World leaders in public health joined scientists and politicians in signing a declaration of "health rights" yesterday at festivities commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.
Officials signed a 10-foot parchment scroll that declares health care a "human right." It stresses the need to prevent childhood illness and ensure dignity and a high quality of life for the elderly -- "not merely extend life."
"Health care is a human right: It is not a privilege reserved for those with power, money or social access," says the first of nine "rights" enumerated in the declaration.
"Health care begins with children and a positive family environment," the statement adds. "The role of women, and their welfare, must be recognized and addressed."
Among the first to sign the document were Hiroshi Nakajima, director general of the World Health Organization, and James Grant, executive director of UNICEF, who joined Hopkins public health Dean Alfred Sommer at a brief ceremony yesterday at the school.
In the evening, hundreds more signed the document at a gala banquet at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel. Signers included Gov. William Donald Schaefer; Maryland's two U.S. senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski; Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Hugh Downs of ABC News.
Present at the signing were U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan. However, neither will sign the statement until it is reviewed by government lawyers.
Called the International Declaration of Health Rights, the document was developed by faculty members, students and alumni in the hope of uniting world leaders to make prevention of disease a top priority.
The scroll is due to travel to Geneva, Washington, New York and Japan, where other officials with groups such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations are expected to sign it.
The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health was the nation's first school of public health and the largest in the world today. The anniversary is also being marked by two days of scientific presentations focusing on new developments in the prevention of disease, disability and premature death.