March 19, 2019
In its list of the top 10 global health threats for 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as a grave danger, causing more than 70% of deaths worldwide and disproportionately affecting low- and middle-income countries. The WHO noted that these illnesses sometimes exacerbate mental health issues among young people, which can lead to suicide.
A contributor to noncommunicable diseases is air pollution, which the WHO considers the greatest environmental health hazard. Breathing polluted air causes 7 million premature deaths annually from conditions such as cancer, stroke, and heart and lung disease.
The list also includes a number of infectious disease threats. It names Ebola virus, which caused 2 outbreaks last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and dengue, a threat that has been growing for decades. Despite progress, HIV still takes the lives of 1 million people every year. In addition, an influenza pandemic could occur at any time.
Obstacles to implementing preventive measures also threaten global health. Although vaccination averts as many as 3 million deaths each year and could prevent 1.5 million more with improved coverage, the reluctance or refusal to immunize could reverse decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases. Antimicrobial resistance, which increases the likelihood that drug-resistant pathogens will emerge, also threatens to undermine decades of success in fighting infectious diseases.
Fragile and vulnerable settings pose an additional threat, as conflict, drought, displacement, famine, and other crises leave more than 22% of the global population—1.6 billion people—in need of basic health care services. Also of concern are weak or inadequate primary health care systems. Many countries lack the kind of comprehensive, affordable, primary health care system that is vital for most people’s health needs.