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2023: Year of Significant Progress For Global Health

Updated: Jan 6

It has been a remarkable year for medicines and global health. Here's a summary of all the top good news stories.

Smiling Indian girl

Breakthroughs on New Medicines: Two powerful new drugs, Donanemab and Lecanemab, heralded a turning point in the fight against Alzheimer’s; the decades-long campaign to make insulin less expensive scored a major victory when the world's three biggest manufacturers lowered their prices; a new meningitis vaccine raised hopes for a disease that kills about 250,000 people a year, and Australia became the first country in the world to classify psychedelics as medicines, approving their use to treat some mental health conditions.

Malaria Vaccines: A malaria vaccine is the holy grail of global health. We've been trying to create one for over 70 years, and now we are about to unleash not one but two of them against a disease that kills half a million children every year.

Turning Point for Cervical Cancer: The world's biggest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, announced a new, affordable version of the HPV vaccine this year, putting the WHO's goal of 95 percent coverage by 2030 within reach.

Maternal and Child Health: India, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Sierra Leone all reported significant declines in maternal and child mortality, as did the entire Southeast Asia region. In August, the WHO reported that exclusive breastfeeding has increased from 38 percent to 48 percent globally in the last decade, and UNICEF announced that eight in ten children are now welcomed into the world by a trained professional in a health facility, up from six in ten a generation ago.

The Fight Against Tuberculosis: TB is the deadliest infectious disease in the world, but this year, one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies said it would allow generic versions of its life-saving TB drug to be supplied to 44 low-income countries.

Obesity: In the US, around 70 percent of adults are affected by excess weight, and in Europe it's more than half. This year, however, a new class of therapies, most notably Ozempic and Wegovy, proved that not only could they induce significant weight loss, but drastically reduce symptoms of heart failure and the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Record Disease Eliminations: Egypt became the first country to eliminate hepatitis C, the Maldives became the first country to eliminate leprosy, Bangladesh became the first country to eliminate black fever (also eliminated elephantiasis), Niger became the first African country to eliminate river blindness, Benin, Mali and Iraq eliminated trachoma, Timor-Leste, Bhutan, and North Korea eliminated rubella, Ghana eliminated sleeping sickness, and Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belize eliminated malaria.

Eradicating Polio: Polio is now restricted to just seven districts in Pakistan and two provinces in Afghanistan. Remarkably, perhaps, the Taliban has reversed course and decided that elimination is now a priority, and in December, world leaders committed $59 million for 'last mile' efforts, with a view to complete elimination by 2026.

CRISPR Gene-Editing: When looking back on 2023, future generations might decide that this was actually the biggest health story of the year. 11 years after its discovery, CRISPR was approved by regulators for the treatment of sickle cell disease in the UK, US and Bahrain. The treatment will prevent episodes of excruciating pain, as well as free people with beta thalassemia of regular blood transfusions, and for some, may even be a cure. “This is just the start of CRISPR therapies. There are a lot more to come.”


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