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Overview: Health and well-being

Over the past century unprecedented gains in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease have allowed people to live longer and healthier lives.

But our health and well-being is now being challenged by the emergence of diseases that are resistant to antimicrobial drugs and new infectious diseases that spread quickly in our increasingly connected world. As life expectancy increases, diseases associated with ageing are becoming a growing problem.

Fighting infectious diseases

Since penicillin was first introduced in the 1940s, drugs to treat infections such as bacterial infections, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV have been among the most effective health interventions in the history of modern medicine.

However some microbial infections have evolved resistance to current drugs, while over the past 25 years no new classes of antibiotics have been discovered. As we described in a joint statement with other G8 academies, this poses a serious threat to our ability to treat these diseases.

As populations grow and people travel more there is also a growing risk from new emerging infectious diseases like bird flu, SARS and Ebola. Our joint report with the Academy of Medical Sciences focused on preparing for an influenza pandemic, and the emergence of the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 posed further urgent and complex challenges, exposing the need for local and global authorities to be better prepared for such crises.

New treatments and diagnostics and better stewardship of existing drugs are needed for old infections as well as emergent diseases. Global responses are necessary to tackle the emergence of new threats, contain outbreaks and coordinate efforts to ensure people have access to healthcare and that current treatments remain effective.

Living longer and healthier lives

As people live longer with improved standards of living, there are new challenges from diseases associated with ageing and lifestyles. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity-related conditions and neurological and mental disorders are all on the rise.

Science and technology can be part of the solution to these problems by helping people stay healthy and active for longer. Developments in healthcare offer promising trends such as personalised medicines, which use an understanding of a person’s genetic background to tailor treatments for each patient.

Enhancing human performance

Developments across science and engineering have the potential to enhance people’s cognitive and physical abilities.

As we explored in our Brain Waves project, increased understanding of the brain and nervous system will not only enable improved treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and mental illnesses but also give the possibility of other brain enhancement and manipulation. We examined the ethics of neuroscience technologies and the implications for health, education, law, and security.

The workplace will be one of the primary applications of cognitive and physical human enhancement. We explored some of the opportunities and challenges posed by these developments with other science academies.

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