The World Health Organization (WHO) released its list of the top global health problems, and in it is a surprising addition. Along with Ebola, HIV, and air pollution, the hesitation to vaccinate is now considered a major health problem.
Typically, vaccines prevent between 2 and 3 million deaths a year, and perhaps even more once the global vaccination programs improve. However, vaccine hesitancy or the refusal to vaccinate even if vaccines are available has been reversing the hoped-for global progress.
For instance, there is a 30 percent increase in measles cases worldwide, and some countries that were already close to eradicating the disease have been seeing a resurgence. While the increase cannot all be attributed to vaccine hesitancy, it does contribute to the increase in cases.
According to WHO, the reasons behind people’s hesitancy to vaccinate are complex and may include complacency, inconvenience, and lack of confidence.
Dengue, Ebola, influenza pandemic, HIV, and noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes heart disease, and cancer are all included in WHO’s list of top global health problems. These are all health issues that affect millions of people worldwide and are particularly problematic in areas that do not have easy access to medications, diagnostics, and vaccines.
In fact, weak primary health care, typically people’s first contact with the health care system, is also included in WHO’s list of global health problems.
Air pollution and climate change is also a matter of concern for WHO, especially since 9 out of 10 people were found to be breathing polluted air. Apart from being a direct contributor to people’s ill health, the major cause of air pollution, that is, burning fossil fuels, is also a major contributor to climate change, which in itself has its own health impacts.
The millions of people living in vulnerable settings are also an important issue for WHO, as many people live in non-ideal environments, whether it’s because of the environment itself or conflicts that cause them to have poor access to proper and basic care.
According to WHO, the time of modern medicine’s greatest successes is almost up, as bacteria, viruses, as well as fungi are quickly learning to develop antibiotic resistance. This is a problem that is driven by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, not just in people, but also in animals used in food production.
“Antimicrobial resistance — the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these medicines — threatens to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis,” notes WHO.