Archive | 11:52 am

Health Bar:  Ensuring Vitality for Sustainable Development, Dr. Robert Zuber

8 Jul

dayoffriendship

We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.  Kurt Vonnegut

Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Wendell Berry

A sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. Pema Chödrön

What drains your spirit drains your body. What fuels your spirit fuels your body. Caroline Myss

One of the things that we have noticed (with gratitude) over this past year about the UN policy agenda is the emphasis on health—not only on leveling access to health care but on indicators and implications of health for both our sustainable development and peace and security responsibilities.

As the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum prepares to convene on Monday, governments and NGOs will convene in large numbers from all directions to review progress on some of the most important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – from clean water access and sustainable energy to reversing desertification and biodiversity loss, and sustainable production and consumption.  Through plenary reviews of national SDG progress and a remarkable series of policy-focused side events, the HLPF will provide the opportunity for all of us to assess the degree to which what is arguably the most comprehensive and urgent promise the UN has ever made to future generations is being properly honored.

Recent weeks have seen UN discussions on a range of health-implicated policies, from efforts to end tuberculosis to the expanding global crisis of access to safe drinking water in an era characterized by both diminishing supply and growing privatization. In the past few days alone, the UN has seen interesting events and negotiations focused on universalized health care, the role of “cooperatives” in increasing healthy food security, and an “interactive hearing” on Thursday in preparation for the third High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Non-Communicable Diseases.

At first glance the “non-communicable” disease focus might seem a bit trivial stacked up against Ebola, tuberculosis and a host of other pandemics – potential and actual – made more frightening by the increasing inefficacy of our antibiotics.  But we know that there are numerous and deadly health threats that we don’t “catch” from others but which we routinely impose on ourselves and our neighbors – the diabetes tied in large measure to our processed diets and immobility; the toxic substances that collect in women’s mammary glands and create breast cancer emergencies; the impediments to clean water access in our “privatizing planet” that sicken and suppress children and their caregivers; the substance addictions that ruin relationships and drain the spirit of resolve.  The environmental burdens we impose in the name of “progress,” the “lifestyle” choices we make in what are often futile efforts to overcome fear, anxiety and isolation – this and more has led increasingly to the ironic circumstance of longer lives characterized by only episodic vitality and enthusiasm for living.

Indeed, one of the takeaways from the interactive hearing was the degree to which “health” in our time is largely a matter of overcoming our battered spirit, our psyches filled with anxiety and remorse, our political climates of recrimination and repression, our propensity for inflicting violence that solves few problems but ensures lasting distress.  We are living through a moment where our already besieged spirits are under fresh assault.  And few medical professionals are now prepared to deny the impact that our collectively impaired mental health is having on our physical vigor.  Those seemingly growing numbers (including of our children) who suffer from depression or trauma are less likely to practically cherish their physical well-being.  Where the web of health is damaged, all aspects of vitality seem to be called into question.

Another of the many take-aways from the hearing had to do with the role of health professionals and private sector entities tasked with providing what we ostensibly require to overcome health threats – the doctors and nurses who bind wounds and diagnose deeper sickness, and the pharmaceuticals that provide us with the chemicals we need to overcome (but not necessarily prevent) health impediments.  As one might predict, there was considerable and sometimes heated discussion about the imprecise and shifting lines connecting regulation and innovation, connecting the need for companies to turn a profit and the needs of communities for life-saving generics, connecting  investments in high-tech therapies with (more human-effective) investments in prevention.   And of course the lines connecting the need for “evidence-based” health commitments with the fact that, as more than one expert noted, the available evidence in some instances is pointing in diverse directions.

There are clearly some trust issues to overcome amidst all of this uncertain balancing.  In one of the sessions, a professor from Rwanda challenged the sometimes facile articulation within and beyond the UN of the “public-private partnership model,” noting that while better “quality control” over agricultural and pharmaceutical production is important, the current preoccupation in some quarters with diets and other “lifestyle” issues is likely an over-reach. Such a preoccupation, she noted, tends to just “put the blame on the people.”  What she called for in addition was a greater commitment to transparency and broad public participation regarding government health policy, to lift the veil on the mostly off-camera “public-private” dealings that can saddle communities with medicines they don’t particularly need at prices they can’t afford.

If “leaving no one behind” is to be something more than the tag line for this HLPF, we must consider what keeps us vital in these challenging times, what make us not only able to benefit from sustainable development but allows us to participate fully and energetically in building a more sustainable world.  In this second and critical dimension of SDG implementation, the role of good health cannot be over-stated.  It is truly one of the blessings of life to be able to early rise from sleep and feel healthy enough to help take on some of the world’s problems, perhaps even ease a few burdens for others.  If the SDGs are to achieve their full promise (and there is really no planetary alternative to doing so), the vitality of the world’s peoples – our personal connectivity, “humane ideas,” uncontaminated environments and other indicators of well-being — must be better assured.

Health is a core dimension of sustainable development that the UN seems well-suited to address, and we strongly encourage its continued focus.  In its absence, woes of body and mind will continue to sideline too many of the skills, passions, ideas and connections needed to ensure a more peaceful and sustainable future.