WHO and UN need to change the way they work to address Africa's problems

November 23, 2006

Moving from small-scale success to sustainable health improvements in Africa will require effective cooperation between the UN's many agencies and other multilateral institutions, states an Editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet.

This week the UN health agency - the World Health Organization (WHO) -released its long overdue African Regional Health Report. The document is a disappointing effort and one that reveals WHO's weaknesses rather than its strengths, states the Editorial. The report suffers from being light on facts and heavy on well-rehearsed rhetoric. Much is lifted from past WHO World Health Reports and supplemented by data from other institutions. There are some useful anecdotes, for example one on Rwanda's success in reducing road traffic accidents, but these are not enough to create a strategy for Africa's renaissance, states the Editorial.

The document follows on from a report delivered to the outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last week by the High-Level Panel on UN System Wide Coherence. Entitled Delivering as one the report describes the UN as struggling to cope with unpredictable funding streams, bad governance, and out-of-date business practices. The report suggest a "one UN" policy as a solution. There would be one presence at country level, with one leader, one budget, and possibly one office.

The Lancet comments: "Margaret Chan has said her term as WHO Director- General should be measured by its impact on the health of Africa. But to address the real causes of Africa's problems the two new multilateral incumbents--both Chan and UN Secretary-General elect Ban Ki-moon-- must change the way these organisations do business, and quickly."
EMBARGO: 00:01H (UK time) Friday November 24, 2006
EMBARGO: In North America, 18:30H EST Thursday November 23, 2006.

Contact: The Lancet press office T) +44 (0) 207 424 4949/4249 pressoffice@lancet.com


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