Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)

WHEC Update - December 2007

A Newsletter of worldwide activity of Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)
December 2007; Vol. 2, No. 12

Warmest thoughts and Best Wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season from all of us at Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)

As health workers and educators we have a two-fold responsibility: firstly, to provide equitable access to safe and effective health care and services; and secondly, to provide the necessary knowledge, information and infrastructure that will enable people to take care of themselves and promote their own health and that of their families. To be effective and sustainable, our health policies and interventions, including our education programs, must be based not only on hard scientific and epidemiological evidence but also on people's personal experience of life and health and their own priorities and constraints. To reduce sickness and death among mothers and children, to promote family planning, to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, to foster the rational use of health services or the social integration of the disabled, to improve nutrition or to control violence, we must be able to influence behaviors, cultural attitudes and lifestyles. In WomensHealthSection.com we have stressed the importance of achieving social and cultural relevance in health work. To ensure community participation, we must build health development on what people know and what they want and are therefore prepared to support in the long run. While maintaining our concern to make safe and effective good quality available to all, we must show our willingness both to learn from others and to share our knowledge and experience with them. Experience is the ultimate teacher.

As cultural representations of the human body, time, life, death and disease vary, so do people's approaches to action, prevention and treatment. Procreation, childbirth, weaning, sexuality, death, disease and suffering are not just private experiences but all have an intrinsic social dimension. The health conditions in which they take place are often determined as much by cultural practices as by biological and environmental factors. The notion of well-being is often understood today in terms of people's perceptions of their quality of life as individuals and members of society. We must realize, however, that such perceptions are largely shaped by the values and symbolic representations which prevail in any group or culture. Much empirical knowledge, for example on medicinal plants, has been accumulated by various cultures and traditions which we must recognize and preserve as part of the common cultural and scientific heritage of mankind. We take our obligation to society seriously.

Culture and Health
Rita Luthra, MD

Your Questions, Our Reply:

What role the religion should play in public life? What is the impact of religions on the public health policies?

Religion & Health: Understanding World Religions is both an art and science. Religion is one of the most powerful and pervasive forces in our world. The religious traditions represent vast and complex developments over many centuries and in countless cultural contexts. Misinformation about religious beliefs and practices, especially those of "other" people, abounds and has a way of perpetuating itself. I believe, perhaps naively but nonetheless firmly, that the world is richer for its religious pluralism, and that it would also be safer if the quest for mutual understanding of that diversity were a higher priority. Religion means being committed to a quest for answers that transcend the appearances of things, but the quality of quest has everything to do with the effort seekers are willing to invest. Meanwhile, one of the noblest and most useful tasks to which we can commit ourselves is a greater understanding of how and why people believe as they do. What people believe - and why they believe it - profoundly influences the way they act.

A person with loving kindness and compassion heals others simply by existing. If we have loving kindness and compassion, our prime concern will always be not to hurt others, and this in itself is healing. A compassionate person is the most powerful healer, not only of their own disease and other problems, but of those of others. Developing our compassion also helps us to develop wisdom, especially the wisdom that realizes emptiness, the ultimate nature of the "I", the mind, and all other phenomena. At the moment, our knowledge is very limited. Our understanding is very limited, as is our ability to help others. The transformation of mind is ultimate healing. We do not view religion in a mechanistic fashion simply because a religious prayer brings forth this desired physiologic response. Rather we believe these age-old prayers are one way to remedy an inner incompleteness and to reduce inner discord. There are many aspects of religious beliefs which have lot to do with the relaxation and peace. I do believe, however, that God, or Ultimate Reality, is far too great for any religious tradition, or all of them put together, to master or dispense; and that each individual who seeks with a sincere heart the center and goal of his or her life will be led to it. Religious beliefs and cultural assumptions are often so intimately intertwined that it is rarely, if ever, possible to disentangle them.

