It is undeniable that medical science produced some remarkable advancements. Some of these advancements are directly responsible for the reductions we have seen in child and maternal mortality. Since 1990, infant mortality decreased by more than 50% (3). In the 19 countries, where the US involvement has been the greatest, maternal mortality has declined by over 43%. The proportion of undernourished people has also fallen from one in five to one in nine. In spite of the notable improvements, mothers and their children around the world continue to die unnecessarily, from preventable conditions. Nutritional deficiencies and infectious diseases take a toll of enormous magnitude.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 million people die each year from these causes. In 2017, over 5 million children did not even make it to their fifth birthday. Infectious diseases such as pneumonia, and other conditions such as diarrhea, birth complications, and malaria were the leading causes of death amongst infants and children. Meningitis and measles are also taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of children every year.
There are many other global health challenges. From the increasing prevalence rates of drug-resistance pathogens to the growing rates of diabetes and obesity, there is a wide range of current and future threats to global health. The destructive consequences of global climate change and the devastating health impacts of environmental pollution also add to the magnitude of the problem.
Here are 5 of the many issues of global implications that the World Health Organization will be focusing on in 2019.
1. Air pollution and climate change
With nine out of ten people breathing polluted air every day, air pollution is considered the single most significant environmental risk to health.
2. Noncommunicable diseases
Noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, are responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide. This figure equals to 41 million people perishing each day to conditions that are mostly preventable. This figure is tragic on its own, but to make matters worse, 15 million of the 41 million people, actually die prematurely (between 30-69 years).
3. Vulnerable settings
22% of the global population lives without access to basic care. People living in places that are frequently stricken by conditions such as famine, drought, political conflict, and similar challenges are impacted the most.
4. Antimicrobial resistance
In 2017, around 600,000 tuberculosis cases were resistant to the first-line drug. 82% of these people had multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. When pathogens become resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics, it creates a dangerous situation. Drugs that historically worked against the disease-causing pathogens become completely ineffective.
The WHO estimates that approximately 40% of the world is at risk of dengue fever. There is a massive sense of urgency to halt the epidemic as there are almost 400 million infections a year.
Making medications more affordable and making them accessible to people in parts of the world where resources are scarce, are necessary to solve these global problems. Reaching these goals will require sizeable financial sacrifice, but the investment will be well worth it, as the positive impact on the health of millions of people will be tremendous.
The greatest reward lies in the opportunity not only to preserve all that has already been accomplished but to take it even further than that. Without additional funds, the pipeline full of medical interventions will never make it to those in the greatest need. We have the social responsibility to step up to the plate and do what’s necessary to save the lives of millions, decrease the burden on healthcare systems and support the development of global health solutions.