WHO Director-General Pushes For Sustained Commitment To MDGs At World Health Assembly

During her opening address to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan called for increased global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. Chan also set-up several global health challenges to be addressed during the five-day meeting, according to the news service.

“As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, and the homestretch for reaching the [MDGs], we need to draw on every lesson, every approach, instrument, and innovative way of raising funds or collaborating together, from heads of state to civil society,” Chan said. “We have very little time left, and little space for unproductive debates” (5/18).

Chan discussed progress that has been made, “notably in reducing the number of under-five childhood deaths, increasing access to antiretroviral therapy for AIDS in poor countries, tackling tuberculosis and malaria, and controlling the neglected tropical diseases,” Xinhua reports. Chan also noted the gaps that remain in global efforts to reduce maternal and infant mortality (5/18).

“We have some solid evidence that aid for health development is working. But it needs to work much better,” Chan said according to a transcript of her address. “For decades, we have collectively failed to invest adequately in basic health systems, infrastructures, training of staff, information systems, regulatory capacity, and systems for social protection.” Chan continued, “This problem is now recognized by countries and donors alike, and it is being addressed by a range of new and existing initiatives, including several global health initiatives” (5/17). 

Chan pointed to “the international campaign that resulted in the eradication of smallpox three decades ago,” as a reminder of the success that is possible with collective global health efforts, U.N. News Centre reports (5/17).

World Was ‘Lucky’ With H1N1

Chan noted “that ‘good news’ in public health terms was normally driven by political commitment, resources and the ability to deliver care,” she said, “Sometimes, though, we are just plain lucky. This has been the case with the H1N1 influenza pandemic,” Agence France-Presse reports. “‘The virus did not mutate to a more lethal form,’ while the vaccine worked and it showed little resistance to anti-viral drugs, Chan added. … ‘Had things gone wrong in any of these areas, we would have a very different agenda before us today,'” she said.

The article notes that Chan’s statements came as France, India and the U.S. “led public statements of support for the WHO’s management of the pandemic.” The AFP story includes comments from U.S. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot, both in attendance at the World Health Assembly (5/17).

Chan reiterated her support of the independent committee review into the WHO’s response to H1N1 during her address, CIDRAP News reports. “The [WHA] group is slated to hear an interim report from a 29-member independent WHO panel that was set up earlier this year to review the organization’s pandemic response. The report will reflect the group’s first meeting, a 3-day session that was held in mid April,” according to the news service. “One of its missions is to review how the International Health Regulations (IHR) functioned. Designed to guide response to global health threats, the IHR, passed by the WHA, took effect in 2007, and the H1N1 pandemic is the first major test of the rules” (Schnirring, 5/17).

HHS Sec. Sebelius Discusses Islamic Countries’ Plan To Slash Maternal, Infant Mortality, Outlines Global Health Initiative

Reuters reports that HHS Secretary Sebelius, following “closed-door talks in Geneva with health ministers from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), made up of 57 Muslim states,” announced the countries had promised to reduce maternal mortality rates.” According to Reuters, Islamic countries are “home to about half  the estimated 400,000 women worldwide who die in child birth each year.”

According to Sebelius, meetings also included a discussion of the need for the countries to “ensure women’s rights,” Reuters reports. Sebelius also noted, “They were very receptive and eager to work on polio eradication, building health systems and better mother and child health,” according to the news service.

“Earlier, Sebelius said in a speech to the [WHA] meeting that President Barack Obama’s $63 billion six-year Global Health Initiative … would expand U.S. programmes in the world’s poorest countries,” the news service continues, noting that improving maternal and child health remain top priorities of the initiative. The article includes quotes from Sebelius as well as comments by Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez, on behalf of the European Union (EU) (Nebehay, 5/17).

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