Thanks to major technological advancements, the world has become far more mobile and interconnected. The interdependent world of the 21st century facilitates the spread of information and provides humans with bountiful possibilities for advancement. Unfortunately, the interconnectedness of the 21st century world has also created many opportunities for radio-nuclear and toxic threats as well as the rapid spread of highly infectious diseases. In fact, according to the WHO, the spread of infectious diseases geographically is faster now than at any other point in history.

Since there are billions of airline passengers every year, it’s only a matter of time until an epidemic or outbreak leads to a major threat worldwide. While some global health threats are well documented or at least expected, others take us completely by surprise. For example, the the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was not foreseen by anyone. Here is some information about the challenges the world faces when it comes to public health in the 21st century.

10. Survivors of Ebola

Once the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa began to die down, news coverage about the outbreak also followed suit. As a result, relatively few people are aware of the issues that survivors of Ebola continue to face today years after the outbreak. According to the  World Health Organization, there are 10,000 survivors of Ebola in the world. These survivors have continued to suffer from a number medical conditions after recovering from Ebola. Some of these medical conditions include headaches, joint pain, and eye issues. Also, scientists have learned that the Ebola virus can survive in body fluids like semen, breast milk, and ocular fluid after recovery.

Right now, the CDC is working with a number of partners to establish survivor support activities in the countries affected by Ebola. Hopefully, this endeavor will not only help survivors of Ebola with their medical and psychological needs, but will also help lower the risk of the reintroduction of Ebola. 

Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General for WHO, expressed her confidence that an outbreak of the Ebola virus on such a massive scale will never occur again. However, she also expressed the belief that flare-ups will occur in the future. Due to the larger number of survivors in Ebola, the world now has a better opportunity to learn about how Ebola affects survivors and about how these survivors can care for themselves and their communities. 

9. Mental Health for Trauma Survivors

A significant but often ignored issue is mental health for survivors of trauma. With each passing year, the general public is becoming more and more aware of the mental health consequences of natural disasters, war, epidemics and outbreaks, displacement, and natural disasters. According to the WHO, about one in four people suffer from mental disorders, some of which are induced by trauma. However, overall, the global health workforce of today is not ready to deal with the mental health issues faced by survivors of trauma.

There are relatively few social service workers in the global health workforce. Many of these few social service workers are trained to provide specialized and complex mental health care. Accordingly, there are few global health professionals equipped to deal with the greatest needs when it comes to mental health.

8. Health Worker Shortage

Another global health issue that we face in 2016 is the shortage of health workers. According to the WHO, there is a shortage globally of about 7.2 million health workers, especially nurses, doctors, and midwives. The WHO predicts that there will be a global shortage of 12.9 million by 2035. This issue has serious implications for global health in the future. The health worker shortage explains the shortage of social service workers, as there is simply too few health professionals period. 

In order to combat this issue, more and more countries are striving to achieve universal health coverage and to develop a health workforce that is more skilled and equitably distributed. These countries plan to provide their health workforce with advanced technology. The Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030, a global strategy, was released this year for this endeavor.

7. Air Pollution

Air pollution is another major global health issue of 2016. This global health issue is particularly pertinent for heavily populated cities, such as Beijing, China and Delhi, India. In fact, according to a study, about six million deaths in China were linked to air pollution. WHO stated that more than 80 percent of all people residing in urban areas that are monitored for air pollution are exposed to heavily polluted air. Every region in the world is affected by air pollution, but low-income cities are affected the most. Almost all cities in middle- and low-income countries don’t meet air quality guidelines established by the WHO. The populations that are exposed to bad air quality have a great risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and acute and chronic respiratory diseases.

6. Waning and Emerging Health Threats

Another global health issue is establishing a balance when it comes to warding off waning and emerging health threats. HIV and polio are both diseases that have devastated entire human populations. However, both diseases are currently in decline. According to the WHO, the number of cases of polio has been reduced by about 99 percent. Polio now exists only in the most marginalized and poorest regions in the world, which means that the world is on its way to the complete eradication of polio.

However, the global health workforce cannot focus all of their efforts on these waning diseases due to the emergence of other health threats, such as the Zika virus and possible Ebola flare-ups.

5. Global Warming

According to the CDC, global warming and climate change is a cause for concern when it comes to human health. Rising temperatures, sea levels, and carbon dioxide levels could lead to the rise of both infectious and non-infectious diseases, such as cholera, asthma, and even mental illness. In 2016, more and more countries are focusing on curbing their carbon emissions to curtail climate change and the effects it can have on human health.

4. The Global Health System

Many countries refuse to view and recognize their health system as a complex and whole entity rather than simply a provider of services for diseases, conditions, and disorders. The United States is one example of such a country. However, these countries are recognizing that such a view of a health system only hinders the quality of care. Accordingly, these countries are making changes to make their health system a greater priority. 

3. Change in Politics

The outcome of every U.S. presidential election has major implications when it comes to global health and development. Of course, it is no different for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As of now, the United States will contribute about $37 billion in foreign aid in 2016. However, the outcome of this election could lead to changes in funding and development policies. Under Trump, about twenty million people in the United States alone would lose their health coverage. On the other hand, about nine million people in the United States would gain health coverage under Clinton.

2. The Widening Wealth Gap

Overall, the percentage of the world population that makes less than $2 per day has been cut in half since 2001. Undoubtedly, the world is wealthier now in the 21st century than in the last century. However, the global wealth gap is still growing rapidly. According to Inequality.org, about 75 percent of the adults in the world own less than $10,000 in wealth. This indicates that about 75 percent of the people of the world only own 3 percent of all the wealth. The 8.1 percent of the richest people in the world, who own over 100,000 in wealth, own an astounding 84 percent of all the wealth.

1. Refugee and Displacement Crisis

Today, there are about 65.3 million people who are displaced worldwide, according to the UN Refugee Agency. About 21.3 million of these people are considered refugees. 10 million of these displaced people are stateless. Of course, the movement of these displaced people are having major implications for the global health system. Not only is it challenging to provide health care to the displaced, but health care professionals are also being forced to flee the very areas that need healthcare desperately.

Undoubtedly, there are many public issues that plague the world even in 2016. Fortunately, the world is slowly coming together to combat these issues to ensure the health of both current and future populations.