Chemistry contributes in an essential way to the improvement of nutrition and hygiene, together with other sciences and technologies, and is the essential protagonist, through pharmaceutical products, in the fight against diseases and in the improvement quality of life until very advanced ages. Klaus Heilman, director of the Munich Health Institute, established the correlation between the discovery and widespread application of drugs, and the improvement of the quality of life and its prolongation, calculating that 15 years of our lives (20%), are We owe them to drugs.
Two groups of drugs, among others, have contributed to this revolution in the improvement of human health: antibiotics, which have revolutionized the cure of infections caused by microorganisms, and vaccines, which have been the first line of defense against epidemics, contagious diseases and foreseeable pathologies.
The French chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur demonstrated the theory of germs as causing diseases (pathogens), giving scientific basis to the experiences of the English doctor Edward Jenner, inventor of the first vaccine. German chemist Gerhard Domagk was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1939 for the discovery of the first chemotherapeutic molecule active against germs: sulfonamide. This product, and its successors, saved countless lives in the decades that followed. Later, the British Alexander Fleming, also a Nobel Prize winner in 1945, discovered the anti-infective action of the secretion of a fungus, which received the name Penicillin, giving rise to the birth of antibiotics.
Medicines and vaccines have practically eradicated major diseases such as polio, smallpox or tuberculosis. For their part, antiseptics and antibiotics help – among other things – to save mothers’ lives during childbirth, with mortality in industrialized countries having fallen from 300 mothers per 100,000 births, to less than 20 today .
Cholera has also been eradicated in much of the world through water treatment, of which Pasteur said: “We drink 80% of diseases.” Currently, the chemical industry manufactures the chlorine that makes 98% of the water consumed by humans drinkable.
But modern chemistry not only helps save millions of lives thanks to medicines, but also through other products that break the chain of transmission of terrible diseases such as insecticides, disinfectants and other protectors of various kinds. For example, the fight against malaria and the mosquito that transmits it is absolutely essential if we consider that more than 100 million people (the combined population of Spain and France) are infected annually.
Illnesses are almost always accompanied by very different kinds of suffering, pain, and disability. Medicines relieve pain and improve the quality of life, only in Europe, of:
- 30 million people with arthritis or rheumatism
- 5 million heart patients
- 0.5 million with Parkinson’s disease
- 20 to 30 million with nervous disorders
- Countless patients with diabetes, epilepsy and asthma
- In addition, new chemical molecules make organ transplantation possible and the pharmacy is entering the field of gene therapy.
Without the products made by chemical companies, hundreds of thousands of Europeans would today be incapacitated. Spare parts for joints and ultralight limbs are made from new materials with special properties such as bio-compatibility. Heart valves, pacemakers, artificial kidneys, and sewing thread in operating rooms are made from high-tech chemicals, and many devices made from them work by chemistry.
The deaf can hear through tiny plastic devices with batteries, the blind can see with artificial corneas made of synthetic materials, and the lame can walk thanks to prosthetics made of biocompatible chemical materials.
And the repairs – the surgical operations – can only be carried out through the aid of countless chemicals such as antiseptics, disinfectants, industrial gases, fine plastic tubes, blood bags and drip bags, adhesives, hardeners … and the anesthesia, which is one of the inventions to which practically everyone is grateful for personal experience, and which has made dentists somewhat more likable.
In addition, hospitals use countless chemical products that, like PVC, make it possible to ensure the hygienic and aseptic conditions of the materials.
Protection Materials. Chemistry gives us a harder head
To prevent accidents or mitigate damage, man also resorts to what we could call external prostheses, such as helmets, protective gloves, safety shoes, glasses, fire-retardant suits, bulletproof vests, and even space suits, all made with lightweight, high-performance chemical materials.