Speech van Minister Schippers voor de World Health Assembly

Toespraak van minister Schippers (VWS) voor de World Health Assembly  op maandag 23 mei 2016 in Genève.

Vanaf deze week is Nederland voor de komende 3 jaar lid van het uitvoerend bestuur van de World Health Organization (WHO). Minister Schippers woont vandaag en morgen in Genève de 69e World Health Assembly bij, de jaarlijkse algemene vergadering van de WHO, waarop dit lidmaatschap wordt bekrachtigd. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar. 

President, Madame Director General, distinguished colleagues,

I am speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States. So, it is also on their behalf that I thank you, Director General, for your report.

Ladies and gentlemen, last year we adopted the far reaching Agenda 2030. Its motto, to leave no one behind, is inspiring and ambitious. I consider it a promise to people worldwide, the people we work for.

Still we have to ask ourselves: Will this agenda turn out to be the game changer we want it to be?

Of course, that is up to all of us – as member states!

It is up to us to protect and promote the physical and mental health and well-being of all. By strengthening our health systems. To provide universal health coverage and essential public health functions. Including health security.

However, this can only be done if the World Health Organization develops a clear plan: how will it effectively contribute to the achievement of these goals? We stress the need for the WHO to develop such a plan!

We are committed to the Agenda 2030. Yet, its goals can only be achieved with a World Health Organization that is fit to deliver. Trustworthy. Credible. Innovative. Results-oriented. And willing to work with many partners, including those outside the health sector.

We all know that people’s health is not only determined by healthcare. Living healthily is difficult if your life is a daily struggle for food. If you work in a polluted area. If you live in a dangerous and poor neighborhood. Living healthily is almost impossible when you are fleeing war. Having said this, improving people’s health is also essential for achieving many of the other goals of Agenda 2030.

A crucial element to reach the goals of Agenda 2030 is the humanitarian component of the WHO's work. In natural disasters, in disease outbreaks, conflicts and other humanitarian crises. As well as in the present migration and refugee crisis. This work is carried out in close cooperation with humanitarian partners. Sometimes very basic, sometimes complex, yet always heroic work:

•             Providing insulin in refugees camps for   people with diabetes.

•             Vaccinating children.

•             Screening children on malnutrition.

•             Providing medicine

•             And advising how to run hospitals under these difficult conditions.

All these different dimensions of the work of the WHO come together in extreme situations.

Another important subject is access and affordability in healthcare. A maternity clinic means nothing if a pregnant woman in a remote area cannot reach it. High quality hospitals mean nothing if people cannot afford to be treated there. Universal health coverage becomes a reality only when we break down financial barriers.

And the same is true for medicine. Innovative medicines for severe or rare diseases can mean the world to severely ill patients. Or they can mean nothing. For example if a patient with, let us say, hepatitis-C is denied a new and promising medicine because the price is unreasonably high. That is why the increasing prices of medicines and medical technologies are of major concern to all of us. The current models of access to essential medicine, and research and development urgently need improvement. Alternative business models are necessary. These concerns are high on the agenda of the European Union.  

Ladies and gentlemen, Ebola taught us that years of work on improving population health can be wiped out if a health system is not resilient. A first requirement in this regard is a fit for purpose and skilled healthcare workforce. This applies, for example, to nursing and midwifery. The WHO is assisting us, in my region, to improve our maternal care systems. At the same time it is helping the Liberian Ministry of Health to get more midwifes. In both cases - quality maternal health services are essential in primary care and they save lives. Therefore, we welcome the new WHO Global strategy on Human Resources for Health.

Furthermore, we encourage the WHO to play a central role in the UN High Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth.

Secondly, our health systems should be ready to prevent and detect. Ready to respond. As is specified in the International Health Regulations. These are the backbone of global health security! We are convinced that we need to use the momentum at hand to strengthen the implementation of the IHR - not to change them.

Since the last Assembly, the WHO has made significant progress in meeting the requests of the Ebola resolution. To mention a few:

•             The R&D Blueprint

•             The Contingency Fund

•             The Joint External Evaluation Tool

•             And the Global Health Emergency Workforce, to which the European Medical Corps is an important contribution.

 Yet there is more to do.

The recently established Outbreak and Emergency program has the potential to improve global health security. We welcome this. Still, we want to underscore the ultimate responsibility and accountability of the Director General. We also want to state the importance of ONE World Health Organization in this respect.

Fast implementation is needed. And we request clarity on plans for a long term strategy on sustainable financing of the program.

Another major threat to global health is antimicrobial resistance. Effective treatments for Tuberculosis, malaria and sexually transmitted infections are at risk. Even simple infections can become a serious health threat again. There are countries were the common treatment for bladder infections has become ineffective in more than half of the patients. This affects people all over the world. Ladies and gentleman, we are running out of treatments and the clock is ticking.

We know the solutions: infection prevention and prudent use, as well as the development of new antimicrobials and new diagnostic tests.

We welcome the ambition and efforts of the WHO in assisting all member states in creating national action plans on Antimicrobial Resistance. There is no easy way here. Political commitment is essential, especially on the One Health approach. Therefore, we are looking forward to the high level meeting during the United Nations General Assembly. There, we will confirm our political commitment at the highest level.

Finally, we need the WHO to become a fit-for-purpose, credible and reliable global health leader. So the path of reforms should be continued. Yet governance reform has lagged behind. We hope this year will mark a change.

Today, more than ever, we need a WHO that is truly operating as ONE organization. A WHO that is effectively cooperating across categories and programs. Only then are we truly able to face our many challenges. Only then can we truly live up to the promise we made to our citizens in the Agenda2030. To leave no one behind.

Thank you.