Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the ECOSOC Special Event on Philanthropy and the Global Public Health Agenda
New York, 23 February 2009

Madame President,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank Professor Leisinger for his insightful remarks. He has made clear the many areas in the field of global public health in which urgent action is needed.

We will focus today’s Leadership Dialogues on two of the most pressing issues: The Health of Women and Girls, and Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Sadly, maternal health is the area where the least progress has been achieved. Every year, more than half a million women die during pregnancy or childbirth. Three million babies die within the first week of life. Almost 10 million children die before reaching age 5, from causes that are mostly preventable and treatable.

Yet, we know what we need to do. To reduce maternal mortality, for instance, we need to increase the access of pregnant women to care during pregnancy, to trained health attendants during delivery, and to emergency obstetric care if complications arise. Access to family planning, by allowing women to avoid mistimed or unwanted pregnancies, also reduces their lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, are likewise preventable and treatable. These parasitic and bacterial infections affect over one billion people, with around half of the world’s population at risk of NTD infections. Many people, especially those living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or in conflict zones, suffer from more than one of these diseases. NTDs are the diseases of the poorest of the poor and have a low profile and status in public health priorities.

Yet, there has been progress in recent decades, even under extremely challenging conditions. For example, the number of people infected with guinea-worm disease has dropped from 3.5 million to just 10,000 – and the World Health Organization states that “its eradication is in sight”. The United Nations, and its agencies, funds and programmes, have launched a number of initiatives. And some of the foundations and partnerships present today have launched multi-million dollar projects aimed and operating in the same direction.

The Leadership Dialogues will explore specific and innovative ways for the philanthropic and foundation community to better engage in initiatives on both fronts – and to work in harmony with others, including Governments and civil society organizations.

It will also be important to consider how technology can be used to scale up interventions, particularly in the context of the current global financial crisis.

We are fortunate to have excellent speakers and moderators for both panels. I would also like to thank you, the philanthropic and business community, for your engagement with the UN and your interest in working together to tackle these critical challenges.

The Leadership Dialogue on Health Outcomes for Women and Girls will take place in this room, the Trusteeship Council. It will be moderated by Ms. Betsy Pisik from The Washington Times. And the one on Neglected Tropical Diseases will take place in the ECOSOC Chamber. Mr. Matthew Bishop from The Economist will moderate this panel. We will then all come back to the Trusteeship Council to bring the results of the two sessions together.

We are looking forward to very interactive and productive discussions. Once again, welcome to the United Nations!

Thank you.