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Desmond Tutu Urges Governments to Do Better for World Healthcare

In a rousing speech to delegates attending the annual World Health Assembly, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged governments and policymakers to do better to fulfill the promise of health for all. He called the right to health a sacred and solemn covenant. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it would be presumptuous of him to speak of health to an audience composed of health ministers and specialists from around the world. But, he said, he thought he could add something to their understanding by speaking of health as it operated in the spiritual, the religious or ethical sphere.

He said the right to health is still incomplete. He said health not only encompasses the physical, mental and social well-being, but, must be inclusive of spiritual well-being. Then drawing upon his well know sense of humor, he described a favorite cartoon from a book entitled 'My God'.

"One of these shows God somewhat nonplussed and saying, 'Oh dear, I think I have lost my copy of the Divine Plan!' Well, looking at the state of the world we might be forgiven for wondering if God ever had a plan at all," Tutu said.

Archbishop Tutu then launched into a litany of natural and man-made disasters of tyranny and oppression that was dragging down the world. He described the devastation caused by diseases such as TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS, river blindness and polio.

He denounced the evil of corrupt bureaucracies who failed to provide the needed-remedy to heal the nations. He said it was the duty of government leaders to dispel ignorance, restore justice and defend liberty.

"We have this calling to ensure peace and build good health," Tutu said. "Much disease and heartbreak is preventable if governments had the political will. The 15 Percent Now campaign seeks to urge African heads of state to honor their pledges and so prevent unnecessary deaths of eight million of their citizens."

The 15 Percent Now campaign asks African countries to allocate 15 percent or more of their annual national budgets to the health sector.

After chastising the evildoers and telling his audience that everyone has a horrendous capacity for evil, Archbishop Tutu assured them they also had an amazing capacity for good.

He drew upon the example of Darfur, and remarked upon the wonderful resilience of the people caught in this murderous war. He praised the remarkable courage and dedication of the humanitarian workers.

"All of you in this healing enterprise are God's collaborators in making this a better world-more compassionate, gentle, more caring, and more sharing," Tutu said.

Archbishop Tutu told his audience they were the guardians of the dream of health for all. And, it was up to them to save the lives of their people, to enable them to prosper and to build healthy nations.