|Press Release WHO/2
25 January 1999
THE WAY AHEAD FOR WHO
In a broad policy speech entitled "WHO The Way Ahead", Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, presented her vision for bringing the WHO into the new century.
In her address to the WHO Executive Board which began its 103rd session in Geneva today, Dr Brundtland set out the global development agenda and its implications for the Organization.
"My pledge as Director-General is to put health at the core of the international development agenda", stated Dr Brundtland. Sound investment in health can be one of the most cost-effective ways of promoting development and progress. Improving health in poor countries leads to increased GDP per capita. In richer countries, it reduces overall costs to society. "In a time of global trade and investment, where nations are searching for ways to make the ends meet, we have been sitting on a secret", said the Director-General.
As for the Organization itself, Dr Brundtland singled out four strategic areas: to work closer with countries; to be more focused in obtaining better health outcomes; to be more effective in supporting health sector development; and to be more innovative in creating influential partnerships.
She reaffirmed WHO's commitment to primary health care and to the principle of universal access to quality care. "Governments should be responsible for securing people's opportunity to attain these health goals. Health is one of the most politically and institutionally difficult sectors in any country", stressed Dr Brundtland. "If WHO is to earn a leadership role in health, we cannot deny the responsibility of helping our colleagues deal with complexity".
The need for new partnerships was referred to throughout Dr Brundtland's speech. She was singling out closer working relations with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization as well as "a new dialogue" with the International Monetary Fund. WHO is upgrading its presence at the Organization of African Unity and also at the European Union. "In addition to governmental and inter-governmental partners, we are making progress in building partnerships with NGOs and the private sector", said Dr Brundtland.
Describing the ever widening inequalities in health care, Dr Brundtland pointed out that "never have so many had access to a broad range of health services. But at the same time, never have so many been denied access to even the most basic levels of care. The developing world carries 90% of the disease burden, yet poorer countries benefit from only 10% of the resources that go to health".
Dr Brundtland pointed out that, if anything, inequalities in health care are widening both in developed and developing countries. In spite of the world growing richer as a whole, absolute poverty is still rising with 70% of the absolute poor being women. Despite tremendous technological progress in public health and medicine, the world is poorly prepared to face such deadly epidemics as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Although rich countries are getting richer, the world is going through a stage of international development fatigue.
Among other highlights of the first day of the Board, was a presentation by Drs Julio Frenk and Chris Murray entitled "Trends and Challenges in World Health". Describing the world's health status in the second part of the XXth century, the scientists noted that in most parts of the world, adult male and female mortality has declined substantially with two major exceptions: rising levels of adult male mortality in Eastern Europe, and substantial increases in adult male mortality due to HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.
Looking ahead, Drs Frenk and Murray see dramatic transformations in health patterns. "By the year 2020, the leading causes of the burden of disease are likely to be ischemic heart disease, depression and road traffic accidents. Health trends are likely to be dominated by four factors: the ageing of the world's population, the unfolding of the HIV epidemic, the epidemic of tobacco-related mortality and disability, and the expected decline in childhood mortality from infectious disease."
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