World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook told an Executive Board meeting of the agency in Geneva that recent months had brought “shocks and disasters,” some of them sudden and catastrophic like the earthquake that destroyed Bam in Iran. Other crises, such as the violent conflicts in Iraq, Liberia and the Palestinian Territories, last longer, with civilians – especially women and children – usually hardest-hit. Their suffering, he observed, stems much more from unprevented and untreated illness than from bullets and bombs. Still other crises develop more slowly but have a profound long-term impact, such as those caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. “The devastation caused by all three kinds of crisis can be reduced in the first place by measures of prevention; then, where these fail, by a well-prepared response,” he declared. “Even as attention is focused on the most immediate needs, however, it must turn to the repair and recovery of the systems needed in the longer term.” Dr. Lee noted that the 2004 World Health Report, due out in May, would focus on HIV/AIDS, which at present kills some 8,000 people a day. Over 30 countries have already appealed to WHO for support for intensified AIDS prevention and treatment since the launch seven weeks ago of the “3 by 5” strategy to provide anti-retroviral treatment to 3 million HIV-infected people by 2005. But he also called attention to other critical health issues, including the all-out effort to complete polio eradication and to achieve widespread immunization against other diseases. In addition, he underscored the need for global cooperation to prevent non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. Many national health systems, he pointed out, have been suffering the combined effects of instability, conflict, and under-funding due, in part, to heavy external debt. “The result, especially for the poorest people, is less access to essential services, unaffordable out-of-pocket expenses and further exposure to the diseases of poverty,” he said, pledging to shift WHO resources to address the problem. The 32-member Executive Board supports the World Health Assembly, WHO’s supreme decision-making body.

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