All religions strive to control the lives of their members, and thus they play an important role in public life. In view of dangers all societies face in today's world, religions would do well to remember their humanitarian function and support the growth of a system of ethics that will enable human beings to live together in peace. One Divine Power? Many Concepts of Divinity.

About NGO Association with the UN:

Chairpersons of UN Committees and their views on various issues:

The Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo, was elected Chairman of the Sixth Committee (Legal) for the sixty-first session of the General Assembly on 8 June 2006.

What is the main business of the Sixth Committee?
Most of the issues that the United Nations addresses have a legal expression, so the Sixth Committee is entrusted with promoting the codification and progressive development of international law. That means that the Committee receives all the inputs that are generated in other bodies, like the International Law Commission (ILC), on topics that are ripe to be converted into a convention or other legal instruments. For example, the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) came out of a first draft by the ILC. Then the Sixth Committee took it up and set up a preparatory committee for the Rome Conference in 1997 [leading to the establishment of the ICC].
The Sixth Committee may also take up sources for further development of international law from other places. This year, a new topic in the Committee was to fundamentally change the way justice is administered at the United Nations. The Administrative Tribunal that is entrusted with the task of processing claims of UN staff members against the Secretary-General, for example. This is a tribunal that needs to be reformed, and we decided to hold a resume session on this item in March.

How has the Sixth Committee dealt with the issue surrounding abuse in peacekeeping missions?
This issue came from the Fourth Committee, which is in charge of peacekeeping operations. In the last few years, there has been a series of complaints about sexual and other kinds of abuse by individual members of the United Nations peacekeeping operations. This prompted the Secretary-General to assign a special advisor on that topic, Ambassador Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan. He identified a problem with this situation: Because people who belong to a peacekeeping operation are protected with immunity, it might be difficult, or almost possible, to prosecute them. Another expert group concluded that we need another convention to allow for mechanisms for prosecuting these people.

What is the significance of the new agenda item on "The rule of law at the national and international level"?
In his annual report in 2004, the Secretary-General raised the issue of the "rule of law" and said he would use the remainder of his mandate to promote this issue in all UN activities. Mexico and Lichtenstein introduced this item because we realized there was no entity entrusted with promoting a coordinated approach for the promotion of the rule of law. That refers not only to the rule of law at the national level, but also the need to come to the assistance of the Member States when they ask themselves how to better incorporate international law in their domestic systems. An international law does not necessarily become part of a national system automatically. In some States it needs domestic legislation to be put it into practice. Many Member States do not have legal offices in their foreign ministries to perform a basic task like ratifying a treaty. These countries and also bigger ones, including mine [Mexico], might benefit from the help that various UN bodies, organs, programs, etc, can offer, but you need a coordinated approach. In my country we have a clause in our constitution that is a copy of Article Six of the United States constitution, where treaties become the supreme law of the land once they are ratified by the senate. However, that does not tell us anything about the hierarchy of international law with respect to the constitution. A local judge in Mexico may very well deny the value of a treaty if he or she believes it goes against the constitution, as happens quite often in other places, like this country [United States]. Certain Latin American countries have solved this by deciding that Human Rights treaties are above or at the same level as their own constitutions. That is already a big step forward.

The rule of law does not mean "état légal." The Nazi regime or the Franco regime was an "état légal,", meaning they had laws passed by Parliaments. Among other things, "État de droit"-"Rule of law"-means a separation of powers, so that decisions by bodies like the Security Council are rooted in the UN Charter and international law. The Security Council has been widely criticized because it has not only expanded its scope of action, but it has done so without necessarily basing its decisions in the rule of international law in all cases. For some Member States, strengthening the rule of law means that decisions by bodies like the Security Council that are binding on all States should be much more rooted in international law.

Collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO):

AIDS Epidemic Update: The 2007 AIDS epidemic update is a report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It includes contributions from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

In 2007, advances in the methodology of estimations of HIV epidemics applied to an expanded range of country data have resulted in substantial changes in estimates of numbers of persons living with HIV worldwide. However the qualitative interpretation of the severity and implications of the pandemic has altered little. The estimated number of persons living with HIV worldwide in 2007 was 33.2 million [30.6-36.1 million], a reduction of 16% compared with the estimate published in 2006 (39.5 million [34.7-47.1 million]). (UNAIDS/WHO, 2006). The single biggest reason for this reduction was the intensive exercise to assess India's HIV epidemic, which resulted in a major revision of that country's estimates. Important revisions of estimates elsewhere, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, also contributed. Of the total difference in the estimates published in 2006 and 2007, 70% are due to changes in six countries: Angola, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, there is increasing evidence that a proportion of the declines is due to a reduction of the number of new infections which is in part due to a reduction in risky behaviors. Because estimates of new HIV infections and HIV-associated deaths are derived through mathematical models applied to HIV prevalence estimates, new estimates of HIV incidence and mortality in 2007 also differ substantially from earlier assessments. It is emphasized that these differences between estimates published in 2006 and those published in 2007 result largely from refinements in methodology, rather than trends in the pandemic itself.
Details: http://data.unaids.org/pub/EPISlides/2007/2007_epiupdate_en.pdf (pdf)

Bulletin of the World Health Organization; Volume 85, Number 12, December 2007, 901-980 Table of contents

Collaboration with UN University (UNU):

Examining the shortcomings of the 'liberal peace' model: A key focus of the project is to explore - and perhaps challenge - the values and assumptions upon which international actors base their peace-building approaches and activities. Although international peace-building activities have a reasonably good record in containing armed conflict, many analysts have argued that they have been much less successful in resolving the underlying sources of conflict - or even that they exacerbate these underlying conflicts. An emerging debate is exploring if the collapse or endangerment of peace processes in recent years - in cases such as Burundi, Rwanda, East Timor, and Afghanistan - might be in part explained by the values of international peace processes which follow the model of the 'liberal peace'. The liberal peace embraces democracy; human rights; market values and the integration of societies into globalization; self determination; and the idea of the state and citizenship. Most internationally sponsored peace processes can be characterized by these values, which are assumed to be integral to modern, stable societies. This assumption also reflects a broader political wave of opinion. A number of states have placed a great deal of national foreign policy emphasis upon the promotion of democracy as a means for spreading peace within societies and internationally. In some circles, the liberal peace is regarded as a panacea.
Details: http://update.unu.edu/issue46_25.htm

Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS):

Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS "Global Crisis - Global Action": series continues

At the global level

  1. Devote sufficient time and at least one full day of the annual General Assembly session to review and debate a report of the Secretary-General on progress achieved in realizing the commitments set out in this Declaration, with a view to identifying problems and constraints and making recommendations on action needed to make further progress;
  2. Ensure that HIV/AIDS issues are included on the agenda of all appropriate United Nations conferences and meetings;
  3. Support initiatives to convene conferences, seminars, workshops, training programs and courses to follow up issues raised in this Declaration and in this regard encourage participation in and wide dissemination of the outcomes of: the forthcoming Dakar Conference on Access to Care for HIV Infection; the Sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific; the XII International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa; the XIV International Conference on AIDS, Barcelona; the Xth International Conference on People Living with HIV/AIDS, Port of Spain; the II Forum and III Conference of the Latin American and the Caribbean Horizontal Technical Cooperation on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, La Habana; the Vth International Conference on Home and Community Care for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS, Changmai, Thailand;
  4. Explore, with a view to improving equity in access to essential drugs, the feasibility of developing and implementing, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and other concerned partners, systems for voluntary monitoring and reporting of global drug prices;

We recognize and express our appreciation to those who have led the effort to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and to deal with its complex challenges; We look forward to strong leadership by Governments, and concerted efforts with full and active participation of the United Nations, the entire multilateral system, civil society, the business community and private sector;
And finally, we call on all countries to take the necessary steps to implement this Declaration, in strengthened partnership and cooperation with other multilateral and bilateral partners and with civil society.

