16 May 2011
64th World Health Assembly - Opening Session
Welcome remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
64th World Health Assembly
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Monday, 16 May 2011
Madam First Vice-President of the 63rd World Health Assembly, Dr María Isabel Rodriguez
Madam Director-General, Dr. Chan
Federal Councillor, Mr. Didier Burkhalter
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a privilege for me to welcome you to the Palais des Nations, and it is an honour to convey to you the best wishes of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, for a successful and productive World Health Assembly.
As you all know, promoting and protecting health is essential to human welfare and to sustained economic and social development. The issues on your comprehensive agenda are closely related to the Secretary-General’s key priorities and are in support of the United Nations’ wider efforts for peace, security and development. For its part, the United Nations values the wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary collaboration with the WHO.
Securing better health and adequate, affordable access to primary care are key components of the Millennium Development Goals. At the MDG Summit in September of last year, Member States adopted a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by their 2015 target date. They committed to accelerating progress in promoting global public health for all by realizing the values and principles of primary health care.
To advance towards the realization of the Goals, adequate investment in health systems, provision of long-term, predictable aid and the integration of health considerations in broader social and economic development planning are urgently called for.
We cannot ignore that greater efforts are needed for the Least Developed Countries – the LDCs. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted last week when opening the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul, these countries suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases. It is important that we collaborate closely with the WHO on the LDCs.
Improvement in maternal and children’s health remains a major focus of the Millennium Development Goals where we have made, unfortunately, the least progress. Meanwhile, the adoption of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health at the MDG Summit marked an important step forward. The United Nations estimates that, when implemented, the Strategy has the potential of saving the lives of more than 16 million women and children, preventing 33 million unwanted pregnancies, protecting 120 million children from pneumonia and 88 million children from stunting due to malnutrition. The full support and involvement of the WHO is critical to enabling the Strategy to be implemented.
The Global Strategy is complemented by the work of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health which will propose a framework for global reporting, oversight and accountability on women's and children’s health. The recommendations of the Commission will provide a valuable framework for ensuring much-needed progress in this area.
We must be realistic about the profound obstacles to improving women’s health. If we are to make meaningful progress on maternal health and women’s health more generally, we must also address the broader issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
2011 marks another milestone in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In June of this year, the General Assembly will convene a High-Level Meeting to review progress and renew our commitments. We have made significant strides in this area with interventions to reduce transmission and provide treatment. The global rate of new HIV infections is declining, access to treatment is expanding and the world has seen significant reductions in HIV transmission from mother to child. But the gains are fragile.
Climate change severely impacts health, and I am pleased to note the focus on this challenge at your Assembly. Weather-related hazards and natural disasters are also on the increase as a result of climate change, which affects the health of many of our most vulnerable fellow human beings. Last week, at the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Reduction, the Secretary-General highlighted the economic loss and the damage to homes, livelihoods and health facilities caused by disasters and called for sustained efforts for disaster reduction, preparedness and mitigation.
The current international financial realities require all international organizations to step up their efforts for reform. The United Nations Secretary-General is committed to efficiency and effectiveness in delivering on our mandates.
At a time where money is tight, calls of certain Governments for cuts in health spending increase. However, reductions in health investment hold the potential to undermine long-term development and therefore require careful consideration. The WHO – with its extensive expertise in developing innovative financing mechanisms and establishing partnerships – has taken the lead in guiding countries in this regard.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Global health is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but also an area of opportunity with scope for solutions. Continued political commitment is indispensable if we are to translate the promise of technological and scientific advances into reality.
In that spirit, I wish you a most productive Assembly.
Thank you for your attention.