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Health care includes spiritual needs, archbishop tells World Assembly
Participants at the opening of the plenary meeting of the World Health Assembly on May 19, 2009. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Participants at the opening of the plenary meeting of the World Health Assembly on May 19, 2009. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

.- The head of a Vatican delegation to the World Health Assembly on Wednesday called for universal health care coverage and an “integral” approach to health care that responds to a person’s spiritual needs.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, stressed the need for “integral development.” This approach, he said, does not focus only on health care or economic growth, but also attends to “the spiritual state of the person.”

“Health and development ought to be integral if they are to respond fully to the needs of every human person. What we hold important is the human person - each person, each group of people, and humanity as a whole,” he said May 22 to the 66th World Health Assembly.

The assembly is meeting from May 20-28 in Geneva. It is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations.

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” He said that the Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

Archbishop Zimowski then turned to efforts to save the lives of millions of people who die each year “from conditions that can easily be prevented.” He praised a resolution before the assembly to improve the quality, supply and use of 13 “life-saving commodities.”

“The Holy See strongly agrees with the need to achieve further reductions in the loss of life and prevention of illness through increased access to inexpensive interventions that are respectful of the life and dignity of all mothers and children at all stages of life, from conception to natural death,” he said.

However, he voiced “serious concerns” about the assembly’s secretariat report and its executive board-recommended resolution that includes “emergency contraception.” He said some of these drugs have an abortifacient effect.

“For my delegation, it is totally unacceptable to refer to a medical product that constitutes a direct attack on the life of the child in utero as a ‘life-saving commodity’ and, much worse, to encourage ‘increasing use of such substances in all parts of the world’,” he said.

The archbishop welcomed the assembly’s proposed global action plan to control non-communicable diseases. He said his delegation was “especially pleased” that the plan recognizes the “key role” of civil society institutions including faith-based organizations in encouraging the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

“Our delegation is aware that Catholic Church-inspired organizations and institutions throughout the world already have committed themselves to pursue such actions at global, regional, and local community levels,” he said.

Archbishop Zimowski also voiced interest in aspects of preventing and controlling diseases in older age, noting faith-based institutions’ long tradition of care for the aged and the rapid growth of the elderly population. He noted that the Vatican will host an international conference Nov. 21-23 about caring for the elderly with neurodegenerative diseases.


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