Air pollution and climate change
Worldwide, nine out of ten people breathe in polluted air every day. In 2019, WHO regards air pollution as the greatest environmental risk to health. Microscopic airborne contaminants can penetrate the airways and circulatory systems, damage the lungs, heart and brain, and kill 7 million people early, each year, from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease. About 90 % of these deaths are in low- and middle-income countries, with large amounts of emissions from business, transport and agriculture, as well as dirty hobs and fuel in homes.
Non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are collectively responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. This includes 15 million people who die prematurely between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Over 85 % of these premature deaths are in low- and middle-income countries.
The increase of these diseases has been driven by five risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and air pollution. These risk factors also exacerbate mental health problems, which may originate from an early age: Half of all mental illness begins at age 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated - Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-19 years.
Global influenza pandemic
The world will face another flu pandemic - the only thing we don't know is when it will hit and how serious it will be. Global defense is only as effective as the weakest link in a country's health care and response system.
Every year, WHO recommends which bacterial strains should be included in the flu vaccine to protect people from seasonal influenza. In the event of a new influenza strain developing pandemic potential, the WHO has created a unique partnership with 153 institutions in 114 countries to ensure effective and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, especially in developing countries.
Vulnerable situations and living conditions
More than 1.6 billion people (22 % of the world's population) live in places where prolonged crises (through a combination of challenges such as drought, famine, conflict, and population passage) and weak health care provide insufficient access to basic care.
Resistance to antibiotics and other preventive drugs
The development of antibiotics and other drugs for bacteria and malaria are some of the greatest successes of modern medicine, but their effect is threatened. Resistance to anti-bacterial medication - the very ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these drugs - threatens to return us to a time when we were unable to treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and salmonellosis.
Tuberculosis alone is a disease that causes about 10 million people to become ill and 1.6 million die every year. In 2017, about 600,000 cases of tuberculosis were resistant to the most effective drug - and 82 % of these had a type of tuberculosis that was not treatable by today's drugs.
Ebola and other high threat pathogens
In 2018, two separate Ebola outbreaks occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both spread to cities of more than 1 million people. One of the affected provinces is also in an active conflict zone where access to healthcare professionals who can identify, treat and halt the outbreaks before developing into global threats is deficient. Without the WHO's presence and necessary health care, situations like these can promote serious epidemics.
Weak primary health care
The primary health service is usually the first point of contact people have with health care and should, ideally, provide comprehensive, affordable, community-based care throughout their lives. Health systems with strong primary health care are needed to achieve universal health coverage.
Nevertheless, many countries, especially low- or middle-income countries, lack sufficient resources to offer good health services. In October 2018, the WHO participated in a major global conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, where all countries committed to renewing the commitment to the primary health service from the Alma-Ata Declaration in 1978. In 2019, WHO will work with partners to revitalize and strengthen primary health care in each country and follow up concrete commitments in the Astana Declaration.
Vaccine refusal and lack of knowledge
Vaccine coverage – personal beliefs that refuse vaccination despite the availability of vaccines - threatens to reverse advances in tackling vaccine preventative diseases. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent disease. It currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and another 1.5 million can be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations is improved.
Measles, for example, have seen a 30 % increase in global cases. The reasons for this increase are complex, and not all these cases are due to lack of vaccine coverage, but some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have now seen a resurgence.
Dengue, a mosquito-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and can be fatal and kill up to 20 % of those with severe symptoms, has been a growing threat for decades. About 40 % of the world is at risk of dengue fever and there are about 390 million infections a year. WHO's Dengue Control Strategy aims to reduce deaths by 50 % by the year 2020.
Progress towards HIV has been tremendous in getting people tested, giving them vital medicines (22 million are on treatment), and access to preventive measures.
But the epidemic continues to race with nearly one million people each year dying of HIV / AIDS. Since the beginning of the epidemic, over 70 million people have been infected and about 35 million people have died. Today, around 37 million people worldwide live with HIV. A group that is increasingly affected by HIV are young girls and women (15-24 years old) who are particularly at risk and account for 1 in 4 HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa, despite accounting for 10 % of the population.