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New Technologies Lead to Major Achievements in Health Benefits

  • Lisa Schlein

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan makes a point during her address to the 64th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, May 16, 2011

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan makes a point during her address to the 64th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, May 16, 2011

World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan reports new vaccines, medicines and other technologies are successfully combating killer diseases and saving lives. Chan delivered a generally upbeat message on the state of global health at the start of the organization’s 64th World Health Assembly.

Health ministers from the World Health Organization’s 193 member states will have many weighty health matters to discuss. These include issues such as pandemic influenza preparedness and sharing of influenza viruses, the health affects of radiation with a focus on the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, and the advances that have been made and need to be made in tackling infectious and non-communicable diseases.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan got the discussions off on a generally positive note. She presented several items she calls proud achievements, many of them having a particularly beneficial effect on people living in sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, she points to a dramatic new advance in preventing dreaded epidemics of meningitis in Africa.

“Epidemic meningitis is not the biggest killer in Africa, but it is among the most greatly feared of all diseases," she said. "This is easy to understand, the sudden contagion, the rapid progression to severe disease, the long lines of people waiting for a vaccine after the epidemic has started. The people of Africa deserve better, and in December of last year, they got it. A powerful new vaccine that can prevent epidemics in Africa’s notorious meningitis belt.”

Dr. Chan notes progress also is being made in other areas, thanks to research and development of new products on the market.

These achievements include a rapid new diagnostic test for tuberculosis that can deliver results in around 100 minutes.

The WHO chief says millions of HIV-positive people are receiving life-saving drug therapy, the use of artemisinin drugs and insecticide-treated mosquito nets are containing the spread of malaria and important inroads are being made in combating the fatal effects of neglected tropical diseases, such as sleeping sickness.

While the achievements spell good news, Dr. Chan says the world has many obstacles to face and warns complacency in meeting the challenges will be deadly.

“I am referring to the food and fuel crises, and most especially to the 2008 financial crisis, that proved to be so rapidly and ruthlessly contagious, affecting countries that contributed nothing to the causes," she said. "I am referring to the health effects of climate change, that are now being felt in all parts of the world. I am referring to the obstacles thrown our way by policies made in other sectors, especially those that contribute to the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases.”

Dr. Chan welcomed the results of an investigation into the way the World Health Organization handled the threat of the 2009 global influenza pandemic. She says the investigation exonerates the U.N. agency of charges it declared a fake H1N1 pandemic in order to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

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