Urgent Global Health Challenges For Next Decade


  • On 13th January, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a list of 13 urgent health challenges the world will face over next decade.
  • All the challenges included on the list are urgent, and several are interlinked and demand a response from more than just the health sector, including Governments, communities, and international agencies to work together in order to address the looming health challenges.

13 Health Challenges

1. Climate Crisis as a Health Crisis

  • The world's climate crisis has major health implications, with air pollution alone killing an estimated seven million people annually, while it causes more extreme weather events, exacerbates malnutrition and fuels the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria.

2. Health Care Delivery in Areas of Conflict and Crisis

  • In 2019, most disease outbreaks requiring the highest level of WHO response occurred in countries with protracted conflict.
  • There is continuation of a disturbing trend in which health workers and facilities are targeted.

3. Making Health Care Fairer

  • Persistent and growing socio-economic gaps result in major discrepancies in the quality of people’s health. There is an 18-year difference between the life expectancy of people in low- and high-income countries, as well as significant differences in life expectancies among people living within the same countries and cities.

4. Access to Medicines

  • About one-third of the world’s people lack access to medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tools and other essential health products. Limited access to these products fuel drug resistance and threaten people's lives and health.

5. Preventing Infectious Diseases

  • Infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and sexually-transmitted infections will kill an estimated 4 million people in 2020, most of them poor.

6. Preparing for Epidemics

  • An airborne and highly infectious virus pandemic is inevitable. The countries around the world continue to spend more on responding to these emergencies than preparing for them.
  • This leaves countries unprepared for when another pandemic strikes and potentially threatens the lives of millions of people.

7. Protecting People from Unsafe Products

  • Nearly one-third of today's global disease burden is attributed to a lack of food, unsafe food, and unhealthy diets.
  • Further, there's been an increase in tobacco and e-cigarette use in most countries, raising additional health concerns.

8. Underinvestment in Health Workers

  • Chronic under-investment in the education and employment of health workers, coupled with a failure to ensure decent pay, has led to health worker shortages all over the world. This jeopardizes health and social care services and sustainable health systems.
  • An additional 18 million health workers, including nine million nurses and midwives, will be needed across the world by 2030.

9. Adolescent Safety

  • More than 1 million adolescents aged 10-19 years die every year due to road injury, HIV, suicide, lower respiratory infections, and interpersonal violence.
  • A number of factors including harmful alcohol use, unprotected sex, and lack of physical activity, increase the risks of these types of death.

10. 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.

11. Harnessing New Technologies

  • Genome editing, synthetic biology and digital health technologies such as artificial intelligence can solve many problems, but also raise new questions and challenges for monitoring and regulation.
  • Without a deeper understanding of their ethical and social implications, these new technologies could harm the people they are intended to help.

12. Threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance

  • Anti-microbial resistance (AMR) has the potential to undo decades of medical advancements and has increased due to a number of factors, including limited access to quality and low-cost medications, unregulated prescription and use of antibiotics and poor infection prevention control.

13. Keeping Health Care Clean

  • Roughly one in four health facilities globally lack basic water services. The lack of these basics in health facilities leads to poor-quality care and an increased chance of infection for patients and health workers.

WHO’s Course of Action towardsChallenges

Challenge 1

  • In 2020, WHO will work towards developing a set of policy options for governments to prevent or reduce the health risks of air pollution.

Challenge 2

  • WHO is working to save lives and prevent suffering by working with countries and partners to strengthen health systems, improve preparedness and expand the availability of long-term contingency financing for complex health emergencies.

Challenge 3

  • WHO is working with its partners to improve child and maternal care, nutrition, gender equality, mental health, and access to adequate water and sanitation.
  • It is calling for all countries to allocate 1% more of their gross domestic product to primary health care, to give more people access to the quality essential services they need, close to home.

Challenge 4

  • Coming year, WHO will sharpen its focus on priority areas for global access. These include fighting substandard and falsified medical products; enhancing the capacity of low-income countries to assure the quality of medical products through out the supply chain; and improving access to diagnosis and treatment for non-communicable diseases, including diabetes.

Challenge 5

  • There’s an urgent need for greater political will and increased funding for essential health services; strengthening routine immunization; improving the quality and availability of data to inform planning, and more efforts to mitigate the effects of drug resistance.

Challenge 6

  • WHO is advising countries on evidence-based investments to strengthen health systems and infrastructure to keep populations safe when health emergencies strike.

Challenge 7

  • WHO is engaged in developing evidence-based public policies, investments and private sector reforms to reshape food systems, and provide healthy and sustainable diets.

Challenge 8

  • To trigger action and encourage investment in education, skills and jobs, the World Health Assembly has designated 2020 the ‘Year of the Nurse and the Midwife’.

Challenge 9

  • In 2020, WHO will issue new guidance for policymakers, health practitioners and educators, called ‘Helping Adolescents Thrive’. The aim is to promote adolescent’s mental health and preventive measures towards better health.

Challenge 10

  • WHO is working with countries to strengthen primary health care, so people can access effective and affordable services easily, from people they know and trust, in their own communities.

Challenge 11

  • In 2019,WHO set up new advisory committees for human genome editing and digital health, bringing together the world’s leading experts to review evidence and provide guidance.

Challenge 12

  • WHO, along with national and international authorities, is working to reduce the threat of AMR by addressing its root causes, while advocating for research and development into new antibiotics.

Challenge 13

  • WHO and its partners are currently working with 35 low and middle-income countries to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in their health facilities. The global goal is for all countries to have included WASH services in plans, budgets and implementation efforts by 2023 and by 2030 all health care facilities globally should have basic WASH services.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, January, 2020