People across the globe are dealing with tenacious diseases that cut across borders, and the first step to finding a solution is identifying the biggest problems. Here is a guide to the world’s most pressing global health issues, as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
A communicable disease is an illness that can be passed from one person to another. When the disease affects enormous numbers, it can become an epidemic. Wide-reaching communicable diseases claim countless lives each day, most notably HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio, influenza and tuberculosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV, a chronic and potentially fatal disease. While antiretroviral drugs can prolong a lifespan by stopping HIV’s progression into AIDS, the drugs are hard to obtain in poor countries where HIV is most pervasive.
Similarly, malaria affects mostly poor women and children, as sub-Saharan African children make up 90 percent of the 300 to 500 million cases of malaria each year. Polio is likewise a primarily childhood disease, although it is much less pervasive. This potentially paralyzing disease is easily prevented by vaccine, yet polio is still not eradicated. Vaccines have been developed for the airborne contagious diseases tuberculosis and influenza, but outbreaks of these diseases can and do occur. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that one-third of the population is infected with tuberculosis, although many of these infections are latent or inactive. Influenza comes in many forms, including bird flu and swine flu, and a new strain of the flu could harm huge swaths of the world population.
Global water supply
Many infectious diseases could spread or worsen because of inadequate water supplies. Contaminated water can spread life-threatening diseases such as cholera, hepatitis and typhoid fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of the most common waterborne diseases worldwide. In addition to preventing these diseases, clean water is essential for sanitation.
Maternal and child health
Millions of children under 5 years old are dying every year, and most often the causes are preventable. Pregnant women with HIV have a low risk of transmitting the virus to their babies, but women left undiagnosed or untreated give birth to about 1,000 HIV-infected children every day. Infants are also susceptible to birth defects, while young children are left vulnerable to dengue fever and diarrhea. The vast majority of young deaths occur in impoverished nations and could be prevented with access to clean water, sanitation and common vaccines. The World Health Organization estimates approximately 1.5 million children die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Non-communicable diseases account for 35 million deaths annually, making them the leading cause of death in the world. In America alone, at least eight out of 10 deaths are due to non-communicable diseases. The main culprits include cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.