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Transcript of WHO podcast - 18 December 2007

Health on the climate change agenda; help for flood-hit west Africa; avian flu updates

Christine McNab: You're listening to the WHO podcast. This is episode 25. I'm Christine McNab.

In this episode:

  • putting health at the centre of the climate change agenda;
  • help for west Africa to recover from flooding;
  • avian flu update;
  • Ebola in Uganda; and
  • a new campaign to make medicines child size.

Story 1

Christine McNab: As delegates met in Bali to begin negotiations on a new climate- change agreement, Dr Margaret Chan warned of the health consequences of climate change. Dr Chan, WHO's Director-General, said that climate change will profoundly affect some of the most fundamental determinants of health: food, air and water. Speaking to health experts at the US National Institutes of Health, Dr Chan stressed that temperature changes can have an impact on habitat for disease-carrying animals such as bats or insects such as mosquitoes.

Dr Margaret Chan: Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are particularly sensitive to variations in climate. Warmth accelerates the biting rates of mosquitoes and speeds up maturation of the parasites they carry. Sub-Saharan Africa is already home to the most severe form of malaria and the most efficient mosquito species. What will happen if rising temperatures accelerate the life-cycle of the malaria parasite? What will happen? What if malaria spreads to new areas?

Christine McNab: During the annual Barmes lecture, Dr Chan stressed ways to mitigate the impact that climate change would have on health. These include more efforts to ensure health services for the poor, better disease surveillance and more capacity to respond to natural disasters. She also said that health must be considered in industrial projects.

Dr Margaret Chan: Health has not always been on the very best of terms, shall I say, with other sectors that will be affected by climate change. What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. We have abundant evidence on the impact new dams and irrigation systems can have on the prevalence of malaria and many other epidemic-prone diseases. I strongly recommend that every development project should include a health-impact assessment as a mandatory component. This applies to the construction of dams, the design of irrigation projects, the design of transport systems and the citing of an industry or power plant.

Story 2

Christine McNab: Health supplies are arriving for people in west Africa. Earlier this year, millions of people across the region were affected by massive flooding. The receding waters have left new disease threats. In Ghana, for example, health authorities saw a rise in diarrhoeal disease. The Government of Norway has donated tonnes of supplies including emergency and cholera kits. WHO is now helping to deliver them. Dr Kyei Faried, a regional director of health services in Ghana, told Chris Black by phone about the need for the supplies as the country rebuilds following the flooding.

Dr Kyei Faried: In the rehabilitative phase, almost all of the communities we can now reach. But it means that some communities were deprived of health services for a period of two and a half months. So, I can say with certainty that in terms of reaching them with services, we are able to do so. However, it's not always that we have the full complement of the centre we need. Because wide areas of the land were flooded and the people were in their famine season, we will be facing a very big challenge of malnutrition. And that is because already the northern region is a poor region. And therefore with the flood, many are unlikely to produce anything at all. So the challenge is how to be able to mobilize the food resource to be able to support them.

Story 3

Christine McNab: Now for updates in disease outbreaks in other parts of the world. Pakistan is reporting its first human cases of H5N1 avian influenza in the Peshawar region. One family cluster - four brothers and a cousin - dates back to the end of October and early November. One person was involved in culling poultry. In a separate incident in the region, a man and his niece both working with poultry were also infected, as was one individual man who also worked on a farm in the area. WHO is helping Pakistan to investigate the situation. WHO is also helping Myanmar in investigations of its first human case - a 7 year-old girl who was ill in late November.

In other outbreak news, WHO continues its support to Uganda, where an Ebola outbreak is ongoing in the far west of the country. The outbreak will not be declared over until there have been no new cases for two incubation periods - that is for 42 days.

Story 4

Christine McNab: Almost 10 million children under five die each year - and more than half of those deaths are caused by diseases which could be treated with safe, child-specific medicines. Currently, many medicines don't suit children because they are the wrong dosage or wrong formulation. WHO and partners have unveiled a new research and development agenda to ensure children have better access to medicines. The Make Medicines Child Size campaign targets a range of medicines, including antibiotics, asthma and pain medication. There is also a call for more research and development of combination pills for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria. The initiative was recently launched in London by Dr Howard Zucker, an assistant director-general at WHO.

Dr Howard Zucker: More medicines must be made child-sized. That is to fit the needs of all children in the world in dosage forms, in format and to make sure the children who are out there, who have who have specific illnesses, are really able to get the medicines that they really need. And child-sized medicines must be made available to children everywhere. This is not just in the industrialized world or in one part of the developing world, but right across the whole globe.

Christine McNab: That's all for this WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. You can read more about these stories, and get more public health information at