National Catholic Reporter

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Vatican: Solidarity for global access to health care

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VATICAN CITY -- Global solidarity is needed so that every country can guarantee all of its citizens have access to health care, a Vatican official told the annual assembly of the World Health Organization.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, told the World Health Assembly that nations appear "stalled in the status quo where the rich people have higher levels of coverage, while most of the poor people miss out, and (even) those who do have access often incur high, sometimes catastrophic costs in paying for services and medicine."

The archbishop's speech to the assembly in Geneva was released May 18 at the Vatican.

Under Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he said, the Catholic Church has called for "universal access to medical care."

"Despite the progress made in some countries, on the whole, we are still a long way from universal coverage," the archbishop said.

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Reviewing the World Health Organization's annual report and proposed strategies for the future, Archbishop Zimowski also praised efforts to combat HIV/AIDS by stepping up efforts to prevent transmission of the virus to children and by expanding programs that treat children.

He expressed the Vatican's reservations, however, over a section of the report that seemed to encourage the expansion of needle-exchange programs and other projects the Vatican said might delay new infections among intravenous drug users, but "does not really take care of, treat or cure the sick person."

In addition, he said, the Vatican supports World Health Organization efforts to prevent non-communicable diseases and promote healthier lifestyles through proposed programs to reduce smoking, obesity and alcoholism.

"Non-communicable diseases end up being communicable because of the transmission of the underlying behavior," the archbishop said.

Finally, he said, the Vatican shares the assembly's concern over the number of children who are killed or injured in accidents each year. Traffic accidents, drownings, burns, falls and the ingestion of poison are the leading causes of child deaths from injuries, WHO said.

Archbishop Zimowski called on the international community to increase funding to the world's poorest countries so they could step up prevention and treatment programs, particularly in areas where "long civil wars drastically increase the incidences of child injuries" and severely limit resources to care for them.

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