WHO Representative to YT: “For the last 2 years, no polio cases have been detected in the country” [Archives:2001/12/Health]

March 19 2001

To focus on the role of the WHO in Yemen, Ismail Al-Ghabiri of Yemen Times met with Dr. Hashim A. Elzein Elmousaad, WHO Representative in Yemen and filed the following interview.

Q: The World Health Organization (WHO) has an extensive role in supporting countries in promotion of health systems and services. How do you evaluate the role of the WHO?
A: The main policy of the WHO:
– To reduce greatly the burden of excess mortality and morbidity suffered by the poor. Focusing more on interventions that can achieve the greatest health gain possible within the prevailing resource limits. Renewed attention to diseases like TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as greater investment in reducing maternal and infant mortality by improving maternal and childhood nutrition and revitalizing and extending the coverage of child survival activities (e.g. immunization, IMCI, etc.)
– To counter potential treats to health resulting from economic crises, unhealthy environments or risky behaviors. This includes tobacco control, effective response to emerging infections and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
– To develop more effective health systems. To create a health system that can
– improve health status;
– reduce health inequalities;
– enhance responsiveness to legitimate expectations;
– increase efficiency;
– enhance fairness in the financing and delivery of health care;
– ensure the availability of newly acquired knowledge and technology.
– To Update, expand and strengthen partnerships with the various actors in international health to offer ways of supporting health development and build sustainable national systems.
Since its creation in 1948, the World Health Organization has contributed to major accomplishments resulting in a healthier world. For example:
In 1967, smallpox was endemic in 31 countries. In that year alone, between 10 and 15 million people were stricken with the disease: of these, some 2 million died and millions of survivors were disfigured or blinded for life. The last known case of smallpox was detected in Somalia on 26 October 1977. Since that time, had it not been eradicated, at least 20 million people would have died of the disease.
The fight against infectious diseases is one of WHO’s priorities. Millions of children have been saved annually from death and disability, in part owing to global immunization programs. Already, eight out of ten of the world’s children are protected against six major childhood diseases-diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, tuberculosis and poliomyelitis. Thus, child mortality has been greatly reduced, from 134 per 1000 live births in 1970 to about 80 in 1995. The world’s infant mortality rate has fallen by more than 37% since 1970.
WHO is at the threshold of eliminating other major diseases in the next few years, such as poliomyelitis, guinea-worm disease, river blindness, Chagas disease, neonatal tetanus, and leprosy.
Q: The East Mediterranean Region Office of WHO has many activities in the countries of the region. What are the countries in the region? What kind of support is provided by the office and how large it is?
A: The East Mediterranean Region (EMR) offices in Cairo provides support for 23 countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, UAE, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cyprus). The WHO mainly provides technical support to the region’s countries. The other main areas of support are covering the areas of control of communicable diseases, capacity building and provision of equipment and supplies.
Q: What are the main areas of WHO support to Yemen?
A: The WHO provides technical assistance to Yemen in the following health areas:
– Assisting the Ministry of Public Health, upon request, in strengthening health services; providing technical assistance and in emergencies, necessary aid, upon the request or acceptance of the Government;
– Stimulating and advancing work on the prevention and control of epidemic, endemic and other diseases;
– Promoting, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, the improvement of nutrition, sanitation and other aspects of environmental hygiene;
– Promoting and co-ordinating biomedical and health services research;
– Promoting improved standards of teaching and training in the health, medical and related professions;
– Establishing and stimulating the establishment of international standards for biological, pharmaceutical and similar products, and to standardize diagnostic procedures;
– Fostering activities in the field of mental health, especially those activities affecting the harmony of human relations.
Q: For the first time in Yemen a book has been published by H. E. The Minister of Public health on the health sector. How do you see this book and its content?
A: I should congratulate H. E. The Minister of Public Health Professor Abdaullah Abdul Wali Nasher on this great achievement. The book is a great addition to the medical library not only in Yemen, but in the whole Arab world. The book reflects the experience of Yemen in the provision of health services, the current situation and the remaining challenges. It also reflects reforms in the health sector and the progress made so far. The book will be a valuable reference to all those who want to know about health services or who are intending to develop health projects in Yemen
Q: With the help of the WHO and other partners, Yemen carried out a series of activities in the area of vaccination, what kind of support is the WHO providing in this area and how large it is?
A: Child immunization is one of the main areas in which the WHO provides extensive support to countries. This activity is carried out in partnership with other UN organizations particularly UNICEF and some international institutes like CDC in Atlanta and the Rotary International Group. Since the inception of the expanded Program on Immunization in Yemen in 1978, the WHO has continued to provide extensive support to the program. The WHO provides technical guidance and support for routine vaccinations and the various vaccination campaigns such as the National Immunization Days for Polio Eradication (NIDs), elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus and elimination of measles. Since 1996, The WHO has supported the NIDs in Yemen by providing technical expertise, equipment and supplies, operational costs and funding social mobilization activities. For the last five years support to these campaigns was more than 1 million US$ per year.
Q: After 5 successful NIDs, is Yemen free from the risk of Poliomyelitis?
A: So far, Yemen has done a great job in the area of Polio Eradication. Yemen launched 5 very successful NIDs and established a sound surveillance system for detecting all suspected Polio cases. There is also a very strong political commitment from H. E. The President Ali Abdullah Salih and Prof. Nasher the Minister of Public Health to continue combating Polio until Yemen is declared a Polio free country. In the last 2 years no polio cases have been detected in the country. This doesn’t mean that Yemen is free from the risk of Polio. The risk is there, since Yemen is a neighbor to countries in which the polio virus is still circulating, like Somalia and Ethiopia. The risk of importation is great from these countries as there are continuous population movements. So, NIDs have to be ongoing. It is still too early to decide when to stop these NIDs, but I hope that with the efforts in Yemen on Polio eradication, it will not be long, maybe another 2 years.