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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World Health Organization told spiritual needs “integral” to universal health care

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly was told this week that any integral approach to universal health care coverage must include addressing the spiritual needs of populations.

The Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization , the health and public health body of the United Nations and has universal health care coverage as one of its key strategic aims.

In a wide-ranging intervention which also signalled strong Vatican support for universal health-care measures, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and head of the Holy See’s delegation to the World Health Assembly said that any “integral” approach to healthcare need must focus on “the spiritual state of the person” and not just medical interventions or economic growth.

“Health and development ought to be integral if they are to respond fully to the needs of every human person. What we hold important is the human person – each person, each group of people, and humanity as a whole.”

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” The Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” The Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

Archbishop Zimowski then turned to efforts to save the lives of millions of people who die each year “from conditions that can easily be prevented.” He praised a resolution before the assembly to improve the quality, supply and use of 13 “life-saving commodities.”

“The Holy See strongly agrees with the need to achieve further reductions in the loss of life and prevention of illness through increased access to inexpensive interventions that are respectful of the life and dignity of all mothers and children at all stages of life, from conception to natural death,” he said.

However, he voiced “serious concerns” about the assembly’s secretariat report and its executive board-recommended resolution that includes “emergency contraception.” He said some of these drugs have an abortifacient effect.

“For my delegation, it is totally unacceptable to refer to a medical product that constitutes a direct attack on the life of the child in utero as a ‘life-saving commodity’ and, much worse, to encourage ‘increasing use of such substances in all parts of the world’,” he said.

The archbishop welcomed the assembly’s proposed global action plan to control non-communicable diseases. He said his delegation was “especially pleased” that the plan recognizes the “key role” of civil society institutions including faith-based organizations in encouraging the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

“Our delegation is aware that Catholic Church-inspired organizations and institutions throughout the world already have committed themselves to pursue such actions at global, regional, and local community levels,” he said.

Archbishop Zimowski also voiced interest in aspects of preventing and controlling diseases in older age, noting faith-based institutions’ long tradition of care for the aged and the rapid growth of the elderly population. He noted that the Vatican will host an international conference Nov. 21-23 about caring for the elderly with neurodegenerative diseases.