In this Fourth Ruth Langton Memorial Lecture, the author highlights some of the major health problems in children, mentally and physically handicapped people, and in the growing numbers of elderly people in society. Nurses’ roles are discussed. He identifies many major areas of concern and points out that many of the afflictions affecting people throughout the world, such as infectious diseases, blindness and malnutrition, could so easily be prevented. The author also focuses on the diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles, in particular heart disease, cancers, drug addiction and obesity. He argues that a redirection of resources spent on arms and defence could do much to alleviate disease and suffering throughout the world. He also questions the present effectiveness of nursing education programmes and community care programmes. The paper concludes with a challenge to all nurses to explode the myth that society is becoming healthier, to face the reality of the urgent need for more primary health care and health education programmes, and to heal the dichotomy between present nursing and health care provision and the actual health needs of society.