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Explainer: Why is World Health Day important?

World Health Day falls on 7 April, marking the anniversary of the World Health Organisation's founding in 1948.  We explain its significance.

By Silvia Pellegrino

World Health Day, WHO
The World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pictured) became a household name during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images)
  • This year’s World Health Day centred on “health for all” to promote a better global healthcare industry.
  • The cost to support SDG 3 is projected to be between $307bn – $416bn per year by 2030.
  • Greater China still believes the Covid-19 pandemic remains the most pressing danger to the global economy.

Every year, World Health Day falls on 7 April to mark the anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) founding in 1948. 

World Health Day strives to encourage participating nations to promote information and resources related to better health. This annual recurrence raises awareness of a different health topic or issue and 2023’s was focused on “health for all”.

What is World Health Day?

The WHO is a United Nations (UN) organisation which aims to improve global public health and in 1950, World Health Day was established to raise awareness of the cause. Each World Health Day focuses on a different specific theme, such as the global polio eradication in 1988, to broader topics like road safety and supporting nurses and midwives. 

With public health concerns being at the core of each World Health Day, 2023’s theme is “health for all”. In addition, WHO is close to celebrating its 75th anniversary with the theme of 75 years of improving public health.

Health for All aims to promote a better global healthcare industry and easier access to resources to better the world’s population’s health overall. WHO will do so through seminars and campaigns to raise awareness of well-being and good health.

WHO’s anniversary events will look back at public health successes that have contributed to improving people’s quality of life over the last 75 years. The aim of World Health Day is to encourage participating nations to promote information and resources related to better health.

The joint celebrations see individuals, families, schools and other community bodies taking steps and coming together for World Health Day events by organising activities like volunteering at health centres.

What are the major global health challenges we face? 

In 2022, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) published a list of the major global health challenges to tackle in the near future. 

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It found many of these issues were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which also influenced both physical and mental health, as well as the global economy.  

These are the main health challenges that the world is facing right now.

Climate change

Climate change is not only affecting the natural world but also the health of millions of people. Since climate change is worsening, communities around the globe are already experiencing the side effects.

Flooding, drought, storms and water availability are all direct consequences of global temperatures rising. The best course of action, for now, is mitigation, which looks to reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming.

WHO has also reported that these same emissions are also responsible for over a quarter of deaths from heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. Therefore, it is a real health emergency. 

The best way to tackle this issue is to improve overall health and invest in socio-economic development since it is the less developed parts of the world that are often the most affected by it. 

Poverty and healthcare equity

Mohsen Naghavi, professor and team lead at IHME, said: “It seems that poverty is the mother of inequality in health. The unequal distribution of resources has expanded due to climate change and increasing violence.

“Low- and middle-income countries experience worse health outcomes than high-income countries: the life expectancy is 34 years lower, the under-5 mortality around 100 times higher, deaths due to interpersonal violence and suicide are 30 times higher.”

Even WHO has outlined the issues that poverty brings to the healthcare industry all over the world, since growing socio-economic differences also reflect massive discrepancies in the quality of people’s health.

The organisation explained that one of the most effective ways to make this gap smaller is through developing and evolving primary health care. WHO have asked all countries to invest 1% more GDP in the industry.

Mental health

According to IHME, mental health disorders are one of the main causes of disability worldwide and have been since 1990. The pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, combined with other global events like wars. 

There needs to be more research on the causes of mental disorders, according to Alize Ferrari, assistant professor at IHME. She explains, “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.” 

IHME has listed other health challenges, including:

  • Long Covid
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory infections
  • Health systems strengthening
  • Diabetes
  • Road traffic injuries
  • Dementia

How much investment is needed for SDG 3?

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include 169 targets in total, with the collective purpose of acting against poverty and inequality, protecting the planet and ensuring that people can enjoy health, justice and prosperity. All UN member states have adhered to and agreed to try to reach these goals by 2030.

SDG 3 revolves around health, with the motto, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. It strives to do so through 13 targets, such as reducing the global maternal mortality ratio, ending preventable deaths of infants, being better prepared for epidemics and achieving universal health coverage. 

WHO has estimated that between $3.3trn and $4.5trn per year needs to be made available in order to achieve the 2030 objective, which sees elements like poverty and hunger everywhere being eradicated, as well as protecting gender equality and the planet. Developing countries are now facing an estimated $2.5trn to $3trn per year financing gap.

According to financial estimates, the cost to support SDG 3 is between $307bn – $416bn per year by 2030.

Is Covid still a significant risk to the global economy?

The pandemic caused a domino effect, affecting global health and global financial output. It caused a recession which impacted advanced and emerging economies, but it is still uncertain whether the effects will be lasting for much longer.

The coronavirus outbreak caused thousands of workers to be excluded from the labour market, either temporarily or permanently. Even if many sectors adopted job retention schemes during the pandemic, the disruption has still halted and influenced productivity, and deeply damaged emerging firms. The pandemic has caused skill loss and permanent exits of workers all over the world, and many firms have still not recovered.

The labour market today still risks being permanently damaged if the workforce does not recover since unemployment affects people’s skills and motivation. A report by the European Central Bank explained that “the increase in long-term unemployment translates into a higher rate of structural unemployment and participation rates do not fully recover, lower labour input is likely to remain a long-term drag on potential output going forward”. 

A reduction in new investments also emerged following the pandemic. This is visible from the gross fixed capital formation from the first two quarters of 2020, which declined by 10% compared with the last two quarters of 2019. In 2023, global growth is still down, a decline of 1.7% when compared with 2022’s figures. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused a significant inflation rise, and the latest McKinsey Global Survey cites inflation as the most widespread threat to Western economies. Greater China, on the other hand, still states that the Covid-19 pandemic remains the most pressing danger. 

The report, therefore, highlights how pessimism about the global economy following the pandemic continues and, alongside geopolitical instability and conflicts, it is still leading the list of most-cited risks to global economic growth

[Read more about SDG 3, good health and wellbeing, here]

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