By John Jalsevac

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 24, 2007 ( – Yesterday, May 23, the 60th annual World Health Assembly (WHA) came to a close. The WHA is self-described as “the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization.” It meets in Geneva in May each year, and is attended by delegations from the 193 Member States.

Given that the new Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, has explicitly stated that her emphasis as director of the powerful organization will be on “the health of women and of the people of Africa,” pro-life and pro-family advocates have keenly observed the proceedings at Geneva. Africa and women’s health have long been the two primary battlegrounds for life and family issues.

In her opening address Director-General Chan highlighted the difficulties posed by HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa. “The overwhelming burden of disease is borne by the African people,” she said, “We must not allow Africa to become the continent left behind by development.” Chan also focused at some length on women’s health, urging delegates to realize that “WHO needs to do much more for women, to protect their health, and to realize their enormous potential.”

Chan did not, however, get into any significant specifics about any of these issues, instead giving a general overview, and shying away from anything controversial.

Specifics of the WHA’s methods for addressing women’s health and health problems in Africa were given later in the Assembly in the keynote address by Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

“Today,” said Obaid, “poor sexual and reproductive health is a leading cause of death and disability in the developing world.”

She continued on, giving a list of means to curb health problems relating to female sexual and reproductive health, that included wider access to “family planning” services, abortion, contraceptives, and condoms.

“Strengthened health systems should also deliver a steady and reliable supply of reproductive health commodities, including drugs for maternal health, contraceptives, HIV test kits and condoms,” she said. “With no cure in sight for AIDS, our first line of defense remains prevention.” In her speech, however, Obaid made no mention of the benefits of sexual abstinence in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS as well as the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies.

The official reports by the Secretariat of the Assembly also repeatedly mention the need for more widespread access to “modern” forms of contraception, and the need for universal access to “reproductive health services” (a U.N. euphemism that includes access to abortion and contraceptives).

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi also addressed the Health Assembly on behalf of the Holy See, and offered a very different picture of what women’s health should look like.

“The Catholic Church has traditionally been in the first line in the promotion of the authentic health of women by helping them to harmonize their physical, psychological and social well-being with moral and spiritual values,” he said.

“The Catholic Church also prioritizes the most fruitful expression of complementarity between woman and man—that is, the family which is founded upon lifelong and mutually faithful marriage and which continues to serve as the mainstay of human society.”

The Archbishop also took a shot at the pro-abortion agenda of the WHA, as evidenced by Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid’s address, expressing his hope that the resolutions of the WHA “will never be utilized to ‘justify’ doing harm to or destroying human life during one of its most vulnerable stages—when still within the mother’s womb.”

According to a report from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who had a delegate present at the WHA, the United States, which in recent years has fought the UN’s pro-abortion/anti-life agenda in some measure, also expressed “strong opposition to sexual and reproductive health references” at the WHA. The US expressed its opposition to any attempt to interpret the five-year strategy adopted by the WHA as “suggesting the existence of a new human right to sexual and reproductive health” or “encouraging or compelling Member States to expand the availability of abortion.”

Read pertinent WHA documents in full:

Integrating gender analysis and actions into the work of WHO: draft strategy

Working towards universal coverage of maternal, newborn and child health interventions: biennial report

Keynote address by Ms Thoraya Ahmed Obaid


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