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WHO Promotes New Strategies to Combat Threats to Global Public Health


The World Health Organization calls the adoption of a strategy that will help developing countries access life-saving drugs a breakthrough. WHO officials say several other resolutions adopted by the 193-member World Health Assembly will go a long way toward tackling longstanding, new and looming threats to global public health. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Millions of poor people in developing countries suffer from diseases that rarely afflict people in wealthy countries. Developing countries say pharmaceutical companies spend vast sums of money on treatments for problems such as baldness and acne that cater to the wealthy.

But, they say, little research is done to create drugs against parasites and tropical diseases that kill and disable millions of poor people each year because there's little money to be made from this.

Dr. Elil Renganathan is WHO Executive Secretary for Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. He says the World Health assembly adopted a new strategy that will address the immediate need for equitable access to good quality, affordable medicine.

He says it will encourage research and development of medicines for the common diseases of the developing world.

"If this strategy is put in action, we will have new medicines to deal with the diseases for which we do not have enough medicines at the moment," said Elil Renganathan. "That is a big thing. Poor countries will have medicines that will be available for diseases for which at the moment we may have one or two medicines."

These diseases include multi-drug resistant TB and second-line drugs for diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

Governments also endorsed an action plan to tackle non-communicable diseases. The World Health Organization reports cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases account for 60 percent of global deaths every year.

It predicts in the next 10 years, deaths from these four diseases will increase by 17 percent. It says the greatest increase will take place in developing countries, mainly in the African region.

WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Ala Alwan, says the six-year action plan is aimed at preventing non-communicable diseases and providing health care for those who fall ill.

"These diseases are largely preventable," said Ala Alwan. "And, for the millions of people who already have the disease, there are cost-effective interventions that would improve their management and that would delay or at least prevent complications."

Alwan says the four major risk factors for non-communicable diseases are tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and the harmful effects of alcohol.

The world health assembly also pledged to intensify its work to curb the harmful use of alcohol, which is the fifth leading risk factor for death and disability in the world. It called upon the World Health Organization to develop a global strategy for this purpose.