Poor Denied the Basic Right to Health

Speaking in the General Debate at the recent Session of the Human Rights Council In Geneva, the Vatican representative Archbishop Tomasi addressed the issue of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Drawing upon the experience of the Catholic Church as a major provider of health care services in the world (it provides 5,378 hospitals, 18,088 dispensaries and clinics, 521 leprosaria, and 15,448 homes for the aged, the chronically ill, or disabled people – often in some of the most poor, isolated, and marginalized communities), Archbishop Tomasi stated that the right to health was far from being realized.

He drew particular attention to the issue of access to “affordable medicines and diagnostic tools that can be administered and utilized in low-income, low-technology settings” and to the report from the Special Rapporteur “’Diseases of poverty’ still account for 50 per cent of the burden of disease in developing countries, nearly ten times higher than in developed countries; more than 100 million people fall into poverty annually because they have to pay for health care; in developing countries, patients themselves pay for 50 to 90 per cent of essential medicines; nearly 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines.”

Of particular concern is that many of those deprived of access to medication are children.

Taking up the theme of a Caritas Internationalis campaign, Archbishop Tomasi pointed out that ”many essential medicines have not been developed in appropriate formulations or dosages specific to pediatric use. Thus families and health care workers often are forced to engage in a “guessing game” on how best to divide adult-size pills for use with children. This situation can result in the tragic loss of life or continued chronic illness among such needy children. For example, of the 2.1 million children estimated to be living with HIV infection, only 38% were received life-saving anti-retroviral medications at the end of 2008. This treatment gap is partially due to the lack of “child friendly” medications to treat the HIV infection.”

Edmund Rice International is continuing to encourage Edmund Rice Schools around the world to participate in the ongoing Caritas children’s letter-writing campaign on behalf of children infected with HIV/AIDS.

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