World’s poorest left out from breakthroughs

Sometimes, it is easy to recognise a good idea. Oral rehydration solution, a simple sugar and salt formula, costs about 10 cents per packet. Since its development in the 1970s, it has saved millions of people, mainly in the developing world, from dying of diarrhoea. It could well have saved those in Zimbabwe who, in the past few weeks, are reported to have died from dehydration following cholera.

Western healthcare, meanwhile, is expensive, and our contribution to humanitarian aid remains inadequate. When we fret about whether a test for genetic biomarkers will help us to avoid assault by nefarious disease, we seem to be missing the point. We could be concentrating our efforts on saving other people’s lives with simple remedies instead of worrying about how complicated tests could buy us a few more years.

Indeed, the more advanced the medicine, the more equivocal the benefits. A thought provoking piece in the British Medical Journal last year questioned whether the rise in statin prescriptions for elderly people might decrease the number of sudden deaths due to heart disease, only to increase the incidence of cancer.

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