Message from the Director-General
Today's global health situation raises urgent questions about justice. In some parts of the world there is a continued expectation of longer and more comfortable life, while in many others there is despair over the failure to control disease although the means to do so exist.
This contrast is starkly evident in lack of access to HIV/AIDS treatment, which led me, earlier this year, to declare a global health emergency. WHO decided to take this rare measure after evaluating the global situation and finding that only 5% of those in the developing world who require antiretrovirals (ARVs) are getting them. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 50 000 of the 4 million people in need have access to ARVs. This spells catastrophe, not only for the societies hardest hit but for the world as a whole. Our first step to respond to this crisis must be to reach "3 by 5" -- 3 million people in developing countries on antiretrovirals by 2005. Major disparities also exist in areas such as child mortality. Of the more than 10 million children under 5 years old who die every year, almost all are in developing countries.
A world marked by such inequities is in very serious trouble. We have to find ways to unite our strengths as a global community to shape a healthier future. This report on the world's health, my first since taking office, gives some initial indications of how to do it.
A message that runs throughout these pages is that progress in health, including rapid and sustainable expansion of emergency treatments, depends on viable national and local health systems. Scaling up ARV therapy in resource-poor settings has to be done in such a way as to strengthen health systems based on primary health care. In most countries, there will be only small and short-lived advances towards acceptable standards of health without the development of health care systems which are strong enough to respond to current challenges.
To lend impetus to this process WHO is now making results in countries its main objective. Effective action to improve population health is possible in every country but it takes local knowledge and strength to turn that possibility into reality. We have learnt this through successes such as controlling the SARS epidemic and major advances in the polio eradication campaign, and we have learnt it through setbacks as well, such as the continuing rise of AIDS, TB and malaria. All of these lessons have prepared us for the task ahead.
Twenty-five years ago, the Declaration of Alma-Ata challenged the world to embrace the principles of primary health care as the way to overcome gross health inequalities between and within countries. "Health for all" became the slogan for a movement. It was not just an ideal but an organizing principle: everybody needs and is entitled to the highest possible standard of health. The principles defined at that time remain indispensable for a coherent vision of global health. Turning that vision into reality calls for clarity both on the possibilities and on the obstacles that have slowed and in some cases reversed progress towards meeting the health needs of all people. This entails working with countries -- especially those most in need -- not only to confront health crises, but to construct sustainable and equitable health systems.
I urge the global health community to set its sights on bold objectives. All countries of the world have pledged to reach the Millennium Development Goals set at the United Nations Summit in 2000. These include ambitious targets for nutrition, maternal and child health, infectious disease control, and access to essential medicines. With this support we have a real opportunity now to make progress that will mean longer, healthier lives for millions of people, turn despair into realistic hope, and lay the foundations for improved health for generations to come.
To reach our goals, increased resource commitments and intensified collaboration among partners will be required. The following report describes the challenges we face and points the way for a united response from WHO and the global health community.