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The 10 Major Threats to Global Health in 2019

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released their report on ten threats to global health in 2019– an important list to the citizens of our society and world in order to maintain awareness of international issues that can affect any and everyone.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy, commonly coined “anti-vaxxing,” is the Western world’s ever-growing refusal to receive vaccinations. The “anti-vax” movement erupted in the United States largely due to a decades-old, recently retracted research study which incorrectly concluded that vaccinations cause autism.

A major reason why this movement endures is because people have gradually been losing their trust in their country’s health care system. According to The New York Times, in 1966, more than three quarters of Americans had “great confidence” in medical leaders; while today, only 34 percent of Americans can say the same.

Unfortunately, the anti-vax movement persists despite the resulting 30% increase in global measles cases. Countries that were nearing eradication of the measles, such as the United States, have seen a recent resurgence of this disease.


Although the world has made tremendous progress in getting people tested, providing antiretrovirals, and providing access to preventive measures, HIV still remains a major global threat to public health. 37 million people are currently living with the virus, of which nearly a million die each year from HIV/AIDS. Considering that it’s hard to reach populations with high numbers of HIV/AIDS cases, such as sex workers and prisoners, eliminating the virus for future generations may prove to be a serious challenge.

Air Pollution and Climate Change

Air pollution is regarded by the WHO to be the greatest environmental risk to health, claiming that microscopic air pollutants circulate throughout the body and result in damage to the heart, lungs and brain, all of which can lead to certain cancers, stroke, heart disease and lung disease. Burning fossil fuels is not only the major source for air pollution, but is also a paramount contributor to climate change. Between 2030 and 2050, scientists estimate that climate change will lead to 250,000 annual deaths from resulting diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition and heat stress.

Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotics, which were first developed in 1928, are considered to be of the momentous achievements of modern medicine. However, antimicrobial resistance, or the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these medicines, is impending, threatening to reintroduce infections which may soon become untreatable.

For instance, resistance to tuberculosis drugs is causing around 1.6 million people to die each year. In 2017, around 600,000 cases of tuberculosis were resistant to rifampicin, the most effective drug in treating the infection.

Weak Primary Health Care

Many low-to-middle income countries don’t provide adequate primary health care facilities to its citizens. Primary health care has been shown to prevent high rates of diseases and illnesses, and its absence contributes to severe health issues around the world.

Ebola, and Other High-Threat Pathogens

Two outbreaks of the Ebola virus, which can cause cause severe bleeding, organ failure and death, occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. The pathogen spread to cities of over 1 million people, ultimately threatening the safety of their inhabitants. The context in which these epidemics occur is critical, especially in cities where managing outbreaks can become even more daunting than in more rural areas.

Fragile and Vulnerable Settings

According to the WHO, over 22% of the global population lives in places where crisis such as drought, famine, conflict, population displacement and weak health services leave them without access to basic care.

Global Influenza Pandemic

The world may be facing another impending influenza pandemic, the WHO says. Global defenses need to be strengthened throughout the globe in order to increase each country’s health emergency preparedness and responsiveness.

Current circulation of influenza is being closely monitored and studies in over 114 countries.

Noncommunicable Diseases

Noncommunicable diseases are chronic and relatively slow progressive diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which cannot be passed from person to person. These types of conditions are responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide, and as many as 15 million premature deaths. Over 85% of these fatal cases come from low-to-middle income countries, where they can be acquired by having an unhealthy diet, using tobacco, using alcohol excessively, becoming physically inactive and inhaling air pollution.


Dengue, also called breakbone fever, is a mosquito-borne viral disease occurring in tropical and subtropical areas. It causes flu-like systems, and kills up to 20% of those afflicted by it.

The virus has been a growing threat for countries including Bangladesh and India, as well as more temperate areas like Nepal where the disease is currently heading. It is estimated that there are over 930 million infections per year, putting 40% of the world at risk for dengue fever.

Fortunately, the World Health Organization, along with similar corporations, has been implementing strategies to reduce the potential adverse effects of these threats on the public. Their new 5-year strategic plan involves ensuring 3 billion more people will have access to universal health coverage, protection from health emergencies, or a better sense of well-being.

Photo: Adobe Stock

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