|Press Release WHO/4
18 May 1999
NOBEL LAUREATE AMARTYA SEN:
Geneva, 18 May 1999 "Financial conservatism should be the nightmare of the militarist, not the doctor, or the school teacher, or the hospital nurse," Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen told the World Health Assembly today.
Professor Sen, a scholar from India whose work produced a new understanding of the catastrophes that plague society's poorest people, won the Nobel Economics Prize last year for his contributions to welfare economics, which help explain the economic mechanisms underlying famines and poverty. Sen ``restored an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems,'' the 1998 Nobel citation said.
The 65 year-old economist, who joined Britain's Trinity College in Cambridge last year after teaching at Harvard University, said that fast economic growth has helped improve health in some countries where the growth is wide-based and income is used to expand health care education and social security. However, other countries have used "support-led processes that work through a programme of skilful social support of health care, education and other relevant social arrangements" to enhance living conditions and reduce mortality rates, even without much economic growth", he noted.
Because of this support-led process, he said, "Despite their very low levels of income, the people of Kerala (India), or China, or Sri Lanka enjoy enormously higher levels of life expectancy than do the much richer populations of Brazil, South Africa and Namibia, not to mention Gabon."
"And yet, when it comes to health and survival, perhaps nothing is as immediately important in many poor countries in the world today as the lack of medical services and provisions of health care," Professor Sen said. Citing a recent study called "Infections and Inequalities: The modern plagues," by Paul Farmer, he said "a major difference can be brought about by a public determination to do something about" pervasive deprivation of biomedical services, both for easily treatable diseases like cholera and malaria and more challenging ailment like AIDS and drug-resistant Tuberculosis.
"If the allocation of resources is systematically biased in the direction of arms and armaments, rather than in the direction of health and education, the remedy of that has to lie ultimately in informed public debate on these issues, and ultimately on the role of the public in seeking a better deal for the basic requirements of good living, rather than efficient killing," Professor Sen told the assembled delegates.
The issues of social allocation of economic resources "cannot be separated from the role of participatory politics and the reach of informed public discussion," he said.
"The public has to see itself not merely as a patient, but also as an agent of change. The penalty of inaction and apathy can be illness and death," Professor Sen concluded.
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