Despite all this, 2023 also was a year with significant positive developments, including in scientific research and medicine — and, throughout the year, moments of genuine connection and humanity shone through the bad news.
Research has indicated that uplifting news can provide an emotional buffer against distressing news and feelings of hopelessness — and even encourage optimism or action. So, in that spirit, here are some of the more uplifting developments you may have missed this year.
The WHO approved a new and affordable malaria vaccine
In October, the World Health Organization approved a malaria vaccine — only the second time a vaccine against the potentially deadly disease has been created. The WHO said it expects the vaccine, which costs $2-$4 per dose and has been shown to reduce symptomatic cases by 75 percent after three doses within a year, to be available by the middle of 2024.
More than 600,000 people died of malaria in 2021, with children under 5 representing 80 percent of malaria deaths in Africa. The United States reports about 2,000 malaria cases every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, with the majority of them contracted abroad.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said the announcement gave him “great pleasure. … I used to dream of the day when we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now, we have two.”
The FDA approved a groundbreaking pill to treat postpartum depression
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration also approved a number of potentially life-changing drugs, including a first-of-its-kind pill to treat postpartum depression, which affects up to 1 in 5 women. The severe and debilitating condition can cause pregnant and new mothers to experience intense hopelessness and, in rare cases, psychosis — and it can last for years.
The new drug is taken once a day for two weeks and, unlike the existing treatment of an IV injection that may take as long as 60 hours to administer in a health-care setting, it can be taken at home — greatly improving accessibility, especially for parents caring for a newborn.
While experts say the drug may not be suitable for all women with the condition and won’t be able to treat all aspects of a new mother’s mental health, they argue that the drug is nonetheless a convenient and fast-acting treatment, and is particularly useful in the early days after a birth, when parents and babies start bonding.
Two sickle cell disease treatments gained approval
In December, the FDA also approved two therapies for sickle cell disease, a rare and debilitating condition that affects around 100,000 Americans, most of them Black. The disease causes extreme, constant pain and can drastically cut the life span of those affected.
The new treatments are both gene therapies that have been shown in clinical trials to stop severe pain crises for most patients: One uses a harmless virus to insert a gene into the patient’s stem cells, while the other is the first medical treatment to be based on the gene-editing tool CRISPR.
Both are intensive, expensive procedures — and require chemotherapy, which has significant side effects. But patients who have received the treatments have spoken of its profoundly beneficial impact on their lives. Jimi Olaghere, a father of three who likened the pain caused by the disease to glass shards sawing back and forth inside his veins, said that after years of being unable to sleep at night because of pain, he has energy again, and that the treatment has enabled him for the first time to plan for a future with his family.
We learned more about dementia and memory loss — and how to prevent them
Scientists also made progress in understanding one of the biggest health concerns for countries with aging populations — dementia, which can have a devastating impact, robbing people of the ability to engage in daily tasks.
While there is no proven cure for dementia, scientific research has continued to find that there many steps we can take to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
One study published this year suggested that lifestyle habits, including regular mental and physical activity, eating a healthful diet, and regular social contact were linked with a slower rate of memory decline. Another found that living in areas with more natural green spaces was associated with lower rates of hospital admissions for diseases including dementia, while separate research indicated that the use of hearing aids could cut the risk of cognitive decline by nearly half.
The FDA also gave full approval, for the first time, to a drug that modestly slows Alzheimer’s disease. While difficult questions about safety, effectiveness and cost remain, many neurologists say that having a drug that slows Alzheimer’s is nonetheless a milestone after years of failed trials.
After 20 years, countries agreed a treaty to protect the oceans
Human health wasn’t the only area to see improvements this year. Even as scientists voiced concern about the state of Earth’s health, there were some positive steps to protect the planet.
In May, more than 190 countries agreed a major deal to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans outside of national borders, after more than two decades of talks. The United Nations adopted the treaty in June.
At present, only 1.2 percent of the high seas — which make up two-thirds of the planet’s ocean surface — are protected, leaving large stretches at risk from rising temperatures, overfishing, pollution, mining and other threats. The deal will allow nations to start creating new marine protection areas in the high seas for the first time, although it still may be years before U.N. member states formally adopt the agreement and are able to begin the process of designating the new zones. Even then, enforcement may be difficult.
But the agreement has been welcomed as a much-needed start on the path to protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and sea by the year 2030, a goal announced at a U.N. biodiversity summit in late 2022.
Brazil deforestation falls after reaching 15-year high
Last year, The Post published a series of stories showing the fast pace of destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest under then-President Jair Bolsonaro. During his presidency, the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rose to a 15-year high, and those responsible for the destruction acted with impunity.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returned to the presidency in January this year. His first six months in office showed positive signs, as authorities drove thousands of illegal gold miners from Indigenous lands, and the government said deforestation dropped by 50 percent.
There are questions about how likely the president is to reach his goal of ending deforestation by 2030, especially given government plans for a large-scale railway project and to pave a 540-mile highway. And deforestation isn’t the only environmental issue facing Brazil, which has come under scrutiny for its reliance on oil as it announced plans to align itself with a coalition of major oil-producing nations, OPEC Plus.
But European countries and the United States have once again offered to restart funding — which was suspended under Bolsonaro — to help end deforestation in the Amazon. Resuming the program would be a significant step for a rainforest that stores billions of tons of carbon and pulls millions more out of the atmosphere every year.
Even in a year of difficult news, moments of humanity shone through
While suffering across the world may have dominated the headlines in 2023, this year also reminded us that kindness and generosity exist, even amid crises and tragedy.
In March, after tornadoes devastated Mississippi, a group of Ukrainian refugees made a 16-hour journey to distribute water to victims of the disaster. Many had only just arrived in the United States — and still had immigration forms to fill in or job interviews to prepare for — but hoped to help a community they felt faced a struggle similar to theirs.
“When they stop what they’re going through to help someone else in need, that to me is the definition of love,” Corie Jones, the deputy director of Volunteer Mississippi, told The Post.
And in October, as police officer Arizbeth Dionisio Ambrosio was clearing debris after Hurricane Otis swept Mexico, she came across a woman with a crying, hungry baby. Ambrosio, who was breastfeeding her own 1-year-old, offered to nurse the baby and was able to soothe the infant — a moment of empathy that was praised around the world, and led to her receiving a promotion.
Ambrosio told The Post she didn’t consider what she did to be anything heroic or out of the ordinary. “It was what I needed to do and I did it,” she said. “When you are in a situation like that, you do not think whether to help or not. … I felt peace because I was with the baby giving him what he needed at the moment.”
Niha Masih, Emmanuel Felton, Richard Sima, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Marlene Cimons, Gretchen Reynolds, Lindsey Bever, Meeri Kim, Annabelle Timsit, Leo Sands, Dino Grandoni, Marina Dias, Terrence McCoy, Kasha Patel, Sydney Page and Andrea Salcedo contributed to this report.