Tuesday, 8 September 2015

SPHPM infectious diseases expert's role with the WHO

SPHPM’s very own infectious diseases expert Dr Robert Hall is leading the charge on the eradication of polio, indigenous measles and hepatitis B in the Western Pacific region

SPHPM Senior Lecturer Dr Robert Hall has worked in public health for over 30 years and is currently leading the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Immunisation and Vaccine Preventable Diseases for the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Hall’s role as Chair of the TAG is to recommend policy to the WHO regional delegates, which is then voted on by the Regional Committee.

As Chair, he also meets twice a year in Geneva as part of the Strategic Advisory Group on Immunisation (SAGE) recommending immunisation policy to the Director-General of the World Health Ogranisation.

The Western Pacific region comprises 37 countries and stretches over a vast area from Mongolia to New Zealand and from western China to the Pacific Islands, home to 1.8 billion people.

Eradicating these vaccine preventable diseases have been the TAG’s major initiatives, and is no small task considering the diverse region encompasses some of the world's least developed countries as well as the most rapidly emerging economies.

The region is home to the biggest country in the world, China, and also the smallest, Pitcairn Island.
According to Dr Hall, several countries in the region have successfully eradicated indigenous measles from the population through their vaccination programs, and significant headway has been made towards eradicating the disease in China.

“In China we have made very good progress and the number of measles cases is now about 1 per cent of the numbers 10 years ago, a 99 per cent improvement,” Dr Hall said.

He is also very pleased with the progress towards eliminating hepatitis B, the program is ahead of target in many countries including China and less than 1 per cent of young children across the region currently carry the virus.

“When we started about 15 years ago, about 9 per cent of young children had evidence of having been infected with hepatitis B, this leads to lifelong carriage and the chance of infecting others as well as high rates of liver cancer,” Dr Hall said.

Globally, the WHO have been very focused on eliminating polio, and Dr Hall says they are now very close, in early August Africa passed the one-year milestone for being completely free of polio.

“We are very close to finally eradicating the polio virus off the face of the earth.  There are three types of poliovirus, types 1, 2 and 3.  Types 2 and 3 have now been totally eradicated.  Type 1 exists now in only 2 countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Dr Hall said.

“The situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is looking very promising, despite the demographic, programmatic and security difficulties”.

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