Transcript of WHO podcast - 5 March 2007
The case for polio eradication and WHO commits to improving women's health
Christine McNab: You are listening to the WHO podcast for the week of 5 March 2007. I'm Christine McNab.
In this episode:
- WHO expresses its commitment to improving the health of women worldwide; and
- the polio partnership makes it clear that polio can and must be eradicated.
Thursday of this week is International Women's Day - a day which the United Nations devotes this year to ending impunity for violence against women and girls. A WHO study on the subject shows that intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence in women's lives, and sexual violence in conflict settings continues to be a problem with rape used as a tool of war, often with tragic health consequences. Overall, women in too many places still do not have access to the most basic health care. More than half a million women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth alone.
Dr Margartet Chan: Women are a vulnerable group because of the work they do, their care-giving role, the risks they face during pregnancy and childbirth, and their low status in some societies.
Christine McNab: Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General, has vowed to improve the health of women worldwide. She stresses that WHO is working to address the specific vulnerabilities and health needs of women, and that with the right support women can transform communities.
Dr Margaret Chan: When we think about the health of women, we must also consider their role as agents of change. When women are given a hand up in terms of household income, we see improvements in their own health and that of families and communities.
Christine McNab: In other health news, the partners working to eradicate polio have clearly stated the disease must and will be eradicated. Polio used to paralyse children in most countries of the world, and less than two decades ago, caused about 350 000 cases of paralysis each year. The eradication effort has resulted in polio being pushed back to just four countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to about 2000 cases last year. The polio partnership, spearheaded by the WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, continue the push to reach every single child with polio vaccine. A high-level consultation at WHO last week, including ministers of health of the remaining endemic countries, donors, scientists and other partners agreed the effort must continue, and even be stepped up. Dr Bruce Aylward is the Director of the polio eradication programme at WHO. He joins me now to talk about the consultation and the reasons polio must be eradicated.
So, to try to overcome these last challenges, this high-level consultation came together last week bringing senior leaders involved in the polio eradication effort to Geneva. Why was this consultation needed?
Bruce Aylward: Well, this consultation was critically important because we had arrived at a point in the programme where, on the one hand, you had donors and the general public and some sceptics or commentators, particularly in the West, questioning whether or not it was worth finishing polio eradication, indeed whether it could be done. And then on the other hand, within these countries that we just talked about - India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan - we had extremely innovative approaches being developed and implemented to try and reach every single child and increasing evidence that, in fact, they were overcoming the final hurdles. So, there was this alarming gap where the money needed to run the programme and the international support for the programme was starting to slow down dramatically at a time when those hurdles were being overcome. So the Director-General of WHO made a decision to get all the stakeholders and countries in the same room at the same time to ensure we had a common understanding of what was being done, the tremendous opportunity to we had to finish polio and then, collectively, commit to moving forward and getting the job of eradication finished.
Christine McNab: So, what differences will the results and outcomes of this consultation make in this final push to eradication of polio?
Bruce Aylward: The differences will be multifold. First of all, there is a new commitment from the partnership to get the job of eradication finished because they have examined the technical and financial or economic and humanitarian case and have found it very sound. They have also looked at the operational challenges and have agreed now that these can be overcome with the new approaches put in place by each country. So, we are seeing a fundamental reaffirmation of the feasibility of eradication and a new surge of commitment from both the international stakeholders and the infected countries themselves. So that is an important development, that commitment. The thing we need now is to see that commitment translated into concrete action. Number one is to close the funding gap for polio eradication. An additional US$ 575 million is needed over the next two-year period. If new funds are not available as early as April 2007, the programme will have to start cutting corners and cutting activities and increasing the risk of ever achieving this goal and delivering what would be a perpetual gift to future generations.
Christine McNab: That was Dr Bruce Aylward, the Director of the Polio Eradication Initiative at WHO. You can learn more about the initiative at www.polioeradication.org.
Thanks for listening to the WHO podcast. For the latest public health news and more information about WHO’s work, visit our website at www.who.int.