Unhealthful News 96 – Why, WHO

It was an interesting day at the harm reduction conference.  A lot of people here are very beholden to the World Health Organization, the health ministry of the United Nations (not to be confused with Unhealthful News).  So they get very defensive when their patron is criticized, as is common by anyone analyzing the politics of tobacco harm reduction, or at least anyone who is not trying to suck up to them.  This came up quite a few times in the last day.  The details of that are more a topic for my other blog (we will probably post some videos and announce them there), but the basic idea is that WHO, especially their convention about tobacco control, strongly opposes THR and has done a fairly effective job of fighting this important public health effort.  They have gotten most countries to sign onto a treaty that makes THR difficult for them to pursue if they want to.

The attitude toward WHO patronage here is actually bad enough that I can barely stand it, like something right out of the politics of a royal court, where the truth is secondary to who has the king’s favor.  (And that says nothing of what the WHO rep said on the first day.)  Scientific conferences have politics, to be sure, but you do not feel like they should have seating charts.

Anyway, the funny contrast was that today’s health news has several stories about how tomorrow is WHO’s World Health Day (which is the anniversary of the founding of the organization, kind of like making the Great Leader’s birthday the primary national holiday), and their theme for it is a worldwide call-to-action that aims to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistant germs.  Naturally, no one is opposed to taking action against antibiotic resistance, but do you really think it is useful to employ the same tactic as used by National History Book Month, Whole Wheat Bread Week, or whatever.  Ok, we are aware, now what?  One reporter even wrote the day “encourages people from all ages and all backgrounds to hold events that highlight the significance of the issue for good health and well being.”  (It hardly seems fair to pick on a random third world newspaper, but it was too funny to not quote.)  I would love to see the kid who has a birthday party tomorrow where they take up this challenge, playing pin-the-tail-on-the-organically-raised-donkey, followed by everyone washing their hands with non-antimicrobial soap. 

Actually, as goofy as the implementation seems like it might be, this actually does seem like an appropriate mission for WHO.  Unlike smoking or nicotine use, the effects of the actions of one people with respect to ruining antibiotics are not confined to their country, so international action is warranted.  Some things in the world need government, and in particular highly-non-local government.  And make no mistake, WHO functions as a government, for all that that is bad and good about that, not just some friendly donor and supporter of worthwhile programs.  As with government more generally, once it starts getting involved in activities that do not really need government at such a high level, it is just as likely to make them worse as better.

World government vs. antibiotic resistance or infectious disease more generally = good.

World government telling every culture what are acceptable vices, drugs, ways to get things done = not so good.

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