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World Health Assembly Discusses New Health Challenges

The annual World Health Assembly has opened with delegates from 193 member countries discussing how to protect people from diseases such as the swine flu virus that is spreading around the world.

World Health Organization Director-General, Margaret Chan, says the world is facing multiple crises, on multiple fronts. And, these are occurring at a time when the global economic crisis is making it more difficult to maintain good health, especially in the developing world.

The WHO Chief says the new Swine Flu A-H1N1 virus shows how health challenges are changing.

"The world today is more vulnerable to the adverse effects of an influenza pandemic than it was in 1968, when the last pandemic of the previous century began," said Margaret Chan. "The speed and volume of international travel have increased to an astonishing degree. As we are seeing right now with H1N1, any city with an international airport is at risk of an imported case."

Dr. Chan says increased interdependence among nations creates a great potential for economic disruption. This means the gap between the haves and the have-nots will grow even larger than it already has.

"Today, about 85 percent of the burden of chronic diseases is concentrated in low and middle income countries," she said. "The implications are obvious. The developing world has, by far, the largest pool of people at risk for severe and fatal H1N1 infections."

Dr. Chan urges the international community to do everything it can to help developing countries from bearing the brunt of disease pandemics. And she says while the world is right to be concerned about a possible flu pandemic, it should not let these worries overshadow or interrupt other vital health programs.

She says health ministers attending this week's Assembly should take the opportunity to respond to threats to their health systems. She says a priority is to finish the job of polio eradication.

She says the global campaign that WHO started in 1988 is very close to achieving its goal of ridding the world of this terrible paralytic disease.