UN liaison promotes health care [The Badger Herald]

by Ken Harris, The Badger Herald, Thursday, March 6, 2008

Former United Nations Food and Agriculture liaison told a group of University of Wisconsin students and faculty Wednesday the nation has an obligation to provide health care to poor nations to protect their basic human rights.

As the keynote speaker to kick off the Global Health Symposium, current managing director of the UW Human Rights Initiative Florence Chenoweth said the right to health is the most basic human right in her presentation titled “Health Care and Human Rights: The World Cannot Wait.”

She added health and human rights are inexorably linked because it is health policies that help protect those rights.

According to Chenoweth, the right to health “does not mean the right to be healthy,” but means governments are responsible for putting into place laws that lead to access to health care.

She said the main problem with global health is hunger, adding “it is shameful” so many people are dying of hunger in a world that has enough resources to feed everyone.

“Poverty is the element that affects public health more than anything else,” Chenoweth said. “Poverty is the world’s No. 1 health problem.”

Chenoweth went on to say 1.2 billion people around the world still live on less than $1 per day, and those in poor countries are dying from diseases that have vaccines. Many people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chenoweth applauded UW’s efforts to improve health care around the world through the Center for Global Health, saying the program is very unique because of its comprehensive nature that focuses on collaboration between health care disciplines.

“We can make this a global public university,” Chenoweth said.

She added the United States causes a lot of problems in poor countries, but citizens “must remain positive” because there is a “social movement going on” among large organizations like the World Bank. She said large nations are now realizing their responsibility to aid the poorer nations.

First year UW medical school student Rebecca McSorley said it is oversimplified to say these health problems are solely the problems of medical or health care professionals. However, she added, health is the key to improving the lives of citizens in poor countries and ensuring their human rights.

“It’s so essential that it’s never mentioned in basic human rights because it’s assumed,” McSorley said.

UW medical student Emily Yu said she believes it is important for everyone that health care is available to all those who need it. She added UW should do what it can to help the situation since the public university should “have the public interest at heart.”

“It takes the will to want to get to the root of the problem and deal with it,” Chenoweth said. “We have to be creative in finding a way to make this possible.”