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Timor-Leste joins WHO

Top priority is health of mothers and children

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) has become the 192nd Member State of the World Health Organization (WHO). This followed directly after the newly independent country's admission to membership in the United Nations on 27 September.

H.E. Dr Rui Maria de Araujo, Minister of Health of Timor-Leste, said that his country was very happy to join WHO. He expected that Timor-Leste would greatly benefit from the experiences of other WHO member states with similar health problems and constraints. "Through the aegis of WHO, the technical expertise available in these countries would be able to provide advice on various health and health-related matters affecting Timor-Leste," he stated.

Membership of WHO is open to all states.Timor-Leste became a sovereign country on 20 May 2002, after three years of United Nations administration. Members of the United Nations may become members of WHO by signing or otherwise accepting its constitution. As depositary of the Constitution, the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan formally accepted Timor-Leste's instrument of acceptance on 27 September.

Improving health and saving lives of mothers and children is the main public health priority.The infant mortality rate is estimated at 70-95 deaths per 1000 live births. The mortality rate of children under the age of five may also be characterized as unacceptably high.

"Communicable diseases account for the majority of deaths," said Dr de Araujo. The most common childhood illnesses are acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia, and diarrhoeal diseases, followed by malaria and dengue. Tuberculosis is also a major health problem in both children and adults.

Through its office established in the capital Dili in 1999, WHO introduced "Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses" (IMCI) to bring these rates down. Comprising both preventive and curative elements, IMCI is a strategy, that aims to reduce death, illness and disability and to promote improved growth and development among under fives. In addition to health facilities, families and communities are involved. For instance, IMCI promotes the accurate identification of childhood illnesses, seeks to improve nutrition and helps implement appropriate care.

WHO has supported the Timorese health authorities by establishing a basic communicable disease surveillance system, detecting, investigating, controlling diseases and responding rapidly to outbreaks using an emergency surveillance system. An effective Roll Back Malaria project, a National Tuberculosis Control Programme and immunization services have been established. WHO continues to provide technical expertise and practical assistance to prevent and control communicable diseases; it will also help to develop and implement national policy, guidelines and procedures for prevention and control of communicable diseases.

For every 1000 live births, an estimated 8 mothers die of complications related to childbirth. To promote safe motherhood, WHO is working on developing reproductive health services along with its partners, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). One urgent need to is to put in place a programme to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. As in other countries, HIV/AIDS has the potential to have a devastating effect on the people of Timor-Leste; however the current rates of infection are low and the government is determined to take all necessary steps to prevent these from increasing.

Addressing the shortage of health workers is another key to improving health in Timor-Leste. Doctors presently number only 47 as a result of large-scale emigration. WHO continues to assist in recruitment and training of health professionals. For instance, skills necessary for the control of endemic communicable diseases are taught.

Timor-Leste has a relatively young population with 48.1% of its 850 000 citizens below the age of 17 and 17% under five years of age. The average life expectancy is 57 years. 85% of the population lives in rural areas and, although 80% of the population currently has access to health services, the current average walking time to a health center is 70 minutes.

Forty per cent of the Timor-Leste population, according to the government, is living on less than US $ 0.55 per day. The Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, charged by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, to investigate the links between good health and economic development, has made pertinent recommendations for this type of situation. It urged increased investments in health in the poorest countries by both developing and developed countries as they would translate into greater income, in addition to saved lives and better health.

"I congratulate the government of Timor-Leste for giving health highest priority in the National Development Plan and look forward to fruitful, joint collaboration in tackling the public health problems there," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland.

For more information contact:

Ms Melinda Henry
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 2535
Mobile phone: +41 (79) 477 1738
Fax: +41 (22) 791 4858

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