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UN global health report card: flu threat remains, progress made on TB, polio

UN global health report card: flu threat remains, progress made on TB, polio

The continued looming threat of a flu pandemic, outbreaks of Ebola, Marburg and other infectious diseases, and high female mortality rates during pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries are among the issues that mark 2007, according to the United Nations health agency.

But on the positive side, public and private partners came together to improve global health with notable results, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported.

Progress was made to halt resurging yellow fever in Africa, international health regulations came into effect giving the world clear guidance on reporting and responding to cross-border health dangers, and efforts to wipe out the last bastions of polio and to stop tuberculosis advanced.

Landmarks, such as major success in the fight to cut measles deaths in Africa, and the release of a more accurate profile of the HIV epidemic, were also notable.

WHO noted that avian influenza continued as a threat in several countries this year, with cumulative figures showing a human toll of more than 200 deaths in Asia, Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and Europe since December 2003.

“The world needs to be prepared for a potential influenza pandemic… with special attention to influenza viruses that come from the animal world such as H5N1,” the agency said, referring to the virus behind the current outbreak.

“The good news is that countries are now more prepared than ever for such an emergency. For example, projected supplies for an influenza vaccine in the wake of a pandemic rose sharply this year, to 4.5 billion courses by 2010,” it added.

On Ebola and Marburg fevers, WHO reported that its network of experts supported intensive surveillance and control measures in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Investigative work to pinpoint the suspected source of Marburg fever - sick bats in a mine shaft where people worked - helped to increase understanding of the emerging disease,” it said.

But in another field, maternal death rates are falling too slowly in the developing countries. “A serious public health challenge was reconfirmed this year,” the agency said. “The global maternal mortality ratio - which compares maternal deaths to live births - fell less than 1 per cent annually from 1990 to 2005. This compares to a required 5.5 per cent annual decline to meet the United Nations target to reduce maternal deaths by three quarters before 2015.”

Eastern Asia came closest to the target with a more than 4 per cent annual decline.