Dec. 13, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the 10th Global Conference on Health Promotion

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the 10th Global Conference on Health Promotion
Excellencies, distinguished participants, dear colleagues and friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the 10th Global Conference on Health Promotion.

Today, we also celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion and the 10th anniversary of the Political Declaration on the Social Determinants of Health adopted in Rio de Janeiro.

The theme of this year’s conference is well-being, equity and sustainable development.

The Constitution of WHO, written more than 70 years ago in the aftermath of the Second World War, famously affirms that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

What does that mean?

It means that health does not begin in a hospital or clinic. It begins in our homes and communities, with the food we eat and the water we drink, the air we breathe, in our schools and our workplaces.

Since then, that affirmation has been reinforced by the commitment to “Health for All” at the Alma-Ata Conference of 1978, the Astana Declaration in 2018, and most recently by the High-Level Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, made at the UN General Assembly just two years ago.

And of course, the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the nations of the world in 2015, offer a sweeping vision for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. And while the 17 Global Goals themselves are separate, they are integrated and indivisible.

While the world has made progress towards these lofty goals, it is not nearly sufficient.

There remain unacceptable gaps within and between countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed these inequities.

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives, disrupting societies and economies, lives and livelihoods.

Many people may feel that they are no longer in control of their health, and that they face an increasingly uncertain future.

Beyond the terrible impact of COVID-19 itself, the pandemic has led to disruptions in essential health services that has hindered efforts to tackle many other diseases and conditions, from malaria to maternal health, from rare diseases to diabetes, non-communicable diseases and mental disorders.

Existing inequities and inequalities have been exacerbated, with millions more thrown into poverty, many months of education lost, and uncounted increases in physical and emotional stress.

The pandemic has shown that when health is at risk, everything is at risk.

But the opposite is also true: when health is protected and promoted, individuals, families, communities, economies and nations can thrive.

That’s why health must not be seen as a cost, but as an investment in productive, resilient and inclusive societies.

Achieving Health for All demands that we reach beyond the health sector. It demands an all-of-government, all-of-society approach, including economics and finance, infrastructure and housing, transportation, energy and environment.

We have to fundamentally change the way that leaders in politics, the private sector, and international institutions think about and value health, and to promote growth that is based on health and well-being for people and the planet, for countries in all income levels.

It is time to move away from thinking of health as a component of the economy, and instead look at how the economy can support the societal goal of Health for All, as an investment that is the foundation of productive, resilient and inclusive economies.

Vaccines will help to end the pandemic. But they will not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root.

Once the pandemic ends, we will be left with even greater challenges than before it started: poverty, hunger, inequality, noncommunicable diseases, climate change and more.

We cannot – we must not – go back to the same exploitative patterns of production and consumption, the same disregard for the planet that sustains all life, the same cycle of panic and neglect, and the same divisive politics that fueled this pandemic.

The pandemic has brought us to a fork in the road.

Behind us lies the path of business as usual – the path that led us to this crisis.

Before us lies a new path: the path that leads to healthier, more resilient, and more sustainable societies.

This conference is an opportunity to progress down that path; an opportunity for meaningful dialogue, sharing experiences, and concrete recommendations on how to best advance well-being.

The Geneva Charter for Well-Being outlines goals for achieving equitable health and social outcomes now and for future generations, within ecological limits.

As you move forward, let me leave you with three priorities:

First, remember that health is part of a larger ecosystem that encompasses environmental, social, economic, and political factors.

Second, at the core of all of our efforts must be universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, which is the cornerstone of social, economic and political stability.

And third, let’s rethink the narrative around health, not as a cost, but as an investment in our common future.

I thank you, and I wish you a productive conference.