01 / 05
The Canadian Child-Deaths Would Not Have Shocked Our Ancestors

Blog Post | Overall Mortality

The Canadian Child-Deaths Would Not Have Shocked Our Ancestors

Half of all children died before adulthood in archaic societies, one quarter before their first birthday and another quarter before the age of 15.

Summary: The recent discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools in Canada have shocked the world and exposed the brutal legacy of colonialism. However, for most of human history, such atrocities were common and accepted. This article argues that we should appreciate the human progress that has made us more sensitive to this suffering.

Revelations of graveyards containing the bodies of some 4,000 children from the First Nations in Canada have shocked the world. The dead were some of the 150,000 indigenous children sent or forcibly taken to residential schools meant to divorce the former from their birth culture.

The graves represent the injustice and misery of the past, but our reaction to them is proof of our advancement. In pre-industrial times, child deaths were so common that those graves wouldn’t have shocked anyone. In fact, a death rate of some three percent of children is low by historical standards. It was only in the past 50 or 60 years that the child mortality rate fell below 3 percent – even in rich countries.

The usual estimation is that half of all children died before adulthood in archaic societies, one quarter before their first birthday and another quarter before the age of 15, which is the end of puberty and our reasonable definition of becoming an adult. That seems to hold over all societies examined, including the Roman Empire, 18th century Britain, and all other groups of humans over time. (It is also, roughly speaking, true of the other Great Apes.)

This sorry state of affairs was brought to an end in three stages. The first stage was the discovery of infectious disease. John Snow, for example, showed that cholera cycled through the sewage and water systems. His discovery led to the single greatest aid to human health ever: the development of proper water systems, which provide fresh water and carry away sewage. Essentially, drains were the first step in reducing child mortality.

The second stage was the development of antibiotics. As late as 1924, an infected blister killed the U.S. President’s son. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that effective antibiotics were deployed at any scale. It took another decade to discover a treatment for tuberculosis, which was one of the great killers of the first half of the 20th century.

The third stage was the development of vaccines for common childhood diseases. Smallpox had been preventable since the 1790s with vaccination and through variolation before that. But polio remained a problem until the 1950s and measles into the 1960s. That last disease could, if unleashed against a population with no resistance at all, kill over 10 percent of people infected.

The combined effect of these discoveries – alongside better medical care, nutrition, shelter, and heating – has been a 100-fold reduction in youth mortality over the 20th century. The process isn’t finished yet. Far too many children still die due to a lack of access to clean water, antibiotics, and desirable immunizations. But those discoveries are all spreading, and, in that sense, the world is getting better at record speed.

In rich nations, such as Canada, Britain, the United States, the child mortality rate ranges from 0.5 percent to 0.8 percent – down from 50 percent in human history. A significant portion of the remaining mortality is due to accident, not disease.

This article is not meant to diminish the pain of losing a child or to suggest that pain was lighter in the past because it was reasonable to expect to lose a child. Rather, it is to point out how that loss is so much less common today.

Nor is it implying that the First Nations children in Canada were treated acceptably. Rather, the above data is meant to remind the reader that previous generations of humans would have found nothing strange at all about graveyards full of children. That we find them shocking today is proof of human progress.

Today’s expectation, an entirely reasonable one, is that any child born today will live between 70 and 80 years. We’re in the first two or three generations of humans who ever existed where the assumption of reaching adulthood is better than a 50/50 break. How can that not be thought of as progress?

Medical Xpress | Vaccination

New Vaccine Triggers Immune Response to Fight Brain Tumor

“In a first-ever human clinical trial of four adult patients, an mRNA cancer vaccine developed at the University of Florida quickly reprogrammed the immune system to attack glioblastoma, the most aggressive and lethal brain tumor…

Reported May 1 in the journal Cell, the discovery represents a potential new way to recruit the immune system to fight notoriously treatment-resistant cancers using an iteration of mRNA technology and lipid nanoparticles, similar to COVID-19 vaccines, but with two key differences: use of a patient’s own tumor cells to create a personalized vaccine, and a newly engineered complex delivery mechanism within the vaccine.”

From Medical Xpress.

World Health Organization | Vaccination

Major Step in Malaria Prevention in Three West African Countries

“In a significant step forward for malaria prevention in Africa, three countries—Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone—today launched a large-scale rollout of the life-saving malaria vaccine targeting millions of children across the three West African nations. The vaccine rollout, announced on World Malaria Day, seeks to further scale up vaccine deployment in the African region.

Today’s launch brings to eight the number of countries on the continent to offer the malaria vaccine as part of the childhood immunization programmes, extending access to more comprehensive malaria prevention. Several of the more than 30 countries in the African region that have expressed interest in the vaccine are scheduled to roll it out in the next year through support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as efforts continue to widen its deployment in the region in coordination with other prevention measures such as long-lasting insecticidal nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention.”

From World Health Organization.

World Health Organization | Vaccination

Immunization Efforts Saved 154 Million Lives over past 50 Years

“A major landmark study to be published by The Lancet reveals that global immunization efforts have saved an estimated 154 million lives – or the equivalent of 6 lives every minute of every year – over the past 50 years. The vast majority of lives saved – 101 million – were those of infants.

The study, led by the World Health Organization, shows that immunization is the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood.

Of the vaccines included in the study, the measles vaccination had the most significant impact on reducing infant mortality, accounting for 60% of the lives saved due to immunization. This vaccine will likely remain the top contributor to preventing deaths in the future.”

From World Health Organization.

The Guardian | Vaccination

“Real Hope” for Cancer Cure as Personal mRNA Vaccine Trialled

“Experts are testing new jabs that are custom-built for each patient and tell their body to hunt down cancer cells to prevent the disease ever coming back.

A phase 2 trial found the vaccines dramatically reduced the risk of the cancer returning in melanoma patients. Now a final, phase 3, trial has been launched and is being led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).”

From The Guardian.