Health and Healthcare Systems

These discoveries saved billions of lives

Research scientist Dan Galperin works on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein at his laboratory where they are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus based on production of recombinant variations of the E protein from the Zika virus at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, U.S., June 20, 2016. Picture taken June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Toilets, blood transfusions nand vaccines are each credited with saving 1 billion lives. Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar

Jeff Desjardins
Founder and editor, Visual Capitalist
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Innovation

For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

Image: Visual Capitalist

Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

Important breakthroughs

What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?

Today’s infographic from AperionCare highlights the top 50 breakthroughs, ranging from pasteurization to the bifurcated needle, that have helped propel global life expectancy upwards.

Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives.

To see innovations on an individual basis, AperionCare breaks them down further as follows:

Image: Visual Capitalist

The breakthroughs that are credited with saving the most lives?

Toilets, synthetic fertilizers, blood transfusions, the green revolution (also known as the “Third Agricultural Revolution”), and vaccines are each credited with saving 1 billion lives. Meanwhile, pasteurization, water chlorination, antibiotics, antimalarial drugs, and the bifurcated needle have saved hundreds of millions of lives each.

There are also some unusual entries to the list.

It turns out that satellites have actually saved 250,000 lives, thanks to the ability to better forecast natural disasters. Nuclear power also gets a shout out – and it may surprise some people that nuclear energy is the least deadly form of energy per kilowatt generated.

Progress in life expectancy

For a graphical look at how this all has impacted life expectancy, the following chart from Our World in Data makes a very clear case:

Image: Our World In Data

The impact from these new technologies was first experienced in Europe at the end of the 1800s – and other continents quickly saw the benefits thereafter.

Impressively, Africa has now passed the 60 year mark in life expectancy, with numbers still rising.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsGlobal Cooperation
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Feeding the future: why Renovation and Reinvention are key to saving our food system

Juliana Weltman Glezer

June 13, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum