World Health Day: four fronts and other battles

Despite advances in vaccines and treatments, Covid continues to evolve with a high risk of new variants and there are fears that another virus, which could come from the avian world, could bring us back to the starting line.

three organizations of The United Nationsthe World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Animal Health Organization (OIE) have recently issued a call for all countries to take action to reduce the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between humans and wildlife. .

For Adelaida Sarukhan, doctor in immunology from the University of Paris VI and scientific writer at ISGlobal (La Caixa Foundation), this will not be the first nor the last pandemic, others will come.

A lot of eyes are on bird flu viruses, and if any of them mutate enough to spread from human to human, we’re in big trouble.”

Sarukhan appreciates this eradication “is impossible, since they are viruses capable of infecting not only humans but also other mammals, and eliminating it from the population is also difficult, since it has spread widely and is highly transmissible” .

The pandemic has taken its toll so far more than six million dead and more than 488 million recorded cases until March of this year, despite the ten approved vaccines in a record time.

Why can we speak of a shameful hoardingsince of the 8,780 million doses administered worldwide in the first year, it is estimated that only 0.8% reached poor countries, although currently 65% ​​of the population has at least one dose, reports Our world in data.

As a final piece of information, it should be noted that in just one year, they had put online 6,361,329 SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) international scientific platform, which gives an idea of ​​the great progress and collaboration of science.

climate crisis

The experts remind us that we are more than 7,800 million humans on an increasingly globalized planet, with ecosystems greatly altered by our actions and the A single degree increase in global average temperature could spread diseases such as dengue or malaria.

The WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths each year are due to preventable environmental causes, i.e. the so-called climate crisis, a major health threat to humanity.

Due to its proximity to the African continent, the climate crisis could bring to Spain the ailments mentioned above, West Nile encephalitis and Rift Valley fever, among others, as various works of the Carlos III Health Institute.

An epidemic called obesity

According to the World Health Organization, obesity has tripled since 1975 worldwide. In 2020, 16% of the Spanish population suffered from this disease, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

The problem is that the Obesity works like a magnet for multiple diseases. Studies indicate that it is a risk factor for developing more than 200 conditions, including those related to the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal disorders and certain cancers.

Currently, more than half of the world’s population is overweight. In Europe, one in five people.

In Spain, the prevalence of overweight is 39.3% in adults and 21.6% of obesity, and global strategies to reduce the problem have yet to work.

AIDS, a public health problem

Forty years after the appearance of the first cases in the world, AIDS continues to be, even today, a major public health problem which has killed more than 37 million people since 1981 (60,000 in Spain) and which continues to be burdened with stigma. and discrimination

In Spain, specifically, an average of 3,500 new cases per year continue to be registered, of which 13% do not even know that they are infected with HIV and therefore are not treated, and this is where lies one of the main problems.

Although the new generation of drugs has transformed this once fatal disease into a chronic one, for the vaccine no near future in sight.

The new strategy launched by UNAIDS is based on human rights, gender equality and dignity, free from stigma and discrimination for all people living with and affected by HIV.

At the global level and in the opinion of the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyimawe are “at a critical moment in our historic effort to end AIDS”.

In his view, like HIV before it, COVID-19 has shown that inequalities kill and COVID-19 “has amplified existing inequalities that block progress to end AIDS”.

According to UNAIDS, if the objectives and commitments of this strategy are achieved, the number of people contracting HIV for the first time will fall from 1.7 million in 2019 to less than 370,000 in 2025, and the number of people dying of AIDS-related illnesses will fall from 690,000 in 2019 to less than 250,000 in 2025 .

Mental health: depression and suicide

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed European healthcare systems to the brink and had a disproportionate impact on mental health.

The largest drop in mental wellbeing was recorded among people aged 18 to 24.

According to the WHO, several studies also show that a significant part of society seems to have been strongly affected psychologically by the effects of the pandemic.

Europe, for example, still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and in Spain, more precisely, it has become the first cause of death among the youngest

YesThere are many studies that show the strong relationship between depression and suicide, and there’s a key word behind it: hopelessness. A feeling that leads people to believe that whatever they do will do nothing to overcome their overwhelming pain and suffering and deep loneliness.

This fatal link occurs especially among the most vulnerable groups, and especially among the elderly and adolescents, and when depression becomes chronic.

EFE/Mauricio Duenas

In fact, experts say that 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental health problem, primarily depression.

In general, and according to the same sources, half of mental illnesses begin at age 14, but most cases are neither detected nor treated.

The pandemic has broadened the focus on mental health, as people have felt more vulnerable than ever, as has the war in Ukraine, whose most devastating effects on psychological balance will have children as protagonists.

Other battles: cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes and Alzheimer’s

According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, are responsible for more than 70% of all annual deaths worldwide, or 41 million people. This includes 15 million people who die prematurely, between the ages of 30 and 69.

A report by this organization published in 2019 also noted that more than 85% of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

In his analysis, he pointed out that the increase in these diseases is due to five main risk factors: smoking, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and air pollution. air.


In connection with Cancerthe WHO indicates that it is one of the main causes of death in the world: in 2020 nearly 10 million deaths were attributed to this disease, i.e. almost one in six of those recorded .

The most common types of cancer are breast, lung, colon, rectum and prostate.

In addition, oncogenic infections, including those caused by human hepatitis or papillomaviruses, account for about 30% of cancer cases in low- and middle-income countries.

But many cases can be cured if caught early and treated effectively.


In reference to Diabetesthe United Nations reports that the number of people with diabetes has increased from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, and that the prevalence of the disease has increased faster in low- and middle-income countries than in developing countries. high-income countries. those of income.

Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, myocardial infarction, stroke and lower limb amputation.

Cardiovascular illnesses

Finally and about cardiovascular illnesses This source points out that 17.9 million lives are claimed each year.

These diseases are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and rheumatic heart disease.

More than four out of five deaths from cardiovascular disease are due to coronary heart disease and stroke, and one-third of these deaths occur prematurely in people under the age of 70.


Vs Alzheimer’sonly a quarter of the countries in the world have a national policy, strategy or plan to support people with dementia and their families.

Half of these countries are in the WHO European Region and the rest are spread across the other regions.

However, even in Europe, many plans are expiring or have already expired, highlighting the need for renewed commitment from governments.

At the same time, the number of people with dementia is increasing: the WHO estimates that more than 55 million people (8.1% women and 5.4% men over the age of 65) live with dementia . This number is estimated to increase to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050.

Disability associated with dementia is a key driver of the costs associated with this disease. In 2019, the global cost of dementia was estimated at US$1.3 trillion.

The cost is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2030, or $2.8 trillion if rising care costs are taken into account.

Prioritizing the healthcare sector like never before

The answer to many of these challenges lies in robust and highly interconnected health systems, as the impact of the pandemic has led to considerable challenges in tackling health inequalities and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in health. health set by the UN for 2030.

But there is good news: the maternal and infant mortality targets have already been met and there is clear progress in other areas, even if the financial protection of families in terms of health is presented as a big challenge.

Within this framework, the WHO advocates prioritizing the health sector “as never before”, with an “urgent” focus on neglected aspects such as mental health, recognizing health and health workers as ” essential pillars of socio-economic recovery and determinants to prepare for future impacts”. “.

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