5 Simple Changes that Can Save Thousands of Lives
For the longest time, humans have been searching for ways to reduce accidents and mortality rates. Part of what makes us human is our concern for others. For this week’s list, we’re counting down on the best (and simplest) changes that effectively saved lives.
5. Blocked Emergency Exits
For something created specifically for life-saving, emergency doors can bring out the worst in fatal scenarios. For one, they make us think that 50 full-sized adults can fit through a single doorway. During emergency situations like fire, panicking people tend to rush to the exit from all directions. This human barricade inevitably slows down the evacuation. It doesn’t help that as a species, human beings almost always gravitate towards crowds in stressful situations. There could be ten exits and everyone would still huddle towards one.
Block the exit! No, seriously. If an appropriately sized obstacle is properly placed in front of the exit, the amount of people going through will be bottlenecked and more controlled. Researchers from Japan ran evacuation drills with 50 people and placed a column in front of an emergency exit. They found that the wave of people flowed more steadily and orderly. This is a controlled situation, however. They are yet to see this theory in action because causing real-life fires for a social experiment is apparently ill-advised.
4. Annoying Medication Packages
More than 38,000 lives are lost annually through suicide in America. In addition, each year there are around 33,000 unintentional deaths by poisonings. Taken together, that’s more than twice the number of people who die annually in car accidents.
For a lot of countries, medicines like paracetamol can be bought by the bulk. In the US, you can buy a bottle of 500 pills. For those with suicidal intent, popping pills seem to be the most convenient way to go. This easy access also led to a higher rate in accidental poisoning for children.
In September 1998, the UK decided to mandate the medical packaging for paracetamol. Now they come in that familiar blister pack. Aside from discouraging bulk buying, the pills are now segregated in a way that would make overdosing more tedious. Imagine having to pop one at a time for fifteen minutes just to get a fistful in your mouth. All suicidal thoughts, which are usually impulsive in nature, would have died down at that point.
Since then, the number of paracetamol-related suicides in the UK dropped 43%. It should be noted that overdosing in paracetamol causes liver damage. After the implementation of this new packaging, the amount of liver transplants lowered by a significant 61%. At a recent study, the change is said to have saved an estimated 765 lives.
PTSD has been around pretty much since man decided that wars are the best conflict resolution. It’s only began gaining recognition this past century and the science involved in this is still on its teenage “take me seriously, dad” phase. One of the most common repercussions of PTSD are flashbacks. Relieving traumatic experiences can be triggered at anytime by anything, making the day-to-day life of a PTSD sufferer a living hell.
You know how hours (days?) of playing Tetris can make you see blocks everywhere? You get hyper aware of the multiple ways you can pack your things in a suitcase. Bookshelves are a delight. You keep eyeing that cramped space, swearing that you could fit yourself and your friends in there like a glove.
This unnatural occupation with the game has caused researchers to delve deeper into what it could do to mental health problems. Apparently, Tetris is effective in suppressing PTSD flashbacks. They held a live screening of a disturbing film. It’s probably best to keep what they actually watched a secret. Six hours after the viewing, some participants answered trivia, some played Tetris, and others did nothing much at all. A week after, people who’d played Tetris had far fewer flashbacks. The game can apparently occupy the head so much that it can pretty much bump off PTSD flashbacks from our brain.
2. Fish-shaped Iron
Worldwide, anemia affects more than half of pregnant women and 40% of young children, contributing 20% of all maternal deaths. Its devastating reach makes anemia the only nutrient-deficiency that can directly affect industrialized nations. Nowhere is this clearer than in Cambodia where about 44% of its population is affected. The low income of most of its communities means less meat intake. One way for iron to be integrated in their diet is through the use of iron pots. This, however, proved to be too expensive for the majority of Cambodians who are more predisposed to using aluminum pots.
In 2008, a Canadian epidemiologist Christopher Charles decided to remedy this by giving out lumps of iron that Cambodians can put in their cooking pots. These lumps weren’t received well with Cambodian women using these lumps as doorsteps instead. Charles then shaped them into lotus leaves which remained unsuccessful. Taking a hint, Charles chatted with these increasingly unimpressed locals. From there, he got his big break.
The old folks in the community told him of a local fish that is a symbol for both luck and happiness. This inspired Charles to mold the iron into the shape of the said fish. This small alteration exponentially raised the usage of the now adorably called Lucky Fish Iron, contributing to the overall increase of blood iron levels among the villagers.
It’s easy to forget that healthcare professionals are actual humans capable of forgetfulness and errors. For example, about 80,000 patients who receive a catheter for their treatment end up infected. 28,000 of them wind up dead. For industrialized countries, complications can happen to a fourth of in-patient surgeries. Half of these complications are preventable. These statistics are daunting, especially from a place of supposed safety.
To keep these mishaps from gaining more frequency, WHO established a 19-point checklist for all surgeries. The list included some pretty basic steps like every team member introducing themselves at the beginning of the surgery. For the dozens of countries that tried it, this simple list reduced surgical complications by one-third. It just goes to show how a small adjustments can go a long way.