Press Release WHA/5
14 May 1998
THE COST OF UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE EQUALS 3% OF GLOBAL MILITARY EXPENDITURE
FIDEL CASTRO AT THE WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY
"According to United Nations estimates, the cost of universal access to basic health care services would be 25 billion dollars a year, that is 3% of the 800 billion dollars currently devoted to military expenditures", Dr Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, told delegates and guests assembled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the 51st World Health Assembly.
He was participating in a Forum of Heads of State or Government on the theme "Health for all in the 21st century" together with the Honourable Tofilau Eti Alesana, Prime Minister of Samoa, His Excellency Henri Konan Bédié, President of Cote d'Ivoire, and Mrs Ruth Dreifuss, Vice President of Switzerland. In a world where the economy has grown six times between 1950 and 1997, why, challenged Dr Castro, "do 12 million children under five years of age still die every year? Why are 200 million children under five years of age undernourished? Why do 250 million children and adolescents work? Why is it that 110 million do not attend primary school?"
Dr Castro told his audience that 17 million people who die in the world every year "are the victims of mostly curable infectious diseases, many of them preventable, at a cost sometimes lower than a dollar". He went on to say that "in spite of efforts by the WHO and UNICEF, in the last 50 years over 600 million children and 25 million mothers who could have survived died for lack of medical care".
Dr Castro pointed out that, often enough, the prices of medicines are out of reach for the overwhelming majority of patients in developing countries. "The control of patents and markets by the big transnational companies allows them to raise prices over ten times above production costs". He expressed concern over the emergence of old and new infectious diseases. "Either we defeat AIDS or AIDS will ruin many Third World countries where no patient can afford the US$ 10,000 cost per person per year of the existing treatments "
Speaking on behalf of all African countries, Mr. Henri Konan Bédie, President of Cote d'Ivoire, said that "at the dawn of the 21st century health occupies a strategic place". Mr. Bédie pointed out that "the African continent has been hit at the same time both by the worst economic and financial crisis in its history and by fratricidal conflicts which accentuated the poverty afflicting its peoples" If anything, public health problems are increasing in Africa. The burden of traditionally endemic diseases has become much heavier in recent years with the emergence of new infectious diseases. Rapid urban development has triggered off a whole host of new environment-related health factors. "We are also confronted, more so than elsewhere, with the ravages of the AIDS pandemic which is literally decimating our young, most productive, generations. It has reduced the life expectancy of Africans almost everywhere by a good ten years", said Mr. Bédié. But in spite of all the difficulties, African countries, in cooperation with United Nations organizations, are working together to secure a healthier future for the continent.
"Inequalities in health often reflect and arise from social inequalities", said Mrs. Ruth Dreifuss, Vice President of Switzerland, in her speech to the Assembly. She drew the attention of her audience to the fact that "in spite of the overall high standard of health achieved in Switzerland, we observe the same phenomenon as the World Health Organization at an international level: equity is still jeopardized". She listed "a growing number of risk factors within society": the lack of job security, the fragility of social support networks and the deterioration of healthy environmental conditions. "We are glad to be able to rely on the concepts and practical suggestions developed by the World Health Organization in its new strategy Health for All, above all, the proposals aiming for a sustainable development of health care systems", said Mrs Dreifuss. In conclusion, the Vice President reaffirmed her country's commitment to "a health policy committed to a more just society everywhere".
Addressing the World Health Assembly on behalf of Pacific island countries, which share many common features, Tofilau Eti Alesana, Prime Minister of Samoa stressed that "WHO has played and continues to play a very important role in our health development, particularly in the fields of training of our human resources and provision of technical support". The burden of communicable diseases is still felt throughout the Pacific region. WHO has provided much-needed support in fighting malaria, dengue and filariasis. "People need knowledge, awareness and skills to keep themselves, their families and their environment healthy" concluded Tofilau Eti Alesana.
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Valery Abramov, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 2543. Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. E-mail: email@example.com
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.ch/