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2010 in review: key health issues

2010 was a year of public health challenges stemming from a series of natural disasters. But it was also a year when a long-term collaboration culminated an affordable vaccine to eliminate one of Africa's biggest health problems.

The year began with news of a devastating earthquake in Haiti. WHO spearheaded the health response, working with local authorities, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners to respond to the emergency. When a cholera outbreak struck in Haiti at the end of the year, WHO ramped up activities once again. Also in 2010, severe floods devastated large areas of Pakistan where WHO and health partners provided enough medicines to cover the basic health needs of 6.7 million people.

2010 saw steady – but fragile – progress towards achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals. Following the pandemic of 2009, the H1N1 virus had largely run its course and by August 2010 had entered a post-pandemic period. The year concluded with the announcement of a new, affordable and effective vaccine against meningitis, a disease that threatens the lives and health of more than 450 million in the African region.

This photo feature presents a selection of the major health issues in 2010.

Haiti: devastated by earthquake and cholera outbreak

In January, a severe earthquake struck Haiti, inflicting large-scale damage. WHO and its partners in the humanitarian health cluster responded to immediate health priorities, which included:

* treating major trauma injuries
* preventing infection of wounds
* providing clean water and sanitation facilities
* encouraging continuation of breastfeeding.
Later in the year, a cholera outbreak compounded the health challenges in the country. As part of a coordinated health response with partners, WHO/PAHO helped to establish cholera treatment centres, trained health workers and distributed medical supplies.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis at record high levels

In some areas of the world, one in four people with tuberculosis becomes ill with a form of the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs regimens, according to WHO's Multidrug and extensively drug-resistant TB (M/XDR-TB): 2010 global report on surveillance and response.

However, there are encouraging signs that governments and partners can achieve a decline in this drug-resistant tuberculosis by implementing WHO recommendations.

Urban planning essential for health

More than half of the world's population now live in urban areas. On World Health Day, 7 April, WHO launched a campaign to highlight urban planning as a crucial link to better health.

A new WHO/UNHABITAT report – Hidden cities – showed how ill health is linked to poverty in cities, and called for policy-makers to take action targeting health inequities.

Combating the harmful use of alcohol

Every year, alcohol kills 2.5 million people, including 320 000 young people between 15 and 29 years of age.

To combat this, WHO launched a new global strategy, which set priority areas for global action, provided guidance to countries, and gave WHO the mandate to strengthen action at all levels on reducing harmful use of alcohol.

H1N1 in post-pandemic period

Following the pandemic of 2009, the H1N1 virus had largely run its course by August 2010 and had entered a post-pandemic period.

Based on knowledge of past pandemics, WHO expects the H1N1 virus to continue to circulate as a seasonal virus for some years to come, and issued guidance on epidemiological and virological monitoring, vaccination, and the clinical management of cases. WHO secured and delivered 78 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine to 77 countries who could not have otherwise obtained them.

Covering the health needs of more than six million flood-affected people in Pakistan

WHO and health partners provided enough medicines to cover the basic health needs of 6.7 million people during the Pakistan flood crisis in 2010.

WHO’s response focused on communicable disease control, provision of primary health care, and resumption of damaged and affected health facilities.

In October, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan visited the country to review progress of health relief and recovery efforts.

Progress in health-related Millennium Development Goals

WHO's World health statistics 2010 and Trends in maternal mortality, highlighted progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Since 1990:

* deaths of young children have decreased by one third;
* the number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased by 34%.

But such gains are precarious and the world needs strong leadership to consolidate successes and meet the goals by the 2015 deadline.

Strengthening health financing to increase access to health services

The 2010 World health report provided governments with practical guidance on ways to finance health care.

Taking evidence from all over the world, the report showed how all countries, rich and poor, can adjust their health financing mechanisms so more people get the health care they need.

Control of neglected tropical diseases is feasible

Neglected tropical diseases thrive in impoverished settings, where housing is substandard, environments are contaminated with filth, and disease-spreading insects and animals abound.

The misery and disability caused by these diseases can now be substantially reduced according to the WHO report Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases.

Africa seizes chance against polio

In October, 15 African countries launched a synchronized mass polio immunization campaign to reach 72 million children. About 290 000 vaccinators went door-to-door to deliver two drops of oral polio vaccine to every child under five in areas considered at highest risk of polio transmission.

Despite ongoing efforts however, an outbreak of polio occurred in the Congo, due to imported poliovirus. Several other countries in the WHO European Region experienced the first importation of wild poliovirus since 2002.

Meningitis vaccine in Burkina Faso

As many as 450 million people are at risk from meningococcal A disease, the primary cause of epidemic meningitis across Africa.

A new vaccine was developed by the Meningitis Vaccine Project. This is a partnership between WHO and PATH (an international NGO), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The new vaccine, MenAfriVac, was introduced in Burkina Faso at the end of 2010. It promises to provide long-term protection for children as young as one year, at a price affordable for Africa.

Source: WHO Release News

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