Transcript of WHO podcast - 08 May 2008
Relief to cyclone-affected people in Myanmar; ensuring rights of disabled persons; volunteers' role in providing treatments in Africa
Gaya Gamhewage: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Gaya Gamhewage and this is episode 33.
In this episode,
- WHO and partners provide relief to people affected by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar;
- the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities comes into force; and
- volunteers help improve treatment coverage for malaria and river blindness.
Gaya Gamhewage: Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar on 2 May, leaving more than 21 000 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Over 40 000 people are still missing and the death toll is likely to climb even further. Authorities are still trying to reach outlying islands that felt the full force of the cyclone. Aid workers are trying to assess the damage and provide relief, but it is still difficult to reach the affected areas due to damaged roads.
In WHO, our Country Office in Myanmar is working closely with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners to provide emergency help, and to coordinate health response. Critical needs at the moment include water purification tablets, drinking water, essential medicines and emergency health kits.
WHO is sending experts and medical and health supplies to support the response. WHO is also helping to assess the damage and set up surveillance systems.
Tune in to upcoming podcasts to hear more about the Ministry of Health and WHO's response to this disaster.
Gaya Gamhewage: Last month, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities received its 20th ratification. As a result, it came into force this week. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006. It is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. But what is the Convention and what does it cover? Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability Department at WHO, is here to explain more:
Dr Etienne Krug: The Convention is a brand new document that was developed over a period of two-three years by governments as well as NGOs representing people with disabilities and the international community in general. And it covers a wide range of topics that are important to help improve the life of people with disabilities. People with disabilities in almost all societies have been suffering from stigma, from discrimination. The vast majority of people with disabilities don't go to school, don't have employment, they don't access very often health services or rehabilitation services. And, so they very often stay at home and are not at all included or participating in their societies.
Gaya Gamhewage: Dr Tom Shakespeare is an expert and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and a member of the WHO's task force on disability. He tells us what this Convention will mean to people with disabilities:
Dr Tom Shakespeare: People with disabilities are right-bearing citizens. Their problems are not so much their physical and mental limitations, but the fact that society excludes them. So it (the Convention) identifies social barriers, prejudice, lack of equality as the issues, not solely the inadequacies of people themselves. And what it is saying is not that people with disabilities should have special rights, but that they should have the same rights as everybody else.
The idea that disabled people have potential and that they can contribute and that we can remove barriers, that's extremely exciting, for disabled people themselves and their families, who have been written off, who've been seen as a tragedy or who've been seen as useless or invalid. That's tremendously liberating, that people have confidence in them, that people are saying: no, you can do it, we will empower you, we will remove the barriers and we want you to be going hand in hand with us, we want you to be making your contribution. And the point is that in many countries disabled people are making a contribution. We've disabled parliamentarians, disabled doctors, but not enough, there are still many many disabled people who don't get that chance.
Gaya Gamhewage In a small community in Nigeria, Cleophas Bakari makes his rounds. He distributes a drug that can prevent river blindness. He carefully measures the height of each person to make sure that he gives them just the right dose. But Cleophas is not a doctor. In fact, he has only completed secondary school. He is a health volunteer.
Cleopas Bakari: It was announced that communities should select somebody from the community to be in charge of distributing ivermectin. A meeting was held with all the community members and my name was put forward as someone who would be fit for the job.
Gaya Gamhewage: Thousands of community volunteers like Cleophas were part of an earlier effort to distribute drugs for preventing river blindness. It was so successful that it spawned another study. The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases - TDR in short - asked volunteers to do the same for other diseases like malaria.
Malaria has serious impact in Africa: two children die every minute. Bednets and new treatments can reduce the risk and number of deaths. But in many places, there are no doctors and nurses. There are few health care centres to store and distribute bednets or malaria treatments.
Cleopas Bakari: My responsibilities include the distribution of ivermectin, the distribution of Vitamin A, the malaria drug Coartem and I’m also responsible for the distribution of bednets.
Gaya Gamhewage: The study was conducted in Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda and covered more than 2 million people. The biggest improvement came in malaria care.
The experience from the study is now being used to expand the programme to more sites throughout Africa. The community drug distributors, like Cleophas, cannot replace doctors and nurses. But they have proved that communities can manage simple but life-saving health initiatives on their own.
Gaya Gamhewage: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int
For the World Health Organization, this is Gaya Gamhewage in Geneva.