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WHO: Civil Unrest Threatens Progress in Global Public Health Care


The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan says instability is threatening progress in public health. Dr. Chan reviewed the global health situation in an opening speech to the 34-member WHO Executive Board, which is meeting this week to tackle key global health issues. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan delivered a generally upbeat assessment of the global health situation. She told health experts attending the meeting there were good reasons to be optimistic about the prospects ahead. But, then added a sobering note.

"We are seeing right now some stark evidence of the threat to health arising from instability and civil unrest," said Dr. Chan. "Such conditions disrupt routine health services and compromise special initiatives, as we have seen repeatedly with polio eradication."

"I am concerned, in particular, about the situation in Kenya, where support is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of routine health services and programs for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases," she added.

Dr. Chan also spoke about her concern for the Palestinian people in Gaza. Israel's closure of its border crossings in reaction to rocket attacks from militants in Gaza has resulted in a crippling shortage of fuel.

She said disruptions in essential services are taking a heavy toll on people needing emergency care and those suffering from chronic diseases.

The WHO chief then switched gears and presented a list of, what she called, qualified good news. She noted that the HIV/AIDS pandemic appears to have peaked and that anti-retroviral therapy is resulting in fewer deaths. But, she cautioned universal access to this treatment is still a distant goal.

In another bit of good news, she said tuberculosis control efforts are paying off. She said after more than a decade of steady increase, the disease appears to have stabilized in some parts of the world and may now be declining.

But, she warned against complacency. She said TB remains a major killer and is responsible for around 1.4 million preventable deaths each year.

"We need to remember that both of these high-mortality diseases now impose their greatest burden on Africa," said Dr. Chan. "The same is true for malaria. Progress will not be measured by global averages. It will be measured by how well we improve the health of the African people. For malaria, we have many reasons for optimism following better coverage with bed nets and use of the newer strategy for home-based management."

While existing diseases still remain to be overcome, Dr. Chan told delegates at the conference that some of the biggest challenges ahead would come from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases. She noted that the threat posed by avian influenza has not gone away and countries must remain vigilant and prepare for a potential pandemic.