At the opening ceremony on Monday of the 55th session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, Vice Premier Wu Yi said that China is willing to strengthen cooperation with other countries to fight disease.
She stated that although China had successfully contained its SARS and avian influenza outbreaks in recent years, the region faces the increasing burden brought by such infectious diseases as AIDS and tuberculosis as well as a number of chronic diseases.
Control of tuberculosis and hepatitis is not good, said Wu, and non-communicable illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer -- often resulting from unhealthy lifestyles -- have become the main disease burden in China and many other Western Pacific countries.
"The outbreak of new communicable diseases in this region shows that one vital way to tackle public health problems is to enhance international cooperation and communication," Wu said.
WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook agreed, saying, "Unity is indispensable for effective action, and it requires us to work more closely than ever before with our partners."
Focusing on the avian influenza outbreak, which has so far killed at least 28 people in Thailand, Lee said that as long as the H5N1 virus remains in poultry there remains a risk of more cases in humans, with a high fatality rate. If it adapts to efficient human-to-human transmission, Lee warned, it could cause a global pandemic.
"Our attention and energy must be focused now on every possibility that might exist in preventing or containing such a pandemic. The main tasks at present are case detection and control in animals, surveillance for human cases, vaccine development and research on how this virus evolves," he said.
With 1.5 million people infected with HIV in the region, accelerated coverage with preventive action and treatment is urgently needed, Lee stated. Globally, with all sources combined, almost US$20 billion have been pledged for integrated AIDS prevention and care over the next five years.
There are an estimated 840,000 people infected with HIV in China, including about 80,000 with full-blown AIDS.
Twenty million people in China suffer from diabetes, Lee noted, and the country's Ministry of Health is working closely with the WHO to develop a policy framework for responding to the growing challenge of chronic disease control. Such work will be of great value to China and many other countries, he said.
Shigeru Omi, director of the Western Pacific Regional Committee, stated, "China is one of the most vigorous and progressive countries in the world. Its achievements in the field of health make a great difference, not just to regional but to global health as well."
About 300 representatives from 36 Western Pacific countries, including health ministers and members from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, are attending the five-day committee session in Shanghai. China's delegation is headed by Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang.
Participants will discuss major health issues, including the recurrence of SARS, new human deaths from avian influenza, food safety, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, tobacco control, measles, hepatitis B and international cooperation in public health emergencies.
With the exception of 1981, China has attended all the sessions of the regional committee since 1973. Beijing, Hong Kong and Macao have all hosted previous sessions.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency September 14, 2004)