“Better health is a good way to track the world’s true progress in poverty elimination, inclusive growth and equity,” Director-General Margaret Chan said as the World Health Organization (WHO) opened its annual assembly in Geneva.According to a WHO report released last week, substantial progress has been made on many health-related goals ahead of the 2015 target date for achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).These include halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of drinking water, as well as progress in reducing child mortality, improving nutrition and combating HIV.“For the post-2015 agenda, I see many signs of a desire to aim even higher, with ambitious yet feasible goals. Many more end-games are already on the table,” Dr. Chan said, noting the need to end preventable maternal, neonatal and childhood deaths, eliminate a large number of the neglected tropical diseases, and halt the tuberculosis epidemic.“We have at our disposal a host of strategies for pursuing ever higher goals,” she added, while also noting that health benefits from WHO’s ability to tap the world’s best expertise.Outlining the main health challenges facing the world today, the Director-General cited the renewed spread of the polio virus, which is due to several factors including civil unrest, poor immunization coverage and the targeted killing of health workers.“Two years ago, polio was on its knees, thanks to committed political leadership, better strategies and tools, and the dedication of millions of polio workers,” she stated.“The factors responsible for this setback are largely beyond the control of the health sector. They are only some of several dangers for health in a world shaped by some universal and ominous trends.”Among other issues, Dr. Chan highlighted the effects of air pollution, which is the world’s largest single environmental health risk; the growing prevalence of obesity, especially among children, and diet-related non-communicable diseases; and the global cancer crisis, in which the number of new cases has reached an all-time high and is projected to rise.“Parts of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death. Other parts starve. Hunger and under-nutrition remain an extremely stubborn problem… At the other extreme, we see no good evidence that the prevalence of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases is receding anywhere. Highly processed foods and beverages loaded with sugar are ubiquitous, convenient and cheap. Childhood obesity is a growing problem with especially high costs.”The 2014 World Cancer Report, issued by WHO, provoked considerable alarm, noting among other things that developing countries now account for some 70 per cent of all cancer deaths. Many of these people die without treatment, not even pain relief.“No country anywhere, no matter how rich, can treat its way out of the cancer crisis. A much greater commitment to prevent is needed,” Dr. Chan emphasized. “The same is true for heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. In some middle-income countries, diabetes treatment alone is now absorbing nearly half of the entire health budget.”“All of these trends,” she stated, “are certain to increase the world’s inequalities even more. They define the tremendous job that lies ahead for public health. They also shape expectations for the performance of WHO, and the support countries, and the international community, will need from this organization.”
“I am encouraged to see climate action taking hold, at all scales, at all levels, involving an ever-wider coalition of actors and institutions,” said the Secretary-General, at a press stakeout at the UN Headquarters, in New York. “But we need to do more,” he underlined. In his remarks, the UN chief said that he will be travelling to Bonn to participate in the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23), where, he will urge efforts to accelerate climate action as well as to raise ambition to do more.“The window of opportunity to meet the 2-degree target may close in 20 years or less – and we may have only five years to bend the emissions curve towards 1.5 degrees,” he said, noting the need for a further 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. Speaking on the need for bolstering finance, Mr. Guterres called for mobilizing the agreed $100 billion annually for developing countries, which is crucial to spur action. He also said that in September 2019, he will convene a Climate Summit to mobilize political and economic energy at the highest levels. “I ask world leaders to show courage in combatting entrenched interests; wisdom in investing in the opportunities of the future; and compassion in caring what kind of world we build for our children,” he said. “As a former politician myself, I have no doubt that in today’s world, this is the path to progress today and a meaningful legacy for tomorrow.” Also at the stakeout, the UN chief informed that before Bonn, he will visit the Philippines to attend the UN-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit, and after participating at COP23, he will deliver an address at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London on counter-terrorism and human rights on Thursday, 16 November. “As the world responds to modern terrorism, our goal must be to win the fight while upholding our values,” he said.