2020 is the year of COVID-19 – but what other health crises did it bring?

The WHO counts over 60 separate health emergencies this year, all overshadowed by the novel coronavirus.

Damaged Beirut Port area, August 17 (photo credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / REUTERS)
Damaged Beirut Port area, August 17
While 2020 has certainly been the year of the novel coronavirus outbreak - with over 50 million people infected worldwide since the onset and billions of others affected by the halt it has forced on society - it has been just one of the many health emergencies the world has faced this year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that aside from COVID-19, there have been outbreaks of yellow fever in Gabon and Tongo, measles in Mexico, chikungunya in Chad, flooding in Sudan and storms in the Asian Pacific.
WHO counts over 60 separate and local health emergencies this year, all overshadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Notably, when the novel coronavirus was first discovered, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was still suffering from an Ebola outbreak - the world's second-largest on record.
Over the course of 2020, the DRC together with the WHO and other outside assistance, ended the Ebola outbreak - all while the country was also experiencing its largest ever measles outbreak. The WHO said that it "was one of the most complex health emergencies it has ever faced," considering the scale of the outbreak and the complications running parallel with the measles spread.
Alongside eradication of the Ebola virus in the DRC, Africa has also been declared polio-free as of this year.
While not a health emergency caused by a pathogen, but rather by negligence, corruption and poor management in the Lebanese government, the Beirut blast in August was labelled as one of the largest health emergencies of the year aside from the novel coronavirus, after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port ignited and exploded. The blast leveled the immediate surrounding area, damaged everything within a six-mile radius, and killed hundreds and injured thousands, while displacing hundreds of thousands.
WHO worked with many other governments and humanitarian agencies to ensure that care was provided to the injured and that mental health support was made available for frontline workers and victims of the blast. It also has dedicated some of its resources to rebuilding some of the destroyed hospitals affected by the blast.
In early September, another unique health crisis occurred on the Greek island of Lesbos, home to the overcrowded Moria refugee camp, when thousands of migrants were left stranded and without shelter due to fires that razed the camp to the ground.
In the direct aftermath, families slept on roadsides and in fields across the island after a second fire broke out at the camp, destroying what was left from the first inferno. Humanitarian organizations such as the WHO and IsraAID provided essential items and mental health support to the migrants affected by the fires.
Separately, in conflict zones throughout Africa, the Middle East and the Caucasus, WHO provides access to healthcare for those caught up in the fighting.
With regard to the coronavirus, WHO notes that "countries with robust health emergency preparedness infrastructure" were better able to contain the spread of COVID-19 than those without.
This year, WHO will consider a draft resolution to strengthen "Member States’ preparedness for health emergencies through more robust compliance with the International Health Regulations" to "ensure that all countries are better equipped to detect and respond to cases of COVID-19 and other dangerous infectious diseases."