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Butte-Silver Bow Health Department

The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department is located at 25 W. Front St.

The World Health Organization — the global public health department — has released its five-year strategic plan, with an intent to impact an additional three billion people through 2013  ensuring that one billion additional people benefit from universal health coverage, that one billion more people are protected from health emergencies, and that one billion more people have better health and well-being.

 In its publicity surrounding the release of the plan, WHO noted that significant global health achievements have occurred in recent years — life expectancy has increased in parts of the world, six million fewer children under the age of five years died in 2016 than in 1990, polio is about to be eradicated, and 21 million people living with HIV are now receiving treatment. “Economic and social development has enabled millions of people to escape from extreme poverty and many more countries to contribute to the global agenda,” WHO said.

But the organization added that reaching goals cited in the 2019-2023 plan will require addressing health threats in a variety of ways. Those threats include outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, reports of drug-resistant pathogens, increasing rates of obesity and physical inactivity, health impacts related to environmental pollution and climate change, and a multitude of humanitarian crises.

What made the headlines last week when WHO released the plan was its citation of the anti-vaccination movement as one of the globe’s top 10 health threats in 2019.

“Vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” WHO said, adding that vaccines are a cost-effective way of thwarting disease.

WHO said its immunization advisory group says people choose many reasons not to vaccinate — lack of confidence in vaccines, complacency and inconvenience being among them. Results can be devastating — two million to three million deaths annually could be avoided globally if vaccination rates improved. 

WHO also cited air pollution and climate change as huge threats to health throughout the world, saying the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of air pollution and a major contributor to climate change. WHO estimates that climate change, from 2030 through 2050, will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.

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WHO held its first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in October, and more than 70 commitments to improve air quality were made at the event by countries and organizations. This year, the United Nations Climate Summit will be held in September, and the goal is to strengthen global climate action.

However, climate change remains a threat — despite these commitments worldwide, the globe is on course this century to warm by more than 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also cited by WHO as near-term global health threats were non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and fragile and vulnerable settings  — more than 22 percent of the global population, WHO said, resides in locations where continual crises — drought, famine, conflict, population displacement, poor health services — leave them without access to basic care.

Influenza is an absolute threat, WHO said. “The world will face another influenza pandemic –— the only thing we don’t know is when it will hit and how severe it will be,” the organization said. “Global defenses are only as effective as the weakest link in any country’s health emergency preparedness and response system.”

Also cited as threats — antimicrobial resistance; Ebola and other high-threat pathogens; inadequate primary care resources; dengue (a mosquito-laden disease that poses a particular threat in Bangladesh and India); and HIV.

All of these issues, said the organization, “will demand attention from WHO and health partners in 2019.”

The Butte-Silver Bow Health Department is proud to be a partner working on many of these issues at the local level.

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Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.

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