Source: WHO. Urgent health challenges for the next decade. Accessed January 13, 2020.
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
January 14, 2020
3 min read

WHO lists 10 ‘urgent’ global health challenges for the new decade

Source: WHO. Urgent health challenges for the next decade. Accessed January 13, 2020.
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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WHO published a list of 10 global health challenges for the next decade that it said “reflects a deep concern that leaders are failing to invest enough resources in core health priorities and systems.”

“None of these issues are simple to address, but they are within reach,” WHO said. “Public health is ultimately a political choice.”

Infectious Disease News compiled a list of Healio news stories involving the 10 threats to global health listed by WHO.

Elevating health in the climate debate

“The climate crisis is a health crisis,” WHO wrote. Indeed, researchers have been exploring the relationship between climate change and infectious diseases for years, including the effect that it may have on vector-borne diseases. Research has shown that children are particularly vulnerable to climate change-related health threats.

Delivering health in conflict and crisis

According to WHO, the disease outbreaks in 2019 that required the highest level of response occurred in countries with ongoing conflict. Large outbreaks of Ebola and measles have killed thousands in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there were 390 attacks on health facilities in 2019, killing 11 and injuring 82 health care workers and patients. According to WHO, there were 978 attacks on health care in 11 countries in 2019, resulting in 193 deaths — “the continuation of a disturbing trend,” the agency said.

Making health care fairer

WHO noted that there is an 18-year difference in life expectancy between rich and poor countries, with “persistent and growing socioeconomic gaps” resulting in differences in the quality of people’s health. Last year, WHO and UNICEF reported that around 25% of health care facilities globally lack basic water service, and approximately 20% have no sanitation service. The problems are especially prevalent in the least developed countries, they noted.

Expanding access to medicines

One-third of the world’s population lacks essential health products such as medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tools, WHO said. Among the agency’s priorities in this area is fighting “substandard and falsified medical products,” which account for 10% of medicine in developing countries. These fake or substandard drugs place tens of thousands of kids in danger and have an economic toll of up to $200 billion each year, according to researchers.


Stopping infectious diseases

According to WHO, infectious diseases will kill an estimated 4 million people this year. “The root causes are insufficient levels of financing and the weakness of health systems in endemic countries, coupled with a lack of commitment from wealthy countries,” WHO said. The agency recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox. To mark the occasion, Infectious Disease News compiled a list of stories detailing the efforts to control, eliminate or eradicate other infectious diseases.

Preparing for epidemics

Experts have frequently highlighted the importance of being prepared for epidemics. Scientists even recreated the 1918 influenza virus in an attempt to help the world prepare for the next influenza pandemic. Researchers elsewhere gauged the readiness of developed countries to handle cases of Ebola.

Protecting people from dangerous products

WHO noted that while tobacco use is declining in most countries, there is increasing evidence of dangerous health consequences from the use of e-cigarettes. In the United States, an outbreak of lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use has led the FDA to ban most e-cigarette flavors.

Investing in the people who defend our health

The world needs 18 million additional health workers by 2030, primarily in low- and middle-income countries, WHO said, citing “chronic underinvestment in the education and employment of health workers.” In the U.S., experts have called for compensation policy changes to reverse workforce losses in the field of infectious diseases, where physicians are underpaid for the valuable role they play in protecting public health. Elsewhere, researchers estimated that the U.S. needs 1,200 more epidemiologists to reach full capacity.

Keeping adolescents safe

According to WHO, more than 1 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years die each year, with road injuries, HIV, suicide, lower respiratory infections and interpersonal violence being the leading causes of death.

Earning public trust

“Public health is compromised by the uncontrolled dissemination of misinformation in social media, as well as through an erosion of trust in public institutions,” WHO said. “The anti-vaccination movement has been a significant factor in the rise of deaths in preventable diseases.” Amid several large ongoing outbreaks of measles — including several outbreaks in the U.S. — and a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment, Facebook and Instagram began prompting users to visit web sites run by the CDC and WHO to receive credible vaccine information.


WHO. Urgent health challenges for the next decade. Accessed January 13, 2020.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.