Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Committee


Topic Summary

Topic: Millennium Development Goals: Access to Healthcare

In 2000, the United Nations set forth the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- eight goals, committed toby all 191 United Nations member states at the time, as well as 22 international organizations, that aimed to solve humankind’s most persistent challenges. The goals ranged from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Three of those goals were focused on healthcare: reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and stemming the spread of “HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases”. The goals were ambitions, and despite significant progress, none of these three goals were fully met by 2015.

On the three aforementioned areas, much has been done. Child mortality is a telling indicator of a country’s quality of healthcare; whether or not a country is able to protect its most vulnerable citizens is a testament to it state of public health. Between 1990 and 2011, child deaths declined from 12.4 million to 6.9 million (translating into 14,000 fewer children dying every day) despite a growing global population. Between 1960 and 2015, global child mortality fell from 18.2% to 4.3%. However, this progress has not been evenly spread. According to the World Health Organization, a child in sub-Saharan Africa is 14 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in the rest of the world. Children from rural and poorer households also remain disproportionately affected; children from the poorest 20% of households in the world are twice as likely to die before the age of five than children from the richest 20%.

A similar story holds for maternal health. Maternal death has dropped significantly since the adoption of the MDGs. The universal maternal mortality ratio has reduced by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 380 to 210 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. However, despite progress, maternal mortality reveals wide gaps between rich and poor countries. Developing countries account for 99% of maternal deaths every year; women in Chad have a lifetime maternal death risk of 1 in 16, while women in Sweden face a risk of less than 1 in 10,000. Many of the medical problems that have been already solved in first world countries are still the reason behind the daily death of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in other parts of the world.

Finally, significant gaps exist for the eradication of debilitating diseases. Take the example of tuberculosis. Poverty and tuberculosis form a vicious, self-entrapping cycle, where poverty increases one’s chances of contracting tuberculosis, and tuberculosis traps one of poverty. The World Health Organization estimates that 95% of tuberculosis deaths occur in the developing world. The diseases affects mainly young adults in their youngest and most productive years, thereby preventing them from improving their personal and familial economic conditions. As another testament to income-based health inequities, 87% of prematures deaths due to noncommunicable diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries. These diseases can quickly drain household income, driving families into the same poverty cycle. Like child mortality and maternal health, significant progress has been achieved in eliminating deadly diseases from the world. However, this progress is uneven.

Low-income, low-resource countries cannot afford the production or sustainability of advanced research and medical device design. Poor medical conditions are the symptoms of complicated and persistent political, social, and economic issues. In 2020, over two decades since the MDGs were released, too many suffer from problems that advanced countries have solved years ago. Delegates in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee of the General Assembly will be tasked with analyzing this humanitarian situation and resolve it permanently.

Director’s Letter

Dear Delegates,

Welcome! My name is Ryan Zhang, and I am incredibly excited to serve as Director of the Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Committee (SOCHUM) for HMUN 2020. This will be my third year staffing HMUN, and my seventh year involved with the model United Nations circuit.

I grew up in West Windsor, New Jersey, where I attended West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. I was avidly involved with model United Nations in high school and competed frequently at university-sponsored conferences throughout the Northeast. I started off as a GA delegate but towards the end of my career as a delegate migrated towards the crisis circuit. As a staffer, I have since returned to GAs; I have found that nothing beats the energy, dynamism, and gravity of a GA committee like SOCHUM. In fact, I competed in SOCHUM right here at HMUN during my first year of high school! It was my first ever national conference for both my co-delegate and me, and that experience was what first made me fall in love with Harvard. Six years later, I cannot wait to be on the other side of the dias. I hope that your HMUN experience will be as rewarding as I found mine.

When not staffing model United Nations conferences, I major in Social Studies (a combination of politics, philosophy, and economics) and am pursuing a minor in Statistics at Harvard. I co-chair the Policy Program at the Harvard Institute of Politics, serve as President of the Harvard College Law Review, and work as a research assistant in Harvard’s Department of Government, where I am studying the politics of genomic science. I am also a life-long lover of opera and classical music. I was trained as a pianist and conductor, and perhaps like some of you, I participated in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America when I was in high school. I now co-music direct the Mozart Society Orchestra -- a leading student-run classical ensemble on campus.

My idea for this committee can be traced back to the experiences of my own extended family in rural China, where access to even basic medicines is poor. Simple treatments that can be easily bought for less than ten dollars at a local pharmacy in a developed country are unavailable to those in less fortunate parts of the world. As a student in Boston, a world hub for biotechnology and medical services, the disparity is stark. Your job will be to diagnose impediments to medical access to low-income countries and proscribe solutions to the issue. Given the issue’s complexity, you will have to think creatively and comprehensively and seek consensus with countries across the political spectrum.

This conference will be more than a lesson in public speaking. Outside of committee, I hope you will engage your peers, bringing together students of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and pursuits. I hope you will realize the power of your voices. Ultimately, I hope you will nurture a culture of open-mindedness so that you will leave Harvard Square not only as college graduates but also as citizens and citizen-leaders, armed with the virtues of respect and compromise, ready to move society forward.


All the best,

Ryan Zhang

Director, Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian Committee