Transcript of WHO podcast - 23 April 2007
Pandemic influenza stockpile; youth and road safety; polio vaccinations at the Afghanistan and Pakistan border
Christine McNab: You are listening to the WHO podcast for the week of 23 April 2007. I'm Christine McNab.
In this episode:
- countries and vaccine-makers agree that a pandemic influenza vaccine stockpile is feasible;
- a first for improving road safety, globally, for youth; and
- intensive work to immunize every child at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border
Countries from around the world and vaccine manufacturers will work with WHO to develop a way to ensure broader access to pandemic influenza vaccine for developing countries. In a meeting at WHO this week, countries and vaccine manufacturers agreed an H5N1 vaccine stockpile may be feasible. H5N1 is the influenza virus which has been circulating in birds, and occasionally, causing human illness and death. In her address to the meeting, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General, stressed that should this or another virus trigger an influenza pandemic, developing countries will need to have better access to a vaccine.
Dr Margaret Chan: Faced with a universal threat, each country will look after itself, at least in the immediate pandemic period. This is a natural behaviour of governments: to give first priority to protecting the lives and well-being of directly threatened citizens. I believe that developing countries are right to ask us to address the issue of more equitable access now. To date, developing countries have suffered the most from this virus.
Christine McNab: WHO will now set up expert groups to focus on the details of how to create, maintain, fund and use an H5N1 vaccine stockpile.
Nelly Ghossaini: Everyday 1 049 young people die in road traffic crashes and thousands of others are injured. Today, young people from all over the world are going to speak up for them.
Christine McNab: The first-ever Global Road Safety week was marked around the world this week. WHO and its partners drew special attention to the impact of road crashes on youth. In a new report, WHO stressed that road crashes are the number one killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 with almost 400 000 deaths every year. To rally action to reduce this number, more than 400 young people met at the first Youth Assembly for Road Safety in Geneva [Switzerland]. They issued a declaration calling for young people to take responsibility by wearing seatbelts and helmets and on adults to act as role models. Nelly Ghossaini was the chair of the assembly. She works with a civic organization in Beirut. She talked to me earlier this week.
Christine McNab: When it comes to road safety, how can youth help to support each other differently than adults might? What kinds of messages and approaches work?
Nelly Ghossaini: I realize that one of the most important ways to convince young people and to affect them is by getting them involved. At this time, we have a lot of energy and we want to do so many things. So, if you get us involved, then we are setting a good example by getting more people involved. We feel that we are making a difference, and we are affecting other people's points of view, so that works. Many organizations say that they are targeting youth, and the youth are always targeted in any campaign, not only road traffic crashes. But sometimes, the approaches are not youth-friendly, you know. If they are going to target young people by giving lectures at universities, they are going to sleep through the lectures, and no one is going to listen to everything. The information will not stick. So, this is the importance of youth, they deliver their message in the right way.
Christine McNab: Now, you've had this major assembly. It has produced a declaration. What is going to happen next, what are the next steps?
Nelly Ghossaini: Many declarations have been prepared on road traffic injuries and road safety in general, but this is the first youth declaration. This is what we want to say. We wrote it the way we wanted it to be heard. This is what we really want to see happen. This is how we see the problem, and we don't want it to be forgotten or in a drawer somewhere. This declaration is really close to our hearts, because we have worked on it for such a long time. But this is our main goal: we want every country to receive this declaration and based on what the youth want in those countries, they can create initiatives, laws, programmes, whatever they want. We want this declaration to tour the whole world.
Christine McNab: As part of the drive to eradicate polio, more than 40 million children under five were vaccinated against the disease in Pakistan and Afghanistan this week. The countries are two of just four remaining with endemic polio and the closest to stopping the disease. One challenge is that the disease, spread by a virus, travels easily between Afghanistan and Pakistan as people move regularly across the border. Therefore, the two countries work closely together to synchronize their vaccination campaigns. Chris Black is a WHO communications officer. He spent this week reporting on the polio campaigns on both sides of the border. He spoke to me from Jalalabad [Afghanistan].
Christine McNab: Why is it so important to synchronize these campaigns across the border?
Chris Black: Basically because population movement is the greatest challenge. There is population movement across the formal border through the gates, such as at Torkham [Afghanistan] where people and the virus walk through without a passport. There is population movement across villages that are separated on one side of the border or the other where for hundreds of years the same tribes have lived and don't recognize the border. Their daily life is on both sides of the border. Children go to school, people access health services, trade, go to work and life goes on regardless of the border. Also, there is a cyclical migration of people returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and that is an important thing the teams are looking out for among transit points and departure and arrival between the two countries.
At the border I was at today, Torkham, people line up early in the morning to cross. Vaccination teams are set up at both sides to ensure that each child is monitored and vaccinated if need be. For example, if we think about the main border in Torkham and if someone is coming from Peshawar, there will be a vaccination team at the bus station, at the train station and at the taxi stand. There is a vaccination station at both sides of the border, and when they reach Afghanistan there is another vaccination team to ensure that at no point in that chain, a child can go unvaccinated or unchecked.
Christine McNab: What's the feeling out there? Does it feel quite animated or does it feel like any other day? Is there a lot of energy?
Chris Black: There is an incredible energy within the vaccination team itself. They have been carefully chosen from the community. They have close ties to the community. They know the language, and they know the culture. That way, they are much more likely to make sure that every door is knocked on and every child is checked and vaccinated. These volunteers, these health workers, are working from early, early in the morning until noon, because that's when the heat gets unbearable. Then they meet together at night to go over the data they collected and solve problems for the next day. So, it's a very intense schedule of work for three days on both sides of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The moment this campaign is finished, the training begins for the next one.
Christine McNab: What about the communities themselves? What is their response to these vaccination teams and campaigns, which they see now on a repeated basis?
Chris Black: Overall, the reception is very good. And going back to the idea or concept of taking volunteers for the vaccination teams from the community itself has made a big difference. Where there have been problems with refusal there are different situations and different solutions the team can use. One is using media such as radio, print, and making interactive call-in shows where people can call in with their concerns. Then health experts from the Ministry of Health and WHO can explain that these vaccines are safe and the reasons why we need to vaccinate every child. Another way is by reaching out to tribal leaders and getting their support before there is a problem.
Christine McNab: Chris, you have been in that region now for several days, what has personally inspired you from what you have seen?
Chris Black: I've been inspired by the incredible dedication by vaccination teams themselves. They really sense that they are really close to eradicating polio on both sides of the border and that they just need this intense last effort to ensure that every child is vaccinated to stop this virus. On my arrival to Pakistan, I was greeted by a WHO colleague who had spent the night in the hospital with his wife giving birth to their first child, a daughter, then slept for a few hours and got up early to then meet me at the border. We immediately went out and met with the vaccination teams and got to work. I was also struck by the vaccination teams that I met in the middle of nowhere. Driving for one, two, three hours into mountainous terrain and arriving at a border in the middle of nowhere, the vaccination teams were there working hard. And that is duplicated not only hundreds, but thousands of times across these two countries.
Christine McNab: 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.