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Written by Kirsten Brownstein   
Friday, 22 June 2012 20:23

The Future We Want

Last Updated on Friday, 22 June 2012 20:26
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Written by Kirsten Brownstein   
Friday, 22 June 2012 20:19

Rio +20 puts health at the heart of development goals

Last Updated on Friday, 22 June 2012 20:26
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Friday, 22 June 2012 15:52

Despite little progress, Rio Conventions remain relevant and feasible

The three conventions signed in Rio 92 have produced limited results, according to participants in a panel which took place on June 21 as part of the Rio+20 Conference. But in spite of the limited advances, panellists still consider them critically important and have reasons to be optimist about the implementation.

In the Rio 92 Conference, in which was then deemed an unprecedented consensus, delegates approved the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Climate Change. A report recently released by the United Nations Environment Program said the world was making progress on only four of 90 important environmental goals and objectives set by these conventions.

"The Rio Conventions were visionary. Twenty years down the road they are still relevant. We need to use the spirit of the Rio+20 declaration to implement all the relevant conventions," said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the presenters in the panel "Why the three Rio Conventions are critical to achieve development and poverty eradication".

Dr Chan also congratulated governments for the prominent position achieved by health in the Rio+20 draft declaration.

Dennis Carrity, Ambassador for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, suggested a change in the way the performance of these conventions is monitored. "We need to learn lessons from the MDG. The MDG goals are clear and appealing - they were not written by lawyers or government bureaucrats."

Carrity presented three tasks to increase the implementation of the Rio Conventions: galvanize more support with visible actions, build on success stories and engage new constituencies.

One constituency that is already engaged is the small island nations. Dr Rolph Payet, Minister of Environment and Energy for Seychelles explained that small islands are particularly sensitive to the issues covered by the conventions, because of their unique nature when dealing with challenges like population growth, energy sources, waste management, and pandemics.

Tourism, often a key source of income for small islands, can be disrupted by unsustainable practices both in the host and in the visitors' countries. "The three Rio Conventions are the best tool the small islands have to address these challenges," he said.

Many participants mentioned the linkages between the Rio Conventions and health. "The warming of the planet will be gradual, but the floods, draughts and heat waves will have a disruptive effect on people, including malnutrition, scarcity of water, change in the geographic distribution of vectors, disease, and ultimately deaths," said Dr Chan.

Braulio Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity suggested "upscaling" the conventions.  "We clearly did not work hard enough to solve the problem, but I see this as an opportunity, not as a problem. We need to get together to mainstream the Rio Conventions". 

Last Updated on Friday, 22 June 2012 15:54
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Thursday, 21 June 2012 18:17

Rio+20 Resolution Creates Vital Opportunity for Universal Health Coverage

The mention to universal health coverage in the draft Rio+20 resolution creates a very important opportunity to strengthen health systems all around the world, said Brazilian Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, in a panel at the Conference. “This is a landmark achievement, which we need to understand, analyze and implement,” he said.  

The inclusion to universal health coverage in the text was possible only because of the commitment of several countries and the technical support and leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), Padilha said. Other speakers in the panel “Health and sustainable development – reinforcing the links”, which took place on June 20, were  Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO and Sudvhvir Sing a Delegate and Public Health Doctor, from New Zealand

According to Padilha, the inclusion of universal health coverage in the text was greatly facilitated by three events recently organized by WHO: the Conference on Social Determinants of Health, the last World Health Assembly, whose theme was universal access to health, and an international seminar on non-communicable diseases held in Brasilia. “These events allowed us to bring the health agenda to the center of the development agenda,“ he said.

Dr Chan expressed satisfaction with the inclusion of a comprehensive health agenda in the draft declaration. “Health was virtually silent in the first draft, but the countries were not satisfied with that.  WHO worked very closely with them to support them to reach this result, “she said.

The WHO Director-General also suggested that health indicators should be used to monitor the objectives of the declaration. “Health indicators are readily measurable, highly sensitive and personal,” she said. “They are also very good to generate political interest.”

“Investments on health alone cannot solve problems of foreign debt and climate change, but health remains a vital measure of sustainable development.  Health is the area in which we can more clarify demonstrate results,” she said.

Sudvhvir Sing mentioned that health and well-being were the least controversial issues of the declaration, which the exception of the item on sexual and reproductive rights, which was eliminated from the draft, although a reference to sexual and reproductive health remained. He reminded participants that the “zero draft” contained only two “anemic” references to health.

In addition to universal health coverage, other health issues mentioned in the draft declaration include communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases, pollution, intellectual property agreements, and the need to strengthen health systems and WHO.

“It would be ideal if as a next step we have a global commitment towards using health indicators to measure sustainable development,” he said. “Countries should advocate for this as part of the development of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Asked if the declaration meant that countries had to provide free care to the population, Dr Chan said there were different ways to reach universal health coverage. “The money has to come from somewhere,” she said. “But nobody should be denied health care because they cannot pay – that punishes the poor and we don’t want that. “

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Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:56

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