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A Wide-Ranging WHO Fills Vital Health Needs

June 06, 2005

Re "A Snail-Like WHO Needs a Shakeup," Commentary, May 25: Laurie Garrett seems to have missed the point of the World Health Assembly.

The World Health Organization exists to promote "the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health" by providing guidance, technical advice and operational help to countries over the daunting range of health problems they face.

To suggest, as Garrett does, that the WHO's role should focus entirely on responding to disease outbreaks is to miss the vital importance of much of what the organization does.

Working for the eradication of polio, negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and pushing for access to anti-retroviral AIDS treatment in developing countries are just three of the dozens of issues the WHO works on every day.

Of course, responding to emergencies and outbreaks of emerging diseases continues to be a priority.

Outbreak response is an activity that is coordinated with dozens of governments, the U.N. and development agencies, and other organizations around the world. The role of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is to quickly respond to and coordinate these activities, not to have dozens of people sitting in Geneva waiting for the next outbreak to hit.

Ken Bernard MD

Director-General's Advisor

World Health Organization

Geneva

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