INTERVENTION BY THE HOLY SEE
AT THE 68th WORLD HEALTH ASSEMBLY
[GENEVA, 18-26 MAY 2015]
PRESIDENT OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
AND HEAD OF THE HOLY SEE DELEGATION
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
The Holy See delegation wishes to note the importance and the timeliness of
the theme for the general discussion. The recent Ebola outbreak was a human and
public health tragedy, which, among others, showed that the need to build
resilient health systems cannot be over emphasized, as they are essential for
the provision of universal health coverage and for a prompt response to
outbreaks of disease.
1. There is an established awareness that the smooth and effective operation
of health systems is critical to achieving both national and international
health goals. Unfortunately, most low income countries, which are still
afflicted by infectious disease and epidemics, have very poor health systems
that need urgent intervention, if they are to respond to the health needs of the
In fact, many health centers are unable to provide safely the services
needed, as they lack staff, medicines, equipment and health information. This is
aggravated by the chronic low public expenditure on health. We therefore need to
re-prioritize investment in healthcare for the good of public health. This
requires long-term commitment from national governments and international donors
to support resilient health systems and to ensure universal coverage of health
services, thus strengthening the capacity of national health systems to deliver
equitable and quality health-care services, and also stepping up their ability
to respond to outbreaks and to improve community ownership and participation.
This means short and long-term investment in a number of key elements of the
health system; particularly, improved primary health care, an adequate number of
trained health workers, availability of medicine, appropriate infrastructure,
update statistical data, sufficient public financing, public-private partnership
and scaling up the number of well-equipped health posts and district hospitals.
It is also a challenge to donors to make a shift from short-term program funding
to long-term comprehensive health service financing.
2. The recent report on Global evidence on inequities in rural health
protection, by the International Labor Office, revealed that more than half of
the population in rural areas worldwide do not have access to basic healthcare,
with many of them at risk of impoverishment or deepened poverty due to out of
pocket payment for services. This is clear evidence that, in 2015, we are
still a long way from universal coverage. For various reasons, there are strong
inequalities in access to healthcare between the rural and urban areas, with the
latter often more advantaged than the former which are most deprived. Embracing
the recommendation of the report, my delegation wishes to note the urgent need
to address this rural urban divide in the post-2015 Development Agenda, bearing
in mind that “human life is always sacred and always has ‘quality’. (…) There is
no human life qualitatively more significant than another, only by virtue of
resources, rights, greater social and economic opportunities.” This means
addressing the needs of the disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable rural
populations. As Pope Francis reminds us “persons and peoples ask for justice to
be put into practice: not only in a legal sense, but also in terms of
contribution and distribution. Therefore, development plans and the work of
international organizations must take into consideration the wish, so frequent
among ordinary people, for respect for fundamental human rights and, in this
case, the right to social protection and health.”
In relation to this, the Holy See delegation wishes to emphasize the role of
public-private partnership in promoting universal coverage, especially in many
low-income countries where primary healthcare services are accessed by a
majority of the population in the rural and hard to reach areas, mainly from
private not-for profit health centers and hospitals, managed by the Church and
other faith based institutions. In many countries, the Catholic Church is
privileged to be one of the primary partners of the State in providing much
needed health care services to populations in remote areas, through its over
110,000 health and social-welfare institutions around the world. It is
therefore important to offer them the necessary collaboration and support so as
to enable them to bring the services close and to render them accessible to poor
people in particular. Indeed, in many low-income countries, the contribution
of civil society and communities to health services delivery is fundamental.
3. Finally, Mr. President, while remembering the many victims of the Ebola
virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as the many dedicated
healthcare workers, both from public and private Church owned health
institutions, who lost their lives while assisting those affected, and aware of
the impact of the outbreak on the already fragile health systems of the affected
countries, whose capacity to provide essential health services has been greatly
compromised, my delegation welcomes the recommendations of the Resolution on
Ebola (EBSS3.R1) and supports its review and approval by this august assembly (WHA
May I wish all the distinguished delegates a fruitful discussion and
deliberation during this Assembly.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 Cf. A64/13 Health System Strengthening: Current Trends and Challenges.
 Cf. International Labor Organization, Global Evidence on Inequities in
Rural Health Protection: New Data on Rural Deficits in Health Coverage for 174
Countries, Geneva 2015, pp. 6-12.
 Pope Francis, Address to participants in the commemorative Conference
of the Italian Catholic Physicians' Association on the occasion of its 70th
anniversary of foundation, 15 November 2014.
 Pope Francis, Address to FAO Nutrition Conference, 21 November
2014, n. 2.
 The Catholic Church has a total of 116,185 health and social-welfare
institutions world-wide, of which 5,034 hospitals, 16,627 dispensaries, 611
leprosaria, 15,518 homes for the aged, chronically ill, invalids and disabled,
9,770 orphanages, 3,896 special centers for social re-education and other
social-welfare institutions. Cf. Secretaria Status, Statistical Yearbook of
the Church 2013, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2013, pp. 355-365.
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Deus Caritas est, n. 28b.