See what the World Health Organisation considers the biggest threats to global public health – and the risk YOU face.
This post was published on 16 Aug, 2018

In August 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency. WHO is the only agency with the experience, mandate and presence to help mitigate serious global health threats. WHO responds to health emergencies by studying and researching diseases and the spread of diseases, setting up treatment facilities, and working to prevent the spread of diseases. 

While many countries in the world have good healthcare facilities, and several individuals enjoy the benefits of medical insurance – in the event of medical emergencies, existing cover may not be enough. 

In this article, we explore the top 10 global health risks as defined by WHO… and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones against unforeseen medical expenses.  

Pandemic Influenza

It is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ the next global flu outbreak will occur. Due to the interconnectedness of the world, a severe flu outbreak could result in several millions of deaths. The last time that a global flue pandemic occurred was over a hundred years ago, when the Spanish Flu killed over 100 million people. WHO and more than 150 public health institutions in 110 countries continue to monitor potentially dangerous pathogens. 


Even treatable, preventable illnesses become dangerous when healthcare infrastructure is destroyed or damaged in conflict zones. In fact, it is not uncommon for more people to die of diseases than of bullets and bombs in war-affected regions. There is a disturbing trend for warring parties to attack healthcare facilities or workers. Wherever there is conflict, disease becomes an issue. 


Cholera kills 100 000 people annually, in poor and conflict-ridden communities. This is a shocking statistic, considering that it is easily prevented and treated – and has been around for at least 2 000 years. Still, the cholera bacterium continues to thrive around the world. Access to safe drinking water and good sanitation can keep cholera at bay. 


Once on the retreat following an aggressive immunisation programme, the respiratory disease diphtheria is making a disturbing comeback. In 2017, there were outbreaks in Venezuela, Indonesia, Yemen and Bangladesh. These countries all suffer from significant gaps in healthcare provision. 


With more than 200 million cases and over 400,000 deaths worldwide – Malaria continues to ravage sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, South America, the Western Pacific and the Eastern Mediterranean. A mosquito-borne disease, malaria is responsible for a great many deaths on the African continent. 

Natural Disasters

When natural disasters disrupt healthcare infrastructure, even rich countries with good healthcare can suffer far-reaching consequences. Floods, hurricanes, landslides, earthquakes, droughts and heatwaves can lead to a lack of fresh water and food – and malnutrition and disease outbreaks may follow natural disasters. In 2017 alone, over 40 million people were affected by natural disasters globally. 


26 countries in Africa are threatened by a virulent new strain of meningitis C – and over 10% of those who fall ill may die. WHO and their partners are currently racing against time to create a global emergency stockpile to prevent the dangerously high probability of a large-scale epidemic. Survivors often face severe neurological damage. 

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral haemorrhagic disease (related to Ebola, Marburg, Congo, Lassa and Hantavirus diseases). A century ago, yellow fever decimated populations and destroyed economies. Only aggressive vaccination campaigns led to a halt – but since the early 2000s, there has been a disturbing resurgence. In Africa and the Americas, over 40 countries are currently considered high risk. 


45% of deaths among children under 5, around the world, are related to malnutrition. Food shortages remains a serious challenge in the horn of Africa and Yemen. 

Food Poisoning

Almost 1 in every 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food – every year. About 420,000 of them die. South Africa is currently battling the world’s largest listeriosis outbreak to date. E coli and salmonella poisoning also affect millions of people every year. 

Get cover and stay safe

Good hygiene and good healthcare are essential pillars of protecting yourself from threats to your health. 

While some diseases can be avoided altogether, in the event that you do fall ill, you would want the best medical care possible. Old Mutual iWYZE Gap Cover can help you cover shortfalls in your medical aid – and may prevent you from not being able to access medical care when you need it most. Secure your gap cover here.  

iWYZE Gap Cover is administered by Xelus (Pty) Ltd, an authorised FSP (FSP 36931). Risk profile dependent. Terms and conditions apply. 


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