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21 Jun, 2011

Expanded Midwifery Services Could Save Millions Of Lives

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1. UN Calls For Action Against Diseases Caused By Tobacco, Pollution, And Lack Of Exercise

2. UNESCO Chief Presses For Better Preservation Of World Heritage Sites

3. Expanded Midwifery Services Could Save Millions Of Lives

4. Agriculture Commodity Prices Not Likely To Decline For Some Time

5. Countries Adopt New UN Standards To Improve Conditions For Domestic Workers



Jun 20 2011 — A top UN official today called on governments, private companies and individuals to join in the battle against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), those that are linked to tobacco, pollution, food and lack of exercise.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro,  addressing a forum entitled “The Human and Economic Case to Urgently Address Non-communicable Diseases”, said the UN and partners would join in a campaign to “promote exercise, reduce excessive consumption of alcohol and cut the use of tobacco products.”

Speaking before a group of experts preparing for September’s UN high level meeting summit on non-communicable diseases – which account for nearly two thirds of global deaths each year – Ms. Migiro said “changing individual habits is essential. After all, people can decide for themselves whether they smoke or drink too much, or whether they fail to get exercise or over-eat.”

But, Ms. Migiro said, governments and private corporations also have a role. “Governments can take decisions that reward and encourage healthy habits. Equally, they can raise the financial cost of unhealthy habits. Governments can also strengthen health care for people with NCDs. They can fund research.

“The private sector can make sure that while they pursue profits, they also protect health. Companies can adjust the formulas of their foods to include better ingredients and ban those that are known to be harmful, like transfats. Companies can also act responsibly when marketing products to children. And all of us can take measures to keep harmful chemicals out of our environment.”

Two thirds of all new cases of NCDs can be prevented by addressing the four main risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption, the Deputy Secretary-General said.

Ms. Migiro said NCDs are wrongly labelled as “diseases of affluence” – affecting people with enough money to buy rich foods, alcoholic drinks, and tobacco products, and to not have to work very much. “Certainly this describes some cases, but not the vast majority,” she said. “Poor countries suffer 80 per cent of the NCD death toll. Poor mothers who lack good nutrition in pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies vulnerable to NCDs later in life.”

Smoking rates are highest among men in lower-middle-income countries. Those countries also suffer two thirds of all cancer deaths. Africa has the highest rate of people living with raised blood pressure, she said.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) 36.1 million people died in 2008 from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes. Nearly 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.


Jun 20 2011 — The head of the United Nations agency that manages the World Heritage List today called for better protection and preservation of the hundreds of sites around the globe that are currently inscribed on the list.

A committee meeting this week in Paris at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will decide whether 37 natural or cultural sites will join the existing 911 properties on the World Heritage List deemed to be of “outstanding universal value”.

But UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova warned that “as the number of World Heritage sites grows, so does their vulnerability. We must sharpen our focus on risk preparedness and long-term management at World Heritage sites.”

Thirty-four sites worldwide are currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger, including the Everglades National Park in the United States, whose aquatic ecosystem has become degraded, and the Rainforests of Atsinanana in Madagascar, because of threats from illegal logging and the hunting of endangered lemurs.

Ms. Bokova stressed that sites on the World Heritage List are “a reminder of all that unites humanity. It is a reminder also of the ties, between culture, nature and societies. World Heritage sites can be tremendous vectors for dialogue, reconciliation, development and knowledge.”

Aside from determining which of the 37 nominated sites can join the World Heritage List, the World Heritage Committee will also examine the state of conservation of 169 properties already on the list.

The committee is comprised of representatives of 21 nations who have been elected to four-year terms by the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention.


Jun 20 2011 — Up to 3.6 million deaths could be avoided each year in 58 developing countries if midwifery services are upgraded, according to a report released today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners.

The study, “The State of the World’s Midwifery 2011”, estimates that an additional 112,000 midwives need to be deployed in 38 countries to meet their target to achieve 95 per cent coverage of births by skilled attendants by 2015, as required under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, 350,000 midwives are still lacking, it says.

