The big themes in global health and some good news from a year that pushed us to the edge.
Jan 8, 2022
GHN News of 2021
Image: Jan Huber / unsplash
Right to the Edge
Time to shake it up. As we start a new (better!) year, I couldn’t just look back at December. Too much happened last year to do a slice.
2021—the pandemic’s second year—took us to the edge of endurance. We lost people close to us. We lost patience. And we risked losing hope.
We’re more than ready to move on, but before we do, it’s worth glancing back at the big global health themes from last year—and some much-needed good news.
Pandemic at Warp Speed
Nothing speaks to a year of dread like this data snapshot:
January 6, 2021
December 22, 2021
The world changed on Nov. 24 when South Africa health officials were first to report a new variant. It would soon out hustle Delta and become known as Omicron, boasting 50 mutations and astonishing transmissibility. And the worst of the Omicron surge is yet to hit most countries.
+9 billion vaccine doses have been administered. An amazing feat but...
Efforts to immunize all of humanity against COVID-19 disintegrated into a cut-throat negotiating game as wealthy countries soaked up an outsized portion of available vaccines. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus scolded rich countries on Aug. 4 for ramping up booster vaccines as billions of people were still waiting for their first dose.
A rare special session of the World Health Assembly in late November advanced the process for improving future pandemic responses, but a much-needed initial accord got watered down. (I’m looking at you, US.)
Opioids/Fentanyl Drug overdose deaths in the US exceeded 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time (from from May 2020 through April 2021).
In 2021, climate change became more real than ever before: A blistering heat wave struck the Pacific Northwest in late June, and catastrophic floods swept through Germany a month later in just 2 of the year’s extreme weather events that included droughts, massive forest fires, and typhoons.
Don’t Forget The Good News
I know you don’t need more gloom/doom. So remember:
Malaria vaccine: The WHO recommended the RTS,S malaria vaccine on October 6. It has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year.
Fewer tobacco users: A Nov. 16 WHO report projected the global number of tobacco users will continue to fall from 1.3 billion in 2020 to 1.27 billion tobacco users by 2025.
End AIDS: The UN agreed June 8 on ambitious new goals for ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030: Preventing 3.6 million new HIV-infections and 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths by 2030.
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My Fave Friday Diversions
And where would be without GHN’s Friday Diversions? Here are our 2 faves from 2021:
Burr Man: Every August for 800 years, 1 lucky Scot gets to parade around South Queensferry in Edinburgh in a head-to-toe suit of burrs. It has 3 holes—1 for whisky and 2 for seeing, per Atlas Obscura.
Robo-Flop: Hard-luck Pepper the Robot is an inept tech slacker with a heart of silicon. The serially fired bot got canned from jobs at a bank, a funeral business, and a nursing home. “Because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human,” said Chiba Institute of Technology’s Takayuki Furuta.
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That closes the book on 2021. Thankfully. You can read the year’s full summary here. My colleagues Dayna Kerecman Myers and Annalies Winny and I wish you a healthier, happier year ahead!
Views and opinions expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect those of the Bloomberg School. Contributors include Brian W. Simpson, MPH, Dayna Kerecman Myers, Annalies Winny, Morgan Coulson, Melissa Hartman, and Jackie Powder. Write us: firstname.lastname@example.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GHN_News.