WHO: Top 13 Urgent Health Challenges Facing the World Over the Next Decade

World Health Organization Releases a List of the Top 13 Global Challenges Facing the Human Race over the Next 10 Years

This week, World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of 13 urgent health challenges facing the globe over the next 10 years. The list was curated by world health experts, and according to WHO “reflects a deep concern that leaders are failing to invest enough resources in core health priorities and systems.”

The 13 challenges are as follows and includes a synopsis of each and what WHO is doing to combat them.

Addressing Climate Crisis

WHO noted that air pollution claims the lives of approximately 7 million people annually, and climate change effectuates extreme weather events, spreads infectious diseases, and worsens malnutrition. To combat the climate crisis, WHO developed air quality guidelines in 2019 and this year plans to construct a set of government policy options to prevent and mitigate the detrimental impacts of climate change.

Delivering Health Amid Conflict

Last year, most disease outbreaks that required a swift WHO response occurred in countries undergoing prolonged conflict, and this dilemma caused a disturbing trend toward targeted attacks at health facilities and workers. This conflict has resulted in tens of millions of people without health care access. To address this challenge, WHO is deploying mobile medical teams, initiating vaccination campaigns, disseminating medicines, and training health workers. However, WHO cautions that this challenge cannot be fully rectified without political solutions to protracted conflicts.

Fighting Health Care Inequality

Socioeconomic disparities are ever-growing and having a profoundly negative effect on people’s health worldwide. “There’s not only an 18-year difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries, but also a marked gap within countries and even within cities,” according to WHO. They added that the global rise of chronic diseases such as cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes disproportionately burden low and middle-income nations. WHO (and partners) are tackling this challenge by striving to improve child and maternal care, nutrition, gender equality, mental health, and access to clean water. Moreover, WHO is working to improve health services on both a private and public level.

Expanding Access to Medicines

Alarmingly, about one-third of the world population lacks access to lifesaving medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic tools. This dearth of access to health products is endangering patients and fueling drug resistance, according to WHO. They stated that “this year, WHO will sharpen its focus on priority areas for global access.”

Stopping Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria will kill an estimated 4 million (mostly poor) people in 2020. Concurrently, vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, continue to kill thousands of people each year, many of them children. “There’s an urgent need for greater political will and increased funding for essential health services,” wrote WHO. This includes organizing greater efforts to attenuate the effects of drug resistance, and investing in research and development for new medicines, vaccines, and medical devices.

Preparing for Epidemics

WHO admonishes that the onset of a new pandemic that threatens the lives of millions is not a matter of if, but when. While they postulated that this pandemic might come in the form of a strain of influenza, they also cautioned that vector-borne diseases like malaria and yellow fever are spreading as mosquito populations move into new areas. To thwart this global threat, WHO is “advising countries on evidence-based investments to strengthen health systems and infrastructure to keep populations safe when health emergencies strike.”

Guarding Against Dangerous Products

While food insecurity and hunger continue to plague millions, consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar, trans fat, and salt is spiking; as are obesity, and diet-related diseases. Moreover, tobacco use is increasing in most countries while simultaneously, health concerns are rising with regards to e-cigarettes. WHO is meeting this challenge by working with countries to develop public policies, enhance food systems, and supply healthy and sustainable diets.

Investing in Health Workers

There exists a shortage of heath workers due to an under-investment in education and employment coupled with insufficient pay. According to WHO, “the world will need 18 million additional health workers by 2030, primarily in low- and middle-income countries, including 9 million nurses and midwives.” Along with partners, they are working with countries to revitalize an investment in properly training health workers while paying them decent wages.

Protecting the World’s Youth

More than 1 million adolescents (between the ages of 10-19) see their lives come to an end each year, and the leading causes of youth mortality are motor vehicle accidents, HIV, suicide, and interpersonal violence. These risks are augmented by the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, lack of physical activity, and maltreatment. In 2020, WHO will strive to promote adolescents’ well-being by issuing a new guidance for policymakers, and health professionals called Helping Adolescents Thrive.

Gaining Public Trust

“Public health is compromised by the uncontrolled dissemination of misinformation in social media, as well as through an erosion of trust in public institutions,” WHO writes. They added that the anti-vaccination movement has contributed to a spike in deaths from otherwise preventable diseases. To counteract this misinformation, WHO is working with Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media platforms to ensure users receive accurate and reliable information about vaccines and other health-related issues.

Harnessing New Technologies

Burgeoning health technologies, such as genome editing, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence can solve many problems, but they also raise new questions and challenges with respect to monitoring and regulation. To achieve a deeper understanding of the ethical and social implications of these innovations, WHO is working diligently with countries to ensure they adequately plan, adopt, and benefit from new tools that stand to enhance clinical performance. Last year, they assembled new advisory committees for human genome editing and digital health.

Protecting Lifesaving Medicines

WHO warns that “anti-microbial resistance (AMR) threatens to send modern medicine back decades to the pre-antibiotic era, when even routine surgeries were hazardous.” The rise of AMR stems from such factors as unregulated prescription and use of antibiotics, lack of access to quality and affordable medicines, and a lack of clean water. WHO is looking to ameliorate this problem by addressing its root causes with national and international authorities while advocating for the research and development of new antibiotics.

Keeping Health Care Clean

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services are critical to maintain a robust health system, and an environment devoid of these necessities yields poor-quality care and an increased rate of infections. Many communities around the world are living with unsafe drinking water and substandard sanitation services – both of which can cause disease. WHO writes that along with its partners, they are currently “working with 35 low and middle-income countries to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in their health facilities.”

They added that the global goal “is for all countries to have included WASH services in plans, budgets and implementation efforts by 2023, and by 2030 all health care facilities globally should have basic WASH services.”