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If you’ve ever had the chance to travel overseas, you’ve undoubtedly experienced cultures and traditions that differ from those in the United States. For example, most Americans shake hands in greeting, but most Japanese bow. While green in the U.S. often represents the environment, in Indonesia it’s regarded as a forbidden color because it denotes exorcism and infidelity. 

There are a total of 195 countries in the world today and more than 7,100 languages spoken across them. China, India, and the United States are the world’s most populous nations, while Vatican City is home to just over 800 people. 

Although these diversities are a big part of what makes our world such an interesting place to live, there also are a lot of commonalities around the world. Almost all nations are run by some sort of government and use currency to pay for goods and services. 

Unfortunately, many of the same health issues plague the majority — if not all — of the nations that comprise the world. One of the key differences between developed nations and their counterparts, though, is the availability of healthcare resources to combat these problems. 

As we begin another trip around the sun, we’re highlighting three of the biggest global health issues and the effect they’re having on the world’s population. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 remains one of the most prominent. 

1.    COVID-19

 As of January 5, 2023, 62 million COVID-19 cases have been reported, resulting in approximately 6.7 million deaths. Although the pandemic appears to be transitioning to an endemic and most nations have returned to some level of normal, the threat of COVID-19 persists, especially in some low- and middle-income countries that experience inequities in access to testing, treatment, and vaccination. 

Of the more than 10 billion COVID-19 vaccines administered worldwide, only one percent have been administered in low-income countries. In those nations — and in the United States and other developed countries — healthcare providers continue to have to devote numerous resources to help patients fight the virus. In some cases, those resources are either limited or simply not available.

Even for those who have recovered from their COVID-19 infection, some experience long-term effects from it, a phenomenon often referred to as “long COVID.” People with long COVID may experience many symptoms, including fatigue, post-exertional malaise, fever, joint and muscle pain and various respiratory, neurological, and digestive problems. 

For healthcare providers, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly required them to offer options for contactless care, especially telehealth and other types of virtual care. Digital health tools like these will continue to come in handy for medical groups and other providers, especially as recent modeling predicts a 47-57 percent chance of another global pandemic as deadly as COVID in the next 25 years. 

2.    Mental Health Disorders

 Mental illness has been a global health issue for decades, but addressing the stigma surrounding it has resulted in more individuals receiving treatment for it. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to interruptions to essential mental health services and triggered a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. In some reports, mental health ranks as a higher health concern than cancer. 

An estimated 792 people worldwide — approximately 10 percent of the global population — live with a mental health disorder, including about 20 percent of children and adolescents. Many of those living with mental illness don’t get treatment for it, some because of lack of access and others due to cost and feelings of shame and/or inadequacy. 

What happens when mental health disorders aren’t addressed? Unaddressed mental health problems can have a negative influence on homelessness, poverty, employment, and safety. Many people with severe mental health conditions die prematurely due to preventable physical conditions. 

There’s also a cost to mental health disorders for countries’ economies. It’s predicted that mental health conditions costs will rise to $6 trillion by 2030. 

3.    Healthcare Staffing Shortages and Burnout

 As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the U.S. is dealing with a shortage of physicians and nurses. Other countries are struggling with the same problem. Take, for instance, the United Kingdom, which has one of the most severe healthcare worker shortages in the world. Or Niger, which is one of the countries with the lowest number of physicians per inhabitant. 

According to one study, 132 countries had physician shortages as of 2019, and there’s a global shortage of more than 43 million healthcare workers. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts a shortfall of 15 million healthcare workers worldwide by 2030. That includes a shortage of 13 million nurses, up from six million before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some of the largest needs-based shortages of healthcare workers are in Southeast Asia and Africa. Many clinicians in low- and middle-income countries choose to move to developed nations where they experience better working conditions and earn markedly more money. 

Healthcare staffing shortages were a problem before COVID-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated the issue because of increased levels of burnout. The WHO classifies burnout through three factors:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy 

In addition to fear of infection, an excessive workload, and a lack of personal protective equipment, many healthcare workers around the world faced increased emotional, physical, and professional stress. The combination of COVID-19 with the existing clinician shortage took a substantial toll on healthcare systems around the world, one that doesn’t appear to be easing anytime soon. 

Read more: 4 Ways to Ease the Burden of the Healthcare Staffing Shortage 

Check out our complete guide to physician burnout to learn what causes it and what solutions can be utilized to combat it.