THE EVOLUTION OF HEALTH CARE : THEN AND TODAY
A unique photo project shown in the foyer of
the main WHO building gives a snapshot of
health today, compared to decades earlier.
The exhibit is part of WHO’s 60th anniversary,
and photographs depict six countries : El Salvador,
Egypt, Finland, India, Liberia and
Philippines. The black and white photographs
were taken in the middle of the last century,
while six photographers snapped the new
colour photographs in the same 36-hour period,
just two weeks ago.
The new photograph from El Salvador depicts a 20-year-old pregnant woman having a check-up in a clinic in San Juan Opico. Maternal mortality and infant mortality rates in El Salvador and throughout the Americas have dropped markedly as a result of better health system organization, scientific advances, and health communications improvements.
The photo from Egypt illustrates a modern challenge – informing youth that “to avoid infection, do not touch or approach dead birds.” “The concept that prevention is better than cure is promoted by primary health care today. In the Eastern Mediterranean region, the media and NGOs are playing a major role in raising awareness and changing behavior,” says Ibrahim Kerdany, in charge of communications in EMRO.
Our photographer in Liberia shows how the flow of surveillance data has improved as people have access to modern communications technology. The WHO Representative in Liberia, Dr Eugene A Nyarko, commented that “mobile telephones are now more frequently used for accurate and rapid transfer of information from nearly any part of the country at any time.”
From bustling Quezon City in the Philippines, we see a historical shot of a health facility overrun with people seeking treatment.
Today the children’s wellness and activity centre in the Quirino Memorial Medical Centre is a colourful, child-friendly oasis were children can play games, read books and do art and crafts while receiving medical care. From New Delhi we see an initiative which demonstrates how water and sanitation connect with human dignity and equality in Indian society. The Sulabh Public Toilet initiative uses technology to bring cleaner public toilets to people and provides employment and a sanitary work environment for people who would normally have a hard time finding work.
In comparing the two photos, WHO communications officer Vismita Gupta-Smith says “The photo from sixty years ago showed male, educated and empowered laboratory workers in Kolkata dissecting plague rats. Today’s photo shows a woman worker, from the disadvantaged section of Indian society washing her hands at a Sulabh Public Toilet, representing her empowerment through employment, education and access to sanitation.”
Countries develop, technologies evolve, techniques advance but health needs remain. Humanity, as ever, is at the heart of public health.