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LAST month, member states of the United Nations (UN) agreed that they would increase efforts towards universal access to affordable and quality health-care services, thereby affirming state responsibility of making health coverage accessible, effective and sustainable.

Good health to all

The General Assembly resolution "Global Health and Foreign Policy" has been in the making since 2008, discussed under different titles and touching a variant of related issues but essentially, it has been about the links between a healthy nation and a better world.

Globally-speaking, we have a health status emergency which we need to collaboratively address, at an international level. Since 1994 when we organised the first International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo (Egypt), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working on some of the more "sensitive" issues as far as the UN mandate is concerned.

We wouldn't want to harp on about the fact that on January 1, 2016, people would still be dying from many of the diseases we consider priority because we could invite criticism of how effective our programs are.

Though still better is to be remembered as the naughty guys who made a difference by saying as it is rather than painting a misleading picture of progress.

There has been a lot achieved without a doubt, and we can celebrate for example the fact that incidences of women dying in the process of giving life has dropped in the last 30 years, from about 500,000 annually in 1980 to 343,000 by 2008, says a report on the issue based on research in 181 countries by the University of Washington and the University of Queensland.

Yet 273,500 women still die annually from pregnancy-related preventable complications.

There are other realities like every year, seven million children younger than five years die from preventable diseases; or around seven million people living with HIV still need anti-retro viral treatment; that there are 8.7 million new cases of tuberculosis or that we have as many as 1.2 million malaria deaths every year - often largely because of the exponential population growth that stops us from receiving the full benefit of progress being made.

With the few aforementioned examples, it is my hope that they give all of us an idea of why health issues are now a major concern for a world body like the UN General Assembly (GA).

The resolution adopted on December 12 is as high-level and as global a commitment can be.

Member states affirmed that every human being has the right to the enjoyment of the highest standard of physical and mental health; that we each have the right to a standard of living adequate for our health and wellbeing. Though by saying that I acknowledge that there will indeed be different takes on "adequate".

The essence of a resolution so entitled (Global Health and Foreign Policy) recognises how health issues are cross-cutting and that their impacts are cross-boundary thus the need for it to be on the international agenda.

Health issues become foreign policy when for example one considers social dimensions of globalisation.

At the risk of being accused of reductionism, an example would be how a seafarer who has unprotected sex at one of his ports of call returns home with a fatal sexually transmitted infection, while infecting others in other ports of call.

The crippling impact of HIV on the labour market is no secret but it is the chaos it causes within families and communities that is mostly untold, in the context of its consequential impact on the international (development) agenda.

When the social fabric of our society is so unprepared or ill-equipped to address such borderless issues, we risk a regression in the small victories we have had as far as global health "achievements" are concerned.

Universal health coverage is a vital element in the international development agenda: a healthy population can be a lot more vigorous and motivated to achieve various aspects of for example the Millennium Development Goals (2000), which basically aims for healthier lives, especially for women and children.

A healthier population is also an essential step to a phrase that has unfortunately become cliché at this time of the year although very much possible: prosperity, joy and peace.

This would in turn add to the enabling environment we require for discussions towards universally-beneficial policies and development approaches. And as we at the UNFPA believe that MDG5 (Improving maternal health) is the Mother of all MDGs, we should now aptly be wishing all "Good Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2013".

Couples have every right to have the number of children they want, this is a given and enshrined in the ICPD Program of Action (1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women's Beijing Platform of Action (1995). It is how far they are spaced which determines the continuing health of both mother and infant; pregnancies that are too early and too close pose both a danger of dying from complications inevitable in a body unprepared for childbirth.

If we have a healthy population or an inclusive and accessible good health system, we may comfortably assume that the people it benefits would be strong enough to confront issues that jeopardise sustainable development; hence again the validity of a UN GA resolution entitled "Global Health and Foreign Policy".

The accessibility of health care to all individuals is paramount therefore, particularly in light of the fact that, as member states noted, poverty continues to be the main reason for health-related issues.

UN member states were encouraged to consider health issues in their respective foreign policies; it is hoped that universal health coverage will be a significant portion of the international development agenda post-2015, when the ICPD's Program of Action begins a new cycle with 2014 marking the end of an initial 20-year period of spear-heading human rights in a population and development context.

The Lancet, the world's best known, oldest and most respected medical journal suggested five priorities in its editorial last month:

  • Placing women at the forefront of our efforts to improve health;
  • Early child development which studies have shown is critical for healthy adults;
  • Meeting the adolescent health needs;
  • Addressing the issue of non-communicable diseases; and
  • Prioritising the need of the ageing populace.

The world needs equality and equity to break down the barriers that will ensure accessibility of effective and sustainable health services and resources to every one of us. Education and preventative household and community mechanisms must equip our children, who will have to deal with an environment that is already posing a threatening future.

Thing is, we all play a role in making this world a healthier place to live in and a better place to leave our children, from who we are merely borrowing our "today".

On this first day of 2013, we at the UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office wish you all good health