Jan 8, 2022

GHN News of 2021

Editor's Note

Image: Jan Huber / unsplash

Right to the Edge

Dear Readers,

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
  • 1,844,847 deaths
December 22, 2021
  • 5,375,682 deaths
The Variants
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...
Vaccine Inequity
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.
Pandemic Follow-on Impacts
It will take years to tally all the effects of pandemic disruptions on preventive care and other parts of society. But you should know TB deaths climbed worldwide for the first time in a decade. Measles outbreaks may be more likely in the near future as millions of infants missed their first vaccinations. And US traffic fatalities jumped 18% jump in the first 6 months of 2021. Did the pandemic make US drivers worse?
Big Covid Bungle
The CDC announced May 13 that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks and then, on July 27, it did an embarrassing about-face.
Misinformation fueled protests and attacks on public health in the US and November riots in European cities like RotterdamBrussels, and Vienna.
Future Pandemics
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.)
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).
Climate Change
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!
Want to share other thoughts? An idea or opinion? Send me a quick note.
All best,

Brian W. Simpson
Editor-in-Chief, Global Health NOW

PS: If you’re not receiving the weekday newsletter or have other subscription issues, please send a note to Dayna Kerecman Myers, our hard-working managing editor.
Issue No. M-14

Global Health NOW is an initiative of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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:, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @GHN_News.

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