|Press Release WHA/10
21 May 1999
DELEGATES APPLAUD PUBLIC HEALTH SOLIDARITY IN SOUTH BALKANS
Delegates attending the 52nd World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva this week applauded the efforts of people across the globe to preserve public health in the south Balkans in the most difficult of circumstances.
"To date we have seen no public health disasters, no epidemics," noted Dr Jo E Asvall, WHO Regional Director for Europe, who has just returned from a visit to refugee camps in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). "This is due first and foremost to the solidarity of local peoples in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Albania, FYROM and Bosnia-Herzogovina who have taken displaced people and refugees into their homes and are sharing what, in most instances, are very scarce resources. Second is the willingness and capabilities of national governments in the area to accept refugees and provide for them within already-strapped health systems and, finally, there is the tremendous outpouring of humanitarian support by the international community."
"Building upon seven years of experience on, behind and beyond the battlelines in the south Balkans, WHO has been working to save lives by supporting and co-ordinating the international humanitarian health response," noted Ms Poonam Singh, WHO Executive Director overseeing Emergency and Humanitarian Operations (EHA) in Geneva.
WHO, through its field offices in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Tirana, Skopje, and Podgorica, in collaboration with national Ministries of Health, has overall responsibility for all humanitarian health activities. WHO provides technical leadership for nongovernmental organization (NGO), international agency, government and donor health activities in Albania and FYROM and WHO communications networks link all parties working in the health field.
WHO teams are currently in Albania and FYROM launching a mental health programme aimed at training volunteers from among the refugees themselves, health workers and NGOs.
"Other current concerns relate to increasing risks of epidemics due to overcrowding in refugee camps, poor water supplies and rising temperatures," continued Dr Asvall. "Additionally, drug donations not compliant with international and national guidelines continue to arrive, as well as infant formula despite danger warnings."
WHO experts have already established emergency surveillance systems for both communicable and non-communicable diseases in refugee camps. These were developed in conjunction with national institutes of public health in both Albania and FYROM. Data systems are linked globally. WHO has provided over 389 tonnes of medical supplies. These are delivered in kits - which contain everything needed to treat a designated number of people with a specific condition over a set period of time. For example emergency kits, 30 of which have been delivered, each contain enough supplies for 10,000 people for three months. WHO is also assisting Albania and FYROM in developing plans to improve reproductive health, ensure safer deliveries, encourage breast feeding and deal with the effects of sexual violence.
WHO has also joined the United Nations Task Force established to conduct a detailed assessment of the Kosovo conflict's environmental impact on health. The assessment will be conducted with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat).
Public health needs in the FRY are a key focus of concern by the United Nations interagency task force currently visiting FRY. Field reports this week indicate that power cuts have disrupted the cold chain system for storage and transportation of vaccines. This, together with the shortage of vaccines in the country, endangers routine immunization services.
"What we are seeing in this crisis is the best and worst of our common humanity," declared Dr Asvall. "In spite of the best efforts of NGOs and the international community, we are very concerned about the possibility of significant disease outbreaks and other public health threats, given increasing overcrowding and the coming summer. If public health is to be preserved, peace must come quickly, people must be able to return to their homes in safety and the international community will need to maintain and enhance its solidarity for reconstruction and redevelopment."
For further information please contact Gregory Hartl, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva, telephone: (41 22) 791 4458, fax: 41 22 791 4858. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Franklin Apfel, Regional Communications Advisor, WHO Regional Office for Europe, telephone: (+45) 39 17 1336, fax: (+45) 39 17 1880, e-mail: email@example.com
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