Special Report

The Most Serious Public Health Issues America Is Facing Today

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There is still no cure, but with the development of a series of revolutionary medical treatments, leading to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the mortality rate for HIV/AIDs victims dropped dramatically, peaking at 41,699 in 1995 and declined to 6,546 in 2015, creating a sense that the crisis is over. It is not. Over 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today, and there are nearly 40,000 new diagnoses every year. It is also among the top 10 leading causes of death for people between the ages of 25 and 44. 

The number of new cases of HIV/AIDs had been declining since the 1990s, but it has leveled off in the last few years, meaning that information and adequate medical care are not reaching significant vulnerable populations — mainly young, low-income, gay, black and Hispanic men. Another serious barrier to elimination of the disease is that an estimated 15% of those infected are unaware that they carry the virus, and unknowingly continue to spread the disease. 

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12. The climate emergency

Despite dire warnings and an incomplete understanding of the consequences, humanity continues to extract and burn fossil fuels as its primary energy source. Heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, floods, fires, and storm surges are among the weather and climate events that will become increasingly more extreme. Between 2012 and 2016 alone, a trillion tons of ice disappeared — a mass that if combined would form a mass comparable in size to Mount Everest. The worldwide use of fossil fuels — and with it global greenhouse gas emissions — grew last year. 

If the burning of fossil fuels does not slow down, sea levels could rise by as much as 10 feet before the end of the century. This will affect approximately 5 million Americans who live fewer than 4 feet above sea level — and probably many more.

But it’s not just extreme heat and sea level rise. Climate change will have many other severe and dire consequences on public health. For one, rising air pollution (caused by hotter weather and increased ozone pollution) would increase lung and other diseases, and it is estimated pollution would add at least 1,000 to 4,300 premature deaths nationally per year by 2050. More allergens (caused by higher CO2) could severely affect people with asthma. The incidence of diseases carried by vectors like ticks and mosquitoes (like Lyme disease and West Nile virus) are also expected to rise. Climate change, which will also impact our food and water supply, will likely transform lives on our planet in ways we cannot fathom if we don’t do something about it now.

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