Public health round-up



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Environmental cancer

The world's first International Conference on Environmental and Occupational Determinants of Cancer will be held in Spain on 17-18 March. Around 19% of all cancers are caused by environmental and workplace factors, including exposure to air pollution, ultraviolet light and asbestos, which contribute to 1.3 million deaths every year. "This conference will address the environmental and occupational determinants of cancer that are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year," says Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment."


World immunization week

For the first time, countries in the WHO regions of Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe and the Western Pacific will host simultaneous immunization weeks. From 23 April, activities will include training sessions, media events and large-scale vaccination campaigns. Immunization is estimated to prevent between 2 and 3 million deaths each year and is one of the most cost-effective health investments.


Strengthening the partnership

WHO has awarded the Cochrane Collaboration a seat at the World Health Assembly, allowing the nongovernmental organization (NGO) to provide input on WHO health resolutions. The Cochrane Collaboration is an international network of more than 28 000 contributors that make up-to-date, accurate information about the effects of health care available. "The Cochrane Collaboration provides an international benchmark for the independent assessment and assimilation of scientific evidence. It is a leading producer of high quality systematic reviews in health care," says Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director General, Innovation Information, Evidence and Research at WHO. Current work between the Cochrane Collaboration and WHO includes the development of the WHO Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA).


Selling statistics

Hans Rosling is taking his message to the people in a recent television documentary entitled The Joy of Stats. The programme was broadcast on BBC Four in December 2010 and January this year. Rosling has worked closely with WHO on making health statistics more accessible and user-friendly with such projects as Gapminder, which claims to be "a modern museum on the Internet". Find out more about his work at:


Beat cancer with sport

Two and a half hours a week of moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers, according to WHO's new Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health released on 4 February on World Cancer Day. "Physical activity has a strong role to play in reducing the incidence of certain cancers," says Ala Alwan, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. In 2008, almost 460 000 women died from breast cancer, while close to 610 000 men and women died from colorectal cancer. Research published last month in the journal, Obesity, adds to the evidence underlying these recommendations with the finding that unfit obese women had significantly higher cancer rates than fit women of normal weight. Access this article at:


Adolescent boom

With the world's population expected to reach seven billion later this year, the new United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director has pledged to focus on the largest global youth generation ever. "UNFPA will place a special emphasis on today's large generation of young people," Babatunde Osotimehin, a former Nigerian health minister with wide experience of HIV/AIDS control, said last month in his first address to the UNFPA Executive Board. There are an estimated 1.8 billion adolescents and youth in the world today, accounting for nearly one third of the world's population, with almost 90% living in developing countries. "They need increased support, and they want freedom, participation and dignity," he said.


Research scan

Fear of HIV drives change

Improved public awareness and fear of contracting the virus has led to a significant drop in HIV infections in Zimbabwe. A study, published last month in PLoS Medicine, has found that new HIV infections almost halved, from 29% to 16% between 1997 and 2007. The study attributes this significant drop to mass social change brought about by improved public awareness of AIDS deaths and a fear of contracting the virus. Educational programmes on changing people's attitudes to the practice of safer sex and multiple sexual partners were also important factors in reducing infection. Access the full text at:

Cooking with coal retards child growth

The use of indoor coal for cooking or heating may reduce growth in young children and have serious implications for health in adulthood, according to a study by Ghosh et al. published online last month in the Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers tracked 1133 children in the Czech Republic from birth to age 36 months. Children from homes that used coal were found to be around 1.3 cm shorter at age 36 months than those from households that use other sources of fuel. "Weight and length or height during infancy and childhood are considered to be predictors of morbidity such as obesity and mortality from malnutrition and infections," said the authors. Abstract available online at:



Looking ahead

8 March: 100 years of International Women's Day (see news item on facing page) More information available from:

22 March: World Water Day. This year's theme is Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge. More information available from:

24 March: World Tuberculosis Day (see news item on facing page) More information available from:

7 April: World Health Day. This year the focus is on antimicrobial resistance. See news feature in this issue (pp. 168-170) and more information available from:

25 April: World Malaria Day. Malaria infects more than 500 million people per year and kills about 1 million. More information available from:

28-29 April 2011: Russian Ministerial Conference on noncommunicable diseases and healthy lifestyles. More information available from:

11 May: Launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Road traffic deaths and injuries take the lives of nearly 1.3 million people every year and injure millions more. More information available from:

12 May: International Nurses Day. The theme for this year is Closing the gap: increasing access and equity. More information available from:

17-21 May: World Health Assembly.

31 May: World No Tobacco Day. The focus this year will be on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is the world's first treaty negotiated for public health. More information is available from:

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland