'Hyper on SARS, silent on WARS' - Will the new WHO DG break the silence?
'Hyper on SARS, silent on WARS' - Will the new WHO DG break the silence? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ People's Health Movement (PHM) URGENT PRESS RELEASE Geneva, May 22, 2003: The People's Health Movement congratulates Dr. Jong-Wook Lee as he assumes his position as the new Director-General of the World Health Organisation. Dr Lee takes over the organisation at a time when its relevance to the public health needs of the world's poor and marginalized is at its lowest point in recent his- tory. The PHM therefore extends its welcome to the new incumbent with sev- eral words of caution. If the WHO is to truly remain a 'world' body and address the real 'health' needs of the ordinary people it needs to urgently: * Broaden its analysis to include the socio-economic and political determinants of people's health * Identify and address the impact of global neo-liberal economic policies on health of the poor * Place people's health first. Resist the greed of drug and junk food corporations * Oppose all wars, conflict and the arms trade as detrimental to pub- lic health * Change its current selective, disease focused and donor driven ap- proach to public health * Implement the Alma Ata vision of Primary Health Care as the corner- stone of national health systems everywhere WHO's politically expedient, selective approach can be illustrated by two major events in just the past few months - the illegal invasion of Iraq by the United States and United Kingdom and the global out- break of SARS. As of 20 May, 2003 a cumulative total of 7,919 probable cases of SARS with 662 deaths have been reported from 28 countries. This is over a period of six months since the outbreak was first reported in China. Compare this to the number of casualties in Iraq since the US/UK in- vasion began on April 14, 2003. According to independent estimates, anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 innocent men, women and children have died in Iraq due to the invasion in just two months. Apart from this over 20,000 Iraqi troops who have been killed in this illegal war, prosecuted against international majority opinion and UN policy. While in the case of SARS the WHO has rightly issued global alerts, mobilised governments around the world, brought together the best medical research facilities available and galvanised public opinion in the case of the war on Iraq it has chosen to remain completely si- lent. Today, as the people of Iraq live and die for want of basic ne- cessities such as clean drinking water, adequate quality food, elec- tricity and medical care the WHO has been reduced to mumbling banali- ties without the will or wherewithal to prevent this public health disaster. While the PHM has chosen to highlight WHO's response to SARS versus its inaction in the case of the war on Iraq it can easily be pointed out that the WHO does not show the same sense of urgency in the case of a series of other public health disasters also, all of which kill millions of people annually. To cite just two examples: * As many as 1 billion human beings - one out of six on our planet - are under-nourished and go to bed hungry each night. Each day, 19,000 people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases. * 30,000 children die every day from preventable diseases most of them linked to under nutrition. In these cases the causes are clear - an increasingly unfair and un- just world where health as a human right has been eclipsed by the profit motive. The PHM urges the incoming WHO Director General to ponder deeply over what role he would like his organization to play. Will it be a body which wants to be the premier international institution advising and mobilising governments to tackle the public health needs of their poorest people? Or, will the WHO become a silent partner in the un- dermining of their health and livelihoods by the rich and the power- ful? The people of the world will be watching closely. Dr. Ravi Narayan Ms. Garance Upham Co-ordinator, PHM Secretariat President, PHM-Geneva International People's Health Movement is a people-oriented global initiative that evolved out of the People's Health Assembly (PHA), a historic summit that was held in December 2000 in Bangladesh. Over 1453 participants from 92 countries met for the PHA that was the culmination of 18 months of preparatory action around the globe. Message forwarded by: Dr. Unnikrishnan PV, India mailto:unnikru@vsnl.com