Promote health, keep the world safe, serve the vulnerable

By | November 18, 2018

A warm welcome to all meeting participants!

I sincerely regret not being able to join you this week to take part in your discussions. However, I know that several members of my senior leadership team will be joining some sessions. I have asked them to brief me on your deliberations and meeting outcomes.

Thank you all so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to explore opportunities for strengthened collaboration. Our joint challenge is to maximize the impact of public health responses to HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections epidemics as part of our efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

Communicable diseases place a huge burden on people and communities in all countries and regions, and can be particularly devastating for those already living in poverty and for those socially excluded and marginalized. Communicable diseases are responsible for over four million deaths worldwide each year.

This year we celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the World Health Organization and the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Alma-Ata, which championed primary health care. WHO was founded on the principle that health is a fundamental human right – this same principle drives our approach to universal health coverage and has driven much of the progress to address communicable diseases in recent decades.

Target 3.3 of the Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the elimination of high-impact communicable diseases. Clearly, we have huge challenges ahead of us.

Universal health coverage means that all people should be able to access the health services and medicines and other health commodities they need which are of good quality without experiencing financial hardship – whoever they are, wherever they live, and without any form of discrimination.

We are far from achieving this target – at least half the world’s population lacks access to the most basic health services, and almost 100 million people are plunged into extreme poverty every year because they have to pay for their health care out of their own pockets.

And while poverty drives much inequity and inequality in access to health services worldwide, challenges extend far beyond financial and economic barriers. People are often denied services as a result of their race, ethnicity, social class, age, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, migrant status, disability or religion. For example, with HIV we know that key populations, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs and prisoners are not only at greater risk of HIV infection but they are also less likely to be able to access the health services they need. And they are also at increased risk of a broad range of other health problems, including other infectious diseases.

A clear commitment to “leaving no-one behind” must be applied to all communities. Reaching marginalized communities requires partnership and collaboration with those affected communities and with broader civil society:

  • We need to ensure community perspectives inform our understanding of essential packages of services, commodities and interventions;
  • We need to work with communities to better understand who is being left behind and how to ensure universal health coverage can address disparities and gaps;
  • We need to recognize and support the role of communities in service delivery and in strengthening broader health systems;
  • We need to do more to enable your advocacy and activism efforts, to support of universal health coverage and to increase access to essential medicines and health commodities.

Universal health coverage is ultimately a political choice. It is the responsibility of every country and national government to pursue it. I personally commit to spearheading the advocacy required to secure the political support of global, regional, and national leaders.

I will continue to highlight universal health coverage at G7 and G20 meetings, at regional summits and at the United Nations General Assembly – including the General Assembly High-level meeting on universal health coverage planned for 2019. This year I will also push for accelerated action on communicable diseases – I will attend the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in July and the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Tuberculosis in September.

The world needs a strong and broad coalition to drive health impact and I am delighted that WHO is hosting the secretariat of the UHC2030 partnership jointly with the World Bank. I hope you leave the meeting this week feeling part of the growing UHC2030 movement.

The 2030 target of “ending the epidemics” of HIV, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections will not be achieved without striving for universal health coverage, and universal health coverage cannot be achieved without addressing these communicable diseases. Both communicable diseases and universal health coverage targets will not be achieved without a clear focus on health as a human right.

Together we have a historic opportunity to transform the global public health response. I look forward to working jointly with you all to shape the world we aspire to live in.

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