Health and Healthcare Systems

5 health crises you may not have heard about in 2020

A health agent vaccinates a child on the street in a neighbourhood where the risk of infection is high, during an emergency campaign of vaccination against yellow fever in Sao Paulo.

The pandemic has disrupted existing vaccine programmes around the world. Image: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Global Health

  • Yellow fever, measles and chikungunya – a virus spread by mosquitoes – are among the other health emergencies of 2020.
  • The World Health Organization also responded to disasters, such as floods in Sudan.
  • The top five global risks over the next 10 years are all environmental, according to a Forum report.

COVID-19 has dominated the headlines – but it is just one of more than 60 emergencies the World Health Organization (WHO) has responded to this year.

Here are five health crises you may not have heard about in 2020.

Have you read?

1. Chikungunya in Chad

In Chad, north-central Africa, more than 27,500 cases of the chikungunya virus, including one death, were reported across three provinces between July and September. Chikungunya is a disease transmitted to humans by the bites of infected Aedes mosquitoes.

“The disease is characterized by an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain and inflammation which is often very debilitating and may last for several months, or even years,” the WHO says.

Fatalities are rare, but the virus can cause large outbreaks with the potential to overburden the healthcare sector.

Teams from Chad’s Ministry of Health and National Solidarity, WHO, Red Cross and the local municipality have been disinfecting in affected provinces, destroying mosquito larvae breeding sites and raising awareness locally.

2. Yellow fever in Gabon and Togo

In Gabon and Togo in west Africa, two cases of yellow fever were reported in April.

The cases were an 83-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman with no known vaccination history for the disease.

There has been routine vaccination against yellow fever since 2000 in Gabon and 2005 in Togo, with up to 85% of the population thought to be immunized.

“There is currently a risk of disruption to routine immunization activities due to COVID-19-related impacts on the health system and a decreased demand for immunization due to physical distancing requirements or community reluctance,” the WHO says of the Gabon case.

Epidemiological investigations were conducted in the affected regions and vaccination responses increased.

3. Measles in Mexico

Between January and April, more than 1,300 probable cases of measles were reported in Mexico. The ages of those affected ranged from three months to 68 years.

Transmission is airborne or via droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of infected people and it “remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally,” according to the WHO.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the WHO are urging all member states to follow guidance for immunization in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A vaccination team at work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A vaccination team at work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Image: WHO

4. Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak on record was declared over on 25 June 2020.

WHO says the nearly two year-long outbreak was particularly challenging because of Democratic Republic of the Congo being an "active conflict zone”. Of 3,481 cases, 2,299 died.

Thousands of health workers were trained for the response – which was led by the country’s Ministry of Health, and supported by the WHO and partners – 220,000 samples were tested and over 303,000 people were vaccinated with the highly effective rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine.

Work will continue to build on the gains made in this response to address other health challenges, including measles and COVID-19.

5. Flooding in Sudan

In September, the WHO announced it was providing essential medicines and supplies, including cholera medicines, to communities hit by torrential rains and floods in Sudan.

“To date, the floods have killed 100 people, injured 46 more, and affected almost 500,000 people in 16 of the country’s 18 states. Almost 50,000 homes have been destroyed, and 52,000 more severely damaged,” WHO said.

Medical supplies in the country are estimated at about 25% of actual needs, according to the WHO, and shortages have significantly increased over the past few months.

Together with partner agencies and the State Ministry of Health, the WHO said it had responded to 128 disease alerts, including diarrhoea, measles, COVID-19 and others.

The global risks interconnections map 2020.
The top five global risks over the next 10 years all relate to the environment, says the Forum. Image: WEF Global Risks Report 2020

Global risks

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 warned that the top five global risks over the next 10 years were all environmental.

They include extreme weather events and the failure of governments and businesses to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

The Forum’s Future of Health and Healthcare platform shares learnings from practitioners, experts and policymakers globally on how to transform the healthcare industry, while promoting healthy lives and ensuring access to affordable quality care for all.


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