The World Health Organization has started a new five-year strategic plan with a list of 10 issues that will demand attention from the global agency and its health partners in 2019.
The list includes air pollution and climate change; noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cancer; a global influenza pandemic; “fragile and vulnerable settings”; anti-microbial resistance; ebola and other high-threat pathogens; weak primary health care; “vaccine hesitancy”; dengue; and HIV or human immunodeficiency virus.
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“The world is facing multiple health challenges,” WHO said in the article “Ten threats to global health in 2019” on its website.
These range from outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and diphtheria, increasing reports of drug-resistant pathogens, growing rates of obesity and physical inactivity, to the health impacts of environmental pollution and climate change and multiple humanitarian crises, it added.
To address these and other threats, WHO said 2019 sees the start of its new five-year strategic plan, which it called the 13th General Programme of Work.
This plan focuses on a triple billion target: ensuring 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.
“Reaching this goal will require addressing the threats to health from a variety of angles,” WHO said.
On air pollution and climate change, the agency said nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air every day, and WHO considers it the greatest environmental risk to health.
Around 90 percent of these deaths are in low- and middle-income countries, with high volumes of emissions from industry, transport, and agriculture, as well as dirty cookstoves and fuels in homes, the agency said.
Noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, are collectively responsible for over 70 percent of all deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. This includes 15 million people dying prematurely, aged between 30 and 69, WHO said. Over 85 percent of these premature deaths are in low- and middle-income countries.
Meanwhile, WHO said of the flu: “The world will face another influenza pandemic–the only thing we don’t know is when it will hit and how severe it will be. Global defenses are only as effective as the weakest link in any country’s health emergency preparedness and response system.”
WHO is constantly monitoring the circulation of influenza viruses to detect potential pandemic strains: 153 institutions in 114 countries are involved in global surveillance and response, it said.
On fragile and vulnerable settings, WHO said more than 1.6 billion people, or 22 percent of the global population, live in places where protracted crises–through a combination of challenges such as drought, famine, conflict, and population displacement–and weak health services leave them without access to basic care.
“Fragile settings exist in almost all regions of the world, and these are where half of the key targets in the sustainable development goals, including on child and maternal health, remains unmet,” it said.
Meanwhile, antimicrobial resistance–the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these medicines–“threatens to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis,” WHO warned.
The inability to prevent infections could seriously compromise surgery and procedures such as chemotherapy, it added.
On ebola and other high-threat pathogens, WHO’s Research and Development Blueprint identifies diseases and pathogens that have potential to cause a public health emergency but lack effective treatments and vaccines.
This watchlist for priority research and development includes Ebola, several other hemorrhagic fevers, Zika, Nipah, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and disease X, which represents the need to prepare for an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious epidemic.
Primary health care, WHO explained, is usually the first point of contact people have with their health care system, and ideally should provide comprehensive, affordable, community-based care throughout life.
This can meet the majority of a person’s health needs of the course of their life, and health systems with strong primary health care are needed to achieve universal health coverage–yet many countries do not have adequate primary health care facilities, WHO said.
Vaccine hesitancy–the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines– threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases, the agency warned.
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