International Conference on Financing for Development

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
18-22 March 2002

20 March 2002


The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Gro Harlem Brundtland, said at a Monterrey press conference today that there was no reason not to do what was necessary to deal with urgent humanitarian needs and spur economic growth in poor countries.

Joining Dr. Brundtland were the Minister of Health of Mexico, Julio Frenk, and Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs.

Professor Sachs insisted he would be "rationing" lives unless the rich countries stepped up and put money into the new Global Fund to fight HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. There was no time for delay -- millions of children would grow up without their parents unless "we begin to act and act now". He assured donors, "we are going to be good stewards of the money but we can't ration life and death like this any more".

Dr. Brundtland said the focus of the Conference should be on the role that health played in development. There had to be an investment in people and a decent human approach in order to see positive economic growth. Investing in people was crucial and would yield enormous benefits and allow millions of people to emerge from poverty.

In 1999, she said she had asked leading economists and Professor Sachs and an expert group to look at the links between health and development. That commission produced its report last December. It showed how disease drained economies and how investment in health spurred economic growth. Improving people's health could be the single most important determinant of economic growth in Africa. The proposals in the report showed how to invest in health and save
8 million lives per year in doing so.

"We know what needs to be done", she said. The survival and destiny of children was crucial to the future. Any serious attempt to stimulate global economic and social development and promote human security had to address that enormous burden. Several health goals had been implied in the key Millennium Development Goals. That required a considerable scaling up of investment in poor countries and poor peoples.

The comprehensive global strategies were in place, she said, adding that it was just a question of having sufficient resources. Of course, trade was essential, but in order for trade to work, people had to be able to produce and be healthy enough to do so. It was not a question of choosing between trade and aid; it was a question of doing both.

[Mexico's Health Minister, Dr. Frenk delivered opening remarks in Spanish, for which no official interpretation was available].

Professor Sachs said Monterrey could be a turning point in terms of the division between the rich and the extreme poor. Nothing was more important in making that turn than to help the poor stay alive and become viable members of society. Health was at the centre of the Monterrey agenda. It was not possible to talk about a partnership between the rich and poor if the rich were standing by while poor were dying as a result of poverty.
Mr. Sachs said that millions each year in impoverished countries were dying of AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases that could be prevented by a single vaccination.

The WHO knew how to help save those people, but to make those life-saving interventions reach everyone who needed them, a lot more help was needed from the rich countries, he said. While the Conference dealt with important issues like trade and foreign investment, without development aid for health, the goals set for a civilized world in which people did not die because they were too poor to stay alive would not be met.

The Millennium Development Goals were clear and centred on health. The real test was whether the rich countries stepped forward now to help, he stressed. The test was not for future years, but in the coming weeks. The new Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria had received more than 300 proposals for funding that could keep people alive in more than 50 countries. But, there was not enough money now to fund them.

The turning point was going to come in Mexico where there was not only a wonderful process of democracy under way and tremendous development aims, but also representation by leaders of global public health. "Let's give them the tools to do what they have to do. Then, we will see a historic turn that will start here", Mr. Sachs said.

Asked to expand on the eight-week deadline for raising money for the Global Fund, Professor Sachs said that proposals were made to the Fund on 19 March, and the Board would decide on funding them at the end of April. There was not enough money. He hoped the Board, therefore, would turn back to the donors and say there were bonafide public health proposals on the table, for which more money was needed.

Replying to a question asked in Spanish, Dr. Brundtland said that there was a need to inspire and promote good governance, democracy, and institution-building, leading to sustainable development and countries' ownership of their own destiny. On the other hand, there were failed States, where people lived in refugee camps and there was no democracy or sound institutions. Good governance was essential, including fighting corruption. Also crucial was to seriously care for people in humanitarian catastrophes and other difficult situations. Donors had to respond to both situations.

How could the panel be sure that Monterrey would be a turning point? another correspondent asked. Professor Sachs said he was aware of the many commitments made over the decades, including health for all by 2000. What was different now, for one thing, was that the United States had managed not to give much help to the poorest countries for the last generation. But, 11 September was a tremendous wake-up call in the United States, as was the United Nations Millennium Summit for the whole world.

So, for the first time in a generation, the United States was now talking about increasing aid. That was a sign that something was different now. Also, the AIDS pandemic, having affected some 65 million people, had also shocked the world and made it a more dangerous place. There was a historic chance now. It was not sure by any means, but it was a chance. The statements by the United States and the European Union committing to aid were "breakthrough" speeches. He was optimistic, but by no means complacent.


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