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U.N. Secretary-General, WHO Director-General Appeal For Continued Investment In Global Health

Despite the current global economic crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for a continued international commitment to investing in health, Xinhua/People’s Daily reports. “We can cut back on health expenditures and incur massive losses in lives and fundamental capacity for growth. Or we can invest in health and spare both people and economies the high cost of inaction,” Ban said during an address at the U.N. Forum on Advancing Global Health in the Face of Crises, a day-long forum at U.N. headquarters in New York. “The cost of cutting back is just unthinkable” (Xinhua/People’s Daily, 6/16).

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the forum “that developing countries are most vulnerable to the global H1N1 (swine) flu epidemic, the financial crisis, food shortages and climate change – and much more must be done to urgently strengthen their health care systems,” the AP/Washington Post reports. “Because of the economic downturn, people in affluent societies are losing their jobs, their homes, and their savings, and this is tragic,” Chan said. “In developing countries, they will lose their lives” (Lederer, AP/Washington Post, 6/16).

“We need to heed the call of our conscience, recognize that our interests are bound together, and act – united – with the urgency the times demand,” Ban said, pointing to the H1N1 pandemic as “a reminder of our global vulnerability and the need for a global response,” ISRIA writes. “We cannot protect ourselves by working in isolation,” Ban said. “This is as true for the recent outbreak as it is for the long-standing health challenges we face” (ISRIA, 6/15).

Chan noted that pregnancy and underlying health conditions increase the morbidity and mortality for those infected with the H1N1 virus, and that the majority of maternal deaths and chronic diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries. “I firmly believe that this pandemic will reveal, in a highly visible, measurable and tragic way, exactly what it means, in life-and-death terms, when health needs and health systems have been neglected, for decades, in large parts of the world,” Chan said. “We will see, in extremely tragic ways, the consequences of our longstanding failure to ensure basic care during pregnancy and childbirth,” she said (AP/Washington Post, 6/16).

“Developing countries have the greatest vulnerability and the least resilience. They will be hit the hardest and take the longest to recover,” Chan said, adding, “In terms of measures to mitigate the health impact, many poor countries are virtually empty-handed.” Chan “urged senior government officials to place ‘fairness’ at the core of decisions to protect the most vulnerable against major worldwide crises,” Xinhua reports (Xinhua, 6/15). “Greater equity in the health status of populations, within and between countries should be regarded as a key measure of how we, as a civilized society, are making progress,” Chan said.

Ban also called for an international response to maternal and child health worldwide, AFP/Google.com reports. “The global impact of maternal and newborn deaths has been estimated at 15 billion dollars a year in lost productivity,” Ki-moon said. “We must use maternal health as a lens through which we decide and act on global health policies” (AFP/Google.com, 6/15).

NPR’s Morning Edition examines international efforts to protect the health needs of mothers and children in developing countries. According NPR, “Ban called on donors to  honor existing commitments to the Millennium Development Goals, pledges that amount to $20 billion between 2007 and 2015 an amount totaling $20 billion between 2007 and 2015” (Wilson, NPR, 6/15).