WHO Executive Body reaffirms WHO leadership on key issues for Global Public Health
Geneva, 23 January 2004 - The importance of strong leadership from the World Health Organization for treating people living with HIV/AIDS, diet and physical activity, polio eradication, improving reproductive health services and family health, reducing road traffic injuries, coordinating responses to emerging diseases and other health issues was underscored by the 113th session of the WHO Executive Board (EB), which closed today.
In his report to the Executive Board, Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General, outlined the crux of today's health challenges, including the need to coordinate quick and concerted responses to emergencies caused by conflict or natural disaster, new communicable diseases such as SARS and avian influenza, as well as to reverse trends in ongoing global health threats from HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases.
"The devastation caused by these crises can be reduced in the first place by measures of prevention; then, where these fail, by a well-prepared response. Even as attention is focused on the most immediate needs, however, it must turn to the repair and recovery of the systems needed in the longer term. We are refocusing our work to become more effective in helping communities and countries respond to health crises," said Dr Lee.
Dr Lee also emphasized the importance of strengthening health systems at country level, noting that "in many countries, these have been suffering the combined effects of instability, conflict, and under-funding due, in part, to heavy external debt. The result, especially for the poorest people, is less access to essential services, unaffordable out-of-pocket expenses and further exposure to the diseases of poverty. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty." Achieving public health goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, is contingent on solid health systems in countries.
The Executive Board is composed of representatives from 32 WHO Member States. The main functions of the Executive Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work. The board meets at least twice a year, and this 113th Session was the main meeting for 2004. Key issues at this Board, many of which will be forwarded to the 57th World Health Assembly this May, included:
Tackling HIV/AIDS: The Executive Board lent full support to the WHO's "3 by 5" strategy - to ensure that three million people have access to antiretroviral medicines by 2005. The EB recognized that treatment was an integral part of a comprehensive plan to combat HIV/AIDS, which includes prevention and care. Efforts to reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic require urgent and concerted work by all stakeholders, including international organizations, civil society, public and private donors, the private sector, countries affected by, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The International Health Regulations: Revisions to the International Health Regulations (IHR) are necessary to bring these rules, which govern the actions needed to prevent the international spread of diseases including those relating to travel and trade, up to date with today's health realities. The proposed revision has been distributed to member states as a working paper and includes provisions to ensure a quick international response to new diseases such as SARS. The Executive Board members expressed strong support for the revision process and endorsed the schedule, including regional consultations between March and June 2004 and an intergovernmental working group in November, with a final draft to be submitted for adoption to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2005.
The Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health was accepted by the EB as an agenda item for the 2004 WHA. At the request of delegates, the EB agreed that Member States would have until 29 February 2004 to make further comments on the draft document, which will be taken into account by the secretariat in preparing a final draft for the full membership to consider at WHA. EB members also agreed on the wording of the draft resolution that will accompany the strategy document, following requests by some delegates for amendments.
Disease Control and Eradication: Recognizing that there is now a one-time opportunity to eradicate polio, EB members and Global Polio Eradication Initiative spearheading partner Rotary International pledged to support the 6 remaining polio-endemic countries (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Niger and Afghanistan) as they prepare to immunize more than 250 million children in the next six months. The need to scale up polio immunization activities has created an unprecedented urgency to fill the 2004-2005 funding gap, now pegged at US$ 150 million. Progress against the target of stopping polio transmission globally by end 2004 will be formally reviewed in May at the World Health Assembly and at the UN General Assembly in September.
The EB also noted the progress in measles reduction and underscored the importance of implementing the strategic plan to see measles deaths halved from 1999 levels by 2005. The EB also urged continued efforts to support control and treatment of trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and early detection and treatment of mycobacterium ulcerans (Buruli ulcer), a debilitating disease which particularly affects children in poor and rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa.
Road Safety - No Accident: Recognizing the toll of 1.2 million deaths every year on the world's roads and highways, the Executive Board adopted a draft resolution on Road Safety and Health, to forward to the World Health Assembly in May 2004. The document gives public health agencies a clear encouragement and mandate to strengthen work on road traffic injury prevention. This resolution will be discussed in the context of this year's World Health Day on Road Safety as well as the launch of the World Report on road traffic injury prevention.
Human Organ and Tissue Transplantation: Recognizing the increase in allogenic organ and tissue transplants, the shortage in sufficient human transplant material, the ethical and safety risks regarding transplantation including organ trafficking, and the possibilities and risks associated with xenogenic materials, the EB accepted a resolution to be considered at the 57th World Health Assembly which includes recommendations on harmonizing global practices and collecting data on human organ and tissue transplantation around the world.
Reproductive Health and Family Health: The EB accepted WHO's strategy on reproductive health as an agenda item for the 57th World Health Assembly in May. The strategy was first requested by the 55th World Health Assembly, in order to set out a road map for attaining the three Millennium Development Goals related to reproductive health - reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. In addition, the EB accepted a resolution underscoring the importance of the family in protecting health, to be sent for consideration by the 57th WHA.
Two WHO Regional Directors Appointed
Dr Samlee Plianbangchang was newly appointed Regional Director for the South-East Asia Region (WHO/SEARO). The SEARO Regional Director will serve for a period of five years beginning 1 March 2004. The Executive Board noted the important contribution of Dr Uton Muchtar Rafei who served two terms as SEARO Regional Director from 1994 to 2004. In addition, Dr Shigeru Omi was re-appointed Regional Director for the WHO Western Pacific Region (WHO/WPRO). He begins his second five-year term on 1 February 2004.