The report, launched at the Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Durban, South Africa, says if adequate facilities were accessible to deal with complications at their onset, many deaths could be averted: 61 per cent of all maternal deaths; 49 per cent of all stillbirths; and three in every five newborn deaths.

The report adds that if midwives are in place and can refer the most severe complications to specialized care, up to 90 per cent of maternal deaths could be prevented.

“Ensuring that every woman and her newborn have access to quality midwifery services demands that we take bold steps to build on what we have achieved so far across communities, countries, regions and the world,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his foreword to the report.

Each year, 358,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth, some two million newborns die within the first 24 hours of life and there are 2.6 million stillbirths, it says.

“The report points to an urgent need to train more health workers with midwifery skills and ensure equitable access to their life-saving services in communities to improve the health of women and children,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA.

UNFPA supports midwifery training programmes in 30 countries, including, for example, some 18 schools in Ethiopia. A UNFPA official said the agency will integrate the report’s findings in its current curricula and plans an expansion of UN midwifery training programs.

The report, a result of collaboration among 30 partners, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), surveyed 58 countries, which together account for just under 60 per cent of births worldwide and yet 91 per cent of all maternal deaths.

Among the 38 countries most desperately in need of midwives, 22 need to double the workforce by 2015; seven need to triple or quadruple it; and nine – Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan – need to dramatically scale up midwifery by a factor of between six and 15, it says.


Jun 17 2011 — The international community will be facing higher food prices and volatility in commodity markets for some time, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that calls for greater investment in agriculture.

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2011-2020 says that a good harvest in the coming months should push commodity prices down from the extreme levels seen earlier this year.

Over the coming decade, however, real prices for cereals could average as much as 20 per cent higher and those for meats as much as 30 per cent higher, compared to 2001-10, FAO states in a news release, adding that these projections are well below the peak price levels experienced in 2007-08 and again this year.

“In the current market context, price volatility could remain a feature of agricultural markets, and coherent policies are required to both reduce volatility and limit its negative impacts,” said FAO Director General Jacques Diouf.

“The key solution to the problem will be boosting investment in agriculture and reinforcing rural development in developing countries, where 98 per cent of the hungry people live today and where population is expected to increase by 47 per cent over the next decades.” He added that efforts should focus in particular on smallholders in low-income food-deficit countries.

The latest publication follows the release of FAO’s biannual Food Outlook earlier this month which said that global food prices are likely to remain high for the rest of this year and into 2012 due to dwindling stocks and only small production increases for the majority of crops.

The OECD-FAO report sees global agricultural production growing more slowly over the next decade than in the past 10 years, with farm output expected to rise by 1.7 per cent annually, compared to the 2.6 per cent growth rate of the past decade.

In addition, it states that per capita food consumption will expand most rapidly in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, with demand increasing the highest for meat, dairy products, vegetable oils and sugar. Global production in the fisheries sector, which is covered by the report for the first time, is projected to increase by 1.3 per cent annually to 2020.


Jun 16 2011 — Government representatives and delegates representing worker and employer organisations attending a United Nations conference today adopted a set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of millions of domestic workers worldwide.

The new Convention on Domestic Workers adopted at the annual conference of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva states that workers around the world who care for families and households must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other employees.

It calls for reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect of the rights associated with employment, including the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

“We are moving the standards system of the ILO into the informal economy for the first time and this is a breakthrough of great significance,” said Juan Somavia, the ILO Director-General. “History is being made.”

Recent ILO estimates based on national surveys or census in 117 countries place the number of domestic workers at a minimum of 53 million, but experts say they could be as many as 100 million across the world.

In developing countries, they make up at least 4 to 12 per cent of those in wage employment. Around 83 per cent of domestic workers are women or girls. Many are migrant workers. “Bringing the domestic workers into the fold of our values is a strong move, for them and for all workers who aspire to decent work, but it also has strong implications for migration and of course for gender equality,” said Mr. Somavia.

Manuela Tomei, the Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, said “domestic workers are neither servants nor ‘members of the family.’ After today they can no longer be considered second-class workers.” The convention will come into force after it has been ratified by two States.