The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Report explains the scenarios in which the next 18 years may play out internationally. Some of the predictions addressed matters of global health and health technologies playing a role in the future of medicine.
The transition from the prevalence of more non-communicable diseases is imminent in areas where communicable disease is currently more frequent due to increased availability of healthcare and modernization in the developing world. Additionally, such nations in transition will experience a significant decline in infant and child mortality rates; however life expectancy between rich and poor countries is still expected to be vastly different.
While much of the world’s population is expected to age, some nations and areas with plummeting birth rates will likely see older populations sooner, such as Japan and much of continental Europe. It’s likely that older populations will struggle with the competition of younger nations who can put younger people to work.
Pandemics remain an area of concern, as it has been observed that more and more diseases previously thought to be cured have developed antibiotic-resistant strains. These diseases could see significant resurgence without the development of effective medicines against their newer, more resilient versions. It is also a well-known fact that many pathogens, such as HIV/AIDS, have spread first from animals to humans. As contact between humans and animals in isolated parts of the world is expected to increase, so too is the likelihood that more animal-borne pathogens will manifest.
The threat of an easily transmissible novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than one percent of its victims is seen as the most disruptive pandemic scenario. This is due to the notion that such an outbreak would cause death to people in all four corners of the world and most likely within six months. This also brings to light that in 2030, genetic engineers are likely to be able to create their own new viruses, which would only compound the threat of naturally occurring pathogens.
The predictions, however, do not all paint a bleak picture. Rapid advances in molecular diagnostics and disease management technologies will lead to earlier detection and faster treatments, ultimately unlocking a new era of longevity. Genetic sequencing will become cheaper and more widespread as companies move away from expensive biological reagents to silicon-based molecular diagnostics procedures.
There will be an increased understanding of the genetic bases for diseases. Genomics will further revolutionize and call for formidable computing infrastructure to house large stores of genetic data. Ultimately, genetic testing will lead to more personalized forms of treatment that reduce wasteful health care spending, such as doctors prescribing ineffective medicines.
Synthetic biology will become increasingly relevant in the production of novel treatments and diagnostics agents. Regenerative medicine may also parallel this shift in diagnostic and treatment protocols, with the possibility of replacement organs being developed by 2030. Lastly, the idea of human augmentation has surpassed that of using prosthetics to effectively replace lost limbs and assist the elderly and mobility-disabled populations, and now includes the use of exoskeleton structures to enhance human performance in working and navigating environments that were previously inaccessible.
Despite these distant-sounding predictions, the world today moves at a rapid pace and the possibility of such manifestations are clearly tethered to what ideas are dreamed up in the present. The world will no doubt be older, wiser, and more technologically armed in facing whatever health challenges lay on the horizon.