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May 20-28, 2019: Gaming disorder and falling vaccination among top issues on World Health Assembly agenda

SWITZERLAND - The 72nd World Health Assembly opens in Geneva with the agency in trouble from the gaming industry and worried about falling vaccination rates. The World Health Organization has placed what it calls vaccine hesitancy at the top of its list of threats to global health in 2019 – with Ebola.

Angering the industry, the agency added “gaming disorder” to the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases in 2018. The Assembly will look for member states’ endorsement.

The agency defines “vaccine hesitancy” as “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.” It adds to longstanding barriers to immunization against preventable diseases, which include lack of infrastructure, remote locations, population movement and conflict.

In parts of Asia and Africa the mistrust is often tied to plot theories, which include suspicions that vaccines are ploys to sterilize or infect non-Western communities. In the West, theories and movements fanning the mistrust abound on social media. For some opponents, vaccination drives and laws are profit-driven and a ploy by Big Pharma – the pharmaceutical industry. Others worry about the side effects. Yet others see compulsory vaccination as government overreach. The Financial Times notes that skepticism over immunization has grown apace with populism around the world.

The organization reports that the number of cases of measles tripled worldwide in the first three months of 2019, compared with the same period last year. Africa had witnessed the most dramatic rise – up 700 per cent – of the highly contagious viral disease that can be prevented with vaccination.

The Assembly will hear reports on the international drive to eliminate polio, which the agency still regards as an international health emergency. The fake hepatitis vaccination campaign masterminded by the CIA in Pakistan in 2011 to track down and kill Osama bin Laden set back the vaccination campaign in that country, where the disease is endemic.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, meanwhile, continues to be one of the health agency’s prime worries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, continuing conflict hampers health workers’ efforts to contain the deadly virus. Access to the worst-affected areas was blocked over the new year period by election-related violence.

#22975 Published: 01/29/2019

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