FIGO supports World Health Day 2014

The topic for World Health Day 2014 (7 April 2014) is vector-borne diseases.

In 1948, the First World Health Assembly called for the creation of a ‘World Health Day’ to mark the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). Since 1950, it has been celebrated on 7 April each year, with a different annual theme that highlights a priority area of concern. It is an important global opportunity to highlight major public health issues, and it can act as a springboard for longer-term advocacy programmes.

According to WHO, ‘vectors are organisms that transmit pathogens and parasites from one infected person (or animal) to another. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by these pathogens and parasites in human populations. They are most commonly found in tropical areas and places where access to safe drinking-water and sanitation systems is problematic’.

Malaria is the most deadly vector-borne disease - the World Malaria Report (published by WHO in 2013) states that in 2012 there were 207 million cases of malaria worldwide and 627,000 deaths.

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, FIGO President, said:

‘FIGO is dedicated to the promotion of women’s health, recognising that all women everywhere need help to achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing throughout their lives. This help should naturally include better protection for them and their children from vector-borne diseases.’

The achievement of Millennium Development Goal No 6 [Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases] - along with Goals 4 and 5 [reduce child mortality and improve maternal health respectively] - remains an urgent global priority, as malaria infection during pregnancy is a major public health issue.

There are significant risks for the pregnant woman and her new child, and the situation is compounded by the many complications of malaria in pregnancy arising from the intensity of transmission in different localities, and women’s varying degrees of acquired immunities. Infection can cause a range of outcomes such as miscarriage, anaemia, spontaneous abortion, neonatal death and low birth weight.

Professor Arulkumaran added:

‘Although enormous progress to combat malaria has been made in the past decade, the momentum needs to be kept to help protect pregnant women, and their children, from the effects of this disease. WHO recommends three actions: the use of long-lasting insecticidal nets, intermittent preventative treatment, and effective case management of malarial illness. FIGO is fully supportive of all efforts to roll out these activities to pregnant women as part of their routine antenatal care.’