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WHO Executive Board discusses pandemic

South Asia earthquake, universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, polio eradication, smallpox research, sickle cell anaemia and other health issues also on agenda

WHO/Jean Marc Ferre
Mr M. N. Khan, Federal Minister of Health of Pakistan and Chairman of the Executive Board, and WHO Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook

The Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) opens its twice yearly session today, at which it will review the urgent work now being done to reduce the risk of a global influenza pandemic and to control avian influenza. The health response to the south Asia earthquake also figures prominently on this week’s agenda.

In his opening report, WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook underscored the continued threat from outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in birds.

“The Turkey experience demonstrates the dangers posed by avian influenza in birds and the vital importance of surveillance and effective early warning systems. It also reiterates the threat of a pandemic of influenza in humans. A pandemic could arise with little or no warning from the animal side.”

Dr Lee said the international community has shown it can work quickly to contain the threat to humans. In Turkey, the government’s prompt reporting of human cases, quick laboratory work, and efforts to communicate the risks to the public, with support from an international team of human and animal health experts, helped to reduce the threat of H5N1 to people.

The risk of an influenza pandemic remains. The Board will discuss ways in which countries may immediately voluntarily comply with selected provisions of the revised International Health Regulations (IHR). The IHR, designed to manage public health emergencies of international concern, are scheduled to come into force in June 2007. The Board will discuss immediate voluntary compliance with articles pertaining to surveillance for disease, reporting and information sharing, provisions for public health measures for travellers, and other related issues.

On Monday the Board will also consider lessons learned from the health response to the South Asia earthquake of October 8, 2005. With cold winter conditions, the four million people affected continue to require health services, as they face risks of acute respiratory infections, disease outbreaks and hypothermia.

"People have lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and are enduring mental and physical trauma. However with continued support, we can help people to survive this harsh winter and begin the urgent work of reconstruction," said Mr M. N. Khan, the Federal Minister of Health of Pakistan and Chairman of the Executive Board. This week’s Executive Board meeting, from 23-28 January, will also discuss how to build global commitment to achieving as close as possible to universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment by 2010. Progress in polio eradication will also be reported, along with the priority actions needed to achieve a polio-free world.

Other critical issues at this week’s Board include a report on progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals, WHO’s role and responsibility in health research, the status of research on the virus that causes smallpox, and the global situation regarding human resources for health, which is the theme for this year’s World Health Report and World Health Day. The Executive Board is comprised of representatives from 32 WHO Member States. The individuals are designated by Member States elected to do so by the World Health Assembly (WHA). The main functions of the Executive Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the WHA, to advise it and generally facilitate its work.

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