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WHO Director Outlines State of World Health - 2004-05-18

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says AIDS, poverty and poor sanitation are major contributors to the world's gloomy health outlook. WHO Director-General Lee Jong Wook outlined the state of world health before the annual assembly of the 192-nation organization.

Dr. Lee's address was delayed for 24 hours by a protracted debate on the proposal to grant Taiwan observer status. As in the previous seven years when the suggestion has come up, it was voted down.

Much of Dr. Lee's speech centered on the gloomy state of global health. He said 2.8 billion people in the world are living on less than two dollars a day, 500 million people live in areas of conflict and 1.2 billion are struggling to find clean water.

He said 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and more than 500,000 women die at childbirth every year. ?The amount of disease, suffering and death in the world can be overwhelming,? he said. ?There is a notorious saying that, when one person dies it is a tragedy, but when a million die it is a statistic. For those exposed to danger and suffering, it is impossible to see things this way. They cannot be indifferent. As public health ministers, officials and workers, we are constantly reminded that the statistics we use are significant, because they represent individual children, woman and men. It is their voices that need to be heard.?

Turning to HIV/AIDS, Dr. Lee said, in some communities, close to half of the young adults are infected with HIV. They will die in the next few years, Dr. Lee said, unless they receive effective treatment.

?In December of last year, on World AIDS Day, [the] WHO launched the strategy to accelerate access to anti-retroviral treatment,? he added. ?The initial objective is to work within broad alliance of partners to get three million people in developing countries onto treatment by the end of 2005. We are working with the health services in countries to achieve this, following a double imperative: There must be universal access to treatment by the earliest possible date and ever more effective approaches to prevention.?

Dr. Lee said that a detailed progress report on the fight against AIDS would be given to the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July.

Dr. Lee also highlighted positive developments, noting that the world is on the verge of eradicating polio, despite recent setbacks in West and Central Africa.