In the time that it takes you to read this sentence, at least ten real people will die, some of them helpless children, and some in horrible pain. Every single day, 24,000 people die of starvation; 6,000 children are killed by diarrhea; 2,700 children are killed by measles; and 1,400 women die in childbirth.
In more bad news, the number of cases of the deadliest form of malaria across the world could be twice as high as previously predicted.
A team from the University of Oxford estimated there were over half a billion cases of Plasmodium falciparum malaria globally in 2002. This figure is up to 50% higher than estimates from the World Health Organization. Two thirds of cases occurred in Africa, predominantly affecting children under five years old.
The study suggests that, in total, 2.2 billion people are at risk from malaria, or about one-third of the population on Earth.
That’s the world we live in today. But can anything be done about it?
Well, according to another new study, the lives of 3 million newborn babies in poor nations could be saved annually through simple improvements in birthing procedures and basic healthcare that would cost the world $4.1 billion per year.
That would be a wonderful beginning. But many more could be saved from suffering and death through the development of molecular manufacturing.
One approach would be to deal with living space, which has a significant effect on quality of life, especially in less developed areas of the world. The ability to exclude insects, for instance, would greatly reduce certain diseases, including malaria. Thermal insulation can increase comfort and often reduce energy consumption. Water and sewage piping and fixtures increase sanitation and decrease disease. These components could be provided cheaply on-site, using local resources, once nanofactory technology has been achieved.
Of course, housing styles are as varied as cultures, and living spaces cannot and should not be standardized worldwide. But building supplies and home systems (e.g. power, plumbing) require less diversity, and useful components might be built from pre-designed plans.
In many areas of the world, something as simple as a water filter or a mosquito net could save many lives. Such small, simple products would cost almost nothing to produce with a nanofactory. Living space reform cannot be approached as a single problem with an easy solution, but the worst problems can easily be addressed piecemeal.
This all depends, however, on our willingness and ability to make such solutions available. The potential humanitarian benefits of advanced nanotechnology are immense, but unless some system of equitable management is devised in advance, a unique opportunity may be missed, and many more lives unnecessarily lost.