Vatican supports new direction on health for World Health Organization

This week has seen several interventions by the Vatican delegation to the World Health Organization’s key decision making body.

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly , which is the  decision-making body of the World Health Organization , and in turn the  public health body of the United Nations was taking place this week in Geneva.

Catholic support for improving population health

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski,  head of the Holy See’s delegation, in a brief but wide-ranging speech

  • called on WHO to affirm the centrality of spiritual needs to any approach to universal health care
  • supported the WHO’s aims to prevent non-communicable diseases such as Heart Disease and Cancer
  • affirmed the need to control and prevent disease in older people
  • supported WHO intentions to further reduce preventable deaths especially in women and children but differed on emergency contraception from WHO’s suggested stance
  • reminded the WHO of the significance of the Catholic Church’s health care agencies and infrastructure (up to 25% of HIV care worldwide, over 50% of health care in some countries)

Archishop Zimowski’s intervention is covered in more detail on Catholics in Healthcare blog.

Responding to WHO General Secretary on health of women and children

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, outlined her goals for her time as Director General as including  “the health of women and of the people of Africa.” Archbishop Silvo Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations and part of the Holy See’s delegation at the Assembly expressed his support for these objectives, and went on to explain the Catholic Church’s global and local experience in those areas.

Health of the people of Africa

The Archbishop went on to offer the experience of the Church in support of Dr Chan’s goal for improving the health of the people of Africa. “[M]any nations are still in the grip of famine, war, racial and tribal tensions, political instability and the violation of human rights.” Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation to the international community is also very appropriate, “we must not forget Africa ….”

Emphasising the care of the whole person

Tomasi finalised his intervention with a vision of health that reminded the WHO of it’s own aspirational definition of health. We should seek a deeper care for every aspect of the human person.

“My delegation urges a perspective on health security that is grounded on an anthropology respectful of the human person in his or her integrity and looks far beyond the absence of disease to the full harmony and sound balance of the physical, emotional, spiritual and social forces within the human person.”

In recent years the Vatican has moved to emphasise not only its stance on reproductive health at WHO events but has taken on a stronger public health focus. This latest WHO Assembly has seen Vatican interventions aimed at sharing the wider health and social justice concerns of the Church.

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