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WHO Western Pacific Meeting To Address Maternal Health, Rise In Dengue

Maternal health and dengue fever are among the issues that will be discussed at the 61st session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, Bernama reports. The meeting, which will take place this week in Malaysia, will be attended by 21 ministers and health officials from 33 countries in the region. WHO Regional Director of the Western Pacific Shin Young-Soo spoke at a press conference Sunday ahead of the meeting (10/10).

“I think it is absolutely shameful in this day and age that so many women in the region are dying in childbirth or pregnancy,” Shin said, adding that more than 100 women die each day from pregnancy-related causes in the region, Xinhua writes. Shin cited poverty, the high cost of medical care and lack of skilled birth attendants as reasons for high maternal mortality rates (10/10). “Many of the women in poor countries are also denied of education that they need to take care of their own health,” Shin said, according to Bernama (10/10).

Shin also addressed increasing cases of dengue fever in the region, Xinhua reports in a separate article: “While pointing out that the dengue situation has worsened over the last three years in Malaysia, Shin also said that the Philippines and Laos were severely attacked by the disease this year.” Shin said the increase could be due to higher temperatures, urbanization or better surveillance methods (10/10).

Shin also “said 75 percent of deaths in the region were due to Non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Reuters reports. He added that NCDs like stroke and diabetes are “no longer just a health problem but an economic one” as developing countries in the Western Pacific lose productive workers. Shin said the nation’s health systems need to “evolve” to better handle long-term treatment of NCDs (Ahmad, 10/10).

Malaysia To Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes ‘By The End Of The Year’

At a press conference on the sidelines of the WHO regional meeting, Malaysian Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai “said the country would carry out a landmark field trial by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes designed to combat dengue fever,”Agence France-Presse reports. AFP notes that field trials had been delayed, but are “now back on track” after lab tests and approval from the country’s biosafety board, according Liow. He added, “Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the GM anti-dengue mosquito trial will take place by the end of this year” (10/10).

The Associated Press/New York Times reports that “[t]he program calls for genetically engineered male mosquitoes to be released into the wild that would mate with females and produce offspring that live shorter lives, thus curbing the population” (10/11).

AFP reports that “environmentalists are concerned the GM mosquito could fail to prevent dengue and could also have unintended consequences.” WHO’s Shin said that the number of dengue cases worldwide “has doubled” in the past 10 years, “so we welcome how Malaysia is responding to this threat” (10/10).