Last month in Geneva, health leaders from 194 countries attended the World Health Assembly to discuss the world’s biggest health challenges and some of the solutions.
One of the most concerning topics was disease outbreaks. Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan called attention to viruses like H7N9, commonly known as “bird flu.” They “remind us that the threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases is ever-present. Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of the microbial world,” she said. “It will always deliver surprises.”
- The mysterious Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was widely discussed. Global health reporter for the Toronto Star sat down with Dr. Tony Mounts, WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus, to talk MERS. Her piece focuses on “what we know about it, what we don’t know, and how worried we should be.” You can read Jennifer Yang’s full interview here.
- Another of those surprises has come in the form of a polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa. “The last time there was a widespread polio outbreak in Africa was in 2008 and the entire Horn of Africa was affected, ultimately infecting over 700 people.” WHO officials and country health leaders are in a battle against the clock to contain this outbreak. It reinforces how essential it is that the world fully eradicate this disease. Lois Parshley’s full story is here.
- Mental health is a widely neglected part of the overall global health conversation. According to Jennifer Yang’s piece for the Toronto Star, “the majority of countries spend less than 2 percent on mental health issues but they cause 14 percent of the overall burden of disease. (Mental health, as defined by WHO, also includes substance abuse issues.)” Read more here about how the WHO is working to put mental health on the global agenda.
- Lindsay Abrams writes in The Atlantic about how governments in countries receiving international aid are becoming more involved in the decisions about where those dollars go. The New Idealism of International Aid highlights Rwanda’s new health insurance system and Ethiopia’s ambitious roll out of 30,000 newly trained health workers across the country.
When disease moves as freely as it does around the world, individuals and even governments can’t fight alone. Global conversations and transparency are key as we collectively work to stay healthy and safe no matter where we live.
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Image credit: WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan addresses the 66th World Health Assembly in Geneva. (Jennifer Yang/Toronto Star)