The Five Biggest Global Health Stories of 2010

2010 was a big year for global health, full of dramatic progress and some very depressing setbacks. Even among that, though, five stories stand out.

1. The earthquake in Haiti

The January 20th earthquake in Haiti was the most dramatic global health news story, hands down. 230,000 people died in the initial quake, and 300,000 people were injured. A million people were homeless. The health challenges that followed began with critical care and emergency response, followed by providing clean water and basic services. Haiti now faces a serious cholera epidemic resulting from poor access to hygiene after the earthquake. Over 3000 people have died, and 150,000 people are estimate to be infected.

2. Advances in HIV prevention

This was a good year for advances in HIV prevention research. Clinical research showed that taking oral antiretrovirals before you are infected with HIV can keep you from contracting the virus. Vaginal microbicide clinical trials showed proof-of-concept for a vaginal gel that could protect women from HIV. And two antibodies were identified that could be key to developing a vaccine against HIV.

3. Progress in Vaccine Development

Public-private collaboration led to major progress in vaccines against two killer diseases. A new vaccine against meningococcal A meningitis – MenAfriVac – was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the project brought together developing countries, manufacturers, multilateral organizations, and researchers to develop a low-cost vaccine for meningitis. And an Advance Market Commitment for a pneumonia vaccine brought the vaccine to wide distribution this year.

4. Mobile Health

Throughout 2010, the potential of mobile devices for health became prominent, and the first mHealth initiatives began to bear real fruit. Mobile devices – phones, PDA, and tablets – found uses in everything from data collection to remote diagnostics.

5. The MDG Summit

In September, the world gathered in New York to look at progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. The summit itself wasn’t all that newsworthy, but bringing so many people to one place to think about international development and global health was.

And one story that should have been big but wasn’t:

In July, floods began in Pakistan after heavy monsoon rains. The flood water grew until 20% of the country was underwater.  20 million people were directly affected, more than the Haiti earthquake, and the immediate death toll was 2000. Structural damage exceeded four billion dollars. Pakistan is still at risk for hunger as a result of the floods, which did severe damage to agricultural land, and tens of thousands of people are still homeless. Yet international donors were slow to respond, and media coverage was lukewarm and sporadic.

(photo credit: IFRC)