|Press Release WHO/36
21 June 1999
WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL URGES
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General, welcomed the decision of the G8 leaders to introduce a long-ranging package of debt relief to developing countries. "Whereas 90% of the disease burden is in developing countries, these countries have access to only 10% of the resources going to health".
Speaking today at the opening of the 26th Annual Conference of the Global Health Council in Arlington, Virginia, USA, Dr Brundtland said: "I believe the financial institutions need a set of new and additional criteria when they consider the issues of new loans as well as debt relief. Conditionality based on macro-economic indicators alone will not tell the full story of how a country is advancing or regressing".
Health is a key to reversing the downward spiral linking poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation. Investing wisely in health can tell far more about a country's potential than the narrow return from tourism or road building. By focussing on the main childhood diseases, poor countries will make gains in increased life expectancy. Routine supplementation with vitamin A in early childhood can reduce mortality by almost 25%.
"Even modest improvements in health can lead to powerful boosts to development", pointed out Dr Brundtland. And when improvements in health are significant, the returns are dramatic. "In East Asia", said Dr Brundtland, "life expectancy increased by over 18 years in the two decades that preceded the most dramatic economic take-off in history".
Creation of a global social movement for health would help bring about the goal of halving the number of poor people by 2015. In her view, the role of health in development should be significantly upgraded. It should be placed firmly centre-stage, if we are serious about equitable human development.
There is a widespread sense of urgency to reduce drastically the numbers of very poor people. The task is daunting "more than a billion fellow human beings have been left behind in the health revolution" of the 20th century. "Sustainable development will be a non-starter unless poverty is radically reduced, and extreme poverty eliminated".
"Poverty undermines development. Poverty is an attack on human rights and human dignity. Poverty creates political and social instability." Most of today's wars are fueled by poverty, not by ideology, pointed out Dr Brundtland.
In her speech, Dr Brundtland called for a global link-up of all partners working in the field of international development and in public health. "This is a time for cool heads and warm hearts", she said. "With vision, realism and commitment the world could end the first decade of the 21st century with some notable achievements".
Speaking about the main health challenges in the next decade, the WHO Director-General singled out the following:
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