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WHO Regional Meeting In South-East Asia Addresses Antimicrobial Resistance, Developing Country Access To Medical Devices

During the WHO’s 63rd Regional Committee Session for South-East Asia in Bangkok on Wednesday the WHO called for enhanced “efforts at the national and international level to preserve the efficacy of antimicrobial agents through the rational use of antibiotics,” Indian Express reports (Thacker, 9/9). The appeal follows the news of a Lancet study published last month which identified a gene that enables bacteria to resist most antibiotics and documented an increase in the prevalence of the gene in parts of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, 8/11).

“Microorganisms are showing resistance to medicines, posing a threat to the treatment and control of many infectious diseases,” Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia said at the meeting, according to a WHO press release (.pdf) (9/8). “This resistance is caused largely by the incorrect use of medicines, including usage for too short a time, low dosages, inadequate potency or for the wrong disease,” Plianbangchang added, the Bangkok Post reports.

The article includes Plianbangchang’s comments on the challenges associated with the development of antibiotics, before noting, “Today, WHO officials will seek the cooperation of 11 regional member countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Thailand –  to produce legislation and policies on the use of antimicrobial agents, establishing lab-based networks to look into drug resistance cases and ensure the rational use of medicines” (9/9).

Meanwhile, during the meeting on Thursday, the WHO addressed the lack of available medical devices in developing countries, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (9/9).

“Despite the variety and quantity of medical devices worldwide, availability in low-income countries is still limited,” a WHO factsheet states (September 2010).

“According to a survey conducted by the WHO, the average availability of computed tomography, or CT, scanners is one per 64,900 people in high-income countries but one per 3.5 million people in low-income countries,” DPA/M&C continues. “Ten developing countries have no radiotherapy unit at all, depriving almost 100 million people of access to cancer treatment, it said,” according to the news service. The article includes comments made by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on the topic during the regional meeting (9/9).

“Almost two thirds of all low-income countries do not have a national health technology policy in the national health programme to guide the planning, assessment, acquisition and management of medical devices,” according to the WHO factsheet. “Lack of a policy may lead to investments of inappropriate medical devices that do not meet priority needs of the population or are incompatible with the existing infrastructure and services, or too costly to maintain. This wastefulness can undermine the health system as a whole by draining funds needed for other essential services. … Better policy in countries will lead to an increase in the quality, effectiveness and coverage of health care with regards to medical devices.”

The factsheet lists several ways the WHO intends to respond to these disparities, including efforts to “[p]rovide country access to guidelines and tools required for the regulation, assessment, selection, procurement, management, training and use of medical devices” and “[i]dentify innovative technologies, in particular medical devices, which address global health concerns and which are appropriate and affordable for use in resource-limited settings” (September 2010).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.