Padmini Murthy

APHA member Padmini Murthy was active in championing women’s health and disability awareness at the United Nations General Assembly, which is convening this week in New York City. Photo by

The annual United Nations General Assembly brings together leaders from 193 member nations for “international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields.” At this year’s event, hosted in New York City from Sept. 24-Oct. 1, APHA International Health Section member and chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights Padmini (Mini) Murthy was active in promoting public health at events kicking off the world conference. Invited as a non-governmental organization representative, Murthy discussed with world leaders women’s health and the inclusion of people with disabilities in global health strategy.

Murthy provided this report to Public Health Newswire.

Come September, New York City hosts world leaders and dignitaries who attend meetings at the United Nation’s Global Compact and UN General Assembly sessions and side events. Being a New Yorker and an NGO representative of the UN, I had the privilege of attending some high-profile events.

On Thursday, Sept. 19, I attended the UN Global compact — a platform which brings together UN agencies, NGO leaders and businesses to engage in constructive dialogue geared toward improving the health of global communities. One of its events I attended, “Empowering women to lead the way to a low-emission and high-resilient future,” focused on the role of women — as instruments for change — in protecting the environment and conserving energy.

One of the panelists was Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN’s climate change secretariat, who said that more than 50 percent of all women are exposed to high levels of indoor pollution while cooking on open fires. The fuel burnt is biomass — including wood, animal dung and crop waste — and coal, which is a major public health hazard for both women and their children. This translates into increased rates of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A World Health Organization report highlights the enormous burden caused by indoor air pollution, as it causes almost 2 million deaths annually. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves  is a public-private initiative attempting to fix the problem by empowering and educating women, and providing them with safer stoves to reduce indoor pollution. This initiative is a good illustration of this year’s APHA Annual Meeting theme: “Think Global, Act Local” with an emphasis on best practices around the world.

I also attended a high-level panel discussion on global education chaired by Sara Brown, the wife of former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. It was an interesting, interactive discussion detailing the importance of education investments and the strong links to health, with examples of best practices from Asia and Africa.

On Monday, I was back at the UN and attended two great sessions — one on the rights of disabled women, and the other focusing on children. These sessions were eye-openers for me as a physician and a public health professional, hearing and witnessing the hardships of those with special needs. So many of these people live in countries where they do not have access to education, health care and are often marginalized.

I also attended the morning session of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development. There is an ongoing effort by various UN agencies, UN member states, foundations, activists and NGOs to include disability awareness in the General Assembly agenda toward 2015 and beyond.

As concerned global citizens, across disciplines we need to work at all levels and in teams to promote the practice of public health and service delivery. Only then will we be equitable and inclusive to those who have been disenfranchised.