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Annan calls for comprehensive approach to multiple global disease threats

Annan calls for comprehensive approach to multiple global disease threats

Kofi Annan
With global health threatened on multiple fronts, from established epidemics like AIDS to newly emergent diseases such as SARS, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to safeguarding the world’s “biological security.”

“[Those] threats to our biological safety, disparate as they may seem, are inter-connected. We have no choice but to address them all,” Mr. Annan said in New York on Thursday night as he received the 2005 Health and Human Rights Leadership Award from Doctors of the World (DOW).

Part of the Médecins du Monde (MDM) International network, Doctors of the World mobilizes the health sector to promote and protect basic human rights and civil liberties for all people, in the United States and abroad.

Mr. Annan, whose first UN job had been with the World Health Organization (WHO), was honoured for his “deep commitment to a healthy and peaceful future for all people.” This year's event marked Doctors of the World-USA's 15th anniversary.

He said that addressing the global health challenges of the day meant recognizing that health was not exclusively a “development issue,” nor exclusively a “security issue.” The time had come, he said, to abandon traditional bureaucratic thinking and to work across ministries and departments to forge a holistic approach equal to such an all-encompassing challenge.

“We must devote greater resources to disease surveillance and response,” he said, recalling that just last month the World Health Assembly had adopted newly revised International Health Regulations in a “bold and necessary” bid to improve global efforts to contain outbreaks.

“Governments must devote greater attention and resources to building local and national capacities. Donors – if only out of self-interest – must work with developing countries and assist them,” said Mr. Annan.

He also called for “new and serious” efforts to build health systems in developing countries. At the core of this challenge was the need to address the acute shortage of health workers in many of those nations.

“We must also move away from the kind of health interventions that I would liken to peacekeeping without peace-building: human and essential, but all too often lacking the necessary longer-term effort to consolidate and make results sustainable,” the Secretary-General said.