As the world is gripped by coronavirus it is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of the crisis with seemingly no end in sight.
But the human race is a hardy bunch – and we have overcome a number of hardships in the past.
We have enjoyed monumental health success stories thanks to groundbreaking research breakthroughs and drug developments, to awareness campaigns that change millions of lives.
They may not always be as attention-grabbing and don’t rack up the same scale of response on Twitter, but ‘good news’ health stories do exist and are often the result of a lot of hard work going on in the background.
We’d be here for weeks if we listed all of them, but here are four massive ‘good news’ health stories from recent times, that are worthy of celebrating over and over again…
1. The HIV/AIDS landscape has been radically transformed
“Since the discovery of HIV and AIDS in the early-1980s, treatment has progressed to the point where a person living with HIV on effective antiretroviral treatment can now lead a full and active life and live a normal lifespan,” says Natasha Dhumma, Head of Policy at NAT (National AIDS Trust).
“Treatment reduces the level of the virus in a person’s body to ‘undetectable’ levels, which means they cannot pass it on.
“This game-changing finding that undetectable = untransmittable (often referred to as U=U) became widely known only in 2016, and has since become an indispensable tool to tackle HIV stigma,” she adds.
“There have also been vast improvements in HIV prevention in recent years, in particular PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a pill that’s highly effective at preventing HIV taking hold in the body.
“In March 2020, the Government committed to making PrEP freely available to all who need it, and this will significantly reduce HIV transmissions.”
Despite these immense advancements, Dhumma notes there’s still a “long way” to go with eradicating HIV stigma and discrimination.
She said: “Knowledge and understanding of the virus among the general public has not kept up with the advancements in science, and this is something we must all work to rectify.”
2. Movember has funded vital prostate cancer research
“Around the world, 1.3 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year,” says Dr Mark Buzza, global director of biomedical research at Movember.
“Movember is a major funder of prostate cancer biomedical research internationally, and we’ve worked hard to establish a strong alliance of researchers and clinicians to work collaboratively on a range of projects that address critical unmet needs for men living with this disease.
“A Movember-funded clinical study has recently provided evidence for the first time that a new imaging technique, PSMA PET/CT, is more accurate than conventional imaging at detecting cancer that’s spread to other parts of the body.
“This will allow clinicians to be more confident in determining the best course of treatment, which will lead to patients being treated more appropriately and ultimately, lives being saved.
“Another global initiative is examining how intensive exercise and psychosocial support can increase overall survival in patients with advanced prostate cancer – which means more time, in better health, with those they love.
“In another clinical study, it was shown that a new class of drug, Olaparib, previously approved for breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has huge potential for some men.”
3. Awareness and support campaigns have helped smokers quit
“We have seen incredible progress as a result of the UK’s combined approach to tackling smoking over the last few decades,” says Alison Cook, chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health.
“After the roll out of stop smoking services 20 years ago, an estimated one million smokers have quit for good, greatly cutting down their risk of suffering from smoking-related diseases.
“All of this has had a great impact on respiratory health in the UK, but as the Taskforce for Lung Health data tracker shows, smoking cessation services need to be maintained and prioritised if the government intends to meet its aim of becoming smoke free by 2030.”
Less smoking also means significantly lower risks of other major diseases too, like certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.
4. Smear tests have saved thousands of women’s lives
Since the NHS cervical screening programme was introduced back in 1988, it’s gone on to save an estimated 5,000 lives a year.
In fact, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which is dedicated to eradicating the disease, says around 75% of cervical cancers are prevented entirely thanks to smear tests, which detect early warning signs of cell changes before cancer develops.
Developments have continued to be made, with the introduction of HPV vaccines for certain age groups (the virus is a key risk factor – although it’s important to remember there are different types of HPV, and the vast majority of people with the virus will not get cancer), and last year seeing changes to the screening programme with the introduction of HPV testing, which is believed will help prevent deaths even further.
There’s still work to be done, though.
Cervical cancer still results in almost 900 deaths a year and many women still don’t attend their smear tests.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is committed to keeping up awareness and hopes to see a further 10% drop in cases by 2022.