Peace through health

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(Host) It is the season of Peace, and commentator Nils Daulaire reflects that in order to live in relative peace, we must first be able to live in relative health.

(Daulaire) Anyone who has ever had a brother or sister knows the secret of world peace. It’s sharing. You wouldn’t let a sister or brother go hungry while you had food on your plate. You wouldn’t feel right – and, families being what they are, you’d never hear the end of it.

In our human family, as we begin the 21st century, there are no distant relations. Globally intertwined economies, instantaneous communications and mass jet travel are making intimates of long-lost cousins.

Hungry, have-not nations know very well what’s on the plate in the world’s affluent countries. Jobs, pollution and ideologies ignore borders. A brand-new disease such as SARS can go from local to global in hours.

At times, our leaders seem aware that all the military and political clout in the world won’t keep the peace if economic opportunities and resources aren’t fairly shared. As long as there’s gross inequity, we’ll never hear the end of strife.

But we’re still a long way from accepting that, when it comes to world peace, sharing health is even more essential than sharing wealth.

We’re not used to the idea that health can be shared. For most of human history, it didn’t matter whether you were a peasant or a king: good health seemed a matter of chance.

Over the past century, however, medical technologies – both simple and complex – have nearly doubled the human span of life.

Or, should I say, SOME humans’ life spans. The wealthiest people in the wealthiest nations enjoy access to every amazing new therapy, new machine or drug. But even in the world’s richest nation, scores of millions can’t afford the most basic health care coverage.

Worldwide, billions live without basic clean water and sanitation, let alone adequate health care services. They die for lack of the most basic antibiotics, or access to contraceptives that would allow them to decide for themselves the size of their families.

Our world – a world increasingly united by globalizing forces – is increasingly divided between health care haves and have-nots. And the gap between our life expectancy and theirs is growing.

Preventable, treatable conditions kill nearly twenty million children and adults in the developing world each year. AIDS rages unabated. The burden of ill health collapses social structures and cripples national economies.

Frustrated hope breeds unquenchable anger, desperate hatred, terrorism and war. Inequity in health care is a threat to world peace. The money needed to effect transforming change in the state of global health – and thus global security – would hardly be missed from the treasuries of rich nations.

But, as any brother or sister knows, that’s the challenge of sharing. Most often, there’s more than enough to go around – but someone can’t see a reason to pass the plate. We can bequeath our children a world of peace and a world of health. If we just decide to do it.

This is Nils Daulaire wishing you a peaceful and healthy New Year.

Doctor Nils Daulaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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