Press Release WHA/8
16 May 1998
51ST WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY
CLOSES IN GENEVA
A week-long session of the World Health Assembly marking the 50th anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) closed in Geneva today.
Delegates from the 191 Member States of WHO discussed and adopted the World Health Declaration stating that "changes in the world health situation require that we give effect to the "Health for All Policy for the 21st century" through relevant regional and national policies and strategies". The delegates proclaimed in the Declaration that "as a community of nations, we will act together to meet common threats to health and to promote universal well-being".
The Assembly elected a new WHO Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, whose five-year term of office starts on 21 July 1998. The outgoing Director-General, Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, extended to Dr Brundtland his good wishes. "Her gifts, her experience and her convictions will be of immense value to her and to WHO in the fulfilment of her task. I know that the Organization will be in good hands. And I know that you will give her the wholehearted support she needs", said Dr Nakajima addressing the Assembly today.
Marking WHO's 50th anniversary, a Forum for Heads of State or Government on the theme "Health for all in the 21st century" was attended by: Mrs Ruth Dreifuss, Vice President of Switzerland, Dr Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, His Excellency Henri Konan Bédié, President of Cote d'Ivoire, and the Honourable Tofilau Eti Alesana, Prime Minister of Samoa.
At the annual award-giving ceremony, Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States of America, was presented with the United Arab Emirates Health Foundation Prize for her "contributions and achievements in the field of health and social welfare". Other prizewinners (Sasakawa Health Prize) were: Mrs Roselyn Mokgantsho Mazibuko of South Africa, Dr Ahmed Abdul Qadr Al Ghassani of Oman, and Gondar College of Medical Sciences in Ethiopia.
The 1998 World Health Report "Life in the 21st century A vision for all" was welcomed and extensively discussed by the delegates. The general sentiment was that, while the Organization has many genuine achievements to be proud of in the course of its 50 years, there is still an uphill "Health for all" battle to fight.
"We had the privilege to listen to an optimistic World Health Report which highlights an encouraging improvement in the overall world health situation," commented Dr Faisal Radhi Al-Mousawi of Bahrain, President of the 51st World Health Assembly. "This positive result should not however hide the enormous tasks ahead of us to continuously lower the burden of diseases and promote health and well-being throughout the world paying special attention to countries and communities most in need".
Average life expectancy in the last 50 years increased from 46 to 66. Smallpox has been eradicated. Poliomyelitis is close to being relegated to medical history books. The prospects are also good for eliminating leprosy, measles, Chagas disease, dracunculiasis, neonatal tetanus and micronutrient deficiencies. But health disparities between the rich and poor remain glaring.
As Dr Nakajima pointed out, "Mortality among children under five years of age has been reduced from 21 million in 1955 to 10 million in 1997, but the figure remains unacceptably high. For some countries, representing over 50 million people, average life expectancy is still less than 45 years. About 585 000 women still die each year of pregnancy-related causes, 99% of them in developing countries. The risk of maternal death is one in 1400 in Europe, one in 65 in Asia, and one in 16 in Africa."
One of the most difficult items on the agenda was related to WHO's budgetary allocations. The WHO Executive Board proposed a redistribution of programme resources to countries based primarily on a development index. After two days of heated discussions, the delegates agreed that future programme budgets would be based on an objective and transparent methodology and that reduction for any region would not exceed 3% per year over a six-year period. "This is a landmark decision by the Assembly", said Dr Nimal Seripala de Silva, Chairman of the Committee.
The Assembly adopted resolutions on a range of subjects including noncommunicable disease prevention and control; emerging and other communicable diseases: antimicrobial resistance; ethical, scientific and social implications of cloning in human health; global elimination of blinding trachoma; health promotion; tuberculosis; elimination of transmission of Chagas disease; elimination of leprosy as a public health problem; and concerted public health action on antipersonnel mines.
Referring to the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, the Assembly adopted a resolution urging WHO Member States "to develop and implement national plans of action or programmes on indigenous people's health". The resolution also speaks of "respecting, preserving and maintaining the knowledge of traditional healing and medicine in close cooperation with indigenous people".
On environmental matters, two resolutions were adopted regarding a strategy on sanitation for high-risk communities and the protection of human health from threats related to climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.
One resolution in particular, on the Revised Drug Strategy, was referred back to the WHO Executive Board to be further considered during its forthcoming meetings in 1998 and early 1999.
In his closing remarks, the Director-General, Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, who turned 70 today, praised the delegates for their hard work and the spirit of mutual respect. "That surely is the meaning of solidarity and democracy: the search for a reasonable consensus in which the community gives full recognition to both the needs and the convictions of each of its members".
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