Press Release WHA/2
12 May 1998
THE FIFTY-FIRST WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLYOPENS IN GENEVA
Dr Faisal Radhi Al-Mousawi, of Bahrain,The Fifty-first World Health Assembly opened yesterday in Geneva at the Palais des Nations in the presence of more than 1,200 delegates, including numerous Ministers of Health, representing the 191 Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO). The opening session of the six day-long Assembly was chaired by Shri Salem Iqbal Shervani, President of the Fiftieth World Health Assembly.
During the opening ceremony, Mr Flavio Cotti, President of the Swiss Confederation, addressed the World Health Assembly and noted that "In spite of the many things that have been accomplished in the field of health care, there are still massive differences in standards between regions." "The bitter truth", President Cotti said, "is that in spite of all efforts so far, health care remains the privilege of those who can afford it. Disease is just another word for misery, social handicap and underdevelopment. To summarize: poverty poisons health. Once one is aware how big the problem is, it becomes clear that the issue of poverty must be addressed even more earnestly than it has been up to now", the President concluded.
The delegates then elected Dr Faisal Radhi Al-Mousawi, Minister of Health of Bahrain, President of the Assembly, and they also elected five Vice-presidents - Dr A. Guzman Marcelino (Dominican Republic), Dr N.C. Dlamini Zuma (South Africa), Mr J. Y. Thinley, (Bhutan), Professor A. Insanov (Azerbaijan) and Mr E.K. Pretrick (Federated States of Micronesia) - as well as chairmen of Committee A, Dr G. Durham (New Zealand) and Committee B, Dr Nimal Seripala de Silva (Sri Lanka).
Dr Faisal Radhi Al-Mousawi referred in his speech to WHO's first 50 years, noting that "There is no better illustration of its achievements than the fact that life expectancy has risen everywhere in the world; from a mere 46 years in the early 1950s to 65 in 1995. Furthermore, the life expectancy gap between developed and developing countries has meanwhile shrunk from 25 years in 1955 to 13 in 1995."
The President also stressed that "The greatest challenge facing countries of the world today is the financial crisis that started in the early 1980s and involved cuts in government allocations for health projects and services at a time when demand for such services was on the increase, which compelled many countries to look for other sources of funding for such services in order to maintain already achieved levels. Some such countries have faced real hardships in this regard which demonstrate that, if economy is liberalized too quickly, harm can be done to social services in general and health service coverage rates for the poor and other vulnerable groups in particular."
In his address, delivered on Tuesday morning, Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director General of WHO, noted that "For the world as a whole, human health has improved more during the last half century than in any other period we know about." (...) "The World Health Organization, with its 191 Member States now, is justly proud of the leading role it has played in helping to make these achievements possible through international cooperation." The Director General emphasized that : "Poverty remains a major factor of ill-health and lack of access to health services, but new approaches to health development and cooperation can significantly reduce this problem by making better use of current resources and human potential." Referring to WHO's responsibility to represent the interests of all peoples' health, Dr Nakajima said: "We have to insist that the pursuit of profitability and resource generation does not overrule the requirements of safety and justice. For we must always remember", he added, "that our responsibility is not just technical. Research and health care raise major ethical issues in areas such as clinical trials involving human subjects, cloning, xenotransplantation, patient's rights, genetics, confidentiality of data and intellectual property issues. In all cases, what must prevail is concern for people's health, their safety and their autonomy. In our commitment to health work and international cooperation, respect for the equal worth and dignity of all human beings must be our guiding principle."
The Fifty-first session of the World Health Assembly is set to finish on Saturday, 16 May 1998.
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