Self driving cars would not be greatest health achievement of the century

Widespread adoption of self driving cars could prevent 90% of the 1.3 million deaths each year from car accidents. This would be a great thing but it would not be the greatest health achievement of the 21st century.

As recently as 2000, malaria killed around 850,000 people a year; likewise, since 2000 deaths from measles have fallen by 75%, to around 150,000. A list of five plausible near term disease targets—measles, mumps, rubella, filariasis and pork tapeworm—has hardly changed since the early 1990s, yet measles, mumps and rubella are all the subjects of intensive vaccination campaigns that could easily be converted into ones of eradication. Hepatitis C should be made a target, too. It kills half a million a year, and affects rich and poor countries alike, yet new drugs against it are almost 100% effective and there are no silent carriers. Eradicating these seven diseases—the five, plus malaria and hepatitis C—would save a yearly total of 1.2m lives. It would transform countless more.

Three causes that are tightly linked to extreme poverty can be eliminated and save over 7 million lives per year.

Unsafe water and sanitation
Indoor air pollution

In 2013, 289,000 women died giving life and about 1 million newborns didn’t survive their first day amid a dearth of high-quality, skilled maternity care.

WHO estimates that better use of existing preventive measures could reduce the global burden of disease by as much as 70%.

Safe births, safe cooking and universal vaccination would save over 10 million lives per year. The means of delivering these three things are with very simple and cheap technology, processes and education.

1. Safe births can save 2.6 million lives per year. There are various non-profit, UN, Gates Foundation and other efforts targeted at this goal.

– Clean birth kits (a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord and some other cheap supplies to prevent infection through the cord) could save 950,000 lives per year.

– trained midwives could help get clean birth kits out trained midwives could save another 2.6 million lives

2. 700-850 million soot free cookers could save 1.9 million lives per year from reduced air pollution. A few million of the cookers have been deployed already and various household versions cost $30-100. China has already had a major deployment effort. India has strong economic growth now and should accelerate deployment. Again there are non-profits and other efforts in this area.

Fixing black carbon soot pollution would help with air pollution and reduce warming. Soot is equal to about 40-55% of the warming from carbon dioxide. The cookers provide an offset equal to one ton of CO2 for just $6/ton of CO2 equivalent.

3. Getting off grid refrigeration and/or using super thermos containers can help get universal vaccination against certain key diseases and would save another 5 million lives per year.

Also, widespread solar power (even 100 watts per person) for less than $60 each would provide power for small electrical fridges. Even having one fridge per ten people would enable vaccines to be kept cool.

A total of about 37 million avoidable deaths out of 55 million deaths per year are avoidable without needing extreme technology. We can also work on the rest with anti-aging and life extension and more advanced medicine.