Msgr Robert Vitillo speaking at the World Health Organiziation. Credit: WHO

Msgr Robert Vitillo speaking at the World Health Organiziation. Credit: WHO

By Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo,
Head of Caritas Internationalis Delegation to the UN in Geneva

The view from the main table in the Executive Board Room World Health Organization (WHO) is very different from my usual spot in the WHO – either in the extreme back corner of the room or in one of the upper balconies where one needs opera glasses to observe the proceedings at the “big table”. But , on 3 April, I was given an opportunity to sit at that very table, when I was honoured with an invitation to take part in a panel discussion, together with WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, to launch World Health Day 2007, which also coincided with the 65th Anniversary of the founding of WHO (a birthday cake was provided after the discussion!).

The theme for this year’s observance of World Health Day was: “Under Pressure: Cut your risk of heart attack and stroke. Control your blood pressure”. I was asked to present a patient’s perspective since I have suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure) in the past and continue to use some basic self-care techniques to keep this condition under control. Again this too was a new and different experience from my usual advocacy role at WHO.

Finally, I became the “guinea pig” for WHO to launch some new technology that predicts one’s risk of heart attack – I had to supply my latest blood pressure reading, my age, some medical history information – all of this data was projected on a large screen visible to the participants in the launch event. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when a green coloured “teddy bear” icon appeared on the screen along with the prediction that I had low risk of heart attack and thus probably would live for a few more years!

By sitting at the “big table” at WHO, I also enjoyed the possibility of sharing the good work being done by Caritas and other Catholic Church-inspired organizations in providing both prevention and treatment to people at risk of or already living with the major non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – in particular, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and cancer. I spoke of the good practices which were presented at a WHO-Caritas-sponsored conference on this topic, held in Rome during October 2012. Click here to read my “patient” perspective as well as a report on follow-up to the October conference.

Caritas report on October conference