WHO Chief: Ebola Is Important, But So Is Tobacco-Control

Patrick Goodenough | October 14, 2014 | 4:37am EDT
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World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, October 13, 2014. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)

(CNSNews.com) – The head of the World Health Organization took time out from the emergency response to the Ebola outbreak Monday to attend a convention in Russia on tobacco control, and said that as important as Ebola was, so too was the anti-tobacco campaign.

Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan praised him for strict anti-smoking measures introduced in a country where more than 40 percent of the adult population are believed to smoke.

She defended her presence at the five-day conference of signatories to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – where officials are pushing for ramped-up taxation on cigarettes – at a time when Ebola fears were spreading.

“Some people ask me: ‘You are so busy with Ebola. Why are you coming to the Russian Federation?’ I say, ‘For two reasons: As WHO director-general, I cannot focus only on one issue. Ebola is important, but there are other important issues, like tobacco control. And this is why I’m coming to the meeting hosted by the Russian Federation.’”

Because of her presence in Moscow, Chan was unable to deliver a keynote address at a WHO regional gathering in the Philippines on Monday.

Before reading out a speech in Manila on her behalf, the executive director of her office, Ian Smith, said that Chan “sends you her best wishes for a productive session. She is fully occupied with coordinating the international response to what is unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times.”

In her speech which Smith then read out, Chan said that in her long career which included dealing with the SARS, H5N1 (avian flu) and H1N1 (swine flu) outbreaks, “I have never before seen a health event attract such a high level of international media coverage, day after day after day. I have never seen a health event strike such fear and terror, well beyond the affected countries.”

“I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries,” she said. “I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”

West African neighbors Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the epicenter of the outbreak, which has now killed more than 4,000 people, including seven in Nigeria and one in the United States.

At her meeting with Putin, Chan thanked him for Moscow’s help in providing a laboratory in Guinea and other resources for the battle against Ebola, before adding that as a large power Russia could do more.

Putin told Chan his government was ready to provide European countries with aircraft specially equipped to transport Ebola patients safely.

He told her several European countries which did not possess such aircraft had approached Russia about the possibility of providing them.

“We have the means, including the so-called capsules for transporting infected individuals, and experts are now looking into the possibility of joint work.”

Putin told Chan he would be pleased to talk with her about other opportunities to help in the fight against Ebola, adding, “Naturally, we must act very carefully, to protect our own people from this infection.”

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