Rates of death from malaria plunged by 60 percent in the past 15 years, meaning more than 6 million lives have been saved — the vast majority of them African children. This met a crucial UN Millennium Development Goal to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015; with with new cases of the parasitic mosquito-borne disease down by 37 percent since 2000, according to Reuters (9/16/15)
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan hailed it as “one of the great public health success stories of the past 15 years”. The report found an increasing number of countries on the verge of eliminating malaria. In 2014, 13 countries reported zero cases and six had fewer than 10 cases.
The fantastic reduction of deaths due to malaria is just the most recent example of the tremendous reduction of childhood diseases, in fulfillment of a prophecy made by the Prophet Isaiah, 2700 years ago.
Isaiah predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be filled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20)
Before the mid 19th century the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years, almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two babies; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred.
If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted.
Also, it seems to be part of human nature that most people focus on complaining about the less than 1% that still die (an individual family tragedy heightened by the fact that it is unexpected because it is so rare) rather than be grateful that the infant mortality rate has been reduced by over 95%.
Also, people are quick to point out that as a result of the great reduction in the infant mortality rate, the world’s population has expanded tremendously, which is, and will continue causing major social and economic problems in non-Western societies.
Also the great increase in the number of people who live long enough to become “elders” provides us with a new set of challenges (a 5-10 year increase in life expectancy is bad news for pension plans and good news for health care workers).
These improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history. Truly we are close to Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20).
Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries?
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone un-noticed and un-celebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long.
The amazing 1991 covert rescue of 14,325 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for a few weeks.
Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 recent Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both have long been taken for granted. The miracle has become routine.
But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia a generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle.
If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.
Now both groups take the miracle for granted. Indeed, Israeli politics make it hard to see even the creation of the State of Israel as an important Jewish accomplishment, much less a miracle. Still, I believe that by the end of the 21st century most Jews will see and affirm this generations miracles.