The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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GENEVA, Friday—I had the opportunity Wednesday to spend two short periods in the World Health Organization meeting. I wanted to get the feel of that agency, which, I think, should be less political than any other body.

The first speech I heard was a request for the admission of Spain as a member. Japan and Germany had just been admitted. I have always felt that a world organization should be just that, and whether you like the governments of countries or not it is better to have them a part of the organization. From contact with one another, we will all gain in understanding.

In the afternoon I heard the Indian Minister of Health, who is a woman, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, announce that India was grateful for the fact that she had been named on the Executive Committee. She had served the past three years, which were the important formative years of the organization. She believes that countries with large populations and great needs should be represented on this committee, but she also believes that it is valuable for more countries to serve on this policy-making group. Therefore, she was withdrawing India's name. India, she said, will take no less interest nor will it work less hard on the program of the world health body, but it wants to give other nations the opportunity for the same participation which it had.

This Indian woman, a doctor, is very distinguished looking, slight of build but tall. She has assumed a task that would frighten most men. I had the pleasure of lunching with her and at that time learned how overwhelming is her public health program when there is so little money to do anything. She feels the partition of India has weakened the whole country.

She realizes they must have a defense budget and that money must be spent on capital projects to increase production. She also is aware that when it comes to welfare it is hard to allocate when you have so little and so much has to be done in areas of education, of working conditions, of agriculture, and of health. She feels, however, that health is fundamental.

I am not sure but that the production of foodstuffs comes first, though I think health in a country like India is almost basic even to the production of food. India's population must eat to have the strength to work, but it must also be free of those diseases that are controllable by medical means and which sap the strength of the workers.

I was much interested in talking to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and I wish she could have accepted the invitation extended to her last year to come and make a speaking trip in the United States. We would have learned much about conditions in India—conditions that sound almost unbelievable.

I warned her against believing that the sympathy she might arouse would translate itself into financial gifts and I explained that at present we felt our gifts were largely being given through the taxes that we paid our government. She came back at me at once and said our delegation in the World Health Organization is standing for no increase in that organizations' budget, and her country was beseeching that the budget be raised from two to three million dollars.

We now carry 33 percent of the WHO budget, and there is no disposition in Congress to raise any of our contributions to foreign services of this kind.

But as I listened to her earnest appeal, I felt it would be worthwhile for her to come and tell us of the conditions existing in her country, and then our people could decide. This is not a political question. India may not act in political situations the way we would like to see her act, but there are a great many Indian people, just as there are a great many Chinese people, whose first preoccupation is not political. It is the fundamental question of how to exist from day to day.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Geneva (Switzerland) [ index ]
Other Terms and Topics
  • Public health
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 19, 1951

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.