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Opening of the 71st World Health Assembly; “Health for all: commit to universal health coverage”

21 May 2018
Opening of the 71st World Health Assembly; “Health for all: commit to universal health coverage”

Opening Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Opening of the 71st World Health Assembly
“Health for all: commit to universal health coverage”

Assembly Hall, Palais des Nations
Monday, 21 May 2018, 9.30 a.m.

Madam President [President of WHA 70, Professor Veronika Skvortsova, Russian Federation],
Monsieur le Président [President of the Swiss Confederation],
Mister President [President of Rwanda],
Director-General [of WHO],
Distinguished Delegates:

It is my great privilege to welcome you to the Palais for the 71st World Health Assembly.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the World Health Organization - and as we look back at the past seven decades, we recognize the critical contributions of the WHO towards human progress.

By many measures the world has never been in better health: People live longer lives. Child mortality has been dramatically reduced. Smallpox has been eliminated; and polio is about to be. Malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS are all in retreat.

And yet we are all painfully aware that not a day goes by where lives are not lost to preventable diseases; to illnesses that we have long learnt to treat.

We cannot breathe a sigh of relief – instead, let us collectively take a deep breath and resolve to finish the job.

‘Finishing the job’ means responding swiftly and forcefully to immediate crises.

We are deeply concerned about a new outbreak of Ebola in the DRC.

In 2014 the largest Ebola outbreak in history highlighted the need for the international community, the WHO and the UN to be better prepared in responding to health crises that affect multiple countries.

In response, the Secretary-General convened a High-level Panel that provided clear recommendations, charting a clear path forward. Let me congratulate WHO on the speedy response and Dr. Tedros for having visited the epicenter of the recent Ebola outbreak.

Now is the time to make good on our promise to never again let a tragedy like Ebola escalate.
But ‘finishing the job’ also means working towards long-term solutions. It means redoubling our efforts in prevention.

Effective prevention requires a change in perspective in a double sense: one, we need to look further ahead. And two, we need to take a broader view, beyond our own disciplines.

Nowhere is this more true than in global health.

Investing in health yields tremendous dividends.

For health is the prerequisite for everything else to flourish.

This is why universal basic health care is critical just as, universal basic education is critical - because it yields benefits to individuals as much as to the society at large.

This is why Sustainable Development Goal 3 is at the core of the 2030 Agenda.

But if health is the sine qua non for all other goals, it itself depends on progress in other goals - from peace and climate action to reduced inequality.

And this, finally, is why I am very happy to see that the SDGs are at the heart of WHO’s General Programme of Work for the years ahead.

Prevention, integration, universality - these are the imperatives enshrined in the 2030 Agenda.
Geneva, the operational heart of the multilateral system, is the place to put them into action.

The new health campus across the road from the WHO brings international health actors even closer together. National governments, meanwhile, bring more diverse delegations from across different ministries. And as we could see yesterday, the broader public, too, is “walking the talk” with us. We all have a lot of walking still to do, but all of this is truly encouraging.

Speaking about walking the talk, there is another important area where we are finally moving forward - and that is gender equality.

This starts in our own organizations and I would like to commend my colleague Dr. Tedros for his commitment to fast-track gender equality at the WHO’s senior level. We also welcome the goal set by the 13th GPW to achieve full parity among WHO’s directors and heads of delegations to the Health Assembly.

This is very much in sync with the actions of our Secretary-General António Guterres who just achieved full parity at all senior positions and resident coordinator levels - just a little into his second year at the helm.

This week at UN Geneva, we are launching a new campaign with the slogan “I say no to sexism. What do you say?”

We are tackling casual everyday sexism because it creates a toxic culture that opens the door to disrespect, harassment and abuse. Our Palais must be a safe space. And it is everybody’s responsibility - UN staff, delegates of Member States, representatives of NGOs and everyone else - to make it so.

In closing, let me thank you once again for coming together today. I wish you much success in your deliberations.

Thank you.