The World Health Organization has published its top 10 threats to global health in 2019, and some interesting additions are in the list.
Each year, the WHO releases a list of the top health threats facing the global population; the list helps inform policies and action plans. The 2019 list includes things like infectious disease epidemics and drug-resistant superbugs as well as potentially preventable health problems, such as heart and lung disease.
One would expect to see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases on the list, such as measles or diphtheria (which made the list in 2018), among this year’s top threats. However, for 2019 the WHO actually included the mechanism driving many of these outbreaks: the refusal to vaccinate. Yes, anti-vaxxers are now a top global health threat, joining the ranks of the Ebola virus, HIV, and humanitarian crises.
The WHO will address these threats with a new five-year plan, starting in 2019, which aims to ensure access to universal health coverage, protection from health emergencies, and improved health and well-being for billions of people.
Here is the full list of global health threats from the WHO (in no particular order).
“Vaccine hesitancy,” as the WHO calls it, is the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite vaccines being available (even free, in many countries). There are a number of reasons why people are opposed to vaccination, but the WHO noted complacency, lack of access, and poor confidence in vaccines as key factors. Whatever their reasons, anti-vaxxers are threatening to reverse decades of progress made since the widespread implementation of immunization programs.
Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase globally, and resurgences in countries that were close to elimination. The reasons behind this increase are complex, WHO wrote, but vaccine hesitancy is a major factor. In 2018, measles cases hit a record high in Europe. Many people in France and Ukraine erroneously believe vaccinations are unsafe, BuzzFeed News previously reported.
“Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease — it currently prevents 2–3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved,” the WHO wrote.