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WHO Sees Legacy of Health from Games

In addition to the world-class sports venues, new jobs, and good memories, the Olympics health legacy will stand as a long-term gift to China, a World Health Organization official said.

The public health programs associated with Beijing's hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games should not be limited to the six weeks during which the competitions take place, the WHO's China Representative, Hans Troedsson, said during an exclusive interview with China Daily.

China has taken many steps to improve its environment, food and water safety, public health awareness and its capacity to respond to potential outbreaks of infectious diseases to ensure safe Games, Troedsson said.

The capital has already notched up several key achievements and will definitely present wonderful Games, he said.

He cited the tobacco controls as an example. Beijing has called for smoking bans at all hotels serving athletes and other Games workers, as well as at all competition venues and restaurants in the Olympic Village by June.

On October 1 last year, Beijing banned smoking in the city's 66,000 cabs, and started imposing fines of 100 yuan to 200 yuan (US$14-US$28) on drivers caught smoking in cabs to ensure the world's first smoke-free Olympic Games.

Troedsson said such achievements should not be abandoned after the Games.

He also said the improvements made in Beijing should spread nationwide and even serve as lessons for host countries of future Olympics.

Vice-minister of Health Gao Qiang vowed at the end of last year to use the Olympics as an opportunity to improve public health in the country.

However, some people have different views about the drive.

Sun Guangxin, a Beijing-based office worker, expressed doubt that the tobacco-control measures would last long after the Olympic Games because the government would not be paying as much attention.

"People should be more aware of how important it is to look after their health, though," he said.

Still, Troedsson said efforts will be made to ensure that such changes remain in place.

"The WHO has regular contacts with Chinese health authorities about the joint approach of the health legacy," he said.

"The Chinese government is highly willing to pass on the legacy and mulling over ways to achieve that goal."

He said the WHO is prepared to provide technical assistance in key areas, such as helping China contain potential outbreaks of epidemics.

A team of experts who worked on health programs during previous Olympic and Paralympic Games will probably be stationed in Beijing during the Games to help with any public health issues that arise.

Specific details such as the exact number of experts to be assigned during the events will be discussed at a meeting between the WHO and Ministry of Health in two months.

(China Daily February 13, 2008)

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