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Planetary sanctity, public health essential

BY: Dr W. B. Owusu
Picture credit: Shutterstock
Picture credit: Shutterstock

The United Nations (UN) was formed in 1945 in San Francisco, California, USA, after which a convincing proposal was made to form the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In February 1946, the Economic and Social Council of the UN advised the Secretary-General to convoke such a conference for the drafting of the WHO constitution.

A Technical Preparatory Committee met in Paris later in the same year and drew up proposals for a constitution. This was presented to the International Health Conference in New York in mid 1946.

On the basis of these, the constitution was drafted and adopted on July 22, 1946 by representatives of the 51 member states and 10 other nations.

The Conference also established an Interim Commission to carry out the activities of the then existing health institutions.

Article 69 of the WHO Constitution provides that it should be “a specialised agency of the UN.” Article 80 also stipulates that “The Constitution would come into force when 26 of the UN states had ratified it”; this came to fruition on April 7, 1948.

The first Health Assembly was opened in Geneva on June 24, 1948, with delegations from 53 of the 55 member states.

At the meeting, the “Interim Commission” was replaced with WHO on August 31, 1948.

Celebration

April 7 is celebrated as World Health Day since that year. It is a day set aside particularly for public education, awareness re(creation) and the (re)appraisal of public health-related matters both locally and globally.

The theme this year, “Our planet, our health”, focuses global attention on actions that we need to take to “keep humans and the planet healthy” and instill a broad mindset to “create societies focused on well-being”.
(NB: Ghana is a bona fide member of the WHO, and belongs to the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO).

This is most timely, particularly given the recent threats from the COVID-19 pandemic and a polluted planet increasing diseases like cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart diseases, etc.

The sanctity of our planet has been compromised considerably.

The threat from pollution appears the most engaging and notorious because it is associated with changes in our weather pattern (climate change), which affect agriculture and put the nutrition and the food security of many vulnerable households in precarious situations.

The ramifications also include temperature rises (global warming), the melting of ice, sea level rises and the associated flooding and droughts.

Statistics

WHO attributes the yearly deaths of more than 13 million people around the world to avoidable environmental effects such as, changes in climate regarded as the single biggest health threat facing humanity.

Over 80 per cent of people breathe unhealthy air from the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, our world that is heating up is experiencing various diseases, land degradation and water scarcity.

Pollution is another of the challenges.

In the spirit of this year’s WHD celebration, we need to:

• Preserve our forest reserves through efficient land use;

• Control our population growth (not necessarily by minimising birth rates per se, but through maximising survival rates, upgrading our quality of life and curtailing unplanned pregnancies and births, for example;

• Expand the availability and effective utilisation of educational and healthcare (both preventive and curative) facilities;

• Broaden the scope of public education on population, health and related matters on both formal (schools) and other (radio, TV, newsprints, durbars, funfairs, churches, mosques, etc.) platforms;

• Enforce existing laws for preserving our vegetation;

• Plan our towns, cities and country better (e.g. avoiding building without permit, land wastage, land “guardism” and avoidable litigation).

The writer is a Harvard-trained freelance writer on science and public health matters. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.