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Efforts to combat communicable diseases
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-14 01:03

Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi said Monday that China is willing to strengthen co-operation with other countries and regions of the Western Pacific in fighting various diseases including communicable and chronic ones.

Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi (C) gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the 55th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in the city of Shanghai September 13, 2004. [newsphoto]

Although having achieved a victory in containing SARS and avian influenza in recent years, the region now faces the increasing burden brought by various diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and chronic diseases, Wu said.

"The outbreak of new communicable diseases in this region shows that one vital way to tackle public health accidents is to enhance the international co-operation and communication in this region," Wu said.

She made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the 55th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific Region including 37 countries and regions, such as China, Viet Nam and Japan.

Wu was echoed by WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook who said: "Unity is indispensable for effective action, and it requires us to work more closely than ever before with our partners."

As long as the H5N1 virus remains in poultry there can be more human cases, with a high fatality rate.

This virus, if it adapts to efficient human-to-human transmission, could cause a global pandemic of influenza in humans, Lee noted.

"Our attention and energy must be focused now on every possibility that might exist in preventing or containing such a pandemic. The main tasks at present are: case detection and control in animals, surveillance for human cases, vaccine development, and research on how this virus evolves," he said.

With 1.5 million people infected with the HIV virus in the region, accelerated coverage with preventive action and treatment is urgently needed. Globally, with all sources combined, almost 20 billion US dollars have been pledged for integrated AIDS prevention and care over the next five years, Lee said.

Chinese experts estimate that there are 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers including about 80,000 patients in China.

Meanwhile, the control of tuberculosis and hepatitis is not looking good, and the non-communicable diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles and tobacco, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, have become the main disease burden in China and many other countries in the region, Wu noted.

In China, 20 million people suffer from diabetes. The Ministry of Health is now working closely with WHO to develop a policy framework for responding to this growing challenge of chronic disease control. This work will be of great value to China and many other countries, Lee said.

"China is one of the most vigorous and progressive countries in the world. Its achievements in the field of health make a great difference, not just to regional but to global health as well," said Shigeru Omi, director of WHO's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

China has good co-operative relations with the regional committee. It has attended all the meetings since 1973 except 1981. Beijing hosted the 38th annual session in 1987. Hong Kong and Macao have also hosted the event.

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