Living Longer

Full Program Description

Living Longer
Medical advances further the fight against disease
Original broadcast: Monday, June 21, 1999 at 10pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)

"At that time there wasn't a hospital or a doctor, or even an herbalist near the village. We used to go running to fetch an herbalist, but by the time we got back, the patient would be dead. Smallpox, measles, cholera, plague, influenza. These were fatal diseases."
-- Teju Raghuvir, villager, Uttar Pradesh, India

These 100 years have seen polio vanquished, smallpox eradicated, the incidence of cholera and tuberculosis severely reduced. Life expectancy around the world has risen faster this century than ever before.

With the advent and widespread use of penicillin during the Second World War and a greater understanding of microbiology, astonishing advances in Western medicine and public health followed as age-old diseases were systematically tackled in the United States and around the world. Millions hoped that new drugs and medical technologies would offer them better health -- and longer lives. But the gap between what was theoretically possible and what was readily available -- or affordable -- varied greatly from country to country.

Still, in these last fifty years, the population of the world has increased three times over. Throughout the developing world, children are less likely to be lost to disease. And this new generation can expect to live twenty years longer than their parents' generation. Worldwide, millions of today's newborns will live lives that could span the entire twenty-first century.

But living longer and its attendant rewards have also raised unexpected new challenges for medicine and public health: how to maintain a supply of clean water and proper sanitation in the face of a rapidly growing population; how to curb pollution as more and more countries industrialize; and how to keep new strains of -- or antibiotic-resistant -- infectious disease from emerging?

The people remember: Polio vaccine, March of Dimes and mass inoculation campaigns, World Health Organization, eradication of smallpox in India and Africa, advances in public health, population explosion, family planning, contraception campaigns, AIDS, resurgence of tuberculosis.

Living Longer is produced and directed by Peter Ceresole. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

John Forsythe narrates.

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