April 7 is World Health Day, a celebration of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). Sometimes in our day-to-day public health work, the way we deliver messages can create more obstacles than we realize. Changing behaviour does not come easily to anyone and a behaviour change project requires great insight into people's lives to understand the barriers to change.
I have just returned from a week in Switzerland to promote the right to water and to challenge the Swiss bottled water giant, Nestlé. Given that the marketing department of Nestlé has a larger annual budget than the World Health Organization, it is widely understood that the company has great political influence. This is a disaster in a world where demand for water is outstripping supply at an accelerating rate. Nestlé's goal is to shift government policy away from providing public municipal water supplies to people, and toward a dependency on bottled water to provide basic drinking water.
It's easier, more effective, and cheaper to let healthy bodies fight off disease and infections than to weaken those defence mechanisms and then compensate for them medically. If we want a stable health system, we must put more resources into reducing pollution and environmental degradation and creating a way of life that keeps bodies and minds happy and in good health.
Chronic diseases account for 36 million deaths annually, over 60 per cent of the human mortality rate. They continue to accelerate globally and are advancing across all regions, affecting all socioeconomic classes. It is expected that almost three-quarters of all deaths will be caused by chronic diseases by 2020.
The world has reached the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water, five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. While that is good news, millions of people, for instance, still live without a toilet. Not a very sexy topic -- but one which is of great concern if the world is to meet goals on reducing under-five mortality.