From an abundance of drug-resistant pathogens to increasing rates of obesity, the world faces several health challenges, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In order to address such threats, the global health agency has launched a five-year plan – the 13th General Programme of Work. The scheme aims at achieving a triple-billion target, making sure a billion more people can access universal health coverage, a billion more people are shielded from health emergencies and lastly, and a billion more people live a better and healthier life.
The 10 global health threats that must be addressed in order to achieve the goal identified by WHO are…
Air pollution and climate change
WHO considers polluted air to be the “greatest environmental risk to health” in 2019. According to their study, nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air every day. Identified as the primary cause of pollution, the burning of fossil fuels is also considered a huge factor in climate change. WHO predicts that between 2030-50, climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year from diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition and heat stress.
Over 70 percent of deaths worldwide (around 41 million people) are attributed to noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. It was also seen that over 85 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. The five major risk factors are tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, and air pollution.
Global influenza pandemic
According to the WHO, the world will face another influenza pandemic. However, its severity and time of impact is yet to be determined. The agency is keeping the circulation of flu viruses under observation in order to identify potential pandemic strains. Across 114 nations, 153 institutions are involved in the worldwide surveillance and response plan.
Fragile and vulnerable settings
More than 1.6 billion people – nearly 22 percent of the global population – currently lack access to basic health care services. The reasons are a combination of challenges such as conflict, population displacement, famine, and drought. WHO plans to continue identifying and working in areas like these to promote better health services, including immunization.
The overuse of antibiotics and antivirals has resulted in the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which is the ability of bacteria, parasites, and viruses to resist drugs used to treat them, thereby posing a serious threat to modern medicine. In 2017, nearly 600,000 cases of tuberculosis were resistant to rifampicin, which is considered one of the most effective of first-line drugs. Around 82 percent of these patients suffered from multi-drug-resistance tuberculosis. In their plan, WHO aims to meet this challenge head-on with increased awareness and controlled use of antimicrobials.
Ebola and other high-threat pathogens
In 2018, two separate Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo affected more than a million people in cities and active conflict zones. WHO identifies several diseases and pathogens that may cause a public health emergency but lack effective treatment and vaccines. Diseases on this list include Ebola, Zika, Nipah, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and disease X.
Weak primary health care
Since primary health care is the first point of contact for people within a nation’s health care system, WHO suggests “comprehensive, affordable, community-based care throughout life” service should be provided. However, due to a lack of resources, and other factors, several low- or middle-income countries have failed to set up an effective primary health care facility. In 2019, WHO will help in strengthening primary health care in such countries.
At present, between two and three million deaths are prevented each year due to vaccinations. According to WHO, a further 1.5 million can be avoided if worldwide coverage of vaccinations is improved. However, there has been an ongoing trend of refusing vaccinations despite its availability, in some nations. According to advisory groups, the reasons for this range from complacency and inconvenience to lack of confidence among people. The year 2019 will see the agency ramping up work to eliminate cervical cancer by increasing coverage of its vaccine.
As of now, nearly 40 percent of the global population is at a risk of contracting the mosquito-borne disease. Each year, nearly 390 million infections are recorded. According to WHO, dengue can kill up to 20 percent of those suffering from severe cases. The agency’s control strategy aims to reduce deaths by half by 2020.
Despite considerable progress being made, it continues to pose a severe threat; even now nearly a million HIV/AIDS-related deaths are seen each year. At present, nearly 37 million live with the infection worldwide. This year, WHO plans to promote self-testing so each person can identify their status and opt for treatment accordingly.