading off to bed, noted Big Think. Now a new study offers an even more profound piece of evidence as to why an early dinner is essential: it reduces the risk of breast and prostate cancer. The study, conducted at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that those who eat dinner before 8 pm (or at least two hours before bedtime) experience a 20% reduction in the likelihood of developing the types of cancer listed above.
  • Health Divides is an in-depth analysis of how the politics and economics of the place you live in influence your health. It explains why health inequalities exist both among nations and within them, examines such inequalities past and present, and details their ubiquitous, longstanding nature. Reducing them – and making people’s lives safer and healthier – will require vast changes in political and economic priorities. In other words, “where you live can kill you,” but often it’s death by politics, argued the author. 
  • Bill Gates asks us to imagine a world where diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is as simple as getting your blood tested during your annual physical. Research suggests that future isn’t that far off, and Diagnostics Accelerator, which Gates has invested in, moves us one step closer, he claimed.
  • Also known as bioelectronics, electroceuticals are implantable devices which alter electrical signals in the body, according to Disruption Hub. When attached to bundles of nerves, they can change the signals sent to the brain, organs, and other body parts. Possibly the next step in personalised medical treatment, electroceuticals can be used to record, stimulate, and block the neural signals which control our organs and limbs. Altering our electrical impulses in precise ways can give balance to organs producing the wrong amount of hormones, reduce inflammation, and even restore function to paralysed limbs. Crucially, the targeted operation of electroceuticals removes the side effects experienced with many modern medicines. Although not yet available to human patients, it is expected that electroceuticals will arrive in clinical medicine over the next few decades. 

 

June 2018

 

Pre 2018

  • Disease can strike any of us at any time. However, many now believe that diseases can be completely eradicated. The most important of these so far is smallpox, which thanks to vaccination, was removed from the world in 1977.
  • The death toll from malaria has been reduced by more than half since 2000, thanks to a multi-pronged attack. But a lot more remains to be done. There’s no vaccine for malaria yet, but the world has been getting better at treating and preventing the deadly disease, according to a new study. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the death rate from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped by 57% since 2000.
  • While HIV/AIDS is still a serious health threat, with the availability of antiretroviral treatment, the number of deaths from AIDS has been declining over the last decade.
  • Analysing the top causes of death worldwide, one finds that 13% of all human deaths are now caused by heart attacks; in the richest countries, 16% and in the poorest, 6%.
  • Drug-resistant TB is now at record levels according to a UN report calling for better diagnosis of the disease.
  • Every year 600,000 non-tobacco users, mostly women and children, die from exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • The latest data from the World Bank suggests an improving situation for women's health.
  • Please also see a related infographic by Chloe Tseng.
  • It was claimed that a Human Genome Project for personalised health care is needed, linking up genetics with promising research on the impact of environmental factors affecting disease, using alternative scenarios based on diet and lifestyle that can increase or decrease the likelihood of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, and other illnesses.
  • It was also claimed that we might be entering an age of pandemics.
  • A laboratory in Mali started to rear Africa's first mosquitoes that are genetically modified to resist malaria, according to Glimpses of the Future.
  • In order to provide universal access to reproductive, maternal and newborn health services in the 51 countries with the lowest incomes and highest burden of disease, more than 4.2 million health workers are required. The World Health Organisation recognises the role that midwives play in reducing infant mortality rates and wants to increase the number of midwives. Unicef offered18-month midwife training programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan - see here.
  • With most focus on HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, relatively few resources are devoted to tropical diseases like dengue fever, hookworm and schistosomiasis afflicting some 1bn people.
  • News broke in India of patients infected with tuberculosis (TB) that has become resistant to all the drugs used against the disease.  Physicians called the strain TDR, for Totally Drug-Resistant TB.  This followed earlier moves by health ministers from countries with the highest rates of extreme drug-resistant (XDR) TB committed to an action plan to stop and reverse the global epidemic of the disease.
  • Ain't no cure for love, sung Leonard Cohen, but now it appears that perhaps there ain't no cure for life either, leading some experts to express strong concern at the increasing medicalisation of vast swathes of society. This could lead to almost every piece of human behaviour can be classified as being in some way aberrant, with a tendency for new categories, new ways not to be 'normal' to be invented, allegedly often at the behest of drug companies looking for a new drug.

 

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