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World Health Assembly Approves Key Public Health Measures

Avian influenza and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS were at the top of the agenda of the annual World Health Assembly, which ended Saturday.

During their weeklong meeting, the 192 members of the assembly agreed to speed up implementation of regulations governing how nations deal with a possible pandemic.

WHO spokesman Ian Simpson says the regulations were due to come into force a year from now. But because of the seriousness of a possible pandemic, he says, delegates decided to voluntarily put into place provisions that cover a potential outbreak of bird flu.

"It [the regulations] will increase the clarity and speed of notification of potential outbreaks of international concern," he said. "It will increase the ability of WHO to work with countries to support them, particularly on things like developing laboratory capacity, developing surveillance and so on. It will also bring into play some of the rules that govern the way that countries can and should monitor people when they are arriving and departing, when there is suspicion of a disease outbreak of international concern."

The assembly also adopted a resolution aimed at providing universal access to prevention, treatment and care to people with HIV by 2010. Simpson says there also was a related resolution looking at the issue of HIV and nutrition.

"We know that people who are on HIV treatment, in particular, need access to good nutrition," he added. "But we know that, basically, a lot of people who are in countries that are badly affected by HIV, do not have access to good nutrition. And this was an attempt to try to resolve this, and in particular, to try and find ways to insure that people who are receiving treatment for HIV, that people who are receiving anti-retroviral treatment also have access to good nutritious food."

Delegates also pledged their financial and political support to WHO's campaign to eradicate polio around the world. In particular, they promised to put their weight behind efforts to rid the last four polio endemic countries - Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria - of this crippling disease.

The assembly also approved the Global Health Agenda, which sets out key public health initiatives and concerns over the next decade, including universial health coverage and improving health systems around the world.