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Top 10 global health threats in 2019 according to WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has laid out 10 threats to the global health in 2019.

With the world facing various health challenges from climate change, environmental pollution, vaccine-preventable diseases among others WHO has rolled out a new five year strategic plan dubbed as ‘The 13th General Program of Work.’

The plan is aimed at ensuring that one billion more people will benefit from access to universal health coverage, protection from health emergencies and that they will enjoy better health and well being.

WHO and health partners will focus on the following 10 health threats this year:

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Despite huge progress made against HIV, it is estimated that about one million people die of HIV/AIDS every year. Currently, around 37 million people live with HIV.

Young women and girls aged 15-24 are reported to be increasingly affected by the virus in sub-Saharan Africa despite accounting for only 10 percent of the population.

Advancements have been made against HIV with 22 million people being on treatment and introduction of antiretrovirals Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which prevents infection from the virus.

However, reaching out to sex workers, people in prisons and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) has been a challenge as these groups are excluded from health services.

This year, WHO will work with countries to support introduction of self-testing so that more people can know their status. Self-tests will be offered in work places by companies and organizations.



The mosquito-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms has been a growing threat for years with 20 percent of those with severe dengue dying.

It is estimated that 40 percent of the world is at risk of dengue fever, with about 390 million infections a year.

The disease that strikes during rainy seasons in countries such as India and Bangladesh is now spreading to other countries that have not seen the disease.

WHO aims at reducing dengue deaths by 50 percent by 2020.

Ebola and other high threat pathogens

Ebola, Zika, Nipah, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) can cause serious epidemic since they lack effective treatments and vaccines.

Last year, Democratic republic of Congo experienced two separate of Ebola outbreak that spread to cities with population of more than one million people.

This shows the context in which an epidemic of a high threat pathogen like Ebola is critical.

WHO and its partners have designated 2019 as a ‘Year of action on preparedness for health emergencies.’

Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccine, the most cost-effective ways of avoiding diseases prevents about 2-3 million deaths a year. If vaccine coverage is improved, 1.5 more deaths could be avoided. Measles which was being eliminated from some countries, for instance, has witnessed a 30 percent increase lately due to vaccine hesitancy.

In 2019, WHO has planned to eliminate cervical cancer by increasing coverage of HPV vaccine, polio vaccine in the Middle East will be stopped as less than 30 cases were reported. Every child in this region will be vaccinated to eradicate the crippling disease for good.


Drug-resistance superbugs

This is the ability of bacteria, parasites, virus and fungi to resist medicine. It could lead us back to the time when treating pneumonia, tuberculosis, salmonellas and gonorrhoea was not easy.

In 2017, around 600,000 cases of TB were resistant to rifampicin, the most effective first-line drug. Overuse of antimicrobials cause drug resistance.

WHO plans to increase awareness and knowledge, reducing infection and encouraging prudent use of antimicrobials.

Air pollution and climate change

With nine out of ten people breathing polluted air everyday, this is the greatest environmental risk to health.

About seven million people die due to air pollution related diseases mainly from middle and low income countries.

Air pollution in turn is a major factor in climate change, which has led to the estimation of 250,000 more deaths yearly between 2030-2050.

WHO with countries and organizations have made a commitment to improve air quality and to strengthen climate action and ambition worldwide.


Weak primary healthcare

Many countries lack adequate primary healthcare facilities, yet, it is the first point of contact of people with their healthcare system.

The neglect can be due to lack of resources in low and middle income countries.

This year the health organization will work with its partners to revitalize and strengthen primary healthcare in these countries, which are committed to renew their commitment in the sector.

Fragile and vulnerable settings

More than 1.6 billion people live in areas where prolonged crises and weak health services leave them without access to basic care. The fragile settings is present in almost every country.

WHO will work together with this countries to strengthen the health systems for preparedness to outbreaks as well as able to deliver high quality health services.


Global influenza pandemic

According to WHO, the world will face another influenza pandemic, the only thing they don’t know is when it will hit and how severe it will be.

Yearly, WHO recommends which strains should be included in the flu vaccine to protect people from seasonal flu.

The organization has further set up unique partnership to ensure effective and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, mainly in poor countries.

Noncommunicable diseases

Deaths of about 41 million people are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.

The rise of these deaths have been caused by tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, air pollution and unhealthy diets.

Among many things, this year WHO will work with governments to help them meet the global target of reducing physical inactivity by 15 percent by 2030, by implementation of active policy toolkit to aid more people being active everyday.

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Brenda Gamonde
Brenda Gamonde is reporter with Business Today. Email: [email protected]


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