Transcript of WHO podcast - 19 June 2008
Polio eradication top operational priority; update on Myanmar situation; importance of volunteer blood donors
Ravini Thenabadu: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Ravini Thenabadu and this is episode 36.
In this episode,
- WHO makes polio eradication top operational priority;
- an update on the situation in Myanmar six weeks after Cyclone Nargis;
- and, why there is a need for volunteer blood donors to donate regularly and over a longer term.
Ravini Thenabadu: WHO will put its full operational power behind polio eradication, removing any bottleneck in the way of reaching all children with polio vaccines. WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan announced this at the annual convention of Rotary International this week.
Dr Margaret Chan: The reason I am committing the entire organization - the World Health Organization - to putting polio as our top operational priority is because we are so close to finishing the job.
Ravini Thenabadu: In the last 20 years, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has reduced polio cases from 350 000 a year in 1988 to about 1000 in 2007. But polio remains endemic in four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. An intensified effort was started last year to eradicate the disease in these countries.
Ravini Thenabadu: Six weeks after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, health relief is able to reach a majority of the affected population. WHO has been coordinating a massive effort to support Myanmar's Ministry of Health and bring emergency health care to the survivors, many of whom are starting to return to their villages. Prevention and control of communicable diseases, plus rebuilding health facilities for survivors, are right now the major concerns. WHO's country representative to Myanmar, Dr Adik Wibowo, has just returned from a visit to the affected areas.
Dr Adik Wibowo: We have to be involved deeply in the early recovery. Even though relief response is still there, but early recovery is going to be one major thing. I am now opening WHO field offices because that means that we will be closer to the survivors who are now in the villages, especially also for us to assist the revitalization of the basic health care services. Moreover, we know that in the delta area there are already offices of some other UN agencies, so that means also we are going to strengthen them, especially in health technical aspects.
Ravini Thenabadu: Dr Rudi Coninx from WHO's Health Action in Crises also spent four weeks in Myanmar, coordinating the cluster of agencies providing emergency health care in the country. He recently returned from Myanmar and came into the studio to tell us more about the ongoing work.
Dr Rudi Coninx: Now there is really the second phase that's starting where people are going back to rebuild their lives, rebuild their villages. And now for us, for WHO and all the NGOs involved in health, is to ensure that when the people go back, there is some health care available to them. Since most of the rural health centres have been destroyed, that is a particular challenge. The second biggest challenge is really, are we able to detect an outbreak of any communicable disease early enough so we can take measures?
So we have set up an early warning system, where we actually call anyone who is doing clinical medicine on a daily basis and ask them if there is anything unusual happening and if this is the case we go and investigate.
Ravini Thenabadu: This year's World Blood Donor Day targets volunteer blood donors to donate regularly and over a longer term. The proportion of blood donations collected from unpaid voluntary donors in developing and transitional countries has increased from 25% in 2002 to 40% in 2006. But the reality remains that more than 1 million units were still collected from paid blood donors in 2006.
WHO’s most recent data shows that only 54 countries have achieved the goal of collecting 100% of their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors. Thailand, Turkey and Uganda are the countries to have achieved this goal most recently. Some governments perceive the task of mobilizing people to donate blood without payment or family interest as insurmountable. But China and the United Arab Emirates have shown that it is possible to change donor behaviour in a very short time. Dr Neelam Dhingra, Coordinator of Blood Transfusion Safety at WHO, tells us more.
Dr Neelam Dhingra: Voluntary blood donors who give regularly are truly the cornerstone of a safe, adequate and sustainable blood supply. Blood services all over the world face a dual challenge of ensuring sufficient and safe blood supply particularly in the face of decreasing donations and rising demand. World Blood Donor Day every year on the 14th of June and particularly this year reiterates the need for regular voluntary blood donation.
Ravini Thenabadu: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.
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For the World Health Organization, this is Ravini Thenabadu in Geneva.