World Health Assembly
28 May 2019
Your Excellency, Dr Bounkong Syhavong,
I would like to begin by thanking you, Your Excellency, and your officers, for your leadership at this Assembly. It has been an honour to work with you.
I also want to thank the Chairs of Committees A and B – in Committee A, Dr Silvia Paula Valentim Lutucuta, and in Committee B, Mr Herbert Barnard – for your leadership and the way you have managed the agenda, managed the large number of speakers, and fostered a spirit of collaboration and partnership.
Thank you very much. Obrigado. Dank je wel.
It’s my great honour to now invite Your Excellency the President, and the Chairs of Committees A and B, to the stage to receive a token of our appreciation.
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends,
Over the past 9 days, you have all listened to a lot of speeches, and I have made a lot of speeches too. So I will be brief!
I have three points to make.
First, we must all celebrate our achievements.
In the past 9 days, you have demonstrated that international cooperation is alive and well.
Working together, you approved the new programme budget.
You agreed on a common approach to antimicrobial resistance.
You adopted a new global strategy on health, environment and climate change, including a plan of action on climate change and health in Small Island Developing States.
You adopted the 11th Edition of the International Classification of Diseases – ICD-11 – the first completely digital edition of one of WHO’s most valuable, but least-known products.
You recognized patient safety as a global health priority.
You committed to invest in safe water, sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities.
You adopted a landmark agreement to enhance the transparency of pricing for medicines, vaccines and other health products.
You committed to invest in strong primary health care, to implement WHO guidelines on community health workers, and to lay the groundwork for the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough what a decisive moment for public health the High-Level Meeting could be. A strong declaration, with strong political support, could transform the lives of billions of people, in realizing what we have always advocated for – health for all.
I ask all of you to bring your Heads of State to the High-Level Meeting in New York in September. Their commitment is essential for ensuring we capitalize on this moment.
The joint meeting of ministers of health and ministers of finance, followed by the G20 Summit in Osaka will be another important moment on the road to New York.
In each of these areas you have also asked the Secretariat to take certain actions. I give you my word that we will fulfil our commitments.
Second, we must all commit to the work ahead of us.
I said at the beginning of this Assembly that we cannot think of resolutions and decisions as the ultimate outcome of our work.
The Assembly is ending, but our work is only just beginning.
We must all resolve to translate our work this week into policies, programmes and actions that deliver results.
We must be honest that we will all face many challenges in implementing the commitments we have made.
Some of our countries are deeply divided. Some are in severe economic crisis. Some are still suffering from years of conflict.
In some countries, there is an alarming increase in attacks on health workers and health facilities.
Last Thursday, two health workers died and three were injured when two clearly-marked ambulances were struck in Libya.
And since we remembered Dr Richard’s death last Monday, six attacks on Ebola responders were documented in DRC, including an attack on an infection prevention team on Saturday in which one responder was killed.
These attacks demonstrate that the ongoing Ebola outbreak is more than a health crisis. Ending it takes a coordinated and strengthened effort across the UN system – all stakeholders – with strong leadership from the government. We’re pleased that that is now happening, and we are committed to working with the government of DRC and all partners to end this outbreak as soon as possible.
We also face challenges in our continuing mission to transform WHO and make it more modern, responsive, and effective; an organization for today and an organization for tomorrow.
We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to implement the changes we have announced, and to make them work.
Our new science division will enable to us to stay ahead of the curve on the latest developments in science and medicine, and to provide up-to-date guidance on digital health, investing in our core business: norms and standards.
The future of health is digital, and we are committed to giving Member States the support they need to maximize the opportunities of digital technologies, while avoiding the pitfalls with appropriate regulation.
Our new division of healthy populations will support countries to invest in health promotion, addressing the determinants of health through a health-in-all-policies approach.
I’m pleased to announce that we are establishing a special programme on primary health care to support countries in strengthening the foundations of their health systems and of universal health coverage.
We’re also changing the way we work, by establishing agile teams to break the siloes and work on cross-cutting issues like antimicrobial resistance.
And we’re establishing the WHO Academy, to transform the training of WHO staff and public health professionals worldwide.
We also face challenges in securing the financial sustainability of WHO, and in increasing the proportion of more flexible and more predictable funding.
These are just some of the changes we’re making.
Re-orienting an organization with 8,000 people, 6 regions and 194 Member States is no easy task.
But we are committed to the path we are on.
And the only way to address any of these challenges we face is the same way we have addressed our work this week – together. The rule of the game is: together.
My third point is, we must all keep ourselves accountable.
If we are truly to make progress towards the “triple billion” targets and the Sustainable Development Goals, we must all commit to regular accountability – both Member States, and the Secretariat. We must all commit to a regular “check-up”.
Today I am asking that in a year’s time, all Member States return to Geneva ready to report on the steps they have taken, and the progress they have made, on primary health care and universal health coverage. Because this is the central agenda, and that’s why we’re saying all roads should lead to universal health coverage.
I will work with the Regional Directors to create an opportunity to do that at next year’s Assembly. There are some innovative ideas that are already proposed by the Africa Group.
Likewise, we in the Secretariat will also report on the progress we have made on transformation, and the commitments we have made at this Assembly.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Celebrate our achievements.
Commit to the work ahead of us.
Keep ourselves accountable.
These are my three messages.
Whenever we feel disheartened, whenever progress seems too slow, whenever it seems the challenges are too large, we must remind ourselves of what we’re working for.
Our vision is a world in which people do not suffer and die simply because they are poor.
Our vision is a world in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.
Our vision is a world in which polio is eradicated; neglected tropical diseases are no longer neglected; the epidemics of TB, HIV and malaria are ended; maternal and child mortality are reduced; primary health care is strengthened, and the tobacco industry goes out of business because no one wants its products.
That’s the vision for which we’re working.
And that’s the vision that we can only achieve together.
Thank you. It’s been nine days of rollercoaster. I learned a lot and I will keep learning. Thank you so much for your guidance and support.