Litzman engages in 'healthy' debate at Geneva assembly
Israel well-regarded for its health care and research, deputy minister says upon returning from WHO conference.
Deputy Health Minister MK Ya'acov Litzman ignored the advice of Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Aharon Leshno-Yaar, when he walked out during the Iranian health minister's speech at the World Health Organization meeting last week.
But Litzman, a United Torah Judaism lawmaker with a mind of his own, thought it was the proper thing to do in view of Iranian leaders' frequent calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, he told The Jerusalem Post Thursday, after his return.
He carried out the demonstrative act at the 62nd annual World Health Assembly, which was attended by representatives - many of them health ministers - of all 193 member countries.
Although officials from some - but not all - Arab countries walked out later when Litzman delivered a 10-minute speech, he was told later that Iraqi officials stayed in their seats and listened to him intently. Delegates of Israel, Iraq and Iran sit near each other because of alphabetical order.
The deputy health minister told the Post that while he did not have the opportunity to meet WHO secretary-general Dr. Margaret Chan during his visit that ended late Wednesday, he understood that he would be invited to meet with her personally during a subsequent trip to Geneva.
Litzman said he had felt completely comfortable despite his hassidic garb.
"They have seen hassidim before, and I was personally introduced to many health ministers before my speech," said Litzman, who was raised in New York and speaks fluent English. Among them was Brazilian Health Minister JosÃ© Gomes TemporÃ£o, who said he was planning to visit Israel soon.
After some Arab ministers walked out, Litzman noted that Israel provided medical care to its Arab citizens as well as to patients from the Palestinian Authority who need treatment unavailable there, and that terrorists who try to murder Israelis and survive often lie in the same hospital wards with their wounded victims.
In Geneva, where the H1N1 swine flu strain was a major topic of discussion, Litzman said he was concerned the virus could combine by next winter with the newest human strains, making dealing with it more complicated.
He will suggest to ministry officials that Israelis of all ages be urged to get vaccinated in the fall, and not only young children, the middle-aged and the elderly.
Litzman said he was well received at the WHO event and that Israel had a very good reputation in healthcare and research, even though an anti-Israel resolution had been raised by Palestinians at the assembly on health of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Among the subjects discussed at the assembly were the social determinants of health that are mostly responsible for health inequities within and between countries; how to contain the H1N1 flu strain; UN millennium development goals for 2015 to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women; child mortality; and maternal health.