Every year, the organization publishes a list of what it considers to be the illnesses and issues posing the biggest obstacles to achieving global health for the coming year. This list is meant to inform the plans of action the organization will take to address those health threats. While lists in the previous years have focused on various kinds of disease outbreaks, the 2019 list also sheds light on the phenomena that cause these outbreaks in the first place.
Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.” According to WHO, the unwillingness to avail of this cost-effective way to provide oneself with protection with different kinds of diseases “threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
The reasons behind people's disinclination towards receiving vaccination vary. There are the religious or philosophical objections — some view vaccination as a way used by the government to intervene with what is supposed to be a personal choice — and there are those who doubt the efficacy of immunization. Some parents don’t want their children to be vaccinated for fear it might lead to autism, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already debunked.
WHO regards this hesitation and skepticism over vaccine as the reason we see eradicated diseases seeing a resurgence. One example is measles, where the cases increased by 30% globally in 2018.
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Environmental factors, specifically air pollution and climate change, have also been included in the list of global health threats in 2019. The microscopic particles found in polluted air can enter people’s respiratory and circulatory systems, causing harm to the lungs, heart, and brain, and could possibly lead to illnesses like cancer, stroke, and heart- and lung-related diseases.
WHO writes that air pollution is a “major contributor” to climate change, which can further impact health in various ways. CDC says disruptions in physical, biological, and ecological systems can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Another threat listed by the WHO is the worldwide influenza pandemic, which it has described as an “evolving challenge.” It is difficult to determine when influenza (or the flu) will strike and how severe it will be. The organization recommends certain strains to be included in the flu vaccines and encourages governments to partner with major players to help guarantee effective and equitable access to treatment. Preventive measures to fight off the disease, particularly in developing countries, need to be put in place.
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In no particular order, the other threats included in the WHO’s list are:
non-communicable diseases (like diabetes and cancer)
fragile and vulnerable settings
Ebola and other high-threat pathogens
weak health care systems
Read more about WHO’s top 10 threats to global health in 2019 here.