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Transcript of WHO podcast - 28 July 2008

New funding to fight against tobacco use in the developing world, and WHO supports survivors of the Myanmar cyclone.

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 40.

In this episode, new funding to fight against tobacco use in the developing world, and WHO supports survivors of the Myanmar cyclone.

Story 1

Veronica Riemer: Tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. There are more than one billion smokers in the world. Globally, use of tobacco products is increasing and if trends continue, this epidemic could kill one billion people by the end of this century, with more than 80% of these deaths occurring in developing countries. The tobacco industry is specifically targeting young women and children as its next group of tobacco users.

This week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bloomberg Philanthropies have provided US$ 500 million to boost the global fight against smoking with particular emphasis on helping countries with limited resources. This offers WHO new opportunities to reverse this growing epidemic, especially in the developing world. Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's Director-General told us more.

Dr Margaret Chan: The tobacco epidemic is entirely preventable. The landmark WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control demonstrated the global resolve to tackle this problem and we have effective interventions in combating tobacco. With leadership and support, we can make a real difference to the lives of millions of people.

Veronica Riemer: To expand the fight against the tobacco epidemic, WHO has introduced MPOWER, a package of six effective tobacco control policies. These include:

  • raising taxes and prices;
  • banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
  • protecting people from second-hand smoke;
  • educating everyone about the dangers of tobacco;
  • offering help to people who want to quit; and
  • tracking the epidemic and prevention policies.

We spoke with Douglas Bettcher from the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative.

Dr Douglas Bettcher: This new package is consistent with the spirit of, and builds on, the highly successful WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It's consistent with the philosophy of WHO. When we launched the Tobacco Free Initiative 10 years ago, we had the vision that sometime, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we were moving towards a tobacco-free world. The MPOWER package will create an empowering environment for governments and civil society to create enabling environments for individuals to quit, to prevent youth from taking up this highly deadly and addictive habit, and also to protect individuals from exposure to tobacco smoke. This is a call to action for WHO to move forward as a united community. WHO stands ready to assist Member States, civil society and populations to address this catastrophic epidemic.

Story 2

Veronica Riemer: Cyclone Nargis, which tore through Myanmar on 2 and 3 May this year, struck the delta region and the country’s main city and former capital, Yangon. Fierce winds and storms marked the worst natural disaster that Myanmar has ever faced and the largest loss of life anywhere as a result of a disaster in the last two years. The cyclone left 138 000 people dead or missing and severely disrupted the livelihoods of another 2.4 million.

Current relief efforts are shifting from emergency response to early recovery with an emphasis on rebuilding health facilities and restoring essential health services. Richard Garfield, of the Health and Nutrition Tracking Service, a partnership hosted by WHO's Action in Crises, has spent the last three weeks in Myanmar and has come into the studio to tell us what support WHO is providing to the survivors.

Dr Richard Garfield: There are positive things happening. A lot of health workers have been moved from others parts of the country, so access to a physician or nurse is now actually better than before. What's missing is that an awful lot of medicines have been lost and 60% of the health facilities in that region of 2.5 million people were destroyed. So there is a lot of rebuilding to be done.

Veronica Riemer: Can you tell a little about the work that WHO is doing out there ?

Dr Richard Garfield: WHO is marshalling the efforts of 38 health organizations who are working together. They are replacing and augmenting the work of the Ministry of Health. WHO has led the re-organization of the epidemic warning system to identify infectious diseases. It has been found just recently that there is a good deal of dengue occurring, and so spraying and other dengue control activities are going on by government and international organizations. But the most important thing that the UN did and WHO took part in, was an assessment of the needs in the region, visiting 291 villages throughout this very remote region, reaching 30 000 homes. We have never had this kind of assessment after a major disaster, so we know now what the needs are and how they have changed since the disaster.

Veronica Riemer: What are the most pressing health needs?

Dr Richard Garfield: The most pressing needs now are actually common health concerns. People were looking for epidemics of cholera, but there weren't any. People looked for mass injuries, but there weren't as many as the tsunami a few years ago. Now, the biggest enemy is diarrhoea - common diarrhoea - because so much sanitation has been lost. So there is an opportunity now to rebuild better and encourage people to do good sanitation, and to get an edge on this age-old problem that goes along with poor nutrition to improve the situation.

Veronica Riemer: And what sort of funding situation have we at the moment?

Dr Richard Garfield: There was a good deal of fundraising in the first month. A assessment was conducted by a tripartite group organized by ASEAN, the regional political group, the whole UN family and the government of Myanmar along with the World Bank in order to better identify needs, and make medium- and long-terms plans for recovery. So the emergency needs were funded well, and a new appeal was launched in the regional ASEAN meeting by the whole of the international community and lead by the UN. WHO, along with other health organizations, are asking for more funds to rebuild facilities, improve communications, and to supervise and address mental health needs which are now tremendous.

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.

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