Health and Healthcare

5 stories to read about healthcare from 2023

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From heatwaves to cancer treatment breakthroughs, here's what happened across healthcare in 2023.

From heatwaves to cancer treatment breakthroughs, here's what happened across healthcare in 2023. Image: REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
  • Healthcare systems around the world continue to face a rising tide of challenges and the effects of the pandemic are still being felt.
  • Health headlines have varied from new Covid variants to the health benefits of a four-day working week.
  • Here are some of the most-read stories on Agenda from this year.

From aging populations and increased disease burdens to the continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, health and healthcare systems around the world continue to face a multitude of interconnected challenges. Alongside this, healthcare equity remains a significant problem, with the same standards and access to care not available to everybody.

Looking back on 2023, growing use of technology and digital health tools continues to be a theme, although unequal access, privacy concerns and regulatory uncertainty are among the recurring implementation barriers.

As the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt there is growing recognition among policymakers of the need to build sustainable, value-based systems rewarding health outcomes over volume.

Healthcare consumerism crept into more systems worldwide as patients demanded better experiences, choices, and cost transparency. And there was also continued progress in areas including precision medicine and diagnostics.

There's been a lot to keep on top of, but here are some of our most-read stories on Agenda this year.

COVID's lasting impact

A new coronavirus variant, named Pirola, put scientists on high alert as it contains a particularly high number of mutations. However, evidence suggests that it is not causing more severe illness and that existing tests and medications used for COVID-19 are effective.

As the Northern hemisphere enters its winter several countries embarked on seasonal vaccination campaigns in an attempt to curb transmission.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization kicked off negotiations on new rules to deal with pandemics. The pandemic treaty aims to boost the world's defences against new and evolving pathogens so that it is better placed to respond to and prevent future outbreaks.


How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

The health benefits of a four-day week

The conventional five-day working week around which much of society has been structured is increasingly being challenged as people seek a better work-life balance.

A series of trials of a shorter week around the world yielded some surprising benefits. Not only were workers happier, less tired, and more satisfied, but they were also more productive.


Global disease outbreaks

Flocks of hens and other domestic fowl experienced their own version of lockdown in 2023 as countries attempted to control the worst-ever outbreak of bird flu.

Avian influenza has been circulating for years causing sporadic outbreaks, but a number of cases of disease were observed in other species, leading some countries to require poultry to be kept indoors. A handful of cases were also observed in humans.

The pandemic potential of the disease is concerning some scientists, who are worried that with the virus circulating more widely, there is a higher chance of it mutating in a way that will affect humans.

Separately, health authorities were also on alert after cases of locally transmitted malaria were observed in the US for the first time in decades.

Malaria is typically a tropical disease, but warming environments as a result of the climate crisis are making more places more favourable to the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease.


Advances in diagnosis and treatment

Technology and AI continue to offer us new and improved ways of treating and diagnosing a host of diseases and conditions.

Cancer remains one of the world's biggest killers, resulting in around 10 million deaths a year. Here are some of the recent medical advances that will hopefully help us turn the tide against the disease.

Health impacts of a hotter world

This year has been the hottest on record, 1.46 °C above the pre-industrial average. Scorching temperatures in June and July of 2023 broke many records around the world.

As countries around the world struggled to keep cool, the impact was devastating, particularly among those who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to extreme heat. The death rate over the hottest months saw a significant uptick.

Against this backdrop, the international community is finally paying attention to the health impacts of climate change, as was evident on the first-ever health day at COP28 in Dubai.

Related topics:
Health and HealthcareMental HealthGlobal Health
COVID's lasting impactThe health benefits of a four-day weekGlobal disease outbreaksAdvances in diagnosis and treatmentHealth impacts of a hotter world

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