Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Director-General's Address to WHA

Director-General Chan addressed the World Health Assembly at the opening of the 62nd meeting. She emphasized overall health disparities and the role of global health authorities in alleviating these disparities. She also spoke at length about the impact of an influenza pandemic and the disproportionate burden placed on low- and middle-income countries and vulnerable populations in such a situation. Some select excerpts are below:

"As I said, equity in health matters in life-and-death ways. It matters most especially in times of crisis. The world of today is more vulnerable to the adverse effects of an influenza pandemic than it was in 1968, when the last pandemic of the previous century began."

1) The speed and volume of international travel have increased

2) "The radically increased interdependence of countries amplifies the potential for economic disruption."

3) Just-in-time production and supply chains: "Apart from an absolute moral imperative, trends such as outsourcing and just-in-time production compel the international community to make sure that no part of the world suffers disproportionately. We have to care about equity."

"Unfortunately, other (additional) vulnerabilities are overwhelmingly concentrated in the developing world."

Underlying Medical Conditions & Vulnerable Populations
"On current evidence, most cases of severe and fatal infections with the H1N1 virus, outside the outbreak in Mexico, are occurring in people with underlying chronic conditions. In recent years, the burden of chronic diseases has increased dramatically, and shifted dramatically, from rich countries to poorer ones.

Today, around 85% of the burden of chronic diseases is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. The implications are obvious. The developing world has, by far, the largest pool of people at risk for severe and fatal H1N1 infections."

The Necessary Health Sector Response
"The health sector cannot be blamed for lack of foresight. We have long known what is needed.
An effective public health response depends on strong health systems that are inclusive, offering universal coverage right down to the community level. It depends on adequate numbers of appropriately trained, motivated, and compensated staff.

It depends on fair access to affordable medical products and other interventions. All of these items are on your agenda. I urge you, in particular, to complete work under the item on public health, innovation and intellectual property. We are so very close."

Read the full speech: http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2009/62nd_assembly_address_20090518/en/index.html

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