Health and Healthcare Systems

The world must invest in oral health, plus other top health stories

A dentist at work.

Oral health is vital to overall health and wellbeing, a new report says. Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum Geneva
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare
  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: Report – make oral health an essential service; New COVID-19 variants spreading; Blood proteins could alert people to cancer before diagnosis.

1. Treat oral health as an essential healthcare service, says report

Oral health is increasingly recognized as integral to people's overall health and their ability to live healthy and productive lives. Despite this, dental care is often not treated as an essential healthcare service within health policy, according to a World Economic Forum report.

Almost half the world’s population is impacted by oral diseases that interfere with daily function and put them at higher risk of other illnesses. Alongside, there is an economic impact, with poor oral health resulting in missed workdays, diminished job prospects and reduced productivity.

The paper, Reconnecting Mouth and Body: The Economic Rationale for a Global Commitment to Invest in Oral Health, says that a driving factor is the affordability of dental care and how it is financed. It calls for a global commitment among policymakers, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders to make oral health an essential healthcare service.

Recommendations include adopting health financing policies that improve access to and affordability of services, implementing policies that promote interventions focusing on prevention, and developing innovative models to train and remunerate oral health workforces.

Oral diseases affect an estimated 3.5 billion people each year. Image: World Health Organization

2. New COVID-19 variants cause summer surge concern

New COVID-19 variants are spreading globally and could cause a wave of infections in the summer.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring several new COVID-19 variants – known as FLiRT after the names of mutations in their genetic code – including one that has become the dominant variant in the country: KP.2, the Financial Times reports.

In the two weeks to 11 May, KP.2 accounted for about 28% of cases, up from just under 4% in the two weeks to the end of March, the CDC said.

The rise of these variants comes as experts are deciding how to formulate the autumn COVID-19 vaccine.

A surge in cases this summer is “certainly possible”, a virologist told Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. However, after years of vaccinations and infections, immunity to the disease among the population is “much stronger now”, they said.

Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases
Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases globally. Image: Our World in Data

3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

Blood proteins could alert people to cancer years before it is diagnosed, a new study says. UK researchers found more than 100 proteins linked to cancer in a group of people whose blood was collected at least seven years earlier.

Stressful life events experienced in childhood and midlife can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to a study of almost 1,300 people. The researchers say further studies into the area are warranted.

Researchers are trialling an electrical simulator device that they hope will allow paralyzed people to regain movement in their arms and hands. The non-invasive invention sends an electrical current to the spinal cord to increase the strength

Scientists testing the use of oral immunotherapy among young people with food allergies say they are already seeing children who can tolerate foods that would previously have triggered a severe allergic reaction.

A UK toddler has had her hearing restored after a world-first gene therapy trial, the BBC reports. The girl was born deaf and treated before her first birthday with a therapy that replaces the faulty DNA that causes her type of inherited deafness.

An Australian doctor undergoing an experimental therapy for a brain tumour remains cancer-free a year after he first had the treatment. Richard Scolyer said his latest MRI scan showed no recurrence of an aggressive form of glioblastoma.

Scientists in England say that giving teenagers a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is cutting cases of cervical cancer by 90%. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection from a high-risk HPV, the country’s National Health Service says.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

4. More on health from our blog

Protecting millions of lives and with a value in the trillions, the care economy is one of humanity's most valuable assets. Here’s how we can secure its future.

Antimicrobial resistance is the third leading cause of death across the world. This article looks at three ways we can fight it.

The climate crisis is damaging our mental and physical health, with a World Economic Forum report estimating it will lead to 14.5 million deaths by 2050. Here are five ways it is doing so.

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