Holy See Address to U.N. Health Assembly

"Urges an Anthropology Respectful of the Human Person"

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GENEVA, MAY 21, 2007, (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the U.N. offices in Geneva, gave at the World Health Assembly being held from May 14 to 23. The address was titled "The Holy See and Modern Challenges in Health Promotion."



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Madam President,

1. The Holy See delegation wishes to convey its congratulations upon your election as president of this august assembly as well as its sincere gratitude to Dr. Fernando Antezana Araníbar, who provided such excellent leadership for the World Health Organization executive board as it fulfilled its burdensome responsibility to discern succession to the post of director-general following the untimely death of Dr. J.W. Lee.

2. My delegation also expresses congratulations to Dr. Margaret Chan upon her appointment as director-general of the World Health Organization. We welcome her designation of the health of women and of the people of Africa as major concerns during her tenure in office. The Catholic Church has traditionally been in the first line in the promotion of the authentic health of women, by helping them to harmonize their physical, psychological and social well-being with moral and spiritual values. In this line, the Catholic Church is also convinced of the God-given, equal and complementary dignity of women and men.

The Catholic Church also prioritizes the most fruitful expression of complementarity between woman and man -- that is, the family which is founded upon lifelong and mutually faithful marriage and which continues to serve as the mainstay of human society. This vision of human dignity, strongly promoted by the Holy See, also is shared by citizens in many WHO member states.

In this same regard, it is the fervent hope of this delegation that discussion on and implementation of Resolution EB 120.R6, "Integrating Gender Analysis and Actions into the Work of WHO" will never be utilized to "justify" doing harm to or destroying human life during one of its most vulnerable stages -- when still within the mother's womb. Furthermore, the Holy See wishes to invite the WHO member states once again to understand the term "gender" as grounded in biological sexual identity, male or female.

Regarding Africa, the Popes have repeatedly expressed deep concern over its anguished history "where many nations are still in the grip of famine, war, racial and tribal tensions, political instability and the violation of human rights"[1], and Pope Benedict XVI has exhorted the international community, "we must not forget Africa."[2]

3. My delegation wishes to commend, for particular attention by this assembly, the resolutions and recommendations with regard to the pandemics of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, as well as those related to the projected exacerbation of avian and pandemic influenza. Much of the threat to health security caused by such diseases could adequately be addressed were the global human family to commit itself to affordable and action-oriented programs of research, vaccination, treatment and preventive education respectful of the natural moral law.

From Nov. 23 to 25, 2006, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry convened more than 500 experts to reflect on "pastoral aspects of the treatment of infectious diseases." In addressing those gathered, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the need to implement social justice in the sensitive area of treatment and nursing and therefore to ensure a fair distribution of resources for research and treatment.[3]

In this same perspective, as the chancellor of Germany prepared to assume the presidency of both the G-8 countries and the European Union, the Holy Father, in a letter to her, expressed the hope that there would be "a substantial investment of resources for research and for the development of medicines to treat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other tropical diseases is needed. … There is also a need to make available medical and pharmaceutical technology and health care expertise without imposing legal or economic conditions."[4]

4. The Holy See shares the concern expressed by the secretariat of WHO in its report on "Better Medicines for Children," for the tragic loss of life each year among some 10.5 million children under five years of age; many of these children die of diseases that are treatable in adults but for which appropriate dosages and formulations have not yet been developed for pediatric use.[5]

Attention to this serious concern seems all the more compelling in light of the recently released report on "Scaling up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector," which noted, with much regret, that only 15% of HIV-positive children in need of anti-retroviral treatment actually have access to these life-saving therapies. Such treatment coverage is approximately one-half that achieved for HIV-positive adults.[6]

The international community can no longer turn a deaf ear to the life-threatening needs of children, many of whom can be counted among our most needy citizens but who represent, as well, the future of the human community. While steps are being taken to develop "Better Medicines for Children" and to revise and regularly update the Model List of Essential Medicines in order to include those appropriate for paediatric use, research that is ethically based, transparent, and carefully monitored, must be conducted on the safety of such medicines before they are approved for treatment of diseases affecting children.

5. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the historic Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care, the Holy See delegation is pleased to note the strategic attention being encouraged at this World Health Assembly on such crucial topics as prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, rational use of medicines, and, in particular, health promotion in a globalized world with a special focus on primary health care.

In all the deliberations during this assembly and in the subsequent implementation of World Health Assembly resolutions at national and local levels, 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.[7]

Thank you.

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[1] Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, "Ecclesia in Africa," No. 51.
[2] Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See for the Traditional Exchange of New Year Greetings, Monday, Jan. 8, 2007.

[3] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Participants in the 21st International Congress Organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Clementine Hall, Friday, Nov. 24, 2006.
[4] Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Her Excellency Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Dec. 16, 2006.

[5] "Better Medicines for Children," Report by the Secretariat, World Health Organization, 60th World Health Assembly, A60/25, April 17, 2007.
[6] "Toward Universal Access: Scaling up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector," Progress Report by WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, April 2007, p. 6.

[7] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Message of the World Day of the Sick, Feb. 11, 2000, No. 13.

[Original text: English; text adapted]