Transcript of WHO podcast - 3 August 2007
Risks to children from harmful chemical exposure; China and India join WHO clinical trial registry; World Breastfeeding Week
Iain Simpson: You’re listening to the WHO podcast for the week of August the 3rd 2007. I am Iain Simpson.
In this episode,
- new WHO report highlights the risks to children of harmful chemical exposure,
- China and India join clinical trial registry to track research activities around the world, and
- in World Breastfeeding Week, why every baby's first meal should be yellow and sticky
Iain Simpson: A new report just published by the World Health Organization shows the dangers of exposing children to harmful chemicals. The report looks at risks associated with chemical exposure at different stages of life and underlines the fact that in terms of risk, children cannot simply be treated as small adults. It also highlights the fact that in children, the stage in their development when exposure occurs may be just as important as the exposure itself. Dr Terri Damstra is team leader for WHO's Interregional Research Unit:
Dr Terri Damstra: Children are specifically at risk because of their dynamic growth and developmental processes but also because they have different physiological and metabolic characteristics. They have different exposure patterns. For example, children may be exposed to chemicals such as lead, it has been demonstrated, by the soil. Children are exposed to numerous chemicals in air, water and food, but also have these unique pathways of exposure.
I think it will have a great impact because it is one of first documents that is an international consensus document which is a comprehensive review of the existing data on how exposures at different stages of development may affect the health of children. And countries will use this, and physicians and public health practitioners (will use) to help their guidelines, public health practices, in some cases regulations and also to focus on future directions for research.
Iain Simpson: WHO has also been active recently in finding ways for scientists and others to track research. WHO announced that it was expanding its clinical trial registry platform to include China and India. That's a major step for policymakers and scientists, who can now track local research activities and improve the quality of the research. Dr Davina Ghersi of the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform explains:
Dr Davina Ghersi: It's important because there is so much new research happening in those two countries, there is a groundswell of interest both from external agencies wanting to do research in those countries and those countries wanting to do research themselves. And there is an enormous need to do research that's relevant to the populations in those countries. And they have enormous populations as well, so the potential impact of research done in those countries is enormous.
Trial registration will make a huge difference because you will see what it was the research was intended to do in the first place and then you will know if it was ever reported and if it was reported if they told you everything that was actually declared in the protocol in the first place. So that will aid transparency enormously.
Iain Simpson: This is World Breastfeeding Week, which this year focuses on the need to ensure that every newborn gets a healthy first meal. The very first food all babies should receive is called colostrum and it comes straight from every mother. Dr Carmen Casanovas of the WHO Nutrition Department came into the studio to tell me more:
Dr Carmen Casanovas: Colostrum is the milk that the woman produces at the beginning, the very first few days. And it is important because it is a food, as we are saying, but it is also, we say, like the first vaccine or immunization of a child, because it provides the child defences against all the germs that the mother has been in contact with. Because of that it is very important for the woman to give her colostrum, in the first hour, to her child.
Iain Simpson: And does that not normally happen?
Dr Carmen Casanovas: Various studies have found that women are thinking that first milk is not real milk because it has a different colour. And because it has a different colour and it's kind of sticky, they think that it should be discarded. That was also the belief in health providers so that's how we ended up not using the first milk. What we have is called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, it is making sure that in hospitals now you do provide the first milk and we are also educating the public so they do that.
Iain Simpson: So what's WHO doing to try to reverse that misunderstanding and to try to ensure that people have the right information about colostrum?
Dr Carmen Casanovas: We are working with different partners. One of the main partners is UNICEF promoting, for instance, the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, changing the behaviours of people working in hospitals or health facilities. We are training people working in health with different courses. We are trying to promote improvement on practices in the community, doing communication, doing education to community, to mothers, and families in general.
Iain Simpson: Thanks for listening to the WHO podcast. For the latest public health news and more information about WHO’s work, visit our website: www.who.int.