With a new decade in full swing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a list of pressing health challenges for the next 10 years, developed by public health and policy experts around the world.
The United Nations General Assembly has labeled the 2020s as "the decade of action." Addressing global health concerns and crises head-on and finding ways to support nations that require aid will be vital in ensuring significant action is taken.
Read the full list of the WHO’s top health challenges below.
1. Focusing on health when discussing climate change
The climate crisis not only impacts the environment directly, but it also poses many health risks to people all over the world. For instance, nearly 7 million people die from air pollution every year. Natural disasters and catastrophic weather events caused or fueled by climate change worsen the spread of disease and can lead to or inflame malnutrition. World leaders must address these urgent health risks.
2. Providing health care to nations in crisis
Outbreaks of diseases are very difficult to treat or contain in countries experiencing conflict or crisis. Continued attacks on health care facilities and medical professionals also limit the amount of access to basic health care residents have in a given region. While it is imperative that organizations like the WHO provide medical teams to distribute health care services to countries in crisis, political solutions are also needed to put an end to these life-threatening conflicts.
3. Making health care accessible to everyone
Health care should be accessible to people of all socio-economic backgrounds. As it stands, there is an 18-year discrepancy in life expectancy between people living in rich and poor nations. With the overall increase of cancer, diabetes, and other noncommunicable diseases worldwide, access to quality health care for all is essential in reducing health inequality. In order to make this possible, countries must be willing to set aside 1% of their gross domestic product (GDP) for primary health care services.
4. Expanding access to vaccines and medicine
Nearly one-third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to quality medicine and vaccines, which puts millions of lives in danger. Making these potentially life-saving drugs and vaccines more accessible is key to improving the lifespan and quality of life of people living in low-income communities and impoverished nations.
5. Fighting communicable diseases
Communicable diseases are estimated to kill around 4 million people this year alone, over 28 times the amount of those who died due to vaccine-preventable diseases in 2019. In order to decrease this death toll, endemic countries need sufficient health funding to improve the quality of treatments, invest in research, and expand the outreach of immunization.
6. Preparing for epidemics
When it comes to disease outbreaks or epidemics, it is important to stay ahead of the curve, especially when millions of lives are potentially at risk. Whether it is a new vaccine-resistant strain of influenza or the continued spread of various mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria, it is important for countries to focus on preparedness and preventative measures by investing in health care and infrastructure.
7. Making healthy food more accessible
As food insecurity continues to afflict millions, especially in war-torn regions, many are left with either unsafe or unhealthy food options, which directly causes a third of all diseases worldwide. To combat the rise of obesity and diet-related diseases, nations must develop better public policies and provide healthier food options for all.
8. Investing in health care workers
Health workers around the world are often overworked and underpaid, which has led to a worldwide shortage of health care professionals, placing both health care systems and people at risk. To keep global health care systems afloat, the world requires an additional 18 million health care workers by the end of 2030.
9. Promoting adolescent safety
Nearly 1 million teenagers die from violence, HIV/AIDS, and suicide every year. Providing educators and health care professionals with the necessary tools to educate teenagers about sex, drug use, and mental health can help significantly reduce this number. Protecting our future means protecting the world’s next generation.
10. Strengthening trust between health care systems and the public
Misinformation around medicines and vaccines can be detrimental to public health on a global scale. Groups like the anti-vaccination movement, for instance, use social media to spread misinformation, eroding public trust in health care institutions on a global scale. Increased quality health education and social media accountability can thwart this mistrust.
11. Utilizing modern technology and innovations
New technological advancements are coming out every day, making it easier to detect and treat various illnesses. However, it is important to understand the ethical implications of these new advancements when bringing them into the public health sector so people seeking medical treatment are not harmed by the very tool that is supposed to help them.
12. Preventing antibiotic resistance
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is when certain bacteria or viruses can no longer be treated by antibiotics and can be caused by the overuse of antibiotics, poor hygiene, or lack of access to clean water. Because AMR could pose a serious threat to modern medicine, international authorities must allocate funding for research into new antibiotics.
13. Ensuring health care facilities are clean and sterile
Clean water and sanitation are key to keeping health care facilities sterile. Currently, 1 in 4 health facilities worldwide lacks basic water and sanitation services, increasing the overall risk of infection for patients and health care professionals alike.