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Secretary Sebelius to Lead U.S. Delegation to World Health Assembly
May 13, 2011

World Health Leaders Meet to Tackle Health Challenges

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer

May12, 2011

Public health officials from almost 200 nations will be in Geneva May 16-24, trying to devise strategies to address the many health problems that shorten life and diminish its quality for millions of people.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will lead a U.S. delegation of about 25 to the World Health Assembly, an annual gathering for member states of the World Health Organization (WHO).

A recently issued report by WHO will shape the discussion. Released in late April, the first WHO Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases announced that diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes cause the greatest number of deaths each year – 63 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2008.

At a ministerial meeting on health lifestyles and noncommunicable disease control in April, HHS Secretary Sebelius characterized the severity of the problem of chronic diseases in the United States and other nations.

“Partly because these diseases are becoming more common, some experts have warned that this generation of American children could be the first to have shorter life spans than their parents,” Sebelius said at the Moscow event.

HHS spokesman Bill Hall said one U.S. priority for the assembly will be to engage in discussions with health leaders from other nations to exchange ideas on effective strategies against noncommunicable diseases.

Prevention of these conditions through the promotion of healthy lifestyles is one top strategy, as well as providing effective care to contain conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in their early stages.

HHS said that other issues of importance for the United States include the debate surrounding smallpox virus retention or destruction and the issue of polio eradication.

Sebelius explained to her April audience that the United States will be helping to support Centers of Excellence in nine countries where regional research will examine the burden of chronic disease in partnership with local institutions.

On another topic, participants in the assembly will hear a briefing on the public health impact of the accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan. The core structures designed to enclose the reactors were damaged in the March event, and radiation leaks have resulted, though the full damage of the radioactive material release is not yet fully understood.

As of May 5, the International Atomic Energy Agency still characterized the incident as “serious.”


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