Situations in Kenya, Gaza Highlight How Political Turmoil Can Threaten Global Health, WHO Director-General Says
Recent violence and unrest in Kenya and Gaza demonstrate how political turmoil can threaten public health, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Monday at a meeting of WHO's Executive Board, Reuters reports. The 34-member WHO Executive Board is meeting this week to address key global health issues ahead of the World Health Assembly in May (MacInnis, Reuters, 1/21). Chan said that political unrest can disrupt "routine health services and compromise special initiatives, as we have seen repeatedly with polio eradication." She added, "I am concerned, in particular, about the situation in Kenya, where support is urgently needed to ensure the continuity of routine health services and programs for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases" (Schlein, VOA News, 1/21).
Although TB prevalence appears to have stabilized worldwide, the spread of drug-resistant strains of the disease in China, parts of Central Asia and Eastern Europe is a serious concern, Chan said. She added that extensively drug-resistant TB, which is resistant to the two most potent first-line treatments and some of the available second-line drugs, also is a concern. The emergence of XDR-TB "reminds us to be prepared for setbacks arising from the constantly changing microbial world," Chan said (Reuters, 1/21).
Chan noted that although more people have access to antiretroviral drugs, both HIV/AIDS and TB "impose their greatest burden on Africa." She added that the "same is true for malaria." According to Chan, progress will be measured by "how well we improve the health of the African people" and not by global averages. "For malaria, we have many reasons for optimism following better coverage with" insecticide-treated nets and the "use of the newer strategy for home-based management," she said (VOA News, 1/21). Chan cited findings that suggest Africa could see the health effects of climate changes as early as 2020. She said health experts need to address climate change issues, including waterborne and vectorborne diseases (Reuters, 1/21).