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New WHO Director Optimistic About Taming Global Health Threats


The Director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan has told the group's 34-member Executive Board that it must tackle a wide-range of global health issues including measles, malaria, polio and the avian influenza pandemic. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva that decisions made at this meeting will be submitted to the World Health Assembly for its approval in May.

Margaret Chan has been Director-General of the World Health Organization for just three weeks. She exudes optimism despite the enormous task of taming a multitude of global health threats before her.

Dr. Chan points to, what she calls, the spectacular success story of measles to show that enough effort and political will can achieve a great result.

Last week, the World Health Organization announced that global deaths from measles have been reduced by 60 percent in the past five years.

Dr. Chan says committed health officials in heavily affected Africa led the way by cutting measles deaths by an impressive 75 percent.

"The news gets even better. Increasingly, this Initiative is delivering a bundle of life-saving and health-promoting interventions: bed nets for malaria, Vitamin A to boost the immune system, de-worming tablets that help keep children in school, polio vaccine, and tetanus vaccine for pregnant women," she said. "I view this initiative as a model of what can be achieved through integrated service delivery."

Dr. Chan says the relevance and effectiveness of the WHO's work will be judged by its impact on people and, in particular, on how well it does in improving the health of women and of the people of Africa. She says the link between poverty and health is undeniable.

"When women are given a hand up in terms of household income, we see improvements in their own health and that of families and communities," she said. "When we think about the health in Africa, we must never forget the links between poverty and health. Poor health anchors large populations in poverty. Better health allows people to work their way out of poverty and spend household incomes on something other than illness."

Dr. Chan notes infectious diseases, especially AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, are significant impediments to development in Africa. But, she says the continent also must pay attention to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, which are growing.

The WHO chief cites polio eradication as one of the most important areas of unfinished business. To move things along, she says she plans to convene an urgent high-level consultation at the end of February.

In a final warning, she says the threat of avian influenza to humans is real and must not be ignored. She says governments must not let down their guard. They must remain vigilant and prepare for a potential human pandemic.