Bulletin of the World Health Organization

UN Summit boosts health goals

The 60th anniversary UN World Summit gave a much-needed boost to efforts to improve health in developing countries, although there was little progress on proposals to increase development aid from rich to poor countries.

The reform document adopted by 151 heads of state and government gathered in New York from 14 to 16 September watered down UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s original proposals, but health experts said it was positive for the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“The summit laid down a marker to say ‘we’ve got to take time to build health systems if we want to achieve the MDGs’. It put health systems in the middle of the action,” said Dr Andrew Cassels, WHO Director of MDGs, Health and Development Policy.

Almost half of the final 35-page document concerned development issues. Among other things, the section on health recognizes the importance of investing in adequately resourced and staffed health systems if countries are to achieve the health-related MDGs.

It recommits governments to achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015 — which is key for MDG 5 to improve maternal health and MDG 4 to improve child health — and encourages support of WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. It also reconfirmed support for achieving MDG 6 on HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, including tuberculosis.

World leaders also made a commitment to implement a package for HIV prevention, treatments and care to ensure universal access to treatment by 2010.

“In terms of HIV treatment, we are pleased that we have a timetable, even if countries aren’t committed financially,” said Max Lawson, policy advisor at Oxfam International.

“For our HIV campaign universal access is a victory.”

Lawson said the document was weak in its reference to health-care workers and user fees for health services, which Oxfam believes should be phased out to help combat poverty.

Cassels said there was little progress on proposals to increase aid. The final document encouraged wealthy nations to set timetables for giving 0.7% of their gross national product (GNP) to development aid by 2015.

At the summit, US President George W. Bush announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, in which WHO will play a central role.

“Overall the summit was positive for WHO,” said Cassels. “It reflected some of our key messages for the MDGs, discussed means, and talk of the global flu pandemic was everywhere.”

Juhie Bhatia, New York.

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