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Health ministers gather for WHO meeting

Health ministers gather for WHO’s annual Regional Committee Meeting

Auckland, New Zealand, 17 September 2006 – Health ministers and representatives from 27 Western Pacific Member States will meet tomorrow in Auckland, , for the 57th session of the World Health Organization’s Regional Committee Meeting for the Western Pacific.

For the third consecutive year, avian influenza will figure prominently at the meeting, which will run from Monday 18 September to Friday 22 September. Delegates will be told that with the A(H5N1) virus still claiming human lives in Indonesia and with fears that the disease may reappear across Asia and elsewhere in the cooler months in the northern hemisphere, fears of an influenza pandemic are undiminished.

WHO’s Western Pacific Region has been on the frontline of the fight against avian influenza since the virus reappeared in 2003. It has now spread to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, leading to the culling of millions of chickens, ducks and other domestic poultry. Most human infections have come from contact with diseased birds, but there have been a few cases of limited, inefficient human-to-human transmission.

Also on the agenda will be the growing threat from chronic noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular problems, cancer, chronic respiratory conditions and diabetes, which are by far the leading cause of death in the world. In the Western Pacific Region, noncommunicable diseases, notably heart problems and cancer, account for seven out of 10 deaths.

Other items for discussion will include:
•    Progress towards voluntary implementation of provisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) prior to their enforcement in 2007.
•    How to respond to the emergence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which is able to fend off two longstanding frontline tuberculosis drugs.
•    Prevention and control of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.
•    A regional approach to the challenges posed by alcohol abuse.
•    Human resources for health and the problem of the exodus of health workers to wealthier countries.
•    Programme updates on measles and polio elimination and hepatitis B control, mental health, environmental health and tobacco control.


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