Tag Archives: smallpox

Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

Click to enlarge

Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

Take A Journey to This Abandoned Island Buried in the Heart of New York City (Pictures)

North Brother Island is 20 acre-patch of land in the middle of the East River in New York City. It’s located next to New York’s Riker’s Island Prison, putting it just east of Harlem.

Since the last inhabitants left in 1963, nature has been slowly reclaiming the island. Check out some recent pictures of North Brother Island (taken by photographer Christopher Payne) below. Click an image to enlarge.

The island has an interesting history. It was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital was constructed on the island as a quarantine facility for smallpox and other contagious diseases.

In the 1940s, the facility was converted into a housing center for war veterans and their families, but by 1951 most of the families had moved elsewhere because of the inconveniences of having to ferry back and forth between the island.

So for it’s last 10 years of operation, the building was converted into a drug rehabilitation center. It has been uninhabited since 1963.

Read more about the history of the island from The Smithsonian here.

The Coolest Places on Earth: Machu Pichu, Peru (Pictures)

Machu Pichu is a 15th-century Inca site located in the Andes Mountains in Southeast Peru. Click an image to enlarge.

Bonus picture: wild llama roam freely around the site, which led to this epic photo-bomb that I just had to share.

machu pichu13

Most archaeologists believe Machu Pichu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who ruled from 1438-1472.

It was built around 1450 but abandoned a century later when the Spanish invaded the region.

The combination of the Spanish invaders, as well as a number of epidemics of European diseases including influenze, typhus, diptheria, measles and multiple outbreak of smallpox led to the fall of the Inca Empire in the late 16th-century.