Health for All—A Basic Need
MODERN medicine has made outstanding progress. The reasons for the great plagues of the past no longer remain a mystery. Amazing advances have led to modern medical miracles.
Still, health problems remain staggering. At the time of the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care, 80 percent of the world’s rural and poor urban population still lacked access to any health services, and 30 of every 31 children under the age of five who would die that year lived in the poorer lands. In the “developed” countries environmental decay, pollution, and harmful wastes still provide a growing threat to life.
WHO’s regional office for Europe has foreseen not health by the year 2000 but a possible crisis by then. In 1983 it sponsored a book, Health Crisis 2000, by Peter O’Neill, that speaks of the “chilling realization” that a host of “new diseases” has crept up on the civilized world. What are these? Environmentally caused cancer, heart disease, drug addiction, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, “the self-destructive urge of the smoker and the drinker,” and “the ‘road accident epidemic’, which plunders lives and drains our financial resources.” These “diseases of affluent societies” are also spreading through the poorer nations.
Let us consider some of these modern problems:
CANCER is the second leading cause of death in the United States. It strikes one out of every four Americans. Worldwide, 40 million people may suffer from this disease. Cancer-causing substances abound.
POLLUTION. Dangerous products and harmful wastes contaminate the environment. Pesticides are found in foods. Rivers and seas have been contaminated. In some places even groundwater drawn from wells is polluted.
DRUG ADDICTION. “The slow slide down to hell” is what Health Crisis 2000 calls drug addiction. It says the “process of destruction of the young mind and body . . . is so fearful, and the rehabilitation process so long and difficult for the patient and for those helping, that it deserves special examination.”
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES. With the collapse of morals, the spread of venereal diseases has reached the point where it has been called a pandemic—a widespread epidemic. World Health magazine says “the spread of disease in the population is today so generalised that any sexually active person [one who has multiple partners] is at potential risk of infection.”
ALCOHOL ABUSE. In many places women, adolescents, and even young children are swelling the ranks of alcoholics. Alcohol is said to be a factor in 40 percent of all road accidents. Even the social drinker can destroy a family while proving his ability at the wheel of a car.
MODERN TRAVEL. The convenience of modern travel has made possible the rapid spread of epidemics worldwide. AIDS and penicillin-resistant strains of gonorrhea have been spread throughout the world by travelers, and these diseases are said to have “taken advantage of the dramatic movement of populations characteristic of the twentieth century.”
POPULATION. The population explosion and the rapid movement of rural populations into already overcrowded cities further complicate the world’s health problems. In 1983, 26 cities had a population of at least five million. By the year 2000 there may be 60 such cities. World Health magazine says there may then be more than a billion people “living in urban areas at a level of extreme poverty.” Robert McNamara, former president of the World Bank, warned: “If cities do not begin to deal more constructively with poverty, poverty may begin to deal more destructively with cities.”
Thus, despite the efforts of many hardworking and dedicated people, the goal of “health for all” seems far out of reach. Actually, this slogan is not to be taken literally. It was not intended to mean that everyone would be healthy but that at least primary health care would be available for all. The goal, a WHO booklet says, is that “resources for health will be evenly distributed . . . that essential health care will be accessible to everyone . . . and that people will use better approaches than they do now” for preventing and alleviating disease and disability.
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