From Ebola to HIV: Here’s WHO’s List of 10 Global Health Threats
Here’s a list of ten health issues that will need urgent attention from WHO & other healthcare providers in 2019.
(World AIDS Day is observed on December 1st every year. With more than 21 million patients, India has the third-highest burden of the disease after South Africa and Nigeria. FIT is reposting this story in that light.)
We have seen multiple health issues ranging from air pollution to the deadly Ebola outbreak in the year 2018.
To protect 3 billion people worldwide in 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a new five-year-strategic plan. The plan will:
Ensure 1 billion more people benefit from access to universal health coverage, 1 billion more people are protected from health emergencies and 1 billion more people enjoy better health and well-being.
Here’s a list of ten health issues that will need urgent attention from WHO and other healthcare providers in 2019:
1. Air Pollution and Climate Change
Breathing in polluted air is costing the world 7 million lives every year and causing harm to more than a billion people. Air pollution was termed the “new tobacco” by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO.
Referring to air pollution as “a silent public health emergency”, Dr Tedros, in an article written for The Guardian, said:
The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ - the toxic air that billions breathe everyday. No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution.
The first ever ‘Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health’ organised by WHO at it’s headquarters in Geneva in October 2018 was attended by Ministers of Health and Environment of various countries and other representatives. The conference was aimed at implementing strategies which will help hasten the efforts to reduce air pollution significantly.
High air pollution has been linked to a host of health problems, from an increased risk of dementia to asthma and even changes in the structure of the heart, with recent research suggesting there is no “safe level” of air pollution.
2. Non-Communicable Diseases
A WHO report on non communicable diseases (NCDs) in the world, said:
Billions of people around the world are affected by NCDs, and at all stages of the life course, from childhood to old age. The growing trend of population ageing has enormous ramifications for the prevention and management of NCDs.
Responsible for 41 million or 71 percent deaths globally, these include problems like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, and mental health challenges.
One of the primary challenges to overcome are reducing premature deaths, alcohol and tobacco usage, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets in this fight against NCDs, says the report.
The report states that some other challenges the execution of healthier practices face include not just lack of political support, but also implementation of the norms that are decided upon. Legislation, enforcing standards and acquiring enough investment are all hurdles to overcome.
WHO aims to work with ‘governments to help them meet the global target of reducing physical inactivity by 15 percent by 2030’.
3. Global Influenza Pandemic
The WHO predicts an influenza pandemic, but is unsure when and how the epidemic will hit the global population. The various influenza viruses are being constantly monitored to detect any signs of a pandemic.
Every year, the WHO suggests which strains of the virus must be included in the flu vaccine so as to protect the population from the seasonal flu.
For the year 2019, the WHO has set up a ‘unique partnership with all the major players to ensure effective and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and antivirals (treatments), especially in developing countries.’
4. Health Crisis in Vulnerable Places
The WHO identifies at least 22 percent of the global population who have no access to basic healthcare, as they live in places with weak healthcare facilities.
Challenges such as drought, famine, conflict make these people vulnerable to a host of diseases and infections.
The WHO plans to continue working with the governments of such nations to help provide better healthcare facilities and amenities to the affected populace.
5. Antibiotic Resistance
India is perhaps the worst abuser of antibiotics in the world. According to a latest paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , use of antibiotics in India went up 103 percent between year 2000 and 2015. All this, when multi drug resistance bacteria is in our hospitals, environment and is spreading.
Here’s a video of Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, director with Centre For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and a senior research scholar at Princeton University, explaining the phenomenon and why we might be close to a medical nightmare:
WHO says it will ‘implement a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance by increasing awareness and knowledge, reducing infection, and encouraging prudent use of antimicrobials.’
6. High Risk Pathogens Like Ebola
In November 2018, the WHO named Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak as the second largest in history, only behind the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed thousands a few years ago.
The WHO emergencies chief, Dr Peter Salama, called it “a sad toll”, as Congo’s health ministry announced the number of cases has reached 426. That included 379 confirmed cases and 47 probable ones.
Earlier in May 2018, the WHO declared Congo as facing a ‘very high’ public health risk from Ebola, raising its assessment from ‘high’ previously.
The WHO has prepared a list of dangerous pathogens which have the potential to cause a public health emergency.
7. Weak Primary Health Care
As per a report in IndiaSpend, public health experts believe that India has to move from vertical to comprehensive programmes, improve quality and access, hire more mid-level health workers and increase funding to improve primary care for achieving universal health coverage.
That health is not “merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, but “is a fundamental human right” was proclaimed 40 years ago in the Alma-Ata declaration in Kazakhstan in 1978. On 25 and 26 October 2018, the declaration was reiterated by 197 countries around the world as they signed the Declaration of Astana that vowed to strengthen primary healthcare as an essential step for achieving universal health coverage.
WHO plans to work with partners to ‘revitalize and strengthen primary health care in countries, and follow up on specific commitments made by in the Astana Declaration.’
The WHO reported that about half of the world’s population was at risk of getting infected by dengue, which caused 50 to 100 million infections per year worldwide.
Dengue fever, which is caused primarily by a virus, gets transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The symptoms of dengue fever usually appear 4-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and usually last for 2-7 days.
WHO recommends that dengue must be suspected when high fever is accompanied by at least two of the following symptoms severe headache, joint and muscle pain, vomiting, nausea and mild bleeding.
WHO’s Dengue control strategy aims to reduce deaths by 50 percent by 2020.
A report by UNICEF released in December 2018 gave a reality check on how far the world was from fulfilling its pledge of ending AIDS by 2030. While commending the remarkable progress made in the past decade among children aged 0-9 years, the report shed light on the lack of efforts to prevent HIV among adolescents.
A staggering 360,000 adolescents were projected to die of AIDS-related diseases between 2018 and 2030 without additional investment in HIV prevention, testing and treatment programs.
270,000 children and adolescents were projected to become newly infected with the virus annually in the year 2030. 56,000 children and adolescents were projected to die from AIDS-related causes annually. 2.0 million new HIV infections could be averted between 2018 and 2030 if global goals were met – 1.5 million of these could be averted among adolescents.
The WHO says that in 2019, it will work with countries to ‘support the introduction of self-testing so that more people living with HIV know their status and can receive treatment (or preventive measures in the case of a negative test result).’
10. Vaccine Hesitancy
The hesitancy or refusal to take vaccines or get vaccinated is often termed as ‘vaccine hesitancy’. WHO states that ‘vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.’
For example, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and Europe experienced the greatest upsurges in measles cases in the year 2017 with an estimated 1,10,000 deaths related to the disease across the globe, according to a new report by WHO.
The report suggested that the spike in measles cases occurred owing to gaps in vaccination coverage.
In 2019, WHO plans to ‘eliminate cervical cancer worldwide by increasing coverage of the HPV vaccine, among other interventions’.
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