Transcript of WHO podcast - 18 May 2007
World Health Assembly discusses avian flu vaccine; new initiative to counter yellow fever
Jane McElligott: You’re listening to the WHO podcast for the week of 17th of May 2007. I'm Jane McElligott.
In this episode:
- the 60th World Health Assembly (WHA) opens with optimism for global leadership on health issues;
- countries discuss sharing avian influenza viruses and equitable distribution of vaccines; and
- the power of global partnership comes together to address yellow fever.
With the upbeat assessment that these are optimistic times for public health, Dr Margaret Chan opened the 60th World Health Assembly.
Dr Margaret Chan: Today, health enjoys support from many partnerships, foundations and implementing agencies. The number of innovative funding mechanisms continues to grow, as does the size of resources they command. Health is now seen as a key area of engagement for foreign policy. Health has become an attractive focus for corporate social responsibility. There will always be unmet needs, but health has never before received such attention nor enjoyed such wealth.
Jane McElligott: Dr Chan’s optimism for global leadership was further demonstrated as the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, took the podium. The Prime Minister told the Assembly that global health has a profound effect on all nations, and a healthy population is fundamental to economic growth. He announced that his government is engaging in global health from a foreign policy perspective and that a global business plan will be unveiled in the coming months.
Jens Stoltenberg: This plan will underscore why we need to do more to fight for maternal and child health, how we should better organize ourselves to meet these goals and will outline what more is needed to attain the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. The plan may provide the political impetus at the highest level to facilitate country -ed action. I am very pleased that President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Kikwete of Tanzania, and President Guebuza of Mozambique, Chancellor Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, Bill and Melinda Gates and Graca Machel have so far agreed to join in this effort as members of a network of global leaders.
Jane McElligott: Then the assembly got down to discussions. First on the agenda was avian and pandemic influenza. Mike Leavitt, Secretary for Health and Human Services of the United States, spoke of the vital importance of freely sharing viruses.
Mike Leavitt: We continue to call on countries everywhere to share influenza samples openly and rapidly and without precondition. No nation can go it alone in a pandemic. Time matters. Lives are at stake. All nations have a responsibility, and all nations benefit.
Jane McElligott: The Minister of Health for Indonesia, Siti Fadilah Supari, whose country has faced cases of avian influenza in humans, told the Assembly they would share samples of the virus, but that they needed to be assured vaccines would also be shared.
Siti Fadilah Supari: Let me reiterate that Indonesia is not seeking royalties. We are not seeking money, but we ask for a fair and responsible mechanism of sharing virus samples and benefits resulting from the use of these viruses.
Jane McElligott: To ensure global coordination and rapid response to an avian influenza outbreak, or any other public health threat of international concern, countries will soon implement the new International Health Regulations (IHR), which is a legally binding agreement between signatory countries governing how outbreaks of disease are to be controlled and managed. The new IHR comes into effect in mid-June of this year, and the Assembly considered a report on the regulations. Canada suffered through the outbreak of the SARS virus just a few years ago. The Minister of Health of Canada, Tony Clement, says the regulations will make a tremendous difference to his country and to the world if another outbreak occurs.
Tony Clement: Well, I think what it means is that we are going to be a lot more effective. We can be a lot more proactive, because we will have the means in place to deal with infection control and the kinds of things that governments and public health officials should be doing in the wake of some kind of pandemic or even a lesser infection of some sort. So, in that sense, it helps us to not only plan but also, once we are in a situation, we can act and react in the right way.
Jane McElligott: The International Health Regulations are not just for influenza outbreaks, but for any public health emergencies of international concern. They were, in fact, originally created more than 50 years ago to deal with deadly infectious outbreaks of diseases ravaging Europe and other parts of the world. One of those diseases was yellow fever, which was successfully contained in Europe and North America, but which, still, kills many people in Africa and elsewhere making a resurgence in urban populations.
Togo suffered an outbreak just this year, but successfully fought it with help from the newly created global partnership called the Yellow Fever Initiative. It was formally launched on the sidelines of the WHA this week. WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases, David Heymann, made the announcement.
David Heymann: I am very pleased to welcome you to this side meeting on yellow fever. This side meeting represents a very unique partnership. It is a partnership between the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF, WHO and ministries of health. It is an alliance which, in the short term, will provide the immunity necessary to prevent major outbreaks of yellow fever, and, at the same time, catch up on all those activities that need to be caught up on before routine immunizations can continue to fill the gap.
Jane McElligott: Dr Louis Sambo, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, noted that 12 African countries will benefit from the first vaccine initiative of the new partnership. He said Togo has just demonstrated the power of global partnership.
Dr Louis Sambo: Currently, Togo is going through an epidemic. We think that this type of arrangement and commitment can really bring concrete results in terms of preventing outbreaks and also the deaths associated.
Jane McElligott: 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.