Superbugs, Air Pollution, Make WHO’s List Of Top Ten Threats To Global Health

Air pollution, climate change, and antibiotic resistant bacteria are some of the many problems that pose a serious threat to global health, according to recent conclusions by the World Health Organization (WHO) 

The group issued a report this month, titled “Ten threats to global health in 2019”, which details a list of the most serious health threats the world faces today. According to the report, failing to address the threats will result in the loss of millions of lives.

WHO is launching a five-year strategic plan which will focus on the top ten health threats to reach the goal of helping billions more people.

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Air pollution and climate change are two of the most pressing concerns to global health, according to WHO. A recent WHO study indicated 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air every day.

Other research indicates air pollutions kills 7 million people each year and has been shown to cause respiratory problems, accelerate aging in children, lead to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and reduce life expectancy worldwide.

Burning fossil fuels is one of the primary causes of air pollution, as well as a major contributor to climate change. Climate change impacts human health and is estimated to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

WHO also warns that antibiotic resistance has become a serious threat to global health and will kill more than 10 million people annually by the year 2050. Antibiotic resistant bacteria is predominantly driven by the overuse of antibiotic medications in humans and livestock used in the food supply.

If antibiotic resistance continues to increase, doctors will be unable to treat diseases such as tuberculosis and drug resistant gonorrhea. Antibiotic resistant tuberculosis already causes 10 million illnesses each year, leading to 1.6 million deaths.

WHO’s list also includes the following global health threats:

Noncommunicable Diseases

Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are responsible more than 70% of all deaths worldwide. Most of those deaths are primarily driven by tobacco use, lack of physical activity and exercise, alcohol use, poor diet, and air pollution.

The Flu

The World Health Organization is certain the world will face another flu epidemic; however, it is unclear when the epidemic will occur or how severe the epidemic will be. WHO warns it is important to be prepared with flu vaccines and appropriate treatments for when an epidemic occurs.

Vulnerable Populations

Fragile and vulnerable settings pose a unique challenge. More than 1.6 billion people live in places where problems like drought and famine cause the population to be without access to basic care. The organization indicates a focus on strengthening health systems globally is key to be better prepared to offer immunizations and respond to outbreaks.


The Democratic Republic of Congo faced two Ebola outbreaks in 2018. Both outbreaks spread to cities with more than 1 million people in the population posing an even greater threat of spreading to other areas.


Many populations worldwide have weak primary health care options. WHO emphasizes a focus on providing comprehensive affordable health care for many of the most vulnerable populations throughout life.


Many populations around the world face vaccine reluctance or complete refusal to vaccinate. Some communities simply don’t have access to comprehensive vaccine programs. Other communities refuse vaccines despite the wide availability.

Failure to vaccinate threatens the progress made to combat preventable diseases. Vaccinations prevent 2-3 million deaths each year and can save another 1.5 million people if global vaccination coverage is improved.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is a mosquito borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms. It can kill up to 20% of people who have severe cases. WHO estimates 40% of the world is at risk of getting dengue fever because they live in climates with extensive rainy seasons. There are more than 390 million dengue fever infections every year and the WHO aims to reduce dengue fever deaths by 50% by 2020.


Big steps have been taken to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in recent decades, yet the epidemic continues to affect millions of people. Nearly 1 million people die of HIV/AIDS every year and nearly 37 million people live with HIV today.

Offering at risk populations that are often overlooked, such as gay, transgender, sex workers, and incarcerated populations, access to antiretrovirals and other preventive measures can help reduce global infections.


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