WHO to help Beijing with health emergencies

Beijing, Nov 2: The World Health Organisation has offered assistance to Chinese officials in preparing for public health emergencies that could arise when millions of people converge on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, WHO's head said today.

It was in China that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) first emerged in 2003, and the country is also seen as a centre in the fight against bird flu.

''They do understand and recognise that with any mass gathering, the government needs to make preparations. So we are in discussion with them to provide technical assistance to support their ongoing efforts ... ,'' WHO director-general Margaret Chan told reporters.

During her five-day visit to Beijing, Chan met Beijing Games organiser Liu Qi, who is also the city's Communist Party boss, in addition to health and food safety officials.

''With one-fifth of the world's population, many of China's health challenges can become global challenges,'' she said.

Chan visited the Health Ministry's emergency response centre, and praised the country for its huge investments in disease surveillance, prevention and response since the SARS outbreak.

China was widely criticised for its initial coverup of SARS, which contributed to its spread around the world. The government later sacked the health minister and Beijing mayor for their handling of the highly contagious and deadly virus.

Chan said she also had assurances from Beijing's Olympic organisers that the government would ensure a smoke-free Games for the country that is home to one-third of the world's smokers.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in 2004 that a non-smoking Olympics would top the agenda for the country's preparations.

But Olympics organisers have yet to formally announce a smoking ban, and while the venues will almost certainly be smoke-free, it is unclear whether the ban will extend to all Olympics common areas.

Mortalities from tobacco-related diseases top those from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, Chan said, adding that concerns about lost tax revenue that could result from stricter tobacco regulations were misguided.

''I can guarantee you, the cost to all these health and to the economic productivity of the people would outweigh the revenue foregone from the tax arising from tobacco,'' she said.


Story first published: Friday, November 2, 2007, 16:09 [IST]
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