Vaccines have been controversial for the last decade or so. While many will continue to debate their value, one element about vaccines cannot be argued: They have had a profound impact on childhood illness and mortality. See the infographic below that identifies the morbidity rates of various childhood diseases (pre and post vaccine). The infographic was created and posted on Visual.ly, see the details here.
Medical supplies recovered from a ship that went down around 130 BCE off the coast of Tuscany. The ship was recovered in 1974 and excavated in 1989, but it wasn’t until recently that the contents of a series of sealed containers was able to be determined through DNA analysis.
136 tin-lined were revealed to contain a variety of pharmaceuticals used to treat stomach complaints have recently been identified to contain herbs and plants such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa and chestnuts.
Gino Fornaciari, a paleo-pathologist from Pisa University, said: “As well as understanding how the ancient Romans treated each other, we are learning more about what illnesses they suffered from.”
Any student who took Anthropology 101 with me should remember our lecture over the dawn of agriculture and civilization. In spite of thought to the contrary, civilization did not bring with it toilet paper and toothpaste. In fact, agriculture and its accompanying sedentary (vs nomadic) lifestyle had an extremely negative impact on our overall health, quality of life, and life-span.
Along with raising crops, the human diet became extremely limited – most early peoples lived on only two or three staple crops. Your grandmother was right, variety is the spice of life – limited food stuffs mean limited nutrients, vitamin deficiencies, and (with the rise of grain agriculture) a destruction of our dental health. When we look at the skeletons of early agricultural peoples, their bones are marred with distinctions of malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, dental caries (fancy word for extremely large and painful cavities), and we shrunk (several inches shorter than our hunter-gatherer counter-parts). We also worked a lot harder – both physically and in terms of hours.
Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with western medicine is familiar with the ultrasound. It is perhaps one of the greatest medical tools of our time – it permits doctors to examine the soft tissues of the body harmlessly to diagnose and even treat ailments. Nearly all women in the West that have given birth have had their first views of their child on an ultrasound screen. Using sound to project a visual image is nearly magical in its practice. The fact that it can be used with no danger or harm to the patient (unlike x-rays that expose patients to radiation) make it an invaluable medical tool.
However, there is a frightening and sad side-effect to the introduction of the ultra-sound: sex-selective abortion. In countries where sons are preferred over daughters and female infanticide is a common practice, it seems natural that being able to identify the sex of your child in-utero could also give you the opportunity to terminate that pregnancy in favor of carrying a male child. Due to its highly volatile political nature, equating sex-selective abortion to female infanticide is problematic. However, the reality is that this practice has continued the disenfranchising of women in many regions of the world. The problem is so pervasive in India that is now illegal for doctors to identify the sex of a child before it is born.
This month, Scientific American highlights a new book: Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Menby Mara Hvistendahl, which highlights the modern issues of gender imbalance (primarily in Asia) that has been brought about by the preference for male children at the expense of daughters (in the form of adoption, female infanticide, and sex-selective abortion). It’s an interesting topic that is just now beginning to impact the modern world.