Global Health Threats Affect All of Us

Drug resistant infectious diseases… natural and humanitarian crises… malnutrition and contaminated foods… toxic substances… biological and chemical terrorism… rising social inequalities and highly vulnerable populations… weak, inefficient or dysfunctional health systems… realities like these are affecting the health of people all over the world.

The fact is, no matter where we live, our well-being depends on how health issues are managed around the world.

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Travel and Migration
  • Inadequate Public Health Infrastructure
  • Urbanization
  • Globalization of Trade
  • Aging and Chronic Diseases

Travel and Migration

Almost any place on earth can be reached within 36 hours, less than the incubation period for most infectious diseases.

Each year more than 500 million people cross international borders by aircraft alone and diseases are exported and imported like any commodity. As a result, diseases such as Dengue Fever and West Nile Virus, once considered foreign, are now on our soil. Familiar diseases, such as cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and yellow fever, once under control, are again on the increase, spreading to previously unaffected regions, including the United States. Avian flu is spreading on the wings of migrating birds and the HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to wreak havoc, primarily in the poorest countries of the world.

The more disease spreads unchecked in resource poor regions of the world, the higher the risk to travelers.

Inadequate Public Health Infrastructure
The bio-terrorism incidents of 2001, the SARS epidemic of 2003, and multiple outbreaks of avian flu since 2003 have revealed our vulnerability to the threat from diseases virtually unknown previously and our lack or preparedness to respond to pandemics of potentially catastrophic proportions.
These events make it clear that communities across the globe will have to upgrade their public health infrastructure. Health practitioners are a vital part of the implementing arm of our public health system. Most training curricula do not, however, prepare them to respond effectively to public health threats in their communities. They must be able to diagnose and treat the health consequences of global risks and understand their underlying causes.

By 2025, 61 percent of humanity will live in cities, taxing already over-burdened public health systems. As magnets for travelers, immigrants, and imports from around the world, large cities are potential breeding grounds for global epidemics and other health disasters.

As globalization and urbanization intensifies, cities must be prepared to respond to an increasing number of global health threats. Urban risk factors such as insufficient water and sanitation services, overcrowded housing and pollution not only cause ill health but also exacerbate global health risks such as infectious diseases, particularly in the developing world. Moreover, future humanitarian disasters are likely to occur in large urban settings.

Globalization of Trade
In today’s environment of free trade and divergent or absent regulation, the daily health of millions of unsuspecting people around the world are at increasing risk from water-borne bacteria, pesticides, industrial toxins, manufacturing byproducts, and hazardous wastes from military arsenals and product disposal. Moreover, the shift of much manufacturing to offshore locations has transferred occupational risks formerly encountered by North American workers to low income countries far less able to mitigate them.

The lack of strict export safety measures in many countries has an impact on the health of our communities. For example, changing food industry practices and food imported from around the globe bring new challenges to food safety in the US. Hence, the management of health risks elsewhere in the world has direct consequences here.

Aging and Chronic Diseases
The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2025, more than 800 million of the world’s population will be over the age 65, two-thirds of them in developing countries. As world populations live longer, chronic diseases associated with aging are increasing dramatically. In the coming decades, the costs of treating these conditions will deplete already limited health resources virtually everywhere in the world, threatening the health of poor and rich nations alike.

Developing nations will face even greater challenges than developed countries due to inadequate economic development, high population growth, poor social and health service infrastructures, as well as the decline in traditional care provided to elders by their families