By Beth Snodderly and Brian Lowther
For some people 2016 was a disastrous year (e.g., the Zika outbreak, the Syrian refugee crisis, political upheaval, terrorism, racial unrest, and the list goes on). But here are sixteen reasons why 2016 offers some hope.
1. During his January 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the establishment of a “Cancer Moonshot” initiative to eliminate cancer as we know it.
2. An example of progress toward eliminating cancer: Chinese scientists tested gene-editing in a person for the first time in November 2016. “Researchers removed immune cells from the recipient’s blood and then disabled a gene in them using CRISPR–Cas9, which combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a molecular guide that can be programmed to tell the enzyme precisely where to cut. The team then cultured the edited cells, increasing their number, and injected them back into the patient, who has metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. The hope is that, without the eliminated portion of DNA, the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer.”
3. In July 2016, scientists announced they have identified a new gene that contributes to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). This provides another potential target for gene therapy development and brings us one step closer to eliminating this always-fatal disease. Progress is partly due to the online activism of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
4. Although the world had bad luck last year with Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that systems are now in place that will speed up development and delivery of vaccines for the next outbreak. WHO is looking, hopefully, towards an Ebola-free future.
5. Scientists are producing artificial limbs that may someday “eliminate disability.” TED talks illustrate these advances:
- Physiatrist and engineer Todd Kuiken is building a prosthetic arm that connects with the human nervous system
- MIT’s bionics designer, Hugh Herr, has a vision “for a world where there is no such thing as ‘disabled,’” and describes how that future might be closer than we think.
6. India officially eliminated yaws and maternal and neonatal tetanus in their country this year.
8. The only two diseases ever eradicated, remain eradicated.
- Small Pox remains eradicated worldwide. The United States saves the total of all its contributions to the Small Pox Eradication Campaign every twenty-six days because it is no longer necessary to vaccinate against or treat the disease. The last endemic case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia in 1977.
- Rinderpest (also called cattle plague—a highly contagious disease with high death rates) also remains eradicated worldwide. After a global eradication campaign, the last confirmed case of Rinderpest was diagnosed in 2001.
9. The final steps toward worldwide eradication of polio began this year. Health teams in 155 countries and territories have begun switching to a different polio vaccine—“a significant milestone in the effort to achieve a polio-free world,” the World Health Organization reports. The new vaccine will protect against the two remaining strains of the virus—types 1 and 3—and will no longer include the type 2 polio virus, which was eradicated in 1999. There have been only 33 cases of the paralyzing disease as of November 2016—all of them in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.
10. Guinea Worm is close to becoming the second human disease, after small pox, ever eradicated. This parasitic disease “is a particularly devastating and painful disease that incapacitates people for extended periods of time, making them unable to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school. In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.” In early January 2016 the Carter Center announced that only 22 cases were reported during the previous year.
11. The International Task-Force for Disease Eradication lists eight candidates for disease eradication that researchers and practitioners have continued to work toward during 2016:
- Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease)
- Taeniasis/cysticercosis (pork tapeworm)
- Lymphatic filariasis
13. In November 2016 the Annual Meeting for the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) featured a cross-disease elimination and eradication discussion with polio, malaria, Guinea worm, and Chagas disease experts. The goal is to ensure momentum carries from discussion to real-world collaboration on research and programming.
14. In the last month of 2016 a new HIV vaccine trial is starting in South Africa. “If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
15. In a May 2016 news release, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that globally, life expectancy increased by five years between 2000 and 2015—the fastest increase since the 1960s. The increase was greatest in the African Region of WHO where life expectancy increased by 9.4 years to 60 years, driven mainly by improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control, and expanded access to anti-retrovirals for treatment of HIV.
16. And last but not least, the parent organization of the Roberta Winter Institute (RWI)—the former U.S. Center for World Mission, now known as Frontier Ventures—celebrated its 40th anniversary in September. Founder Ralph Winter explained how the RWI contributes toward the vision of Frontier Ventures: “It is truly astonishing how much greater we can make the impact of our missionary evangelism if the true spectrum of concern of our loving God is made clear and is backed up by serious attention [from believers] not only to treating illness but to eradicating the evil causes, the works of the devil.”
If 2016 was a rough year for you, we hope this list provides a few reasons to keep your hope alive. For the Lord delights in those who put their hope in his unfailing love (paraphrased from Psalm 147:11). Ralph Winter longed to see believers participating with others in these sorts of disease initiatives so that the world could see that we represent a loving God who is not the source of sickness and disease, and that he is actively and visibly opposing sickness and disease through us.
Beth Snodderly is the RWI's Theologian in
Residence and Chair of the Board.
Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute