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 April 25, 2009 6:49 PM

New York, Apr 24 2009 11:10AM
A United Nations-backed <"">study on dozens of malaria diagnostic tests available on the market has found that performance between products in detecting the deadly disease varied widely, the World Health Organization (<"">WHO) announced today.

The independent evaluation of 41 commercially available rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria demonstrated that although several of the tests could detect even low parasite densities in blood samples, many were only able spot high parasites at high density levels.

According to a news release issued by WHO, the findings will serve as a tool for countries to make informed choices about the purchase and use of malaria RDTs that are best suited to local conditions.

“This is an important first step in establishing a broader system of diagnostics surveillance and quality assurance to ensure sound and accurate diagnosis of malaria in poor and remote settings,” said Robert Ridley, Director of WHO-based Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (<"">TDR).

Mr. Ridley noted that the laboratory tests “rovide us with a mechanism to evaluate RDT performance in a standardized way so that WHO, donors and country health ministries can identify those tests that perform best for their needs and particular settings.”

The largest-ever independent, laboratory-based evaluation of RDTs for malaria was co-sponsored by the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO), TDR and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND). The testing was performed at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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 November 09, 2008 8:41 PM


New York, Oct 13 2008 7:10PM
Preliminary tests indicate that a mystery disease in Zambia and South Africa that has killed three people in the past month is caused by a virus from the family that includes Lassa fever, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced today, as reports emerged that a fourth case of the illness has been confirmed.

Analysis is continuing at laboratories in South Africa and the United States to learn more about the virus, believed to be from the Arenaviridae family, according to a news update released by <"">WHO.

Investigations began after an office employee at a safari tour company in Zambia died on 14 September in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, two days after undergoing a medical evacuation from Zambia.

A paramedic who cared for that patient was later admitted to hospital in Johannesburg and died on 2 October, and a nurse who was also involved in the care of the first patient died on 5 October.

The three patients experienced fever, headaches, diarrhoea and myalgia that developed into rash and hepatic dysfunction, followed by rapid deterioration and death, WHO reported.

It said today that a fourth case has now been confirmed, with a nurse who had close contact with one of the earlier cases becoming ill and being admitted to hospital in South Africa.

WHO is working with its partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network to help the health ministries in South Africa and Zambia investigate the outbreak, conduct laboratory diagnosis and become involved in case monitoring and the follow-up with anyone who may have been in contact with sufferers of the disease.

On Friday the UN agency said there was no indication yet of any need to restrict travel to or from Zambia or South Africa and no special measures required for passengers arriving from these countries.

At least 121 known contacts of the fatal cases are being traced in South Africa and 23 in Zambia.

The Arenaviridae family contains a wide range of viruses, including that which causes Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness that occurs widely across West Africa. Humans become infected from contact with the urine or faeces of rodents.

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 October 19, 2008 8:03 PM


New York, Oct 13 2008 7:10PM
Preliminary tests indicate that a mystery disease in Zambia and South Africa that has killed three people in the past month is caused by a virus from the family that includes Lassa fever, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced today, as reports emerged that a fourth case of the illness has been confirmed.

Analysis is continuing at laboratories in South Africa and the United States to learn more about the virus, believed to be from the Arenaviridae family, according to a news update released by <"">WHO.

Investigations began after an office employee at a safari tour company in Zambia died on 14 September in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, two days after undergoing a medical evacuation from Zambia.

A paramedic who cared for that patient was later admitted to hospital in Johannesburg and died on 2 October, and a nurse who was also involved in the care of the first patient died on 5 October.

The three patients experienced fever, headaches, diarrhoea and myalgia that developed into rash and hepatic dysfunction, followed by rapid deterioration and death, WHO reported.

It said today that a fourth case has now been confirmed, with a nurse who had close contact with one of the earlier cases becoming ill and being admitted to hospital in South Africa.

WHO is working with its partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network to help the health ministries in South Africa and Zambia investigate the outbreak, conduct laboratory diagnosis and become involved in case monitoring and the follow-up with anyone who may have been in contact with sufferers of the disease.

On Friday the UN agency said there was no indication yet of any need to restrict travel to or from Zambia or South Africa and no special measures required for passengers arriving from these countries.

At least 121 known contacts of the fatal cases are being traced in South Africa and 23 in Zambia.

The Arenaviridae family contains a wide range of viruses, including that which causes Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness that occurs widely across West Africa. Humans become infected from contact with the urine or faeces of rodents.

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 October 12, 2008 9:33 PM


New York, Sep 26 2008 12:10PM
Given the ongoing crisis in China over melamine-contaminated powdered food which has hospitalized nearly 13,000 children, United Nations agencies today urged countries to ensure the safe feeding of infants and to be on alert for the possible spread of tainted dairy products.

Commonly used in such materials as containers and labels, melamine can also be found in agricultural products such as fertilizer. Alone, it is of low toxicity, but animal studies have suggested that kidney problems occur when combined with cyanuric acid.

“Restoring consumer confidence is critical,” said Eddeddine Boutrif, Director of the Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization <"">(FAO). “Melamine-contaminated products should be removed from the food chain in order to prevent further exposure.”

Both FAO and the World Health Organization <"">(WHO) have advocated breastfeeding and advised against replacing powdered infant formula with other products such as condensed milk, honey mixed with milk or fresh milk.

“While breastfeeding is the ideal way of providing infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, it is also critical to ensure that there is an adequate supply of safe powdered infant formula to meet the needs of infants who are not breastfed,” said Jørgen Schlundt, Director of WHO’s Food Safety Department.

That agency recommended that all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, receiving safe foods and breast milk up to two years of age and beyond.

With the possibility that melamine-contaminated products could spread to other countries through both formal and informal channels, both WHO and FAO said that both public authorities and the food industry are responsible for ensuring a safe food supply.

“It is critical that the industry strongly invests in food safety and adopts a food safety culture covering the food chain from raw materials through to the final products,” Mr. Boutrif said.

The recent crisis not only threatens human health, but put the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of dairy farmers at risk. “There is a need for countries to do major investment in strengthening their food control and food-borne disease surveillance systems as it could minimize the potential occurrence of food safety incidents like this one,” he added.

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 October 12, 2008 8:43 PM


New York, Sep 22 2008 12:10PM
With half a million women dying in pregnancy or childbirth every year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives <"">(ICM) have launched an initiative which could help cut mortality by about 75 per cent by training midwives in developing countries.

“By investing in midwives and universal access to reproductive health, millions of lives can be saved and we can reach Millennium Development Goal 5, to improve maternal health,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid <"">said in a news release today, referring to one of eight goals that seek to slash a host of social ills by 2015. Beyond the deaths millions more women suffer long-lasting harm due to lack of care.

An additional 334,000 midwives are needed, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). The UNFPA-ICM programme will increase the number of births attended by professional midwifery providers and develop the foundations for a sustainable midwifery workforce in selected developing countries.

Its focus will be on training midwives, developing practice standards, and strengthening national midwifery associations. It is estimated that skilled attendance at delivery, backed up by emergency obstetric care, could reduce the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth by about 75 per cent.

Every year half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth and 10 to 15 million women suffer serious or long-lasting illnesses or injuries. In addition, 3 million newborns die during the first week of life and another 3 million are stillborn. Many of these deaths and disabilities could be prevented if all births were attended by midwives.

The $9-million initiative will start in 11 of the hardest-hit countries with the highest levels of maternal deaths and disability and the lowest rates of births attended by skilled workers – Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Sudan, Uganda and Zambia. It will then expand to include 30 countries and, if funding permits, even more.

The three-year project is funded by the Netherlands and Sweden and will be implemented by ICM and UNFPA offices in the selected countries.

“We need some strong advocates who can call on governments to invest in much needed midwives,” ICM President Bridget Lynch said. “But we also need to work with governments to ensure the scaling up and quality of midwifery services. They need to take ownership.”

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 September 28, 2008 6:07 PM


New York, Aug 28 2008 2:10PM
A Japanese woman will live 42 years longer than a woman in Lesotho, and such a staggering disparity in life expectancy is due to inequalities in where people are born, grow up and age, the United Nations World Health Organization (<"">WHO) said in a new report issued today.

“Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale,” a commission comprised of academics including Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, former heads of state and health ministers said after a three-year investigation.

According to their study, entitled “Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health,” biology is not at fault for the odds of a woman in Afghanistan dying in childbirth being 1 in 8, compared to a mother in Sweden, where the risk is 1 in 17,400.

“The toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure, responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible,” the report noted.

Recent years have witnessed surges in global wealth, technology and living standards, but how resources are allocated to services and institution-building in low-income countries is key.

A nation’s wealth alone does not determine the health of its population, the Commission said, citing the examples of Cuba, Costa Rica, China and Sri Lanka as countries which have achieved high levels of health despite relatively low national incomes.

The report pointed to the model of Nordic countries, where resources are put towards promoting equal benefits and services, full employment and gender equality, as well as for curbing social exclusion.

It also highlighted some glaring inequalities in health within countries. An indigenous Australian male can expect to live 17 years shorter than all other men in the same country, while maternal mortality is three to four times higher among Indonesia’s poor women compared to its rich women.

To broach inequalities both within and among nations, the 13-member Commission made three broad recommendations: to boost daily living conditions; to address distortions in the distribution of power, money and resources; and to understand the problem’s scope.

“Health inequity really is a matter of life and death,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who was presented with the report today.

She stressed that national health systems will not trend towards equity without “unprecedented leadership” to drive people on all fronts, not just in the health sector.

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 September 28, 2008 4:41 PM


New York, Aug 26 2008 10:10AM
A United Nations-sponsored conference that aims to tackle the environmental causes of diseases that claimed almost 2.5 million African lives each year begins in Gabon today.

In 2002 alone millions of Africans died because of unsafe water, pollution, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, insufficient disease control measures and exposure to chemicals.

“African countries share common ecosystems and the impact of the environment on the health transcends national borders. Accelerated efforts are required to deal with the outbreak of diseases caused by changes in the environment,” said Regional Director of the World Health Organization (<"">WHO) for Africa, Luis Sambo.

The WHO and the UN Environment Programme (<"">UNEP) jointly organized the First Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa, which is being hosted by the Government of Gabon, under the slogan “<I>Health security through healthy environments</I>.”

The four-day conference – attended by health ministers, environment ministers, policymakers, bilateral and multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and high-level experts – will explore the evidence linking health with the environment.

It aims to combat environmentally-related health problems as well as obtain the institutional and investment changes necessary to reduce environmental threats to health.

“This conference is a step toward future collaborative efforts between the WHO, UNEP, and Ministries of Health and Environment to implement integrated activities that promote health and sustainable development,” stressed Dr. Sambo.

UNEP Deputy Director Angela Cropper added: “While our knowledge has been increasing about how ecosystems and species and the quality of the environment relate to human health, there is a lag in concerted policy and action to address this relationship.”

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 August 23, 2008 10:50 PM


New York, Aug 22 2008 11:10AM
A United Nations-backed group seeking to slash measles deaths has expressed concern over the recent surge in reported cases of the virus in the United States.

Thanks to a successful vaccination programme, <"">measles – which is highly contagious and can result in serious complications and death – was eliminated in the Americas in 2002.

But 131 cases have been reported in the first half of this year, the highest number since 1996.

Most of the recent US cases were imported or resulted from the importation of the virus from other countries, and the possibility of children contracting it is on the rise as international travel continues to soar.

Some 600 children die every day from measles, which infects 18 million children annually, according to the Measles Initiative, comprised of the UN Children’s Fund, UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO), UN Foundation (UNF), the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We must be steadfast in our efforts to reduce measles globally,” the group said in a statement issued yesterday.

“It is essential that all children – regardless of where they are born – have the opportunity to be vaccinated against measles, so that they can grow up healthier and without fear of this highly contagious, but entirely preventable, disease.”

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 August 23, 2008 10:40 PM


New York, Aug 21 2008 4:10PM
The United Nations health agency is launching a new information campaign to highlight the impact of the hepatitis B virus, which is currently found in about 2 billion people worldwide despite being largely preventable by vaccine for more than 25 years.

The World Health Organization (<"">WHO) issued factsheets today about the impact and spread of hepatitis B, which attacks the liver and can cause severe and chronic illness in sufferers, and even death.

More than 350 million people live with chronic liver disease and about 25 per cent of adults who became infected during childhood later die from liver cancer or cirrhosis as a result of the infection. Cirrhosis and liver cancer kill as many as 700,000 people every year.

The virus – which only affects humans – is transmitted through contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person, and not through casual contact such as by contaminated food or water, the agency reports.

The common methods of transmission are from mother to child at birth, blood transfusions, sexual contact, unsafe injection practices, and child-to-child.

Hepatitis B is endemic in China and other parts of Asia, with most sufferers infected during childhood. It is also prevalent in the Amazon basin of South America, the Middle East, South Asia and parts of Eastern and Central Europe.

WHO said there is no specific treatment for hepatitis B, a vaccine that is 95 per cent effective has been available since 1982. It called for all infants to be given the vaccine and for all children and adolescents not previously immunized to also be vaccinated.

Members of high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users and people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, should also be vaccinated, the agency recommends.

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 August 23, 2008 9:35 PM


New York, Aug 7 2008 1:10PM
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Malaria today welcomed the World Bank’s recent announcement that it would supply over $500 million to help India combat malaria and other diseases.

The new $520.75 million scheme – designed by the Indian Government, the UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO) and the <"">Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – will provide prevention services through bed nets and spraying and treatment to over 100 million people in India.

More than 2 million cases of the disease are reported yearly in the South Asian nation, causing India to lose nearly 80 million days in productivity annually.

In a statement, Special Envoy Roy Chambers congratulated both the <"">World Bank and the Indian Government for their “tremendous commitment” to combating malaria.

The funding provided by the World Bank – which comes in the form of a credit from its concessionary lending branch, the International Development Association – is the body’s largest-ever project for malaria control in any one country.

“Malaria continues to be a major threat to the lives of millions of poor Indians through premature death, disability, and unnecessary suffering,” said Isabel Guerrero, the World Bank’s Vice President for South Asia, when the body’s new initiative was announced on 31 July.

Falciparum malaria, a severe form of the disease which is often fatal, is on the rise in India due to increased resistance to chloroquine treatment, which was previously the primary anti-malaria drug.

“This project uses the latest science on malaria control, including a new highly effective drug regimen, to effectively address this problem,” Ms. Guerrero noted.

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 July 13, 2008 12:50 AM


New York, Jul 11 2008 10:00AM
Family planning is a critical element to improving maternal health, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or global targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015, senior United Nations officials said today, urging that women everywhere have access to this vital service.

In messages to mark World Population Day, which is observed annually on 11 July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted that improving maternal health – MDG 5 – is lagging the furthest behind among all the targets.

“The rate of death for women as they give birth remains the starkest indicator of the disparity between rich and poor, both within and among countries,” Mr. Ban <"">said.

He noted the three basic interventions necessary to improve maternal health: skilled attendance at the time of birth, facilities to provide emergency obstetric care and family planning.

“Studies show that family planning has immediate benefits for the lives and health of mothers and their infants,” he stated. “Ensuring basic access to family planning could reduce maternal deaths by a third and child deaths by as much as 20 per cent.

“And yet the benefits of family planning remain out of reach for many, especially for those who often have the hardest time getting the information and services they need to plan their families, such as the poor, marginalized populations and young people,” he said.

The Secretary-General called on governments to honour the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, when they agreed that all couples and individuals have the basic human right to not only decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, but also to have the information, education and means to do so.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid joined that call, <"">stressingthat maternal death and disability could be reduced dramatically if every woman had access to health services throughout her lifecycle, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

“Today millions of women lack access to health services, which puts their lives at risk,” she stated. “Now is the time to accelerate action to ensure that health services reach women in the communities in which they live.”

Ms. Obaid added that family planning is also essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality. “When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life.

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 July 06, 2008 8:02 PM


New York, Jun 30 2008 1:00PM
The inhabitants of developing nations will find out whether they have been infected with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-T in two days, not the standard two to three months, thanks to two new United Nations-backed initiatives.

Currently, it is estimated that only 2 per cent of cases of MDR-TB – which does not respond to first-line drugs – are being properly diagnosed and treated, and 400,000 new cases are reported every year, according to the UN.

The new schemes – launched today by the UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO), the Stop TB Partnership, the international drug purchase facility <"">UNITAID and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) – hope to boost that proportion to over 15 per cent over the next four years.

In poorer countries, most TB patients are tested for MDR-TB only after it is found they do not respond to standard treatments, but do not receive crucial second-line drugs until their diagnosis is confirmed two months or more later.

One of the two projects announced today is a rapid molecular method, known as line probe assays, to detect the strain in less than two days, and it will be employed in 16 countries, including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Uzbekistan.

The second entails increasing the supply of drugs to treat MDR-TB in 54 countries, and seeks to slash by 20 per cent the price of second-line drugs by 2010.

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 June 30, 2008 7:39 PM


New York, Jun 24 2008 8:00PM
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today launched a new safety checklist for operating theatres around the world as part of a major drive to make surgery safer around the world.

WHO says that 234 million major surgeries are now performed every year – equivalent to one for every 25 people – and that significant numbers of patients suffer or even die because of preventable complications.

“Preventable surgical injuries and deaths are now a growing concern,” Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of <"">WHO, said in a statement today. “Using the checklist is the best way to reduce surgical errors and improve patient safety.”

Several studies have shown that in developing countries 5 to 10 per cent of patients die during major surgery. One in 150 people die from general anaesthesia in sub-Saharan Africa. Major complications are also reported in 3 to 16 per cent of patients in industrialized countries, while infections and other complications are also a serious threat. The studies suggest that about half of these complications may be preventable.

The <"">WHO Surgical Safety Checklist was developed under the leadership of Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard University in the United States.

The checklist identifies three phases of an operation – before the use of anaesthesia, before the beginning of the operation, and before the patient leaves the operating theatre.

In each phase a checklist coordinator confirms that the surgical team has completed its tasks before it proceeds: for example in the first phase, the patient’s known allergies have to be checked off, and in the last phase, surgical instruments, sponges and needles have to be counted.

First results from 1000 patients in eight pilot sites worldwide indicate that the checklist has resulted in substantial reductions in complications and deaths.

“Although there have been major improvements over the last few decades, the quality and safety of surgical care has been dismayingly variable in every part of the world,” Dr. Gawande said, adding that the Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative that was developed at Harvard and led to the new checklist, “aims to change this by raising the standards that patients anywhere can expect.”

The checklist released today is a first edition. It will be finalized for distribution by the end of this year after completion of evaluations on the eight pilot projects.

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 June 22, 2008 8:36 PM


New York, Jun 20 2008 4:00PM
The report from the GAVI Alliance, which includes the UN Children’s Fund (<"">UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (<"">WHO), found that more than 2.9 million premature deaths have been averted by the partnership since it was formed in 2000.

Rising immunization rates are the cause, with 75 per cent of children in 72 GAVI-eligible countries immunized last year with three doses of diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccines, up from 64 per cent in 2000.

Julian Lob-Levyt, Executive Secretary of the GAVI Alliance, said that immunization is the one health intervention that offers poor countries the best opportunity to make economic and social progress.

“Health gains that took rich countries 150 years to achieve can now be attained in just 10 to 15 years by developing countries, thanks to new technology and a revitalized global commitment to protect all children against preventable diseases,” he said.

Dr. Lob-Levyt added that new vaccines and forms of technology, as well as new streams of funding, were “allowing us to tackle the killer diseases in a methodical and consistent way. We are at a seminal moment in positively impacting health in poor nations.”

The report, released today, also found that more poor countries are making efforts to introduce new or under-used vaccines and more nations are also applying for financial support from the GAVI Alliance to strengthen their health-care systems.

The GAVI Alliance, which was earlier known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, aims to bring together the key stakeholders in immunization, including governments, the vaccine industry, philanthropists such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and research and technical agencies.

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 June 15, 2008 1:22 AM

New York, Jun 9 2008 11:00AM
On the eve of a high-level meeting on AIDS, government leaders, health and business officials, heads of United Nations agencies and activists are gathering in New York today to confront tuberculosis, the leading cause of death for people living with HIV.

The first HIV/TB Global Leaders’ Forum brings together participants such as Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAID, and Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), to discuss the impact of the TB and HIV epidemics.

TB accounts for an estimated quarter of a million deaths each year among those living with HIV and is the number one cause of death among people living with HIV in Africa.

Recently, <"">WHO, <"">UNAIDS and the <"">UN Children’s Fund announced that some three million people are now receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. However, TB, especially drug-resistant forms of the disease, threatens to hinder this progress.

HIV and TB, according to UNAIDS, are so closely connected that they are often referred to as co-epidemics or dual epidemics that drive and reinforce one another.

Since HIV weakens the immune system, people living with the virus are up to 50 times more likely to develop TB than those who are HIV negative. Without proper treatment with anti-TB drugs, the majority of people living with HIV die within two to three months of becoming sick with TB.

Today’s Forum, which is co-sponsored by the <"">Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the <"">Stop TB Partnership, is expected to produce a Call for Action to drastically cut the number of deaths associated with HIV/TB.

The meeting is convened by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop TB, Dr. Jorge Sampaio.

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 May 24, 2008 11:54 PM


New York, May 23 2008 7:00PM
The United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria today welcomed Japan’s announcement that it will donate $560 million starting next year, which takes the Asian country’s total contribution so far to nearly $1.5 billion.

The new contribution means the Global Fund – created in 2002 – has now raised over $20 billion to invest in hundreds of different treatment and prevention programmes fighting the three diseases around the world.

Programmes backed by the Fund are estimated to have already provided AIDS treatment to 1.4 million patients and TB treatment for 3.3 million people. They have also distributed 46 million insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria.

The Fund’s Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine praised Japan, which is now the third biggest contributor, for its ongoing support.

“These new resources will help to save millions of lives, strengthen health systems in developing nations and bring the world hope that further substantial impact against the three diseases will be achieved in the coming years,” he said.

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 May 11, 2008 9:51 PM

Ban Ki-moon gathers global health experts to improve care for world’s poorest –

(9 May 2008)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and global health leaders meeting at the Carter Center in the United States city of Atlanta today agreed on measures to help make childbirth safer and tackle other challenges facing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

“We are here not only because global health is an enormous challenge, but also because we can do something about it,” Mr. Ban said at a press conference following his meeting with leading global health experts from civil society, academia, philanthropy and the private sector gathered at the Carter Center, with its founder, former US President Jimmy Carter, in attendance.

The meeting attracted the participation of Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, and previous WHO chief Gro Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway and a member of the Elders, a group of world leaders whose goal is to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity in tackling some of the world’s toughest problems.

The Secretary-General said participants had a productive session. “We have achieved consensus on the urgency of strengthening health systems to serve all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable,” he said.

Maternal health was a key focus of the discussions. “We have outlined concrete options to make the process of giving birth safer for mothers, and debated concrete means to improve women’s health,” the Secretary-General announced.

A mother dies every minute from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal health is the slowest moving target of the Millennium Development Goals – the goals that all countries have agreed to reach by 2015 to lift people out of poverty.

“It is unacceptable that over half a million mothers die every year,” declared Mr. Ban. “We must put a stop to these senseless deaths.”

Dr. Chan said women’s health is critical. “The world in the last 20 years failed to take care of its women,” she said. The maternal mortality rate had not budged in those two decades. She decried the fact that half a billion women die in childbirth each year and another half a billion suffer from neglected tropical diseases.

Dr. Brundtland agreed that “on the side of mothers, the world is really far away from any improvements and we need to now focus again so that we don’t have a woman dying every minute because of childbirth.” She said the international community knows what works. “The resources are not outrageous – $10 billion is nothing in our world today to really make a serious impact on these kinds of issues,” she said.

The Secretary-General said participants also targeted neglected diseases like guinea worm and river blindness that “can be eliminated if we only take the time to do so.”

More than 1 billion people — one sixth of the world’s population — suffer from one or more tropical diseases that are neglected in terms of the international response. Experts say eradication of some of these diseases is possible if treatment is scaled up in the poorest countries, but they caution that functioning and affordable health systems must be in place for progress to be achieved.

President Carter said this was “one of the most important meetings” that he would attend this year. He stressed that to address global health problems, “it is not only a matter of health care but of economic progress for the poorest people on earth.”

In his comments to reporters, Mr. Ban also expressed concern about the situation in Myanmar, calling on the authorities to allow aid and humanitarian workers into the country without any hindrance. “I appeal to them strongly to do all they can to facilitate this aid.”

Mr. Ban warned that inaction would be deadly. “If early action is not taken and relief measures put in place, the medium-term effect of this tragedy could be truly catastrophic,” he said, calling for an end to political differences to address the tremendous challenges ahead. “The sheer survival of the affected people is at stake.”

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 May 10, 2008 11:36 PM


New York, May 5 2008 10:00AM
Paying tribute to the work of midwives in saving the lives of women around the world, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has called for greater investments to train these critical health workers and get them into the communities that need them.

“Every day, midwives are saving women’s lives by making delivery safe. Their essential care before, during and after delivery ensures that no woman dies giving life,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said in a message marking the International Day of the Midwife, observed on 5 May.

Noting an urgent need for 334,000 midwives worldwide, she said UNFPA and its partners are starting a new programme to promote midwifery. “Every minute another woman dies in childbirth. We can save these women by getting midwives in their communities,” she stressed.

Ms. Obaid pointed out that when properly trained, empowered and supported, midwives offer “the most cost-effective and high-quality path to maternal and newborn health.” They provide a range of vital services during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-natal period and offer reproductive health information and services, including family planning.

By investing in midwives, governments can achieve universal access to reproductive health, as well as improve maternal health – one of the targets world leaders pledged to achieve by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“When women are healthy, families are healthy. And when families are healthy, the well-being of communities and nations also improves,” Ms. Obaid stated

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 May 04, 2008 12:35 AM


New York, Apr 29 2008 5:00PM
Global health will be the focus of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Atlanta, Georgia, next week, part of his ongoing tour of major cities in the United States.

Mr. Ban will be convening a meeting at the Carter Center with the Elders – a small group of world figures ranging from civil society leaders to past heads of State – on critical global health priorities, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters.

Participants in the meeting will include top UN officials, philanthropists, and global health leaders from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia. Mr. Ban also plans to tour the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While in Atlanta, the Secretary-General is scheduled to attend a luncheon hosted by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

He will also join Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin in viewing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Collection at the Robert W. Woodruff Library.

In addition, he plans to visit CIFAL Atlanta, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the UN Institute for Training and Research, and attend a luncheon with the Atlanta business community.

Since taking office in January 2007, the Secretary-General has travelled to San Francisco and Chicago, where he saw first-hand how these two major cities are tackling climate change, as well as to Washington D.C.

In February this year he made his first visit to the state of Texas, where he participated in the William Waldo Cameron Forum on Public Affairs at the Bush Presidential Library, located in College Station.

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 April 27, 2008 12:45 AM


New York, Apr 25 2008 9:01AM
The United Nations Children's Fund (<"">UNICEF ) is marking World Malaria Day today by calling for accelerated efforts to tackle the disease, which kills more than one million people -- mostly children -- every year.

"Malaria is a curable and preventable disease that can be controlled by increasing the use of mosquito nets and other proven interventions, as part of integrated, community-based programmes," said the agency's Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

It is a "disease without borders" -- the theme of this year's Day -- and is endemic in more than 100 countries and territories.

Resources to tackle the scourge have increased significantly in recent years as a result of the efforts of the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the United States President's Malaria Initiative; the World Bank; UNICEF; and others.

Most African nations have switched over to the more effective Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) -- recommended by the UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO) -- to treat malaria.

ACT production has surged from 4 million treatment doses in 2004 to over 100 million in 2006.

Ms. Veneman noted that 18 million long-lasting insecticidal nets protecting against malaria have been distributed in Ethiopia since 2005, while 10 million have been delivered in Kenya over the past five years. "These successes show what can be achieved with concerted action," she said.

"But with an estimated 800,000 African children still dying from malaria every year, it is clear that much remains to be done."

One decade after UNICEF, the WHO and their partners launched the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) initiative, malaria -- claiming the lives of some 3,000 children daily -- is still the single largest killer of Africa children.

To control the disease globally, it will cost approximately $3.2 billion, and through increased public and private commitments and partnerships, RBM has raised $1 billion to date.

UNICEF appealed for bolstered interventions -- including sustained financing, community involvement and leadership as well as enhanced global, regional and national partnerships -- to control the disease.

Yesterday, the agency announced a partnership with religious, business and sports leaders to supply insecticide-treated bed nets for Africa.

"Nothing But Nets," a grassroots campaign created in 2006 by the UN Foundation (UNF) to raise awareness about malaria, helps fund the distribution of life-saving bed nets.

It "is an important initiative that will help build on successes in addressing malaria and accelerate results for children," Ms. Veneman said at a news conference at UN Headquarters. "Our results will be measured in lives saved and in lives improved."

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 April 26, 2008 10:35 PM


New York, Apr 23 2008 5:00PM
The United Nations has teamed up with religious, business and sports leaders in a new effort to send insecticide-treated bed nets to Africa to prevent millions of deaths from the disease, ahead of the first-ever World Malaria Day on Friday.

“Nothing But Nets” is a grassroots campaign created in 2006 by the UN Foundation to raise awareness about malaria, which still kills about one million people every year, most of them children, and help fund the distribution of life-saving bed nets.

Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that of the one million people that die each year due to malaria, about 800,000 are children under the age of five who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The Nothing But Nets campaign is an important initiative that will help build on successes in addressing malaria and accelerate results for children,” she told a news conference at UN Headquarters. “Our results will be measured in lives saved and in lives improved.”

Ms. Veneman stressed that the disease takes a heavy toll in terms of death and human suffering and is a major source of poverty. “The cost of malaria control and treatment drains African economies and, according to some estimates, slows economic growth by as much as 1.3 per cent per year,” she noted.

“Malaria prevention is an important component of poverty reduction and economic development, and progress is being made,” she added.

Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, explained that through the programme, citizens around the world can purchase bed nets for $10 each. They are then distributed through UN programmes in different countries.

“This is the most effective prevention programme in the area of malaria that we know about,” he noted.

The founding partners of the campaign, which was inspired by sports columnist Rick Reilly, include the National Basketball Association (NBA), the United Methodist Church and <i>Sports Illustrated</i> magazine.

NBA Commissioner David Stern highlighted the power of sports as a vehicle for communication on a global scale. “Athletes can be used to communicate many messages – some of them are for athletic shoes and apparel and some of them may be for cereal or automobiles. But how wonderful it is or them to have the opportunity to communicate that we should save lives,” he stated.

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 April 26, 2008 10:27 PM


New York, Apr 23 2008 6:00PM
Finding treatments for cancer, thinning bone disease and kidney failure are at risk due to biodiversity loss, a ground-breaking new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) book cautioned.

“Sustaining Life” – the work of over 100 experts supported by UNEP, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – is the most far-reaching book on this subject to date.

The volume’s authors warn that threats to land and marine-based life forms, reduce the chances of creating such medical treatments as safer painkillers, treatments for blindness and re-growing tissue and organs.

For example, studies of the southern gastric brooding frog, or <i>Rheobatrachus</i>, showed that baby frogs produced substances slowing acid and enzyme secretions, thus leading researchers to believe that new inroads could be made on treating human peptic ulcers, which affect 25 million people in the United States alone.

“But the studies could not be continued because both species of <i>Rheobatrachus</i> became extinct, and the valuable medical secrets they held are now gone forever,” said Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, the book’s key authors.

Experts stressed that the conclusions of “Sustaining Life” are not intended to sanction the harvesting of wildlife in a manner which further endangers species, but instead that they should trigger stepped up conservation and management efforts.

“Habitat loss, destruction and degradation of ecosystems, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change are among the powerful and persistent impacts that are running down the planet’s nature-based capital, including the medical treasure trove of the world’s biodiversity,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.

The head of UNDP, Kemal Dervis, said that people around the world, especially the rural poor, depend heavily on biodiversity, but its loss will “seriously jeopardize our prospects for achieving the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] by 2015,” he said, referring to the eight poverty targets.

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 April 20, 2008 12:03 AM


New York, Apr 16 2008 11:00AM
With over 10 million women and children in developing countries still dying every year from largely preventable and treatable causes, a new report by United Nations agencies and their partners <"">calls for scaling up health care systems to reduce maternal and child deaths.

“<""> Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival” finds that few of the 68 developing countries that account for 97 per cent of maternal and child deaths worldwide are providing the necessary health care to save lives.

The 2008 report was released today as leading global health experts, policy-makers and parliamentarians convene in Cape Town, South Africa, to address further efforts to slash maternal and child mortality by 2015, part of a set of internationally-agreed targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (<"">MDGs).

The report highlights the progress made in many of the 68 countries in areas such as preventing measles and malaria, including through the provision of vaccinations and insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

“Nonetheless, treatment for potentially fatal illnesses and other vital health services still fail to reach the majority of women and children,” according to a news release on the findings of the report.

The report also identifies four “missed opportunities to save lives” – family planning, skilled care at birth, clinical care for sick children and nutrition.

At the same time, it notes that a number of countries, such as China, Haiti, Turkmenistan and several in sub-Saharan Africa, have made progress in the past three years in reducing the number of under-five deaths. In addition, 16 of the 68 countries are now ‘on track’ to achieving Goal number 4 on reducing child mortality.

The report urges Governments and their partners to improve health care for women and children, including by tackling obstacles such as weak health systems, funding shortages and inequalities in access.

And while donor funding for maternal, newborn and child health has risen in recent years, resulting in significant health gains, health systems remain “grossly under-funded” relative to the needs, it adds.

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 April 05, 2008 7:50 PM


New York, Apr 2 2008 11:00AM
As the United Nations marked the first World Autism Awareness Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the courage of children with autism and their families, who strive every day “to confront the disability with a powerful combination of determination, creativity and hope.”

The General Assembly <"">declared 2 April as <"">World Autism Awareness Day last November in a bid to highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the complex brain disorder.

Autism, which affects people all around the globe, impedes the ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioural challenges.

In his <"">message marking the Day, Mr. Ban stressed the need to build enabling environments for children with disabilities so they can prosper as future members of their communities, citizens of their countries and as fully-fledged members of the global community.

“Let us empower them and respond to their needs today, so as to make our societies more accessible, enabling and empowering for all our children tomorrow,” he stated.

The Secretary-General noted that throughout its history, the UN has promoted the rights and well-being of the disabled, including children with developmental disabilities.

“It is especially fitting that this inaugural Day falls in 2008 -- the year in which we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights, and expect to see the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006,” he added.

UN Headquarters in New York is marking the Day with a discussion sponsored by Qatar, which spearheaded the initiative to create an annual observance, along with the World Health Organization (<"">WHO) and the non-governmental organization Autism Speaks.

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 March 29, 2008 10:59 PM


New York, Mar 26 2008 11:00AM
Ducks, rice and people – and not chickens – have emerged as the most significant factors in the spread of avian influenza in Thailand and Viet Nam, <"">according to a new study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

“Mapping H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza risk in Southeast Asia: ducks, rice and people” also finds that these factors are probably behind persistent outbreaks in other countries such as Cambodia and Laos.

The study, which examined a series of waves of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in Thailand and Viet Nam between early 2004 and late 2005, was initiated and coordinated by FAO senior veterinary officer Jan Slingenbergh and just published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.  

Through the use of satellite mapping, researchers looked at a number of different factors, including the numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, human population size, rice cultivation and geography, and found a strong link between duck grazing patterns and rice cropping intensity.

In Thailand, for example, the proportion of young ducks in flocks was found to peak in September-October; these rapidly growing young ducks can therefore benefit from the peak of the rice harvest in November-December.

“These peaks in congregation of ducks indicate periods in which there is an increase in the chances for virus release and exposure, and rice paddies often become a temporary habitat for wild bird species,” the agency said in a news release.

“We now know much better where and when to expect H5N1 flare-ups, and this helps to target prevention and control,” said Mr. Slingenbergh. “In addition, with virus persistence becoming increasingly confined to areas with intensive rice-duck agriculture in eastern and south-eastern Asia, evolution of the H5N1 virus may become easier to predict.”

He said the findings can help better target control efforts and replace indiscriminate mass vaccination.

FAO estimates that approximately 90 per cent of the world’s more than 1 billion domestic ducks are in Asia, with about 75 per cent of that in China and Viet Nam. Thailand has about 11 million ducks.

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 March 29, 2008 9:02 PM


New York, Mar 24 2008  1:00PM
Tackling tuberculosis – a disease which still kills 4,000 people every day – requires dealing with its root causes, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today on the occasion of <"">World TB Day.

The theme of this year’s Day is “I am stopping TB,” and it is a pledge “we must uphold as we battle the epidemic throughout the year and into the future,” Mr. Ban said in a <"">message.

Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-T, which is man-made, and the even more lethal extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-T are both spreading.

“If we are to prevent a virtually untreatable tuberculosis epidemic, we must tackle the roots of the problem: poor services, poor supplies, poor prescribing and poor use of drugs,” the Secretary-General observed.

The fight against tuberculosis “can be won only with the collective commitment of millions of individuals – donors and researchers, doctors and health-care workers, patients and family members.”

As a result of collaboration among a range of partners, the proportion of people falling ill with TB is declining. But the advances are not being made at the same rate as population growth, Mr. Ban said, adding that the disease becomes ever more deadly when it overlaps with the HIV epidemic.

He also urged a stepped up global response to save lives from tuberculosis, noting that the UN will convene a Global Leaders’ HIV/TB Forum this June.

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 March 08, 2008 6:49 PM


New York, Mar  6 2008  5:00PM
The first-ever global meeting to address the shortages of health workers has endorsed a plan of action to resolve a crisis which affects nearly 60 countries and threatens to undermine critical advances in improving the health and well-being of millions.

The UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO) estimates that the world needs over four million additional health workers, one million of which are required for sub-Saharan Africa alone.

The Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, which began in Kampala, Uganda, on 2 March, brought together nearly 1,500 participants, including donors, experts and more than 30 ministers of health, education and finance to tackle this vital issue.

The meeting, organized by the WHO-backed Global Health Workforce Alliance, today endorsed the Kampala Declaration and Agenda for Global Action, which sets out a series of steps to be taken over the next 10 years to resolve the crisis.

The Agenda calls on all countries to give top priority to training and recruiting sufficient health personnel from within their own country, and to provide adequate incentives and better working conditions to ensure the retention of health workers.  

“This is about much more than a health issue. It is about political choice. It is about quality of life and the dignity of individuals. Therefore, providing health workers for all is the responsibility of all societies and their governments,” said Dr. Francis Omaswa, Executive Director of the Alliance.

The Agenda also urges international and regional financial institutions to relax constraints such as public health recruitment ceilings, and calls on WHO to accelerate negotiations for a code of practice on the international recruitment of health workers.

“Health workers are the cornerstone of health systems and action is long overdue,” said WHO Deputy Director-General Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah.  “This Forum and the Agenda bring much needed attention to the issue.”

The Alliance has been tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Declaration and Agenda, and re-convening the Global Forum in two years’ time to evaluate progress.

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 March 08, 2008 5:16 PM

Health-care workers, the ‘true lifesavers,’ must be supported – Ban Ki-moon –

(3 March 2008)

The time has come to focus on supporting and retaining health workers – “the true lifesavers in the society of every nation”– Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the first-ever world forum on the topic, which convened in Kampala, Uganda, today.

“Almost 60 countries – most of them in Africa – face such critical shortages of health workers that they cannot provide basic health care to all their people,” Mr. Ban said at the Global Forum for Human Resources in Health, which expects over 1,000 government leaders and experts to meet under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In his statement to the gathering, Mr. Ban emphasized the crucial part that health care plays in economic development and in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aim to reduce extreme poverty and other global ills by 2015.

“I appreciate that the issues are complex,” he said, maintaining that the crisis in the world’s health workforce requires different stakeholders to take action in a range of areas – migration, development, education, finance and more.

However, he pointed to renewed momentum throughout the international community to tackle large challenges in health care, as well as advances in knowledge.

“We have the resources and the know-how,” he concluded: “Let us work together, with coherent and coordinated action, to translate commitments into protected livelihoods and saved lives.”

The first Global Forum for Human Resources in Health will run through 7 March.

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 March 01, 2008 10:01 PM


New York, Feb 28 2008  7:00PM
The United Nations World Health Organization (<"">WHO) has organized the supply of two million doses of yellow fever vaccine to Paraguay as health authorities in the South American country battle a deadly outbreak of the viral disease.

The vaccine doses were obtained from the WHO’s International Coordinating Group on Provision of Vaccines, the agency said in an update released today. Brazil has sent 850,000 doses and Peru has dispatched 144,000, adding to the 300,000 that Paraguay already has on reserve.

More than one million people who live in or travel to the areas affected by the outbreak – which are largely the rural areas of the departments of San Pedro and Central, north and east of Asunción, the capital – have already been vaccinated, according to the Pan American Health Organization (<"">PAHO).

Widespread spraying is also taking place to try to control the spread of yellow fever, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

So far, 16 cases have been confirmed and another 15 are being investigated. Three people have died, all in San Lorenzo municipality, which lies in Central department close to Asunción. It follows a similar outbreak late last year and early this year in three states in neighbouring Brazil. In that outbreak, 13 people died.

Yellow fever derives its name from the jaundice that affects some sufferers, who tend to experience fever, muscle pain, headaches, loss of appetite, vomiting and/or nausea. While most patients recover, the disease can be deadly and the number of infected people has risen in recent years, despite the availability of an effective vaccine.

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 March 01, 2008 9:40 PM


New York, Feb 27 2008  2:00PM
The recent, worst-ever outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Indian state of West Bengal seems to have been brought under control by the swift and comprehensive measures taken by the country’s authorities, though continued vigilance was crucial, the United Nations agricultural agency said today.

“Intensive culling in the predominantly backyard poultry sector appears to have stopped the disease in its tracks,” Mohinder Oberoi, a veterinary expert of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (<"">FAO), said after a recent field trip to the affected areas, where no new outbreaks have been seen since 2 February.

FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech, however, urged the country to maintain intensive surveillance in high-risk areas as the possibility of new occurrences remains high. “The virus could still be present in the environment despite heavy slaughtering and extensive disinfection of affected areas, or it could be reintroduced from other countries,” he said.

The FAO officials praised the national and state governments’ political and financial commitment to stamp out the disease. They said public awareness campaigns, a strong command chain from districts to villages, compensation payments and an effective collaboration between animal and human health departments at field level, have been the key factors for the success.

To achieve rapid control, prevent the spread of the virus to other states and to avoid the risk of human infection, the Indian Government had to cull over 3.9 million chickens and ducks, mainly belonging to poor backyard poultry farmers.

“Public awareness campaigns should continue over the next months introducing rural communities to safe poultry production and basic biosecurity measures with the ultimate goal of reducing the risk of human infections,” the agency said in a press release.
In addition, it recommended that the socio-economic impact of the control campaign be urgently assessed to better define and apply measures to mitigate the impact of massive culling on poor small holders. Live bird markets, migration of wild birds and transportation routes of birds and poultry products should be mapped to better understand and control the spread of the disease, it said.

FAO, in collaboration with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), has also invited India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet to better coordinate regional avian influenza control campaigns.

The Nepalese Government has agreed to host the meeting in Kathmandu, the agency said.

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 March 01, 2008 9:30 PM


New York, Feb 26 2008 12:00PM
Rates of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis – which takes longer to treat and requires more expensive drugs that have potentially serious side effects – are at an all-time high, according to a new <"">report by the United Nations World Health Organization (<"">WHO).  

The study, entitled “<i>Anti-Tuberculosis Drub Resistance in the World</i>,” is the largest ever on the scale of drub resistance and is based on information collected between 2002 and 2006 on 90,000 TB patients in 81 countries.  

The agency estimates that there are nearly half a million new cases of multi-drug-resistant TB, known as MDR-TB, annually worldwide, accounting for 5 per cent of the 9 million new cases every year.  

“TB drug assistance needs a frontal assault,” said Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO’s Stop TB Department. “If countries and the international community fail to address it aggressively now we will lose this battle.”  

The highest rate of MDR-TB was found in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, where nearly one quarter of all new TB cases were reported to be multi-drug-resistant. WHO said that this type of TB is also widespread in Moldova; Donetsk, Ukraine; Tomsk Oblast, Russia; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; and China.  

The report also spotted ties between HIV infection and MDR-TB, with surveys in Latvia and Donetsk, Ukraine, noting that the rate of MDR-TB is twice as high among tuberculosis patients living with HIV than it is among those without HIV.  

For the first time, the worldwide survey included analysis of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, which is virtually untreatable. It has been recorded in 45 countries, but because few countries are currently equipped to diagnose it, limited data were available for inclusion in the current WHO study.  

The agency reported notable successes, such as Estonia and Latvia, which were deemed MDR-TB ‘hotspots’ more than a dozen years ago but whose rates are now stabilizing.  

However, given that only six countries in Africa – the continent with the highest incidence of TB globally – were able to submit data for the report, WHO pointed out that the magnitude of the respiratory disease in some parts of the world remains unknown.  

“It is likely there are outbreaks of drug resistance going unnoticed and undetected,” said WHO tuberculosis expert Abigail Wright, the report’s principal author.

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New York, Feb 21 2008  6:00PM
The head of the United Nations World Health Organization (<"">WHO) welcomed a new and significant infusion of funds for the integrated treatment of seven of the most important and neglected tropical diseases.

United States President George W. Bush announced the new five-year $350 million initiative today, which will target lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, blinding trachoma, onchocerciasis and three soil-transmitted helminthiases.

“These are blinding, deforming, and debilitating diseases that affect the poorest of the poor,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. “An intensified attack on these diseases delivers a blow against the poverty of millions of people.”

She also lauded the “ambitious” new plan for seeking to control and ultimately eliminate diseases which have brought misery to so many for so long.

In partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), WHO can begin steps to bolster treatment immediately, Dr. Chan noted.

With highly-effective drugs – which are safe and easy to administer – available, a mass prevention campaign similar to child immunization can be launched, she said.

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