People e-mail me through this blog all the time -for many reasons- and I am very glad that they take the trouble. I try to reply to everyone who e-mails, even moreso than those who comment. Every now and again, I'll get into an e-mail conversation with someone about scams or healthcare or something, and they will make me think. Yesterday it was a comment from somebody who was pro natural remedies and anti- Big Pharma (and pissed with me for exposing so many 'natural remedies" as scams), who made a comment along the lines of (paraphrasing) "the medical world wants to keep us sick (so they can make money). No disease has been cured since polio".
And this latter comment got me thinking: Polio? Really? I didn't even think that was cured.
And I started to wonder seriously: Which diseases have been cured? Actually CURED? The answer was quick and surprising:
Not one single disease on the planet is listed as cured. Those fucking doctors and researchers, epidemiologists and scientists have clearly been sitting on their arses, twiddling their thumbs for centuries.
So old diseases, the ones we don't hear much about anymore. What are they if not cured? Let's have a look at them: Scurvy, Pellagra, Beriberi, Rickets and Pernicious Anemia are virtually unknown in the developed world these days. But they haven't been cured. They have been prevented by a knowledge of nutrients and balanced diet (and maybe fortified cereals).
Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps, Tetanus, Whooping cough, TB and even Polio are all under control in most of the developed world, too. Again, None of these diseases have been cured (no, dear e-mailer, Polio is not cured), but they have been prevented through widespread vaccinations and inocculations. And in some cases, helped by proper knowledge of hygiene. (handwashing is probably the #1 preventative in the developed world; even more than vaccines).
Cholera is much diminished as a cause of death, too, thanks to modern water treatment methods. And it is treatable now that rehydration techniques are understood and have been taught to many at risk. But it is not cured.
Bubonic plague; the Black death, was a huge global problem for centuries and is now mostly gone, thanks to pesticides and antibiotics. But only mostly. There was a famous case of a couple with Bubonic plague in New York City in 2002, although they contracted it in (I believe) Arizona, where infected fleas apparently still abound. After hearing that story, I made a mental note not to go hiking in Arizona. Ever. (There is no vaccine for the plague, although it is a bacterial infection and treatable if caught early.)
Fewer people die of snake and spider bites these days, thanks to anti-venom. But is that a cure? Snakes are not considered a disease. Hmmmm.
Far fewer people die of things like appendicitis and abcessed teeth these days, thanks to modern surgical techniques. But neither are these considered a cure.
ADHD and several mental illnesses can be helped by drug therapy. But if you stop the drugs, the symptoms come back. Therefore: treatment. not cure.
Only one disease is said to be eradicated (is "eradicated" the same as "cured"? Nope.):
That was the first disease for which a proper vaccine was developed using a relatively harmless pathogen (methods involving the actual smallpox virus itself go more than a thousand of years); invented in 1796, and gaining recognition in the 1800s, when they started vaccinating people on a wider scale. Even then, it wasn't until 1980 that Smallpox was declared eradicated. Almost 200 years later! I guess it takes a long time to eradicate a global disease. Mind you, the whole process of safe vaccine development and the idea of widespread preventative healthcare had to be invented too (and not without a lot of mistakes and setbacks), so it's understandable that the first takes the longest. But it is also kind of cool that it worked so well.
One area in which many strides have been made is in cancer treatment: Cancers can be shrunk, removed and beaten into remission by several different powerful drugs and treatments. Many forms of leukemia and lymphoma are 100% treatable. Inatinib was thought to 'cure" Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, until people realized that if they stopped taking it, the cancer returned. Not a cure then; a treatment. Many cancer patients go into full remission and are declared well or "cancer-free". But not "cured".
Why is that, I wonder? what does "cure" actually mean? I decided to look at this as pertains to me. I have had numerous colds. I don't have them now. Were they cured? No. They just ran their course, treated with tissues and Theraflu. And antibodies. Because our own bodies recognize viruses as intruders and build antibodies to attack them. Those same antibodies stop me from getting that same cold virus ever again. Unfortunately, unlike the smallpox virus, which has only a few variations, there are about seventy gajillion different cold virus variations. So immunity does me only little good. And is not a cure.
If I seriously look at what "cure" means, -At least to me, "cure" If means that someone who was sick would get better and be back to the 100% health, with no fear of the illness ever coming back. Preferably with no side-effects, either; which rules out most drug therapies as cures.
"Cure" doesn't mean prevention though. So if I was to offer a cure for cancer or the common cold, it would mean that people would need to have Cancer or the common cold first, and then I would cure it. And to me, that's not the ideal scenario. I'd much rather they never get it in the first place. You know, like we have been doing with Smallpox and the like? Ask anyone who has suddenly been saddled with Tetanus or an unlooked-for pregnancy and they will tell you that prevention is far better than cure.
Therefore, As far as I know the only real cures I have heard about are in the New Testament. And I'm pretty sure none of those were followed up scientifically.
But here come the naysayers, bitching and moaning that nothing has been "cured" yet and therefore Big Pharma and the medical community are all out to get us.
Pul-eese! I ask anyone making such claims to me, to please do your research first. And to remember the the expression "an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure". So yeah, The medical community hasn't been curing Polio. It has been focusing on what's important: Prevention.
...Not that the medical community is perfect, mind. There are still many diseases out there that don't have adequate prevention or treatments. Muscular Dystrophy is one that comes to mind. Research is very well funded, thanks to Jerry Lewis and his dodgy-but-effective technique, but there are still no big breakthroughs in treating or preventing the disease. They can help some symptoms; they help people get wheelchairs and needed equipment. They do fund a lot of research, but it has borne little if any fruit. There is no way to halt or reverse the progression of the disease itself. And no way to prevent it. It can be argued that these things take time, and they do, but still, one can't help but wonder...
...about a lot of things, really. But not about a cure for Polio.