Watch out: WHO warns against these top health threats in 2019

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2019 04:11 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2019 04:13 PM

From outbreaks of diseases to the health impact of pollution, the world is constantly fighting different health challenges.

For this year, the World Health Organization identified the top 10 health threats that would demand the world's attention:

1. AIR POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

The Metro Manila skyline is covered in smog early morning of New Year’s Day. The Duterte administration, hoping to address pollution and promote safety, had banned fireworks in households, allowing only community fireworks displays. George Calvelo, ABS CBN News

For 2019, the WHO said it considers air pollution as the "greatest environmental risk to health" as nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air daily.

"Microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging the lungs, heart and brain, killing 7 million people prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease," the WHO said.

2. NONCOMMUNICABLE DISEASES

Worldwide, noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer are responsible for more than 70 percent of all deaths or 41 million of the global population.

The WHO said the rise of such diseases has been driven mainly by tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and air pollution.

It also warned that such risk factors may worsen mental health issues which may originate from a young age, commonly at 14.

3. GLOBAL INFLUENZA PANDEMIC

This year, the world will face another influenza pandemic, the WHO predicted.

"Global defenses are only as effective as the weakest link in any country’s health emergency preparedness and response system," it said.

A total of 153 institutions in 114 countries are involved in the global monitoring of the circulation of influenza viruses to detect potential pandemic strains, the WHO added.

4. FRAGILE AND VULNERABLE SETTINGS

The remains of a dead tree are pictured at the almost empty Maria Cristina water reservoir during a severe drought near Castellon, Spain, September 14, 2018.  Heino Kalis, Reuters

Lack of access to basic health care remains a major global health threats this year. 

The WHO noted that over 1.6 billion people worldwide or 22 percent of the world's population are faced with living challenges such as drought, famine, conflict, and population displacement.

"Fragile settings exist in almost all regions of the world, and these are where half of the key targets in the sustainable development goals, including on child and maternal health, remains unmet," it said.

5. ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE

The ability of bacteria and other viruses to resist medicine, is one of the biggest health threats this year as it may compromise certain medical treatments, according to the WHO.

"Antimicrobial resistance threatens to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis," it said.

6. EBOLA AND OTHER HIGH-THREAT PATHOGENS

 A healthcare worker sprays around a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 13, 2018. Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

The WHO for this year is critically watching out for possible epidemics of high-threat pathogens such as the Ebola virus.

Among those included in its watchlist are hemorrhagic fevers, Zika, Nipah, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and disease X, which the WHO said "represents the need to prepare for an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious epidemic."

7. WEAK PRIMARY HEALTH CARE

Doctors montior patients at the Valenzuela City Emergency Hospital pediatric ward on Apr. 4, 2018.Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inadequate primary health care facilities are one of the problems facing several low and middle-income countries due to a lack of resources, the WHO said.

The agency stressed the importance of sufficient primary health care services which are necessary to achieve universal health coverage.

"Primary health care is usually the first point of contact people have with their health care system, and ideally should provide comprehensive, affordable, community-based care throughout life," the WHO said.

8. VACCINE HESITANCY

The Department of Health in cooperation with the World Health Organization kicks off the series of immunization of 1 Million children against dengue virus. Photo taken April 2016.Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The refusal to vaccinate despite the ability of vaccines threatens to reverse achievements made in tackling preventable certain diseases, the WHO said.

The WHO emphasized that vaccination is among the "most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease."

"It currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved," the WHO explained.

Local health workers are urged by the WHO to provide trusted and credible information on vaccines to their communities to help prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.

9. DENGUE

Nearly 40 percent of the world's population are at risk of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and can even cause death, the WHO said.

While dengue cases are usually common during the rainy season in tropical countries, the WHO said the disease has been spreading to countries that have not traditionally seen it. 

10. HIV

A student displays his hands painted with messages as he poses during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to mark the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, in Chandigarh, India, May 20, 2018.Ajay Verma, Reuters

While there has been "enormous" progress in the fight against HIV, the WHO said the epidemic "continues to rage" with almost a million people dying every year of HIV/AIDS.

"Today, around 37 million worldwide live with HIV," the WHO said.

"Reaching people like sex workers, people in prison, men who have sex with men, or transgender people is hugely challenging. Often these groups are excluded from health services," it added.