A U.S. AGENDA FOR THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
The 166 members of the United N ations' World Health
Organization (WHO) gather in Geneva on May 4 for a two-week
meeting, the 40th session of the World Health Assembly V (WHA).
Once again the Assembly, which is the. VHO's policy making body,
has prepared a highly politicized, anti-Weste r n agenda. As in the
past, WHA members will welcome the Palestine Liberation
Organization, promote disarmament concepts that affect the West and
ignore the Soviet Union, and offer assistance to the "liberation
struggle in southern Africa!' in a way that su p ports pro-Moscow
"national liberation movements." At the same time, WHA will ignore
private sector initiatives to improve health delivery services in
developing countries. As they head for Geneva, the United States
delegation once a&ain should devise a st r atev to stem the
tide of politicization in the WHO. Such politicization, if
unchecked, can taint and undermine WHO, as has happened with most
other U.N. bodies. This would be tragic because so far the WHO has
been one of the relatively useful U.N. agencie s . At Geneva, the
U.S. delegates should: 1) oppose proposals to regulate advertising
and promotion of food products; 2) oppose further attempts to
regulate advertising and promotion of pharmaceuticals; 3) insist on
a stronger role for free enterprise appro a ches to health care; 4)
submit documents outlining the flaws of WHO studies on nuclear war
and disarmament; 5) vote --.-.t double standard resolutions aimed
at undermining Western defense in the name ealth and development";
and 6) continue to oppose infla m matory anti-Israeli resolutions.
Previous WHA sessions have endorsed the New International Economic
Order (NIEO)--a 1974 U.N. blueprint for state intervention in the
econo th t0oses free my 2al enterprise approaches--and blamed
Western developed nations f o r the prob!ems, of developing
nations. The May 1986 WHA meeting, for example, adopted a
resolution on "Repercussions of the World Economic Situation,"
which endorsed NEBO and appealed to industrial countries to
increase their assistance to developing coun tries. WHA,
did not call upon the Soviet Union to increase its aid, even though
the USSR contributes only 1 percent to the development activities
of the U.N. One item on the agenda of the May 1987 meeting is a
review of the report of WHO Directo r-General Halfdan Mahler, which
includes a section on"workers' health." Ust year's Director-General
report on this topic was severely flawed: only 30 countries
participated in the study. Since most of them are outside the
communist bloc, the result is a s kewed picture of workers'
problems. The U.S. thus should push for a WHO study of the state of
workers' health under communist systems. If WHO refuses to approve
such a study, the U.S. should underwrite it and then present it to
the WHO for the record.
Pale stinian Issue. The 1987 WHA meeting almost certainly will pass
a resolution that has been virtually routine since 1976. It
condemns Israel for its occupation of "Arab territories" and for
"illegal exploitation of the natural wealth and resources of the Ar
a b inhabitants." How these matters are health issues is a mystery.
But the WHA will not condemn Vietnam for its occupation of Cambodia
or thg Soviet Union for its occupation of Afghanistan. When the
anti-Israel resolution is raised, the U.S. should walk ou t.
Disannanent. Last year, the WHA committed WHO to the U.N.'s
International Year of Peace. As such, this year a major agenda t
is7Fhe Effects of Nuclear War on Health and Health Services." Among
other things, ittc endorse the widely discredited argument t hat a
"nuclear winter" would follow a nuclear attack. It also will focus
most of its attention on Western nuclear weapons developments
without saying anything about the massive, dangerous build-up of
the Soviet arsenal. It is very doubtful, moreover, that WHA will
address the nuclear health problems posed by the catastrophe of the
Soviet Union's Chernobyl reactor. The U.S. thus should propose that
a WHO report study the effects of the Chernobyl accident.
Regulation of Business. On the one-time controversia l issue of
infant feeding, the U.S. delegation should do much more than
practice reactive damage control. Instead, the U.S. should request
that WHO study the experiences of deveIpped and developing nations,
in which industry self-regulation and voluntary agreements have
been successful in matters pertaining to infant and young child
health. The U.S. should oppose all attempts by WHO to introduce
mandatory regulatory codes.
More generally, the U.S. should request a WHO review of existing
private sector heal th initiatives. Among such initiatives are: 1)
investment in health care iMustries includin.& medical
equipment and supplies; 2) privatization of specific health
services within public health systems, including storage and
delivery of pharmaceuticals, lab oratories, x-ray and radiology
services; 3) private financing of health services.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization faces a serious challenge.
Its policy-making body, the World Health Assembly, has become
increasingly politicized during the past dec ade. WHO has a choice:
to rediscover its commitment to improve the world's health or to
continue on its present course. Unless the WHO makes the right
choice, the U.S. should start reconsidering its membership in this
once distinguished agency.
Juliana Geran Pilon Senior Policy Analyst
For further information:
"Economic Support for National Health in All Strategies,"
Background Document, 40th World Health Assembly, Geneva, May
Juliana Geran Pilon, "For the World Health Organization, The
Moment of Truth," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 507, April