Transcript of WHO podcast - 23 July 2008
WHO international staff return to work in Iraq; 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 39.
In this episode WHO Staff return to work in Iraq, and a new WHO report confirms more people have access to safe drinking water.
Veronica Riemer: After an absence of five years, WHO's international staff have returned to Iraq to re-establish a permanent base. Foreign staff were withdrawn from Iraq after terrorists attacked the UN compound in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 22 people and wounding over 100. While 100 Iraqi staff remained, the international staff members were relocated to the neighboring Jordan, and shuttled to Iraq to support the Iraqi government as needs arose.
Over the past five years, international professionals continued to respond to public health emergencies, such as controlling avian influenza and cholera outbreaks, and advising the government on the health system reform. Now the Government of Iraq will have greater support to respond to humanitarian crises and ensure that the people have access to the essential health care.
Dr Naeema Al-Gasseer is the WHO Country Representative to Iraq, and one of the first to return to Baghdad. She explained that improvements in the security situation have helped make this possible. We caught up with her to talk about her next steps.
Dr Naeema Al-Gasseer: Areas that we are looking at are public health threats, that is controlling outbreaks such as cholera and typhoid; life-saving, that is how to handle the impact of violence; psychosocial mental health; and the impact on the economy of the psychosocial mental health problems inside Iraq. Our plan is to continue support and to implement the strategy to eliminate malaria from Iraq by 2010. We are also looking very closely at how to assist the immediate delivery of services.
Veronica Riemer: Reducing the burden of chronic disease is one of WHO's priorities in Iraq. The country is going through a transition with almost half the causes of death being due to cardiovascular diseases, linked to smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. The national smoking control committee reports that the prevalence of smoking is 40% among males and 5% among females above 16 years of age.
Dr Eric Laroche, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises explains.
Dr Eric Laroche: It is quite surprising to see that there are so many needs. Iraqis are also going towards a kind of transition in terms of pattern of diseases. When you look at the types of diseases that we have now, they are much more related to noncommunicable diseases. If you see the rate of tobacco smoking, you can see that many of these diseases are related to stress, I mean the global stress in Iraq, and we need to highlight that. It is as important to fight against communicable diseases for kids as it is important to fight for all stress-generated types of diseases among adults.
Veronica Riemer: More than 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, according to a new report issued this week by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.
However, the good news is that the number of people who have access to safe drinking water has risen for the first time since data were first compiled in 1990. 87% of the world's population now has access to clean water, and this is set to rise to more than 90% by 2015. More and more people are now also using improved sanitation facilities - that is, facilities that ensure human excreta are disposed of in a way that prevents them from causing disease by contaminating food and water sources.
Jacqueline Sims, from WHO's Department of Public Health and Environment came into the studio to tell us why improving access to drinking water and sanitation is so crucial for good health.
Jacqueline Sims: Water and sanitation is one the fundamental underpinnings for the rates of diarrhoeal disease in the world being so high. Water and sanitation was the underlying reason that we beat cholera diarrhoeal disease and all those types of diseases in Europe many centuries ago. We are looking at the same pattern in the developing world, where currently 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal disease. 90% of those diarrhoeal deaths are children under 5, which is pretty shameful. When 1.2 billion people worldwide have no sanitation facilities at all and have to defecate in the open, it's hardly surprising that these diarrhoeal deaths remain so high.
Veronica Riemer: We asked her what was preventing the sanitation sector from developing properly, and why so many people are still not served.
Jacqueline Sims: Funding in the sanitation sector is very sparse, and not always well allocated. Of the limited funds that go to both water and sanitation, the lion's share goes often to water, leaving very little for sanitation. Another reason is that population growth is still a problem in many countries where water and sanitation problems are greatest. This means that although population growth is in fact slowly tailing off at global level, in many of the countries with the greatest problems, the population is still growing fast. That has the effect of masking the efforts that many countries are making. So governments might in fact be doing very well in providing water and sanitation services to lots of people, but you don't see it because the overall number of people in that country goes up faster than the services are being provided.
Veronica Riemer: 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 drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.