Independent global research organisation brought out a list of 11 health issues that should be monitored closely in 2023
The last three years of the pandemic brought health into focus in global policymaking and made everyone more wary about fitness and hygiene.
As the world prepares to ring in the new year, there is a wave of apprehension about a fresh COVID surge, with scary projections for China splashed across news portals.
The coronavirus infection has also given birth to sequelae conditions (Long COVID) and aggravated some existing ailments (mental health disorders). They are widespread and not understood very well.
These along with intersectional health risks caused by a combination of environmental (climate change, pollution) and societal (wars, poverty) factors, are some of the most prominent diseases to watch for in 2023, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global research organisation with the University of Washington, observed in a note December 20, 2022.
IHME brought out a list of ailments that may turn out to be the biggest health challenges in several countries and, thus, should be monitored closely:
1. Long COVID: Some patients have felt the impact of coronavirus infection till weeks after they tested negative. COVID-19 impacted the various organs of the human body in different ways and these sequelae conditions are so widespread that they were referred to as the ‘silent pandemic’ by the health fraternity.
Headache, memory loss, confusion, chest ailment and lingering cough are just some of the symptoms reported by patients with Long COVID.
The impact of these conditions “often disrupts a person’s ability to engage with school, work or relationships for months at a time”, IHME experts observed in the note.
Sarah Wulf Hanson, lead research scientist of the non-fatal and risk quality enhancement team and lead author of the JAMA paper on long COVID, said:
People with long COVID need diagnostic and proper rehabilitation support from primary care physicians. We desperately need more research to find effective treatments as well as preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing long COVID.”
2. Mental health: The global burden of mental health disorder has been on the rise in the last three decades. The pandemic years have made matters worse as people lost their loved ones, their livelihoods and were confined to their homes for long.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine destabilised the global economy that was just beginning to recover and set energy prices soaring, causing further distress to people in every corner of the globe.
Despite widespread reports of depression, anxiety and suicides, access to mental health crisis support remains feeble. More research and capacity building is essential to bridge this gap, said IHME.
“Currently in the GBD study, we investigate childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and bullying victimization as risk factors for mental disorders,” said Alize Ferrari, affiliate assistant professor and team lead for estimating the burden of mental disorders.
“Going forward, we need a better understanding of the other risk factors for mental disorders, how these vary across different populations, and how to offer the best opportunities for prevention at the population level,’ she added.
3. Climate change impact: The worsening climate has had a cascading effect on the health and well-being of the global population; heat and floods have increased disease prevalence and mental stress, among other impacts.
IHME called for more attention on minimising the impacts on global health through adaptation or enhancing resilience. “One aspect of this is improving overall health and enhancing socioeconomic development because we know that those who are more vulnerable will suffer the most,” said Michael Brauer, affiliate professor and team lead for estimating the burden of environmental, occupational, and dietary risk factors.
“In addition, there are technological solutions that can support adaptation, such as the use of drought-resistant crops, increasing vegetation in cities to reduce the urban heat island effect, or repurposing land use to adapt to rising sea levels,” he added.
The IHME expert added that swifter addressing of air pollution will save lives and will move the world closer to Net Zero carbon emissions.
4. Cardiovascular disease: The burden of cardiovascular diseases is very high and strains healthcare systems like no other. As such, they need to be well-monitored and research should show the way to controlling lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, dietary risks, smoking and air pollution that add to the risk, suggested IHME.
5. Lower respiratory infection: Lower respiratory infections (LRI), especially respiratory syncytial virus and influenza, are health issues to watch in 2023, IHME noted.
The burden of LRIs was lower during the pandemic due to social distancing and mask mandates in every country. “With the relaxation of these measures, many young children who haven’t been exposed to RSV in the past couple of years are being infected, resulting in RSV outbreaks. Countries have also experienced a surge in influenza across all ages,” according to the organisation.
6. Poverty: Inequality widens the gap of access to health services and this has become worse due to climate change and violence, IHME said.
“We must urgently address the impact of poverty on health, life, and death,” said Mohsen Naghavi, professor and team lead for causes of death, shocks, intermediate causes and estimating the burden of antimicrobial resistance.
7. Strengthening health systems: As economies rebuild amid the pandemic, it is imperative they focus on fortifying health systems, said IHME.
“I think what is needed is a longer-term commitment from donors and governments – financial and human resources, governance structures, management, information systems – to ensure that interventions are set up for long-term sustainability and can deliver the outcomes that are aspired to across health systems.” — Angela Micah, assistant professor and co-lead of the development assistance for health resource tracking team
8. Diabetes: Diabetes is another disease to watch for in 2023, according to IHME, as its global burden is huge.
Population-based interventions such as taxes and incentives, more informative food labelling, improving the built environment to facilitate exercise and greater advocacy to inform people of the risk diabetes poses, combined with expanded health education to combat diabetes risk factors, seem the best options, the organisation said.
Policies aimed to help avoid weight gain and improve dietary quality are also paramount, it added.
9. Road injuries: The international research orgnasation noted that road injuries, although preventable, are the leading cause of death among people aged 15-49 years.
Proper implementation of measures like helmets, seatbelts, airbags, speed limits, and laws discouraging alcohol-impaired driving as well as change in human behaviour is needed to reduce this burden, IHME added.
10. Dementia: The number of people with dementia is set to increase in the coming years as the size of the overall and ageing population grows, IHME observed.
“Interventions targeting modifiable risk factors, such as low education, smoking, and high blood sugar, have the potential to reduce the overall societal burden and should be prioritised,” suggested Emma Nichols, researcher on the BIRDS team and lead author of The Lancet Public Health paper on dementia forecasting.
11. Population ageing: The number of people above the age of 65 years is set to increase across the world in the coming years. “It will be prudent to begin thinking through and systematically planning for some of these upcoming changes in demography as well, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” said Angela Micah, assistant professor and co-lead of the development assistance for health resource-tracking team.
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