One day a year, we think about other people’s health, and that day is approaching. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared April 7 as World Health Day, stressing its commitment “to ensuring that everyone, everywhere, can realize the right to good health.” This is a tall order, and WHO needs all the help it can get.
WHO has 190 member countries, but only 40 in the industrialized world contribute substantially to its support. The result is that the WHO is underfunded, and for any emergency such as our current pandemic, it must make a unique appeal for donations.
For the pandemic’s global challenges, such as data collection and vaccine distribution, it must be the WHO that coordinates it because there is no other organization that functions at that scale.
Considering its limitations, it is astounding that the WHO has achieved what it has. Recall, for example, that the organization coordinated the global attack on smallpox that permanently eradicated this terrible disease from the face of the earth. The WHO and our own CDC’s efforts have succeeded in eradicating polio everywhere except Pakistan and Afghanistan and have saved more than 18 million people from paralysis by that disease.
Health is a much broader issue than just infectious disease. There are many places where life is so primitive that the first steps toward health must include clean drinking water, toilets, enclosed sewage systems, and proper garbage disposal.
In his book “The Health Gap,” Michael Marmot reported that the single most important factor linked to health is wealth. Wealthy countries are healthier than developing countries, and within countries both rich and poor, the poor are less healthy than the wealthy.
The cause appears to be bigger than just access to health care; governments can not adequately address healthcare challenges without addressing poverty.
That correlation holds even in America. We are the only country in the industrialized world that does not provide universal health care and one of the few that has not made a substantial effort to eradicate poverty.
The result is that we have large segments of the Lowcountry community who cannot afford good health insurance, cannot afford to take time off work, cannot arrange to get vaccinated, and live with preventable disease, discomfort or deformity. It seems inappropriate that the world’s wealthiest country is the only one without universal health care, even though a solid majority of Americans want it.
To learn more, visit who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2021. Read about the World Health Organization and their work with ebola, nutrition and hepatitis. Check out their COVID-19 dashboard for the most up to date pandemic information. Learn about their newest initiative, the WHO Academy, a centre for delivering advanced digital and classroom training to health workers and others around the world. See for yourself how WHO is building a fairer, healthier world.
Dr. Colin Moseley is a board member of the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head.