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WHO: Conflict, Inequality, and Economic Exclusion Threaten Health Gains

FILE - WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
FILE - WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
Lisa Schlein
The Director-General of the World Health Organization warns conflict, social inequality and economic exclusion are threatening important gains made in health.  

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan lost no time in telling delegates achievements in the global campaign to wipe out polio are in danger of unraveling.

She says armed conflict, weak border controls, poor routine immunization coverage and the targeted killing of polio workers are standing in the way of eradicating this crippling disease.  

“Two years ago, the international spread of polio virus had nearly ceased.  Not anymore. Two years ago, polio was on its knees, thanks to committed political leadership, better strategies and tools, and the dedication of millions of polio workers.  The factors responsible for this setback are largely beyond the control of the health sector," said Chan.

Dr. Chan cites what she calls "ominous trends threatening the health sector."  She says rising inequality and economic exclusion are affecting social cohesion and stability.  She warns damage to the environment is putting at risk the planet’s ability to sustain human life in good health.

The WHO chief says the rise of antimicrobial resistance, which is rendering many antibiotics ineffective, now affects every region of the world.  

Also on the rise are non-communicable diseases, including new cancer cases and increases in heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases.  She says the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases are growing

“Parts of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death.  I am deeply concerned by the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in every region of the world, with the increase fastest in low-and middle-income countries," she said.

But while some children are getting fatter, Dr. Chan says others are going hungry and suffering from malnutrition.  

Despite this gloomy assessment, the WHO chief points to a number of health successes.  She notes the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals has saved many millions of lives.  These include cuts in maternal and child mortality, and advances made in reducing deaths from TB and malaria.  

She says more than 12 million people with AIDS are living longer because they receive antiretroviral therapy, and India’s eradication of polio shows anything is possible.

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