Eleven southeast Asian health ministers to meet in New Delhi

September 6th, 2008 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 6 (IANS) With an estimated 3.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS in southeast Asia, health ministers from 11 countries of the region will be meeting here Monday to discuss ways to tackle the disease, health ministry officials said Saturday.Other problems that plague the region, including tobacco consumption, vector-borne diseases and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality, will also be taken up at the annual meeting of the health ministers of the region.

The 61st Session of Regional Committee of South East Asian Region will follow the 26th Meeting of the Ministers of Health, which is a forum to exchange national experiences on the social, political, and economic dimensions. In both the meetings, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be the chief guest.

World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for the region Samlee Plianbangchang will be present at both the meetings, apart from Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss and minister of state for health Panabaka Lakshmi.

An estimated 260,000 new HIV infections and 300,000 HIV-associated deaths occurred in 2007 in the region that comprises of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

Another thing which is common to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this region is that it is driven mainly by transmission between sex workers and their clients, injecting drug users (IDUs) and homosexuals.

Apart from HIV/AIDS, health ministers and health experts from WHO would also stress on focussing on primary health care as a key approach to attain the goal of Health for All.

The other focus area in the meeting will be the use of tobacco, which is one of the major global public health problems today. It has killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century and could kill one billion people during the 21st century if effective control measures are not taken, WHO officials said.

Out of 5.4 million global deaths due to tobacco use annually, 1.2 million occur in the region.

Since countries of the region are major tobacco producers and the majority of men in these nations are users of various forms of tobacco products, the WHO has asked for effective tobacco control.

Another area of focus will be reduction of maternal and neonatal mortalities.

According to WHO, the region accounts for nearly one-fourth of the world’s population while contributing to approximately a third of the global maternal and neonatal deaths.

In the estimated 37 million childbirths that occur here annually, the total number of maternal deaths in 2005 was estimated at 170,000 and neonatal deaths at 1.3 million.

Over one million stillbirths occur in the region, while India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and Myanmar contribute to 98 percent of all maternal and neonatal deaths in the region.

WHO officials said there is a growing burden of emerging and re-emerging vector-borne diseases in the region.

To prevent the emergence of new vector-borne diseases and re-emergence of those already under control, it is essential to strengthen national vector control programmes, the WHO officials added.

Vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and Japanese encephalitis are re-emerging in the region and others like lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar), plague and chikungunya fever are also affecting the health of the public.

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