The recently concluded 56th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the many-faceted ongoing world health crisis. The meeting, with 2,000 participants from 192 member states, dramatized the incredible dangers facing children, people living in poverty and, in fact, the whole planet. By looking more closely at the meeting’s proceedings, you can see the damage being done by the destructive hand of corporate globalization that is putting profits before health and welfare.

Middle East

The WHO took special recognition of the health crisis in Palestine. A resolution entitled “Health condition of, and assistance to, the Arab population in the occupied Arab territories” called upon the WHO director-general to take immediate steps to guarantee the free movement of health workers, emergency services and patients, and the provision of medicines and medical supplies to Palestinian health facilities.

Preventable diseases

WHO reported that 90 percent of the world’s 45 million blind and 135 million visually-impaired are suffering from conditions that are totally preventable. In 2001, there were 30 million cases of measles resulting in 750,000 deaths. WHO, reports that “5 million children up to the age of 14 die every year from diseases associated with the environments in which they live, learn and play.” Over 1.4 million adolescents die each year due to violence, suicide, depression, alcohol use, tobacco and HIV/AIDS. The conference closing statement says, “Available data indicate that of over 1,400 new products developed by the pharmaceutical industry between 1975 and 1999, only 13 were for tropical diseases and three were for tuberculosis,” diseases that are ravaging the underdeveloped nations, especially.

New funding? Not enough

To begin to reverse these crises, including measures to contain and eradicate the SARS virus, funds are necessary. But the new budget for the WHO is being increased by a paltry 2.9 percent. To add insult to injury, the new WHO Director-General, Dr. Jong-Wook Lee, from the Republic of Korea, intends to continue to rely on “public-private” money to solve the problems. This was the strategy originated by the previous WHO leader, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who – while making many high-sounding pronouncements – began a reliance on private monies to fund WHO activities. This has resulted in disaster.

Authority to act

It’s obvious that to meet the world’s health care crises WHO needs an enormous financial boost. It also needs the authority to identify problems and take action. Moving in that direction, apparently in response to the SARS epidemic, a new resolution was passed that, “… confirms and underlines the World Health Organization’s authority to verify disease outbreaks from all available official and unofficial sources, and, when necessary, to determine the severity of an outbreak through on-the-spot investigations to ensure it is appropriately controlled.”

Most experts believe that the WHO already had that authority. Well, it now explicitly has it, and the utilization of this authority must go beyond the SARS crisis to include actions to improve the lot of millions of children and adolescents and the planet’s poor.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org


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