WHO outlines 13 healthcare goals that are within reach in the 2020s

From climate change-related health problems to providing medical services in conflict areas, the list contains issues that affect millions of people.

Myupchar January 16, 2020 14:40:38 IST
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WHO outlines 13 healthcare goals that are within reach in the 2020s

The World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined a set of health challenges and priorities to be tackled this decade. From climate change-related health problems to providing medical services in conflict areas, the list contains issues that affect millions of people around the world.

Here’s WHO's list of the major health challenges of 2020-29:

WHO outlines 13 healthcare goals that are within reach in the 2020s

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

1) ‘Elevating health in the climate debate’

Climate change brings with it major health concerns. Every year, 7 million people die from harmful air and extreme weather events (like cyclones and tsunamis) which lead to humanitarian crises such as acute food shortages and the spread of infectious diseases.

Harmful emissions also increase the incidence of cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic respiratory disease. 

Some of the most polluted cities in the world are in India, and unless serious action is taken to curb harmful emissions, national health indicators will only deteriorate.

Also read: Why is air pollution so harmful to us? Human DNA may hold the answer

2) ‘Delivering health in conflict and crisis’ 

Political upheavals and conflict in many parts of the world have created an unprecedented refugee crisis. With little or no social protection or resources, people in these areas rely on emergency healthcare services - these people are, without a doubt, in a vulnerable state. In 2019, WHO assistance was required the most in areas affected by conflict, including Syria. Given the current trajectory of events, it is unlikely that these crises will resolve soon so it is crucial that health services there are strengthened. 

3) ‘Making health care fairer’

Income inequality is rising. Health indicators are strongly correlated with socioeconomic status; on average, life expectancy is 17 years more in developed countries compared with poorer nations. Within countries as well, the wealthier areas offer a much higher quality of healthcare and the people who live in these pockets enjoy a higher quality of life.

4) ‘Expanding access to medicines’

One-third of the world lacks access to essential diagnostic and medical tools even today. In developing countries, including India, the burden of healthcare is borne out of pocket by the people, and medicines eat up a large chunk of this. Healthcare needs to be made affordable for those who need it the most.

5) ‘Stopping infectious diseases’

Every year infectious diseases, and diseases that can be prevented with vaccines, kill millions of people - a large proportion of them from poorer countries and backgrounds. The WHO has recommended that governments around the world strengthen immunization drives and also try to fight antibiotic resistance in their respective countries.

Also read: As the effects of many childhood vaccines wear off, let’s have look at vaccines one should get as an adult

6) ‘Preparing for epidemics’

Countries end up spending a lot more on responding to epidemics than they would if adequate protections were in place. While new strains of infections will always be a threat, investing in surveillance systems and strengthening public health infrastructure will mitigate deaths by limiting transmission.

7) ‘Protecting people from dangerous products’

Unsafe foods and unhealthy diets are on the rise with the advent of processed food industries, fast-food chains and more demanding lives. Consuming foods laden with sugar, fats and salt is responsible for almost one-third of the global disease burden. Further, the rise of e-cigarette use and rising levels of tobacco use in some countries is also a cause for concern. (India banned e-cigarettes in September 2019.)

Also read: Here’s how ultra-processed foods impact your health

8) ‘Investing in the people who defend our health’

Underinvestment in health education and training, and low salaries and difficult work hours for health workers has led to a shortage worldwide. As populations rise, the need for health workers will only go up, and unless investments are made now, we will have an even bigger crisis on our hands.

Case in point: India has just 9,000 psychiatrists compared with the 36,000 we need, according to an article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in January 2019.

9) ‘Keeping adolescents safe’

Globally, more than a million adolescents aged 10-19 die every year. The causes stem from unfavourable birth circumstances; childhood maltreatment is linked to drug and alcohol abuse, interpersonal violence, road accidents and a higher likelihood of getting HIV. Public health interventions can prevent many of these deaths.

Also read: Drug addiction is a medical problem: Here's how you can help someone who's dependent on a psychoactive substance

10) ‘Earning public trust’

Fake news and alarmist social media campaigns seriously undercut healthcare initiatives. The anti-vaccine lobby, for example, has been a major disruptor and casts undue suspicion on effective health measures.

11) ‘Harnessing new technology’

Advances in healthcare are progressing at breakneck speed. Emerging cancer therapies, gene editing, and holistic healthcare show a lot of promise but the challenge is to disseminate the technologies in an inequitable manner while fully understanding their limitations and risks.

12) ‘Protecting the medicines that protect us’

Antimicrobial resistance is a serious threat that could upend decades of progress. As more resistant infectious strains appear, the focus needs to shift to a) regularizing the market for antibiotics to quell overprescription, and b) making investments in newer forms of antibiotics.

13) ‘Keeping healthcare clean’

WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) are the cornerstone of a health system. Still, many primary health care facilities, especially in India, lack these basic services. Dirty water and poor sanitation make for an ideal environment for the spread of infectious diseases.

While many of these are difficult problems that require long-term, multidisciplinary interventions, according to the WHO, the resolution to these issues is “within reach”.

Read myUpchar’s section on Infectious Diseases for more information.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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