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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Global Issues | Disease Prevention


In every country of the world, preventing disease and maintaining good health are critical influences on quality of life. Disease prevention can be affected by many factors such as the physical and social environment, health education, available health care resources, and personal decision-making. Some health issues in the developing world, like the prevalence of waterborne illnesses, may differ from those facing developed countries like the United States. Other health concerns, such as HIV/AIDS, are truly global problems.

Regardless of whether specific individuals, communities, or countries are touched by a given health concern, the World Health Organization states that, "In the 21st century, health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats." 1 In working together to address persistent and emerging global health concerns, key areas to address include access, infrastructure , and education.

Lack of access to human resources for health, health care materials, vaccines , medicines, and foods for a nutritious diet are important health concerns. The World Health Organization estimates that there is global shortage of 4.3 million doctors, nurses, midwives, and health care support workers, with the greatest shortage of skilled health workers in Sub-Saharan Africa.2 Additionally, about a third of the world lacks regular access to essential medicines 2 and millions of people-mostly children-die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.3 Other necessities for disease prevention, such as materials like water filters and mosquito nets , may not reach people living in remote areas4 or in areas dealing with conflict.5

Infrastructure issues are also linked to many global health challenges. Lack of clean water and proper sanitation can lead to debilitating waterborne diseases and infections. Nearly 1.6 million people die each year from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water supply, sanitation, and hygiene.6 884 million people do not have access to an improved source of water?such as public taps, hand pumps, or protected wells--for drinking, cooking, and bathing.7 Instead, they must use surface water sources like open lakes and ponds, which are easily contaminated by disease-causing organisms. Contamination of water sources can be curbed by improved sanitation such as toilets and municipal sewage systems. Worldwide, 2.5 billion7 people lack access to improved sanitation , with the greatest need in rural areas of Southern Asia.

Finally, education is an important factor for disease prevention. Knowledge about how infectious diseases , like HIV/AIDS and malaria , are transmitted can help people make informed choices about preventative strategies. Often, this includes access to information about the proper use of materials for disease prevention. Health education about the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases , such as heart disease , can help people understand how to adjust their diet and physical activity levels to improve their long-term health. And nutrition education can help people understand the quantity and types of foods to eat to meet their body's needs for essential nutrients.

In the United States, many major health concerns are related to chronic diseases. The risk of many of the leading causes of death in the U.S., including heart disease , stroke , diabetes , and some types of cancer, can be reduced through proper nutrition, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other key health issues in the U.S. include the high level of new HIV infections each year,10 high incidences of certain types of cancer 11 , and lack of economic access to health care.12

Many health issues we experience in the U.S., such as heart disease, are prevalent globally. However, some of the leading causes of death in developing countries are much less common in the United States, such as diarrheal disease, tuberculosis , malaria, neonatal disease , and prematurity and low birth weight.13 99% of women who die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth live in developing countries.14 The United Nations' Millennium Development Goals focus on reducing this number and increasing women's access to reproductive health resources, as well as reducing the mortality rate for children under five through improved childhood nutrition, disease prevention, and neonatal care.

Peace Corps Volunteers are working to prevent disease and improve health in communities across the globe. Volunteers organize programs to teach about maternal and child health, as well as basic nutrition and sanitation. They help communities raise money for health care materials and they train leaders to educate the community about health issues like HIV/AIDS. Health education volunteers work in community-based health clinics, identifying and addressing health needs in their communities, and marketing messages for improved health practices. Water and sanitation Volunteers engage in projects like well and latrine construction, as well as community-based education. They may also work with communities to build sewage and irrigation systems to help prevent the spread of disease 15 . Explore the stories on World Wise Schools' Global Issues page to learn more about Peace Corps Volunteers' efforts to improve global health one community at a time. 



1. World Health Organization (WHO)

2. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

3. World Health Organization (WHO)


5. The Carter Center

6. World Health Organization (WHO)

7. United Nations Millenium Development Goals

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

11. American Cancer Society

12. Whitehouse.gov

13. World Health Organization (WHO)

14. United Nations Millennium Development Goals

15. Peace Corps 



AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; an advanced stage of HIV infection in which the immune

system cannot fight off infections

Chronic disease: Long-lasting or recurrent diseases like cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes

Diabetes : Chronic disease in which the body does not produce insulin or cells ignore insulin

Diarrheal disease: Any gastrointestinal illness that causes diarrhea; can lead to dehydration and an impaired immune system

Heart disease : Any disease that prevents the heart from functioning normally; often linked with nutrition and physical inactivity, as well as family history

HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus; the virus that causes AIDS

Infectious diseases : Diseases caused by microorganisms entering the body (e.g., HIV/AIDS, malaria, influenza)

Infrastructure: Basic facilities and services needed for a society or community to function

Malaria : A type of infectious disease spread by mosquitoes

Mosquito nets : Mesh netting usually hung over people's beds to prevent the spread of malaria through mosquito bites

Neonatal disease : A health condition existing at birth or developing in the first month of life

Stroke : The sudden death of some brain cells when blood flow to the brain is blocked or disrupted

Tuberculosis : A type of infectious disease caused by bacteria; usually affects the lungs

Vaccines : Weakened or killed forms of infectious disease organisms that are often injected into the body to stimulate the immune system and prevent future infection

Waterborne diseases : Infections transmitted through ingestion of contaminated water