Friday, December 02, 2011

Guest Blog Entry: Medical Advancements Come Out of Current Wars

Today's guest blog entry was written by Nick Jameson.

Since the earliest days of human civilization, war has been a regular and repeated phenomenon that destroys lives and tears societies apart. In its earliest days, a war required the mobilization of every member of a given state, and its ultimate victory or defeat promised to forever alter the fabric of that civilization. Then, for several centuries during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution, war reverted to a more small-scale affair among professional armies. Countries won, and lost, and gained territories, but life for the average person continued unchanged.

The past century has seen a return to total war – one that involves every member of society. World War I and World War II were momentous and bloody events that defined a generation for anyone living in an affected country. Together, the two wars killed millions upon millions of people and completely altered the course of modernity.

But the World Wars also ushered in tremendous advancements, many of which would not have occurred – or, at least, would not have occurred as quickly – without having war as a stimulus. On a technological level, advancements were made in nearly all aspects of military engagement: planes and naval ships were improved, the atomic bomb was developed, and communication lines were strengthened. Furthermore, on a medical level, the war ushered in the widespread use of penicillin, various immunizations, and gas masks in response to chemical attacks.

The medical advancements seen in World War II come as little surprise, considering that millions of injured and sick soldiers were being treated by some of the smartest doctors and scientists out there. Consequently, such advancements realized in the face of a major war can be seen as a silver lining amidst all the death and bloodshed. While companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences are always pursuing the latest medical breakthroughs, it is during a time of war when the full resources of society and of the federal government get behind this endeavor.

So what, then, are the medical advancements coming out of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? While neither engagement can be described as a total war, both conflicts have been among the costliest in history, and they have both made use of countless technological advancements. With Iraq coming to an end and Afghanistan winding down, it is a good time to start considering the medical improvements that these wars may leave as their legacies.

The two main medical advancements of our current wars come in the areas of mental health and prosthetic limbs. For years, veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon arriving home from combat were brushed aside, their problems not fully understood. These days, veterans with PTSD are usually diagnosed and provided treatment. But the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought that treatment to a new level: thanks to medical advancements in the realm of diagnosis and drug treatments, the U.S. military is better equipped to identify those veterans with PTSD and work to help them readjust to society.

Advancements in prosthetic limbs have been equally beneficial to a different type of injured soldier returning home. Although casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan have been far surpassed by other American wars, the injury rate is high and veterans are arriving home with limbs that have been amputated or blown off by a bomb. In past wars, these veterans would have had little recourse but to learn how to live without that limb. This is no longer the case. As a result of advancements in biomedical engineering, veterans can be retrofitted with prosthetics that act – and even look – just like a natural limb.

These advancements will continue to benefit civilian society long after the wars are over and the soldiers have arrived home. While the life lost during a military engagement is almost always senseless and unnecessary, we can take heart in the fact that generations of people will benefit from the medical advancements that come out of it.

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