Press Release WHO/93
8 December 1998
DIRECTOR-GENERAL SETS OUT WHO STANCE ON HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), today called on the international community to enshrine health as a basic human right. This was her first major policy speech on the subject since taking over as WHO Director-General in July 1998 and was delivered as she chaired a UNESCO-hosted Round Table in Paris, France to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"Poverty leads to ill health and ill-health breeds poverty. Where there is structural poverty and ill-health, there will be poor development and poor human rights," Dr Brundtland said.
The Principle of Health for All, and of equal access to health services for all, is therefore as central to humankind's development, and the securing of basic human rights, as economic or any other type of social development, Dr Brundtland asserted.
"Never have so many had such broad and advanced access to healthcare. But never have so many been denied access to health. The developing world carries 90% of the disease burden, yet poorer countries have access to only 10% of the resources that go to health."
Dr Brundtland stressed how girls and women are particularly vulnerable and how their right to equal health has to be especially protected. Female genital mutilation is already a major violation of human rights, as is violence against women, and by 2010 violence is estimated to take its place as one of the world's leading burdens of disease.
Other health areas of prime importance to WHO, and which affect people's basic right to lead full, productive and healthy lives, are malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and the scourge of tobacco, and Dr Brundtland addressed each of these priorities.
"WHO will step up its advice in health sector reform. In doing so, we will draw on the key values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Health security is a challenge which encompasses many of the rights enlisted in the Declaration. It means universal access to adequate health care, access to education and information, the right to food in sufficient quantity and of good quality, but also the right to decent housing and to live and work in an environment where known health risks are controlled."
Dr Brundtland also announced that she will start working with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to trigger closer cooperation between WHO and the High Commission.
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