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WHO Chief Says World Faces Three Growing Threats

Chan, at World Health Assembly in Geneva, warns of dangers of food security, climate change and pandemic influenza. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A yearly meeting of all the member countries in the World Health Organization is this week in Geneva, Switzerland. Delegates from the one hundred ninety-three countries discuss progress and set policy for the coming year. The W.H.O., a United Nations agency, is sixty years old this year.

But Director-General Margaret Chan, as she opened the World Health Assembly, noted that the delegates are meeting at a time of tragedy. She expressed sympathy to the millions of people affected by the recent cyclone in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and the earthquake in China.

Doctor Chan said three crises lie ahead that are international security threats and will all affect human health. One is food security, another is climate change and the third is the threat of a worldwide outbreak of influenza.

She said the world produces enough food to feed everyone -- in fact, she added, far too many people are overfed. Yet now, food prices have risen sharply. She noted that the crisis hits the poor the hardest, and that the more a family spends on food, the less it has for health care.

The W.H.O. chief said climate change will also hit the poor the hardest but, to a greater or lesser extent, will affect all countries. She said more droughts, floods and storms mean greater demands for humanitarian aid. And she warned it will mean a growing number of environmental refugees.

And, thirdly, Doctor Chan warned of a continued threat of pandemic influenza. She said it would be very unwise for governments not to prepare. She urged delegates to support a W.H.O. resolution on the sharing of influenza viruses for research and to make vaccines widely available.

The W.H.O. this week also released its World Health Statistics report for two thousand eight. Agency officials say fewer people are dying of infectious diseases. In more and more countries, they say, the chief causes of death are conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

By two thousand thirty, non-communicable conditions are expected to cause more than three-fourths of all deaths. Almost one-third of all deaths will result from cancer, heart disease and traffic accidents.

The number one cause of preventable deaths is tobacco. More than eight million tobacco-related deaths are predicted in two thousand thirty -- eighty percent of them in developing countries.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Archives of our reports, with transcripts and MP3s, are at I’m Steve Ember.