Published On: Tue, Jan 31st, 2017

Everyone’s Problem: Today’s Biggest Global Health Threats

It’s 2017 now, and while the past few years have brought us many great things, they’ve also introduced various new threats. Global warming and pollution continue to be big talking points, and international terrorism is a very real threat, but one thing that many people are overlooking is the various threats to our health and wellbeing.

Health organisations and regulatory bodies all over the world are seeing the road ahead change before their very eyes, and the list of global health issues across the world is always getting longer. Global health concerns are everyone’s problem, so here’s a list of some of the biggest global health issues ones to keep an eye on.

Superbugs

Global Health Threats

Image: Flickr

Though the very term “superbug” may make you think immediately of scaremongering tabloids, I can confirm that drug-resistant bacteria is a very real issue, and one which we’re going to hear a lot more about in the future. While medical professionals have been picking up on trends of drug resistance for some time, it only really became a major talking point in the summer of 2016.

This started when woman from Nevada returned to the States with an infection, following a visit to India. She’d broken her thigh during the trip, and was in and out of care. Back in the US, the hospital gave her antibiotics typical for her condition, and they didn’t work. The doctors moved her onto a different kind of antibiotics, and these failed to stop the infection as well.

Eventually, doctors and researchers involved in the case found that the bacteria harming the woman couldn’t be stopped any of the 26 types of antibiotics that are in use today. Leading health bodies call the infection carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, but the media went with the much more manageable term of “superbug”. The threat of bacteria that’s resistant to infection has been a possibility for years, but a sharp spike in reported cases has caused various health organisations to leap into action.

Complacency Surrounding HIV

Although the massive international panic around HIV and AIDS which you may remember has passed, it’s still a major health concern, and some say it’s being exacerbated by a dangerous level of complacency. There have certainly been massive leaps forward in HIV prevention and treatment in the past few decades, and the stigma around people suffering from the disease has diminished, along with various myths and misconceptions. However, these developments have had some pretty worrying side-effects. In some areas, for example northern Namibia, HIV rates (in women particularly) have become so high that people are beginning to think of HIV is just another part of life.

Like various other chronic conditions, many people in Namibia see HIV as a manageable illness, rather than a scourge. Things like this can lead to a horrendous loss of caution, and even increase the risk of new infections surfacing. This seems to be contrary to the accessibility and sophistication of all the anti-HIV tools we now have.

Free condoms, PEP, awareness and education campaigns are all more accessible than they’ve ever been before. Despite this, over two-million people were infected with the disease last year. UNAIDS and other major health bodies have been striving to make AIDS a thing of the past by 2030, but many fear that we’re now at a crucial point which will be easy to backslide from.

Strikes, Shortages, and Other Labour Issues

Although labour disputes aren’t   typically what we think of when someone mentions international health threats, this is a very real risk factor in the state of everyone’s general wellbeing. Since December, there have been strikes by the staff of most of Haiti’s public hospitals. Jamaica has also been experiencing a serious crisis as more and more of their specialized nurses emigrate to Europe and North America for better job prospects.

Doctors demanding better working conditions in Kenya has also led to a massive strike, which has cut off millions of people’s access to basic healthcare. In summary, we’re in the midst of a global shortage of medical workers, and it’s only getting worse. In many poorer countries, this has meant that doctors, nurses, midwives and so on have to choose between festering in terrible working conditions, or leaving for better prospects. With these labour disputes straining the resources of so many hospitals and practices, some fear that it may cause the quality of care to drop, or that cases of medical malpractice will increase. Malpractice in the health sector is already a serious problem, that affects thousands of people every year, and often sparks a lot of expensive and strenuous litigation. You can find more information

With these labour disputes straining the resources of so many hospitals and practices, some fear that it may cause the quality of care to drop, or that cases of medical malpractice will increase. Malpractice in the health sector is already a serious problem, that affects thousands of people every year, and often sparks a lot of expensive and strenuous litigation. You can find more information sourced from Robins Cloud.

