Successes and challenges of 2009

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The headline that dominated the year was easily the H1N1 pandemic. On 11 June, 2009, WHO declared the start of the first influenza pandemic since 1968. In this episode we listen to WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, discuss the successes and challenges of 2009.

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Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the final WHO podcast of year. My name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode, we listen to WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan discuss the successes and challenges of 2009.

The headline that dominated the year was easily the H1N1 pandemic. On 11 June, 2009, WHO declared the start of the first influenza pandemic since 1968. As the number of cases now declines in some countries, some people are questioning whether the pandemic is over.

Dr Margaret Chan: You can see, clearly in many countries in the northern hemisphere they have passed the peak of their second wave, for example in USA, in Canada, in UK, in some parts of Europe. But on the other hand, the situation in New Delhi, the situation in Egypt, they are still intense influenza activities. I think that it is too premature and too early for us to say, we have come to an end of the pandemic influenza worldwide. It would be prudent and appropriate for WHO together with our Member States to continue to monitor the evolution of this pandemic for the next six to twelve months.

Veronica Riemer: What were some of the other accomplishments and challenges during 2009?

Dr Margaret Chan: We are seeing some very good progress in malaria. For countries that have implemented the interventions properly, meaning the use of ACT combination drug to treat malaria cases, also the use of insecticide-treated bednets, as well as indoor residual spraying based on their country conditions, we are seeing a drop of 50% deaths in children, so that is very significant. Another success story is for the first time we are seeing more than 4 million HIV patients receiving treatment, this is unimaginable 10 years ago. Another example, the under 5 child mortality, for the first time in 60 years we saw this figure drop below 10 million. Another example, more specific example, is measles. Between the period of 2000 - 2008, there is a 78% drop in mortality due to measles. This huge success is lead by countries in Africa. So these are good news.

There are areas of concern as well. One thing that touches me very deeply is the lack of progress in maternal mortality, in many countries in Africa, in India and other countries in Asia as well. Another important area, and also falls under the overall scope of health for women and girls is violence against women. These are issues we really need to double our effort, or triple our effort.

Veronica Riemer: As we come to the end of one year, we look forward to the next. What are the priorities for WHO in 2010?

Dr Margaret Chan: We must continue to push for progress in MDGs, especially in improving maternal mortality. The health of women and girls is a very important focus for the organization. We need to work much, much harder to bring about changes in the devastation caused by non-communicable diseases. In many countries, 60 to 80 percent of the disease burden or deaths are due to chronic diseases. It is very clear to us, from our experience from different disease programmes, a functioning health system and equitable health system based on the principles and values of primary health care, to address disease outbreak, to deal with humanitarian disasters, to deliver good services and interventions for girls, women and children and men is an urgent agenda for the world.

We need more money and we need better money, what do I mean by that? It's very clear that we still have big gaps in covering people who are suffering from HIV to get the very much needed medicine. We need more money from governments in terms of domestic investment. We need more aid, and of course we need innovative financing to bring in additional recourses. Last, but not the least, it is very important that we push, advocate and work hard to bring policies coherence so that we can have synergies and co-benefits, from working together, by that I mean, the health sector needs to work education, with transport, with environment, with agriculture.

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.