|Press Release WHA/3
18 May 1999
CLOSER COOPERATION THE WAY TO BETTER HEALTH GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND
The World Health Organization will work closely with Member States and other UN organizations to substantially improve the health conditions of the world's poorest.
"We are not aiming at modest gains," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland told delegates at the 52nd World Health Assembly the Organization's annual "shareholders' meeting". "In East Asia, life expectancy increased by over 18 years in the two decades that preceded the most dramatic economic take-off in history. Repeat these gains and we could be launching a new leap forward for human progress and development."
The Assembly which opened Monday 17 May is Dr Brundtland's first as Director-General and one of the most intensive ever held.
In addition to the formal resolutions adopted at every Assembly, this one will also contain round-table discussions on key health questions, a lecture by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen on health's role in development, and a large number of associated activities ranging from a World Bank report on the economics of tobacco to briefings on WHO's role in relief work in the Balkans.
In her speech to the Assembly, Dr Brundtland spelt out the role WHO will play in the years to come to ensure that the one billion who have so far been excluded from the health "revolution" of the second half of the twentieth century will see drastic improvements in their health in the coming decade. Having restructured Headquarters and brought about a realignment to ensure that regional offices and Headquarters share priorities and work effectively, WHO is now ready to focus on the challenges ahead, Dr Brundtland said.
She said WHO is working more closely with Member States, both through increased day-to-day cooperation with the missions in Geneva, by establishing a closer and more strategic work with WHO's Executive Board, and through clearer political leadership of the World Health Assembly.
"It is my hope that discussions and decisions during the coming days will send a clear health message to the world," she said.
As an example of the closer cooperation with Member States, Dr Brundtland mentioned a meeting in London last week between WHO, its main contributing countries and countries representing all WHO regions . "Our objective was to start a discussion on how the major financial players in health can pull in the same direction on how we can target our effort so that what we do really spurs development and benefits the poor. WHO will pursue this agenda and take the emerging consensus further towards concerted action, " she said.
Dr Brundtland announced that WHO is ready to join the United Nations Development Group, a collaboration between UN agencies working to create a common development programme for the UN family.
She added that the dialogue initiated with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over the past months had been fruitful and would be intensified.
A key factor in WHO's new priority-setting is to emphasize the economic benefits from improved health and the need for cost-effective, equitable health systems.
"A five year difference in life expectancy may yield an extra annual growth of 0.5 per cent. It is a powerful boost to economic growth," Dr Brundtland said, reaffirming conclusions of the World Health Report, which she presented to Assembly.
The World Health report is WHO's main annual publication. This year's report, "Making a Difference", sets out a global health agenda for the coming decade. It stresses a three-fold approach to achieving this: attacking the "unfinished health agenda" of freeing the poor from the burden of infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS; preventing a wave of non-communicable diseases from eating up the recent health gains in developing and industrialized countries alike; and developing more equitable and cost-effective health systems.
In her speech, Dr Brundtland reiterated that the fight to roll back malaria, reduce tobacco consumption and ensure safe maternal health are among the Organization's main priorities.
"Health is a fundamental human right," Dr Brundtland said. "We need public voices to speak out for all those who are denied their human rights to health. "You can count WHO as one (of these voices)."
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