In 75 years, the UN has made big leaps in improving global health — but we still have a lot to do
WHO/Daniel Hodgson
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On June 26, 1945, delegates from 50 countries gathered in the Herbst Theater auditorium in San Francisco.

They were there to sign the U.N. Charter, a treaty that, in its 19 chapters and 111 articles, founded and established a world organization devoted to saving "succeeding generations from the scourge of war." It would do so by maintaining international peace and security, strengthening international law, expanding human rights, and promoting social progress and better standards of life.

On that day, World War II was not even yet over — that day wouldn't come until September 2nd, 1945 when the Japanese surrendered — but it established an organization that, as one of its first endeavors, helped distribute lifesaving supplies and medicines to countries reeling from disease, injury and the trauma of war.


And that would be far from its first milestone towards creating a healthier world. Improving health around the world has always been a key priority of the U.N.

In fact, when diplomats met to create the organization, one of the very first things they discussed was setting up a global health agency, something they did just three years later when, on April 7, 1948, they established the World Health Organization (WHO) with the mission to help deliver on the promise of health for all. It tackles infectious disease, reduces preventable deaths for girls and women, and improves access to safe water and sanitation; it fights for the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues; and it strengthens health systems.

Now in 2020, the UN though WHO is once again providing lifesaving equipment and supplies to more than 130 countries — leading the global fight against COVID-19.

WHO is just one of the big leaps that the U.N. has taken towards improving global health. Here are a few of the many other accomplishments it has made:

1946: The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is founded to help provide support and relief to children living in countries impacted by war.

1950s: This is the golden age of antibiotics discovery and implementation, helping fight such diseases as bacterial meningitis (which was fatal for children 90% of the time before), strep throat, and the spread of ear infections to the brain.

1969: The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) begins operations to empower women to decide if and when they have a family, to improve childbirth safety, and help children reach their potential.

1979: Smallpox is eradicated after a 12-year WHO global vaccination campaign with global partners.

1988: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is established. Since then, polio cases have decreased by 99% because of access to immunizations.

2000: The largest-ever gathering of world leaders issues the Millennium Declaration, which lays out eight aspirational goals. Three of those goals are specifically designed to spur progress in child health, maternal health and combating disease.

2001: The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is created to help fight the three largest infectious disease killers in the world through global cooperation.

2006: The number of children who die before their fifth birthday declines below 10 million for the first time.

2015: All U.N. Member States adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. One of those goals is to ensure health and well-being for everyone everywhere.

2018: WHO, the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Convention on Climate Change and UN Environment hold the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

2019: 190 U.N. Member States adopt the historic political declaration on Universal Health Coverage at the UN General Assembly identifying ways to make health for all a reality.

UNICEF/Carolina Cabral

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the UN Charter's signing, there is still a lot of work to be done.

At least half the world's population is still without access to essential health services. Even though half as many under-5s die now than before 2000, still 5.4m children die before their fifth birthday each year. Racial and economic disparities are still rampant in healthcare, affecting maternal mortality rates, access to care, and quality of treatment. The proportion of mothers who do not survive childbirth is 14 percent higher in developing nations. And now, COVID-19 has created one of the most pressing public health crises we've experienced in the last century.

The pandemic is threatening to erode and reverse current progress, and yet, in May, President Trump announced the US's plans to end its relationship with WHO. This move could hamper the world's response to the virus, including vaccine development, science and information sharing, resource mobilization, and efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus on the most vulnerable. It also jeopardizes hard-won gains on diseases like polio, putting progress at risk.

If we don't defeat COVID-19 everywhere, we won't be safe anywhere — and we can only beat it by working together.

It will take action from everyone to build stable and fair health systems that challenge misinformation, invest in vaccines, and strengthen relief from disease outbreaks.

You can learn more about these goals by checking out "Voice Our Future" — an immersive and interactive reality experience exploring the then, now, and next of some of the most critical challenges of our times. You can also further the reach of your voice by taking the one-minute survey to help inform the UN's thinking and priorities.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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