Vatican Address to World Health Organization Assembly

«Despite Progress … We Are Still a Long Way From Universal Coverage»

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GENEVA, Switzerland, MAY 24, 2011 ( Here is the address delivered by Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, to the World Health Organization’s 64th World Health Assembly, which concluded today in Geneva.

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Mr. Chairman,

To begin with, I wish to share with this august assembly the joy of the Catholic faithful and all people of good will, for the recent beatification of Pope John Paul II, who among others was an intrepid defender of life and showed great love for the sick and suffering.

1. The World Health Report 2010 emphasizes health system financing as the conduit to the much desired universal coverage in health service provision. It also notes with concern that despite the progress made in some countries, on the whole, we are still a long way from universal coverage. We are stalled in the status quo, where the rich people have higher levels of coverage, while most of the poor people miss out, and those who do have access often incur high, sometimes catastrophic costs in paying for services and medicine.[1]

Pope Benedict XVI, in his message to the International Conference on «Equitable and Human Health Care,» expressed his concern for the millions of people who have no access to health care services. He called for «greater commitment at all levels to ensure that the right to health care is rendered effective by furthering access to basic health care.»[2]

It is true that to ensure universal health coverage, countries can and need to raise sufficient funds, reduce reliance on direct payments for services and improve efficiency and equity, thus removing the financial barriers to access, especially for poor and less advantaged people. On the other hand, it is also true that very few of the low-income countries have any chance of generating from domestic resources alone, the funds required to achieve universal access by 2015. This sad fact highlights the need for a true global solidarity, in which high income countries do not only promise, but effectively meet their commitments on development assistance.

Mr. Chairman, as Blessed John Paul II, repeatedly observed, the need for solidarity between rich and poor nations in order to ensure universal access to medical care, cannot be overemphasized.[3] My delegation therefore, wishes to reiterate the appeal of Pope Benedict XVI, for the co-operation of the human family.[4] He stresses that «more economically developed nations should do all they can to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid, thus respecting the obligations that the international community has undertaken in this regard.» [5]

Such development aid, he says, ought to «be distributed with the involvement not only of the governments of receiving countries, but also local economic agents and the bearers of culture within civil society, including local Churches. Aid programmes must increasingly acquire the characteristics of participation and completion from the grass roots.»[6]

2. Secondly, with regard to the Draft WHO HIV Strategy 2011-2015, the Holy See appreciates the emphasis laid on eliminating new HIV infections in children and expanding and optimizing HIV treatment and care for them, which up to date has been lagging behind the progress made in treating adults.

Mr Chairman, my delegation would like to stress the importance of education to behaviour change and responsible living, as key elements of the prevention campaign. In this regard, I wish to express the Holy See’s reservations concerning the choice of harm reduction and opioid substitution as a preventive measure among injecting drug users, which though may delay new infections, does not really take care of, treat or cure the sick person, in order to restore their dignity and encourage social insertion.

3. Third, Mr Chairman, my delegation welcomes the attention given to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases and lifestyles, in order to reduce premature mortality and improve the quality of life. In this effort, while realizing the importance of strengthening health systems in order to respond promptly and effectively to the health needs of affected persons, the Holy See would like to underline the need to increase the political commitment and the involvement of NGOs and civil society, working together with the private sector especially in the promotion of prevention initiatives, above all the encouragement of healthy lifestyles. As some member states have observed, these non-communicable diseases end up being communicable because of the transmission of the underlying behaviour. This underscores the importance of education to healthy lifestyles as a component of education to health and addressing the social determinants of health.

4. Finally, my delegation fully shares the concerns expressed in the adopted resolution on child injury prevention EB128.R15. In view of these serious concerns for the health and safety of children, the Holy See would like to appeal to the international community to support transfer of knowledge on measures and instruments for the prevention of child injury to low- and middle income countries, where 95% of the child injury deaths occur, and also help to improve emergency-care and rehabilitation services for non-fatal injuries in these settings, where, among others, long civil wars drastically increase the incidences of child injuries and the victims end up in centres that often lack the means and resources to take care of them.

Thank you, Mr Chairman, and God bless you all.


[1] Cf. WHO, The World Health Report 2010 – Health System Financing: the Path to Universal Coverage, Geneva 2010.

[2] Benedict XVI, Message to Participants in the 25th International Conference Organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, 15 November 2010, Vatican City.

[3] Cf. John Paul II, «Appeal to Humanity at Ouagadougou», 29 January 1990, nn. 4-5, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II XII/1 (1990) 305, 306; Giorgio Filibeck, Les droits de l’Homme dans l’enseignement de l’Eglise: de Jean XXIII à Jean-Paul II, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1992, p. 219.

[4] Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, n. 53.

[5] Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, n. 60.

[6] Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, n. 58.

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