Ten greatest global health threats of the 21st Century

Thursday, November 28th, 2019 00:00 |
Global health threats of the 21st Century.

The world’s health greatly improved in the past century. Major killers such as smallpox and polio have been eliminated or contained. Medicine can cure or improve  conditions that crippled or killed people only decades ago. Nonetheless, human health continues to confront serious threats as Milliam Murigi explores

1. Air pollution

In 2019, the World Health Organisation(WHO) considers air pollution the greatest environmental risk to health. Its recent research shows nine out of every 10 people breathe polluted air.

Microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging the lungs, heart, and brain, killing seven million people prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease.

Pollution is more deadly than smoking and kills nearly 15 times more people than the entire world’s wars and violence combined.

2. Climate change

Climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just as an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation.

Climate change is causing devastating events with serious human health implications, such as increased incidents of infectious disease throughout the world, insect-borne diseases are spreading to areas previously unaffected due to climate change, creation of potentially deadly heatwaves and it is also decreasing the air quality.

3. Non-communicable diseases

Non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, are collectively responsible for over 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. This includes 15 million people dying prematurely, aged between 30 and 69.

4. Antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance

The development of antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarial are some of modern medicine’s greatest successes.

Now, time with these drugs is running out. Antibiotic resistance could make it difficult, if not impossible, for doctors to easily treat infections.

It is threatening to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis.

The inability to prevent infections could seriously compromise surgery and procedures such as chemotherapy.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two million people are infected by bacteria resistant to antibiotics and antimicrobial agents every year. Sadly, at least 23,000 million of those people die from their illnesses annually.

5. Weak primary healthcare

According to the WHO, primary healthcare should provide comprehensive, affordable, community-based care throughout life.

Unfortunately, this is not a reality around the world and people inlow - or middle-income countries are sometimes deprived of basic care, since they do not have adequate primary healthcare facilities.

6. Vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease. It currently prevents two to three million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.

But despite these statistics, people still refuse vaccines for a number of reasons. One study cited religious and philosophical beliefs as concerns among parents, while the WHO list cited inconvenience and lack of confidence as others.

Regardless of the reason, this decision could be putting hundreds of thousands at risk for developing diseases to which they could have been immune. 

7. Outbreaks of Ebola and other high-threat pathogens

The global community continues to confront serious threats from infectious diseases, as demonstrated by the ongoing Ebola crisis.

Ebola is still largely confined to a few African countries, where the human, social, and economic damage is already high.

If the crisis is not contained, damaging health and economic impacts would be replicated in other developing countries and even on a global scale in the case of a pandemic. ­

8. Dengue fever

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness which is on the rise, is spread by an Aedes mosquito infected with a dengue virus, which often lives in tropical climates.

But as the WHO notes, because of climate change the disease is spreading to less tropical and more temperate countries that have not seen many cases before. There are currently 390 million dengue infections a year.

9. Substance abuse

Substance abuse usually means drugs and alcohol. These are two areas we don’t often associate with seniors.

However, seniors, just like young people, may self-medicate using legal and illegal drugs and alcohol, which can lead to serious health consequences.

In addition, seniors may deliberately or unknowingly mix medications and use alcohol. Because of our stereotypes about senior citizens, many medical people fail to ask them about possible substance abuse.

10. Food safety

Food safety is an increasingly global public health issue as humans suffer from a plethora of food-borne diseases. Diseases caused by food-borne pathogens constitute a worldwide public health concern.

Governments all over the world are intensifying their efforts to improve food safety so that no consumer experiences any infection/ disease following the consumption of food.

Food safety is an important public health problem that relates to human health and economic development.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, 1.8 million deaths related to contaminated food or water occur every year.

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