7 Global Health Breakthroughs: A Year in Review


In light of several recent deaths and tragic setbacks, millennials have begun to blame these dark times on 2016, calling it “The Worst Year Ever”.1

However, as we are at the start of a new year, let us take a moment to create a resolution, and reflect on the great innovations and advancements scientists have made in the field of global health.

Fighting global health issues is like constructing a difficult puzzle—not an easy 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, but a complex three-dimensional, 1000-piece puzzle.  Leaders in the field must slog away at work for the first half of the puzzle, but once they get the hang of it, the pieces begin quickly coming together. Soon, the Domino Effect comes into play and the remainder of work on said disease is accomplished.

Source: Pixabay.

This list of breakthroughs ranges from the radical implementation of new drug technologies in developing countries to steadily reducing the prevalence of a disease (yielding for an “endangered disease”).

  1. Metastatic (Stage IV) Melanoma- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from certain types of pigments and can be treated in various ways. However, when melanoma is described as metastatic, the cancer cells have spread to organs and bodily areas far removed from the tumor, creating a direr situation than a localized melanoma—the survival period is less than 11 months. Bristol-Myers Squibb’s cancer immunotherapy medication, Opdivo, is a known treatment of metastatic melanoma, but is not 100% effective. However, this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced that 34% of its patients in the trial runs of Opdivo were still alive after 5 years. 2,3
  1. Psoriasis– An autoimmune disease characterized by abnormal, red, patches of skin, psoriasis has long been a global health issue in developing countries in people of European ancestry. Psoriasis has not been in the news lately because the current best-selling drug in the world for this disease, Humira, has a high success rate, despite being wholly ineffective in removing all of the skin’s red patches. The pharmaceutical and medical devices company, Johnson & Johnson, recently released an experimental drug for psoriasis called, guselkumab. During trials, guselkumab revealed a 90% skin clearance rate, indicating a widespread potential switch to guselkumab from Humira.3
  1. GlaxoSmithKline Shingles Vaccine- Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, enthusiastically reported that this year a GSK vaccine finished clinical trials, and is 97% effective in eliminating the shingles virus in adults. This would effectively eradicate most of the skin rashes and blisters produced from the virus. Moreover, this is noteworthy in that this new GSK vaccine is far more effective than its competitors.4
  1. “Endangered Diseases” – Specific infectious diseases in the global health realm refuse to be completely eradicated, but continue to dip towards complete extinction, earning them the nickname “endangered disease”. Two examples are Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Guinea worm disease (GWD). Regarding MERS, its presence in Saudi Arabia has reached an all-time low, which is a cause to be optimistic. Although, in 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Seoul, South Korea, creating confusion among epidemiologists, so either it can never be completely eradicated, or efforts need to be refocused into the epidemiology of the disease. GWD is another example of an endangered disease, in that the Carter Center has acted as a lead organization in its efforts to eradicate the guinea worm parasite. Those efforts seem to have paid off as the World Health Organization reported fewer than 30 cases of GWD in the entirety of 2016. 4
  2. Onchocerciasis- Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, is an infectious disease caused by a parasitic worm, generally in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America. As the name implies, this is a water-borne disease (as the flies that carry this parasite are usually near rivers), and primarily causes blindness. Rob Henry, a senior public health advisor with USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease program, reported that Guatemala was eradicated of onchocerciasis. This means there remains only one consistent incidence of river blindness in the Americas, in the Amazon rainforest.4
  1. Combination Drug for Hepatitis C– As with all drugs, there are some patients who are simply resistant to all existing treatment methods and drugs for a certain infectious disease or viral infection. Hepatitis C is no exception, but a new combination pill seemed optimistic in clinical trials, as it worked on essentially all patients who ingested this drug. Hepatitis C was then virtually undetectable in said patients several weeks after the drug therapy period ended. This pill utilized the methods of combination in that it combined three common drugs that are used as different methods of treatment for Hepatitis C: sofosbuvir, ledipasvir, and ribavirin.5
  1. rVSV-Vectored Vaccine- Lastly, in what is probably the most noteworthy news pertaining to global health in 2016, a study published in The Lancet announced that several doctors have created a ring vaccination in Guinea that is 100% effective against the Ebola virus. The Ebola virus has been a main focus of global health efforts for several years, and now that a vaccine has been created, the next steps government officials must take is to create an equitable commercial price and handle distribution of the drug so that those most in need have access to it.6

In conclusion, 2016 has been a prolific year chalked full of scientific and medical progress—and in other fields as well. Thus we should not dub the entire year the “Worst Year Ever.”

Naturally, there are so many more global health issues still remaining in the world today, but the future is rife with possibility and primed for young leaders to unite and take action. So in 2017, let us not focus on the negatives, but the challenges that are ready to be addressed, and make 2017 the best year of this decade thus far!

Matthew Pettus is a freshman in Saybrook College. He can be contacted at matthew.pettus@yale.edu.



  1. Nevin, Charles. “2016: Worst. Year. Ever?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.
  1. “Stages of Melanoma Diagnosis.” Melanoma Research Foundation. Melanoma Research Foundation, 09 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.
  1. Williams, Sean. “The 12 Greatest Medical Breakthroughs of 2016.” com. The Motley Fool, 18 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.
  1. Beaubien, Jason. “Wins and Losses in Global Health in 2016.” National Public Radio, 23 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.
  1. Thompson, Dennis. “Experimental Hepatitis C Drug May Treat the Untreatable – WebMD.” WebMD. WebMD, 5 Nov. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.
  1. McNeil, Donald G. “New Ebola Vaccine Gives 100 Percent Protection.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s