A World Free From Disease
“All countries should cooperate in a spirit of partnership and service to ensure primary health care for all people since the attainment of health by people in any one country directly concerns and benefits every other country.”—ALMA-ATA DECLARATION, SEPTEMBER 12, 1978.
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, primary health care for everyone on earth seemed to some to be an attainable goal. The delegates to the International Conference on Primary Health Care, meeting in Alma-Ata, in what is now Kazakhstan, resolved to have all mankind immunized against the major infectious diseases by the year 2000. They also hoped that by that same year, basic sanitation and safe water would be available to everyone on earth. All member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) signed the declaration.
The goal was certainly praiseworthy, but the follow-up has proved disappointing. Primary health care is by no means universal, and infectious diseases still threaten the health of billions of people on earth. And these fatal maladies often strike down children as well as adults in the prime of life.
Even the triple threat of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria has not compelled countries to “cooperate in a spirit of partnership.” The newly established Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria asked governments for $13 billion to help curb these epidemics. By the summer of 2002, however, just over $2 billion had been offered—in the same year, military spending reached an estimated $700 billion! Sadly, in today’s divided world, few threats are capable of uniting all nations for the common good.
Even with the best of intentions, health authorities find themselves handicapped in their fight against infectious diseases. Governments may not provide the necessary money. Microbes have become resistant to many drugs, and people may insist on pursuing a high-risk life-style. Furthermore, endemic problems such as poverty, war, and famine pave the way for pathogens successfully to invade millions of human hosts.
God’s Interest in Our Health
There is a solution. We have clear evidence that Jehovah God takes a keen interest in the health of mankind. Our immune system provides striking proof of this concern. Many laws that Jehovah gave to ancient Israel revealed his desire to protect them from infectious diseases.*
Jesus Christ, who reflects the personality of his heavenly Father, likewise feels compassion for the sick. The Gospel of Mark describes Jesus’ encounter with a man suffering from leprosy. “If you want to,” the leper said, “you can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with pity when he perceived the pain and suffering the man was enduring. “I do want to,” Jesus answered. “Be clean!”—Mark 1:40, 41, Today’s English Version.
Jesus’ miraculous cures were not confined to a few individuals. The Gospel writer Matthew records that Jesus “went around throughout the whole of Galilee, teaching . . . and preaching the good news of the kingdom and curing every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) His cures did not merely help the sick people of Judea and Galilee. Those healings give us a foretaste of how all kinds of disease will finally disappear when God’s Kingdom, about which Jesus preached, rules unopposed over mankind.
Global Health Not an Impossible Dream
The Bible assures us that global health is not an impossible dream. The apostle John foresaw the time when the ‘tent of God would be with mankind.’ As a result of this action on God’s part, “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” Does that seem too good to be true? In the following verse, God himself declares: “These words are faithful and true.”—Revelation 21:3-5.
Of course, the end of disease necessarily requires the end of poverty, famine, and war, since these calamities often work hand-in-hand with infectious microbes. Therefore, Jehovah assigns this huge task to his Kingdom, a heavenly government in the hands of Christ. In answer to millions of fervent prayers, this government will come, and it will ensure that God’s will is done on earth.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
When can we expect God’s Kingdom to come? In addressing that question, Jesus foretold that the world would see a series of significant developments that would provide a sign indicating that the Kingdom would soon take action. One of these features, he said, would be the outbreak of ‘pestilences in one place after another.’ (Luke 21:10, 11; Matthew 24:3, 7) The Greek word for “pestilence” refers to “any deadly infectious malady.” The 20th century certainly saw horrendous outbreaks of pestilence, despite all the advances of medical science.—See the box “Deaths due to Pestilence Since 1914.”
A prophecy in the book of Revelation, which parallels Jesus’ words in the Gospels, depicts several horsemen accompanying Jesus Christ when he assumes power in heaven. The fourth horseman rides “a pale horse,” and he sows “deadly plague” in his wake. (Revelation 6:2, 4, 5, 8) A look at the death toll from some of the major infectious diseases since 1914 confirms that this figurative horseman has indeed been riding. The worldwide suffering from “deadly plague” provides one further proof that the coming of God’s Kingdom is near.*—Mark 13:29.
Although medical science has succeeded in rolling back the tide of infectious disease for a few decades, a new tide begins to threaten us. Clearly, we need a superhuman solution to solve this problem once and for all. Our Creator promises to do just that. The prophet Isaiah assures us that under God’s Kingdom, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” Furthermore, “[God] will actually swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8; 33:22, 24) When that day dawns, disease will have been conquered for all time.
The Mosaic Law contained instructions regarding waste disposal, sanitation, hygiene, and quarantine. Dr. H. O. Philips noted that “the facts of life, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive medicine as given in the Bible are far more advanced and reliable than the theories of Hippocrates.”
For a consideration of additional features proving that the coming of God’s Kingdom is near, see chapter 11 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Deaths due to Pestilence Since 1914
These statistics are necessarily approximate. They do indicate, however, the extent to which pestilence has stalked humankind since 1914.
◼ Smallpox (between 300 million and 500 million) No effective treatment for smallpox was ever developed. A massive international vaccination program finally succeeded in eradicating the disease by 1980.
◼ Tuberculosis (between 100 million and 150 million) Tuberculosis now kills approximately two million people each year, and about 1 out of every 3 people in the world carries the tuberculosis bacillus.
◼ Malaria (between 80 million and 120 million) For the first half of the 20th century, the death toll from malaria hovered at about two million a year. The greatest mortality is now centered in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria still kills more than one million people yearly.
◼ Spanish influenza (between 20 million and 30 million) Some historians say that the death toll was much higher. This lethal epidemic swept the world in 1918 and 1919, close on the heels of the first world war. “Even bubonic plague did not kill so many people so fast,” says the book Man and Microbes.
◼ Typhus (about 20 million) Epidemics of typhus often accompanied war, and the first world war provoked a typhus plague that ravaged countries in Eastern Europe.
◼ AIDS (over 20 million) This modern scourge is now killing three million people every year. Current estimates by the United Nations AIDS program indicate that “in the absence of drastically expanded prevention and treatment efforts, 68 million people will die . . . between 2000 and 2020.”
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Under God’s Kingdom, diseases such as these will no longer pose a threat
AIDS: CDC; malaria: CDC/Dr. Melvin; TB: © 2003 Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.
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Jesus cured every sort of disease and infirmity