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WHO Executive Board meets for 115th session

Board to discuss Asian tsunami and other key global health issues

The Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) begins its 115th session today. The opening day is likely to be dominated by reflection on the devastation caused in Southeast Asia by the tsunami that hit on 26 December and the related relief and reconstruction work being carried out in the affected areas.

In his opening statement, WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook reported to the Board on his recent visit to areas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka worst affected by the tsunami. He also summarized WHO's response to this latest emergency, and the organization's remaining key tasks within the massive international and national relief effort.

"The emergency phase is rapidly shifting to recovery, rehabilitation and self-reliance. Ultimately we are working towards a situation in which people are less vulnerable, and are protected from health threats by an effective global system of alert and response," said Dr Lee. "This transition from relief to reconstruction must take place smoothly, with sustained support. Otherwise, as we have seen with other disasters, communities can languish for many years in a state of dependence, with high levels of disease and mortality."

WHO has been working to support the affected countries in their efforts to help people worst affected by the tsunami and its aftermath and to rebuild shattered communities and lives. Through its operations centres in New Delhi and Geneva, WHO has been working around the clock to facilitate information gathering and the coordination of relief and recovery efforts related to health. WHO has worked together with national and local authorities, other international organizations and NGOs to get medical and logistic staff and supplies to areas where they were most urgently needed.

WHO has appealed for urgent assistance to assess and respond to the health needs of the affected populations and has outlined five key tasks that will be the focus of the organization's work for the coming months: disease surveillance; long-term technical support; assessing and rehabilitating health services; strengthening the health supply chain; and supporting the coordination of medical and other relief staff.

The 32-member board will also discuss the broader topic of WHO's work in emergencies in general. They will note the importance of effective preparedness, response and recovery, in minimizing the impact on health systems during emergencies caused by conflict or natural disaster.

Also for discussion and consideration by the board in this session are several draft resolutions on key public health issues such as antiretroviral medicines for HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention and treatment. Members will also consider a proposal to formally establish an annual World Blood Donor Day, to be celebrated on 14 June each year.

Other agenda items include progress on the health-related UN Millennium Development Goals and consideration of the appointment of two Regional Directors. Board members will also be reviewing WHO's proposed programme budget for 2006-2007, and a draft outline of a ten-year General Programme of Work, the first of its kind for WHO.

The Executive Board is comprised of representatives from 32 WHO Member States. The individuals are designated by Member States elected to do so by the World Health Assembly (WHA). The main functions of the Executive Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the WHA, to advise it and generally facilitate its work. This 115th session is scheduled to conclude on 25 January.

Information for journalists wishing to cover the event:

Accreditation: For accreditation, journalists are invited to contact the WHO Media Centre at +41 22 791 2222 or email: mediainquiries@who.int.

For journalists wishing to cover the public meetings of the Executive Board, there is a clearly marked press gallery on level SS1 on the left-hand side of the Executive Board Room. Please note that TV cameras and photographers do not have access to the main floor while meetings are in progress.

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For more information contact:

Dr Fadéla Chaib
Director-General’s Office/Media and Communications
WHO/Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3228
Mobile phone: +41 79 477 1738
E-mail: chaibf@who.int

Mr Iain Simpson
Communications Officer
Director-General’s Office - WHO
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5534
E-mail: simpsoni@who.int