ANOTHER VIEW : Give health a chance

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The Independent Online
The Independent has, in the past few days, devoted considerable space to the external audit at the World Health Organisation's regional office for Africa in Brazzaville. This important issue is now being addressed, and should not be allowed to obscure the many achievements of the organisation or the constructive progress currently under way at the World Health Assembly in Geneva to further the process of change.

Change in a large and complex international organisation can be painful and difficult. Since 1993 WHO has made far-reaching reforms to its programmes, management and policies in response to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Budgeting and operational planning have been radically transformed and made more transparent to enable priorities to be more easily identified and implemented.

In January 1995 the WHO executive board expressed its strong support for the reform process. The World Health Assembly is also supportive of the reforms, while recognising that more needs to be done in the coming years. The assembly has endorsed WHO's policy. We are in the middle of reform and are working hard to enhance WHO's capacity to support countries and communities, particularly the poorest, to achieve better health for all people. As highlighted in The World Health Report 1995 - Bridging the Gaps, which WHO published on 1 May, it is in Africa that many of the world's most serious health problems occur, and through WHO's Regional Office for Africa they can be addressed.

WHO is dedicated to the eradication of polio and leprosy worldwide by 2000. It is also close to its goal of eliminating neonatal tetanus - a killer of women in developing countries. WHO is helping to deliver essential medicines to those most in need.

Nevertheless the global economic crisis and increased demands by countries for WHO's expertise and support means the organisation still faces severe financial difficulties. In response, WHO's management has repeatedly stressed its commitment to making the organisation leaner, fitter and better able to direct and co-ordinate international health policies.

The protection and improvement of human health around the world is vital to all of us. WHO, with its 190 member states, is working to improve the organisation's activities in support of this goal. We are well aware that good news seldom makes headlines, but there seems to be a particularly stubborn reluctance within the media to acknowledge the work that the WHO does around the world day by day. It is time to stop bashing the WHO while remaining watchful. Through such constructive vigilance member states, the media and the public can help achieve a healthier world.

The writer is associate director of the cabinet of the director-general of the World Health Organisation.

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