Climate Change Tops Agenda for W.H.O. Every year on its birthday, the World Health Organization declares "World Health Day" and highlights one critical issue — this year it's the impact of global warming on health.
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Climate Change Tops Agenda for W.H.O.

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Climate Change Tops Agenda for W.H.O.

Climate Change Tops Agenda for W.H.O.

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John Donnelly covered global health issues for the Boston Globe for nine years. He lived in Africa for three, and he's currently a Kaiser Family Foundation media fellow, working on a book about Americans working to help kids in Africa. And he joins us now. Hey, John.

M: Hi. How are you?

STEWART: I'm doing just great. So when is the World Health Organization especially effective? I mean, really, what's been its biggest accomplishment?

M: It's also been very effective in setting some big goals for the world. And things like, there should be three million people in Africa to be treated with AIDS drugs by the year 2005. And tobacco companies, you should really stop promotion of your product in this kind of fashion around the world. You should have more regulation. So it's had some big wins in that way.

STEWART: It's also taken quite a few hits. What are some of the WHO's major problems?

M: It goes a lot to salaries, a lot to the bureaucracy. And WHO, unlike the Gates Foundation, unlike the U.S. government, unlike this other group, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, doesn't really have a lot of money to actually implement programs. So it says it want to go do something, but then it often doesn't have the money to back it up.

STEWART: Well, do they have any oversight over the money that they do share, that they give to smaller aid organizations?

M: And one of the reasons there's been very little progress is that no other people came and no other funders came in behind WHO and said, hey, you know, we've got to put money to this. So it can be an advocate just like today's announcement, you know, with this is - we should look at the human health effects of climate change. And then what?


M: If it doesn't have a big budget to really implement programs, a lot of its best ideas fall flat.

STEWART: And it's interesting, when I look at their activity set for their 60th anniversary, it is a lot of things like a podcast we're going to put out, and a photo exhibit. And a global snapshot of public health. I mean, are they actually making a difference on the ground, from what you've seen and reported on?

M: It's a mixed record.


M: And the U.S. government put a lot of pressure on the WHO not to give what's called "prequalification," which is sort of their OK that the drugs are OK, and forced the generic companies and the developing countries to let the whole process go through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you know, which was a win for no one. It delayed the distribution of the generic drugs. It showed, really, how the WHO is, when it comes to the U.S., especially, can be really toothless.

STEWART: Well, we put up quite a bit of the money out of 193 countries, right? The United States?

M: So you know, the U.S. is the biggest contributor in the world for global health. So the U.S. should have a big voice in it, but the voice should be put toward ways of saving lives, and without undo consideration for private enterprise.

STEWART: Before I let you go, today, World Health Day. The focus is on climate change and health. This is an obvious or not obvious choice for the WHO?

M: Both. It's obvious because it's a great issue. You think about if the world starts warming up, what happens to crops?


M: That could have an effect on malnutrition. What happens to water ways? What happen to - you know, does it cause more drought? Does it cause more floods? That's going to have a huge impact on human health. But then it's not such a great choice in some ways, because what has the WHO ever done on the effects on human health? Very, very little.

STEWART: And it's so big.

M: It's kind of a public relations move for them.

STEWART: John Donnelly, until recently a global health reporter for the Boston Globe, now a Kaiser Family Foundation media fellow writing a book about Americans working to help kids in Africa. Hey, John, thanks for helping us.

M: You're welcome. Thanks a lot.

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