25 Years of AIDS: A Timeline: http://www.un.org:80/Pubs/chronicle/2006/issue2/0206p06.htm

Top Two Articles Accessed in November 2007:

  1. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines: A Reproductive Health Perspective;
    WHEC Publication. Special thanks to World Health Organization (WHO) for the contributions.
  2. Placental Abnormalities & Major Obstetric Hemorrhage;
    WHEC Publication. Special thanks to Dr. Yinka Oyelese, Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Jersey (USA) for his priceless contribution, support and friendship.

News, Invitations and Letters:

Peace is a common desire of people throughout the world. The establishment of the United Nations in 1945, at the end of the most devastating war in human history, was an embodiment of this universal desire. Keeping peace and developing friendly relations among nations are among the main objectives of the Organization. To commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples of the world, the UN General Assembly in 1981 officially proclaimed an International Day of Peace, and at its fifty-fifth session decided to observe it on 21 September each year as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The General Assembly also invites all Member States, agencies, funds, organs and programs of the UN system, including non governmental organizations (NGOs), to honor the International Day in creative ways. Each year, it is observed at UN Headquarters with a special ceremony by the Peace Bell, cast from coins donated by people from some 60 countries, where the Secretary-General delivers a special message before ringing the bell, asking people throughout the world to observe a minute of silence and reflect on the universal goal of peace. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon message on International Peace Day: "Peace is one of humanity's most precious needs. It is also the United Nations highest calling. It defines our mission. It drives our discourse. And it draws together all of our world-wide work, from peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy to promoting human rights and development. On this International Day, let us promise to make peace not just a priority, but a passion."

The University for Peace Comes of Age

The University for Peace (UPEACE) has undoubtedly undergone many changes since its establishment. Mandated in 1980 by the General Assembly in accordance with a resolution sponsored by Costa Rica-the first nation to abolish its army-the University called for promoting global peace and tolerance. In 2000, it began offering short-term courses and expanded a few years ago its scholarship to full-length graduate degree programs. In an effort to keep the University apolitical and academic, it was given its own charter and financial independence from the United Nations. However, its staff and students are proud to claim the ethos of the United Nations as the lifeblood of the school. Details: http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2007/issue1/0107p40.htm

The UN General Assembly in 1954 adopted resolution 836 (IX), recommending that all countries institute a Universal Children's Day, to be observed on 20 November, as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It also recommended that the Day be devoted to the promotion of the ideals and objectives of the UN Charter and the welfare of the children of the world. The date 20 November also marks the adoption by the Assembly of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the driving force that helps uphold the Convention, has noted that six of the eight Millennium Development Goals relate directly to children and meeting the last two would also make critical improvements in their lives.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)'s annual report "Note on International Protection"- Report by the High Commissioner
While the report noted some bright spots on the horizon with more than 700,000 refugees able to return home last year, broadly positive resettlement trends and an increase in the number of resettlement countries, UNHCR was concerned about the growth of a class of persons becoming "untouchables" for resettlement countries.
Full text (PDF, 19 pages): http://www.unhcr.org/excom/EXCOM/46939b882.pdf (pdf)

60th Annual DPI/NGO Conference "Climate Change: How It Impacts Us All" Final Report (pdf)

Special Thanks:

WHEC thanks The Executive Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations Associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information for their support to our mission. It is indeed our pleasure and privilege to work with everyone.

Beyond the numbers...

Let the road be rough and dreary;
And its end far out of sight;
Foot it bravely! strong or weary;
Trust in God and do the right.

Simple rule and safest guiding;
Inward peace and inward might;
Star upon one path abiding;
Trust in God and do the right.

Women's Health & Education Center
Dedicated to Women's and Children's Well-being and Health Care Worldwide