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Recognizing global issues

“There is no common future unless we invest in all people,” Gro Harlem Brundtland said during the opening of her lecture on sustainable development Thursday evening. Known for her work in international and Norwegian politics as well as on global health committees, Brundtland said her “international commitment stems from strong values and beliefs about social justice, about the inherent rights of individuals and about the responsibility we all have to try to make a difference.”

“Public health issues are global issues,” said Brundtland as she began her remarks about health and its relation to economics, globalization and sustainable development. The increased availability and amounts of international travel have obvious implications of how health threats are not contained by the border of the countries that are dealing with them. “Bacteria and viruses travel almost as fast as e-mails,” Brundtland said, “Globalization has shrunk distances.”

The greatest global health threat “is obviously AIDS,” Brundtland said in an interview. “AIDS is a very special situation with very dramatic consequences and it is very strongly linked in many places to catastrophic economic situations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“It (AIDS) adds to the situation already of widespread poverty and no opportunity to get out of a downward spiral. This has added to a situation that is already a very negative situation and it is spreading around the world,” Brundtland said.

Second to AIDS, Brundtland pointed out that malaria in developing countries is still a strikingly prevalent health issue. “Three thousand children in Africa die everyday from malaria. Many cases in Africa we see a downward spiral and the loss of human potential will resonate around the world.”

In a positive light Brundtland considers “The way the world responded to SARS was global public health at its best.”

She also mentioned the positive benefit of childhood vaccinations. “Childhood vaccinations are a preventative philosophy. But it really saves a great number of children’s lives and therefore makes parents more certain that their children will live. So they don’t need to continue having very big families, believing that half of their children will die during childhood.”

“Poverty breeds disease just as disease breeds poverty,” said Brundtland in reference to the relationship between health and economics. “Health gains trigger economic growth. It has to be an economic system that takes into consideration the cost of consequences to the environment from the production and consumption in a society.”

In terms of how close the world is to a state of sustainable development, Brundtland said, “We are far from it, we are far from it. Many of the richer countries have not done their part, which means for instance having a reasonable level of development assistance to support poor countries in doing their part.”

The average person can have a positive impact on sustainable development said Brundtland. “It is a question of responsible action on behalf of your own community and a wider global community. So it means being active in your society and taking a stand on issues because unless we have active democracies, I think there is no way that we can make the right decisions.

“I believe deeply in democracy and participation and engagement,” Brundtland said. “You can make different choices, but if you just sit back and live your life without being part of trying to promote change then you really haven’t made a difference.”

In regards to the overall popular opinion of globalization and sustainable development, Brundtland said, “I believe we’re standing at the threshold of a major change of thinking.”