The 20th century was witness to revolutionary inventions and public health advances. We conquered polio and smallpox. We invented the internet, mastered organ transplant and empowered millions of people around the world to leave extreme poverty behind. Many of the technological marvels of the last 100 years have now been made obsolete by better and more efficient technology.
It seems incomprehensible, as we approach World TB Day, that we are still using a TB vaccine from the 1920s, especially when you see how far we have come in the last 100 years, and what we have left behind!
5 technologies that were made obsolete…
Cathode ray tube TVs
In an era of ultra-thin TVs, even flat screen sets from the 2000s look terribly quaint. Spare a thought then for the cathode ray tube TVs of previous generations. Few innovations can match the position of the TV as THE technology of the second half of the 20th century. The first ever broadcast was made not long after the introduction of the TB vaccine – March 1925 at Selfrdges Department Store in London, to be precise. The first cathode ray tube TV sets followed in the early 1930s, and dominated the TV business until the 2000s. The rise of LCD and LED technology – quite simply a better way to watch – made the cathode ray tube unit obsolete, and production more or less ceased by 2008. Now we can enjoy TV in full colour, 4K glory!
There are people of a certain age for whom connecting to the internet will forever bring to mind a clicking and screeching noise coming from the computer, as your modem connected to the internet via your landline. Connecting was only the first stage, as you had to wait an eternity for content-heavy pages to load. Never mind weak wifi signals; this was the era of dial-up internet. The start of real public access to the internet began in the USA with the launch of the first commercially available dial-up modem in 1992. Back then, if you wanted to browse online the most important attribute you probably needed was patience. Dial-up has been replaced – for the most part – with high-speed broadband, and only about 3% of users in the USA use it to go online now.
The fax machine
The origins of the fax machine stretch far back into the 19th century, but the modern fax machine as we know it today was launched in 1964 by Xerox – and with it, a new verb was born. The humble fax machine has largely been replaced now by email and other online messaging services. It is still, however, hanging on for dear life in a couple of industries – in banking, public administrations, and – as anyone who follows transfer-deadline day – football.
The cassette tape
Another rite of passage that young people today miss out on is the mix tape. Long gone are the days when compiling a tracklist of your favourite songs – or the songs with which you wanted to impress a girl at school – meant sitting next to the tape recorder and hitting the play and record buttons at just the right time when said songs came on the radio. While cassette tapes were first introduced in 1962 by Philips, their heyday came in that brief period between vinyl and CDs – exemplified by the 1980s Walkman. The final death-knell for the modest cassette tape came when CDs players replaced them in car stereos, and now they mainly exist as a curio for some music communities and promotional gimmick. At least they didn’t suffer the fate of the MiniDisc.
Blockbuster Video Rental
This could just as well apply to any video rental company – they are a dying force all over the world. And the reason for this? “Netflix and chill” sums it up. The first ever video rental store was opened in West Germany, and this store was still active in 2015. Others have fared less well. Blockbuster was launched in Texas in 1985, and hit its peak in 2004 with over 9,000 outlets. Now, thanks to the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other video-on-demand services, they have a paltry 51 stores in the USA.
…and one that was not (yet)
The bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine used against TB has existed for over 90 years and is one of the most widely used of all current vaccines. It was first used medically in 1921, and was created by two researchers working at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The TB vaccine is effective against disseminated TB in children, but it prevent primary infection and, more importantly, does not prevent reactivation of the disease later in life. It is the only available vaccine against the disease.
Essentially, public health workers are being forced to use an aged, ineffective vaccine for want of a better alternative. And this, for a disease that was contracted by 9.6 million people in 2014 and was responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million more. It seems incomprehensible that we have not been able to deliver a newer, more effective TB vaccine.[bctt tweet=”It’s time the TB vaccine went the way of the cassette tape! The #WorldTBday, let’s commit to #makeTBobsolete!”]
Diseases like polio and smallpox were finally overcome because there was serious investment put into finding and disseminating a vaccine. Researchers all over the world are right now working in clinical trials and basic research to discover a new TB vaccine. There is no reason why we cannot commit to funding this crucial research into a new and better TB vaccine now, other than political will.
The political will to end TB was evident in New York in 2015 when it was agreed as part of the sustainable development goals to commit to end TB by 2030. What we need now is for governments to back this up with public investment in new and innovative approaches to R&D for diseases like TB. Only by increasing the money available to researchers, and by making easier for them to access it, are we likely to see the emergence of a truly effective TB vaccine. Only when we have an effective and protective TB vaccine are we likely to be able to meet our targets for 2030.
That’s what, on World TB Day, we are calling on governments in Europe and the rest of the world to step up their support for R&D on diseases of poverty, and work with us to #makeTBobsolete.
Help us build the momentum to make this possible by sharing on social media and retweeting the message above!