A recent study published in the journal Public Health Challenges discussed the top public health challenges in 2023.
Global public health challenges in 2022 included the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), health financing, human resources for health, mental health, climate change, poverty, reproductive health, infodemic, and humanitarian crisis. Moreover, global health challenges will continue to emerge in 2023. Thus, it is essential to identify top health priority areas to address them.
In the present study, the authors presented ten global public health priorities for 2023. They identified 1) health systems, 2) mental health crises, 3) reproductive and sexual health, 4) malnutrition and food safety, 5) diabetes, 6) cancer, 7) environmental pollution, 8) substance abuse, 9) infectious diseases, and 10) climate change.
Study: Top 10 public health challenges to track in 2023: Shifting focus beyond a global pandemic. Image Credit: Sepp photography / Shutterstock
The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered critical vulnerabilities in health systems across countries, regardless of income levels. Inadequate access to health systems is a health threat, with at least half the global population lacking access to essential healthcare services. Challenges in healthcare systems vary across countries. Strengthening primary healthcare systems is pivotal to effectively and holistically address health issues.
Mental health and substance abuse
Mental health and related disorders were historically not a global health priority. However, mental health concerns have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a higher incidence than cancer. As such, the international community should include and fund mental health support programs even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Substance use is estimated to cause over eight million deaths per annum. The use of recreational drugs resulted in a loss of about 42 million years of healthy life in 2017, reflecting 1.3% of the global disease burden. More proactive and innovative strategies are required since punishment and criminalization have been ineffective. Educational programs, recovery support, exercise, and nutrition-based interventions should be introduced to address substance abuse.
Infectious diseases, malnutrition, and food safety
The increasing scope of infectious diseases warrants the improvement of the quality of services in healthcare delivery. Functional and resilient primary healthcare can boost health services aimed at preventing infectious diseases. Financial assistance to public health infrastructure and efforts for poverty alleviation are critical for effective measures against infectious disease threats.
Malnutrition affects around 29% of the world's population and remains a significant concern among children. Malnutrition has been linked to various socioeconomic factors, including limited access to healthy foods and a general lack of awareness of healthy diets. Further, healthy diets are increasingly unaffordable, as food prices have sharply spiked in the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and climatic disasters. Food safety is another significant health concern.
The globalization of food production and supply has increased the extent and speed of transmission of foodborne pathogens. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled the Global Strategy for Food Safety 2022-30 in October 2022, emphasizing a One Health approach. This strategy involves communication and collaboration to identify and address safety risks and implement surveillance and risk assessment to detect, prevent, and respond to foodborne diseases.
Sexual and reproductive health
The significant challenges in sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) include gender-based violence, inadequate comprehensive sexuality education, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, maternal health, sexually transmitted infections, infertility, unsafe abortion, reproductive cancers, and poor access to SRHR services. Therefore, achieving universal health coverage through better access to SRHR is necessary for improving demographic outcomes and promoting sustainable development.
Environmental pollution and climate change
Environmental pollution threatens humans, wildlife, and their habitats. Human activities cause soil, air, and water pollution, especially in developing countries. The adverse health effects of toxic heavy metals in fuel and paint products remain a significant threat in countries yet to adopt alternatives. In addition, environmental pollution may trigger security and political threats. Therefore, immediate measures and sustainable solutions are necessary to reduce pollution.
The WHO has recognized climate change as humanity's most significant health threat in the intermediate term. The global disease profile is evolving with increasing temperatures and climate-related concerns. Various diseases are emerging or resurging in some regions. Climate change frequently causes environmental disasters. Heat waves have become prevalent, associated with increased risks of illness and mortality and lower access to food and nutrition.
Cancer and diabetes
Cancer is globally a leading cause of death. The lack of timely access to screening, diagnosis, and treatment contributes to the increased cancer-related mortality rate across many countries. Preventing cancer-associated mortality is one of the sustainable development goals. Appropriate and timely detection of cancer, followed by effective therapy, can preserve the quality of life of affected individuals.
Diabetes is a debilitating condition severely affecting people, healthcare systems, and the economy. Despite the long-standing association between diabetes and obesity/overweight, the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing in normal-weight individuals, presenting a unique challenge. Higher investments in self-management education and support are integral for preventing and mitigating complications and the impact of the disease.
In sum, identifying the major public health challenges is critical for effective and sustainable health delivery. Greater prioritization, funding, collaboration, and cooperation are essential to achieve the 2030 universal healthcare targets. Global efforts should initiate before these challenges become public health emergencies.