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In brief: Big changes needed at WHO, panel says

From Wire Reports

The World Health Organization must undergo fundamental changes if it is to fulfill its function of protecting global health, according to an independent panel of experts that reviewed the agency’s bungled response to the deadly Ebola outbreak.

“The panel considers that WHO does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response,” it said in a scathing report released Tuesday.

In a statement Tuesday, the WHO said it was already moving forward on some of the recommendations, including the development of a global workforce that can be deployed in a health emergency and the establishment of a contingency fund to ensure that resources are available for the initial response. Others will be discussed at a meeting in August.

Boko Haram bomb kills at least 25

ZARIA, Nigeria – A bomb blast in Nigeria’s northern university town of Zaria killed at least 25 people Tuesday, the Kaduna state governor reported, the latest in a string of deadly bombing and shooting attacks by the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group.

Witnesses said the blast came from a woman suicide bomber and that as many as 40 people died.

Gov. Nasir El-Rufai urged citizens to avoid crowded public places, including mosques and churches, as the militants accelerate the pace of attacks that have killed about 300 people in a week. Boko Haram may be responding to an Islamic State group order to commit more mayhem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Afghan officials talking with Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan officials are holding talks with Taliban representatives in the Pakistani capital in their first official face-to-face discussions, which the Afghan president said Tuesday were aimed at starting full-fledged negotiations.

The talks in an unannounced location in Islamabad come after repeated informal meetings between Taliban and government representatives, most recently hosted by Qatar and Norway. But the new talks were the first formally acknowledged by the Afghan government; that and the semipublic nature of the talks suggested possible progress after years of frustration in trying to bring the two sides together.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, called the holding of the talks “a major breakthrough” in comments recorded for Pakistani TV from the Norwegian capital Oslo, where he is on a three-day visit.

He said the overtness of the meeting was a positive development. “I hope there will be a positive outcome, which will certainly be very helpful for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Higher tobacco taxes urged

GENEVA – More governments should raise taxes on tobacco, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, warning that smoking-related deaths would increase to 8 million a year by 2030 unless further measures were taken.

Tobacco consumption currently kills 6 million people globally each year, more than the combined fatalities from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Although the percentage of smokers is falling in many countries, the overall number of smokers is rising because of the overall global population increase, the WHO said in its Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic.

Soldiers to fight Canadian fires

LA RONGE, Saskatchewan – Canadian soldiers arrived Tuesday to help battle raging wildfires in the western province of Saskatchewan, where more than 10,000 people have been evacuated in recent days. The smoke has triggered air quality warnings across the U.S. West and Midwest.

Premier Brad Wall said it is the biggest evacuation effort in Saskatchewan’s history.

Karen Hill, a spokeswoman for Saskatchewan’s provincial emergency services, estimated about 10,000 to 12,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in recent days, but cautioned that authorities were not able to track all the evacuees.

Special air quality statements remained in effect for much of Saskatchewan, as well as northern Manitoba and Alberta and southern British Columbia.

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