WHO Director-General Chan: Public health deserves priority

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said to delegates of the U.N. on Monday that even though the world is dealing with a myriad of problems, public health should be the priority.

"Fear of new diseases can unite the world, but so can determination to relieve preventable human misery," Chan said. "This is what makes public health stand out from other areas of global engagement: the motives, the values and the focus. We know we have to influence people at the top, but it is people at the bottom who matter most."

Chan spoke to delegates about the issues facing the world and public health during the 66th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva. This annual meeting will run through May 28 and focus on health agenda issues.

"We are living in deeply troubled times," Chan said. "In these troubled times, public health looks more and more like a refuge, a safe harbor of hope that allows, and inspires, all countries to work together for the good of humanity."

Chan said the most important health issue is reaching the Millennium Development Goals, which will aim to reduce child and maternal mortality, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis by 2015.

"Health contributes to and benefits from sustainable development and is a measurable indicator of success of all other development policies," Chan said. "Investing in the health of people is a smart strategy for poverty alleviation. This calls for inclusion of non-communicable diseases and for continued efforts to reach the health-related MDGs after 2015."