The 13th World Congress on Public Health recently completed its five-day conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was fortunate to be able to participate, representing Green Cross International, for a panel on "Global Security Engagement and Public Health," and a plenary session on "Models of Global Cooperation for Public Health."
This large meeting, with some 3,000 attendees from 120 countries, takes place every three years under auspices of the World Federation of Public Health Associations and of the national public health association, the Ethiopian Public Health Association in this case.
The Addis Adaba Congress, entitled "Towards Global Health Equity: Opportunities and Threats," addressed many issues related to the interface between the environment, security, and public health. One of the main points of discussion revolved around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight global targets for human development, environmental protection, and public health established by the United Nations in 2000 in the Millennium Declaration. These eight targets, to be met by 2015, are as follows:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality rates
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
The Declaration asserts that every individual has the right to dignity, freedom, equality, a basic standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence, and encourages tolerance and solidarity. Good health and environmental protection are also included as basic human rights, not privileges. Most speakers agreed that the poorest countries, many in Africa, will not meet these noble goals, especially concerning infant and maternal mortality rates.
My plenary presentation, entitled "How to Achieve Global Security for Health: Disarmament and Development," emphasized the need to universalize and fully implement the major multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements -- the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and other global security regimes. Our panel also pointed out that world military spending -- roughly $1.6 trillion/year -- is now double the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all African countries combined, thereby exerting a very high opportunity cost on economic development funds for poor countries.
The World Congress was introduced by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, His Excellency Mr. Meles Zenawi; by Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Tedros Adhanom; and many other national and global officials. All agreed that we have a very long way to go to achieve more national and international equity in health and security, but that a secure society is healthy, and a healthy society is secure. The two goals are interdependent, and must be included when the MDGs are reestablished in 2015.
"The Addis Ababa Declaration on Global Health Equity: A Call to Action," issued at the conclusion of the World Congress, concluded with this: "Make health equity an integral part of local, national and global policy and development agendas and ensure that structural issues such as food insecurity, rapid urbanization, migration, man-made environmental degradation, conflict and militarization, climate change and economic crisis are taken into consideration." (Full statement)