Reproductive Healthcare at Risk

Global Health Threats

Image: Wikimedia

Teen pregnancy rates and abortion are at an all-time low in the US. The Pew Research Centre has put this down to two main reasons: greater emphasis on reproductive health in education, and more effective methods of contraception. Various studies have shown that making sexual and reproductive health services and information resources more accessible and universal is one of the most effective ways to work towards global sustainable development milestones.

Despite these figures, not everyone seems to be getting the message. Internationally, maternal mortality rates have been dropping steadily from 2000 onwards. However, between the millennium and 2014, pregnancy-related deaths in the US have actually risen. This is largely down to the pro-life sentiment in traditionally Republican states. In Texas, for example, politicians have been slashing funding for reproductive health clinics consistently for some time, and the number of maternal deaths in the state doubled between 2010 and 2014. As a new Republican government settles into Washington, many fear that reproductive health standards and rights may suffer even more in the near future.

In Texas, for example, politicians have been slashing funding for reproductive health clinics consistently for some time, and the number of maternal deaths in the state doubled between 2010 and 2014. As a new Republican government settles into Washington, many fear that reproductive health standards and rights may suffer even more in the near future.

Internationally, maternal mortality rates have been dropping steadily from 2000 onwards. However, between the millennium and 2014, pregnancy-related deaths in the US have actually risen. This is largely down to the pro-life sentiment in traditionally Republican states. In Texas, for example, politicians have been slashing funding for reproductive health clinics consistently for some time, and the number of maternal deaths in the state doubled between 2010 and 2014. As a new Republican government settles into Washington, many fear that reproductive health standards and rights may suffer even more in the near future.

Zika

It’s been just about a year since the World Health Organization declared a state of emergency surrounding the outbreak of the Zika virus. A mere nine months later, the very same health organisation declared the emergency over. Officials clarified this by saying that this wasn’t because the Zika virus is no longer a threat, but because it isn’t going away.

Experts are now saying that Zika isn’t a passing storm, but more of an ongoing menace, such as malaria or yellow fever. Health workers across the world are expected to be struggling against it for the foreseeable future. The developed world has so far been fairly complacent about the Zika virus, which has been confined mainly to South America. However, the fact that there is no vaccine, and the very real possibility of the virus reaching North America and Europe, is expected to stimulate more international attention and action. This brings me onto my next point…

Vaccines Under Attack

Both Zika and Ebola have been massive talking points over the past few years, and this year there are many initiatives in place for developing vaccines against these terrible illnesses. A group of prominent donors have already raised almost 500-million USD in order to develop and stockpile these vaccines. However, in the developed world, some vaccines that have been in use for a long time are beginning to face challenges. One researcher predicted that the United States is on the verge of a large measles outbreak. Seven cases of this condition were reported in LA County in December 2016. Mumps is spreading through public schools scattered throughout Washington State, too. Both of these conditions are well-known, and easily prevented by vaccination. However, a small yet vocal anti-vaccine movement in the US has been on the rise for some time, and this particular debate is expected to become a larger and larger talking point with the country’s new political landscape.

The Uncertain Future of the WHO

Global Health Threats

Image: Flickr

This year, the World Health Organization will elect their new director-general. The person who gets this office will be responsible for hauling the WHO out of the fallout of their widely-criticised reaction to the West-African Ebola outbreak two years ago. That’s all before they get into the real work of directing an organisation that’s got a low budget and way too much bureaucracy. This is worrying enough when you think of how much the WHO is responsible for, but it’s not the only change we should be worrying about. Like many people, I’m sure you’ve been much more worried about a different power shift over the past year.

It still unclear how the Trump administration is going to handle the States’ historically solid commitment to international health concerns. Though it adds up to less than a percentage point of the country’s national budget, the US currently contributes more money to global health initiatives than any other country, helping both themselves and countless others.

Although many Americans place a lot of value on their country’s investment in this area, the new government and a huge rise in nationalist sentiment may change things. The average American is becoming less and less supportive of international aid in all its forms, and this could have dire repercussions for everyone.

There you have a brief look at the biggest modern threats to international healthcare. While modern healthcare is more sophisticated than it’s ever been, these global health issues all pose a serious threat to the future health and wellbeing of everyone.

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