5. Science and Technology for Disease Control: Past, Present, and Future

Abstract

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Despite increasingly rapid advances in the biomedical sciences, people in many developing countries are still living in dire poverty with limited access to basic health care. This situation demands international attention, especially given the potential for science and technology to control disease and improve lives. Modern medicine has seen the steady accumulation of knowledge and know–how, culminating in the partial control of infectious diseases and the management of noncommunicable diseases. Many countries in the developing world, however, are caught in an epidemiological transition: they must simultaneously tackle malnutrition and infectious diseases as well as diseases commonly associated with industrial countries, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Advances in the biomedical sciences have made only a limited contribution to the health of developing countries, in part because the industrial world has neglected the specific health problems or health care delivery challenges of these countries. To achieve health gains in the developing world, a balance needs to be struck between reliance on new biomedical strategies and the continued application of more conventional methods in the most cost–effective manner. This entails closer interaction between the fields of basic and clinical research and the fields of public health and health economics.

Moreover, medical research will need to take on a global perspective. Both governmental agencies and charitable bodies in industrial countries will need to direct a greater proportion of their funding to diseases of the developing world. In addition, universities in industrial countries will need to provide future medical scientists with a more global understanding of health and disease. In this way, the promise and benefits of biomedical research and good practice can be more evenly distributed among the populations of the world.