Director-General’s closing remarks at the World Health Assembly – 31 May 2021

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Azadi Ka Amrit Mahoutsav

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Director-General’s closing remarks at the World Health Assembly – 31 May 2021

Your Excellency Madam President,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends.

First of all, I would like to thank Your Excellency Dasho Dechen Wangmo for your leadership this week as President of the 74th World Health Assembly.

I would also like to thank the Chair of Committee A, Dr Adriana Amarilla of Paraguay, and the Chair of Committee B, Dr Iferemi Waqainabete of Fiji. Thank you both for your leadership this week.

And I would like to thank all Member States for the constructive and collaborative way that you have worked this week to address a full agenda of pressing health challenges.

I know that the past week is the culmination of months of work for many colleagues – Member States and Secretariat alike – who have engaged in long hours of consultations, negotiations and preparations that have resulted in a smooth and successful Assembly.

You have adopted more than 30 resolutions and decisions on diabetes, disabilities, ending violence against children, eye care, HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, local production of medicines, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, noncommunicable diseases, nursing and midwifery, oral health, social determinants of health and strategic directions for the health and care workforce.

And this morning you approved a historic resolution on strengthening WHO preparedness and response for emergencies.

I would like to thank all Member States for the support they expressed for WHO, and for making it stronger.

The reports of the IPPPR, the IHR Review Committee and the IOAC are unanimous in their view that the world needs a stronger WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.

There are many recommendations in each of the reports about how to achieve that, and many of these recommendations require further discussion with Member States.

As the reports all say, and many Member States have emphasised, a paradigm shift in the quantity and quality of funding for the Secretariat is a key issue.

Throughout this Assembly, many Member States have spoken about their reliance on WHO experts at all levels for technical guidance. Our staff really appreciate this.

But the reality of our funding model is that many of these expert colleagues are on short-term contracts, and even if they are not, their programmes have to be planned in a debilitating cycle of financial ebb and flow.

Even in the midst of this pandemic, we face a serious challenge to maintain WHO’s response to COVID-19 at its current level.

Last week you heard about WHO’s co-ordination in country, the technical support and guidance we provide, the capacity building and training of health workers, the scaling up of sequencing, the critical supplies, the surge deployments and much more.

It all has to be funded. We cannot pay people with praise.

And WHO cannot grow stronger without sustainable financing.

This is not a new issue. More sustainable financing has been one of my priorities as part of the WHO Transformation.

However, there have been two big differences at this Assembly.

First, the message that a strong WHO needs to be properly financed has been amplified by all the expert reviews that reported to this Assembly.

But the second thing that is different is that we have a way forward.

I thank the Working Group on Sustainable Finance for its work so far, and for its encouraging interim report to this Assembly. And thank you especially to Germany and Björn Kümmel for their leadership of this initiative. We look forward to its final report to the Executive Board in January.

I also thank Member States for approving the planned Programme Budget for 2022 and 2023.

For the long-term strengthening of WHO, I urge Member States to seize this pivotal moment and chart a course to a sustainable financial model through the recommendations of the Working Group.

In the medium-term, I ask that you fully fund the next Programme Budget.

And in the short-term, I ask you to fill the significant shortfall in the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan with the flexible funding we need to deliver on the promise of the ACT Accelerator and save lives.


The theme of this Assembly is, as you know, “Ending this pandemic, preventing the next one.”

The reality is, we still have a lot of work to do to end this pandemic.

We’re very encouraged that cases and deaths are continuing to decline globally, but it would be a monumental error for any country to think the danger has passed.

The tailored and consistent use of public health measures, in combination with equitable vaccination, remains the way out.

I urge all Member States to commit to supporting the targets I set out on Monday, to achieve vaccination of at least 10% of the population of all countries by the end of September, and at least 30% by the end of the year.

One day – hopefully soon – the pandemic will be behind us, but the psychological scars will remain for those who have lost loved ones, health workers who have been stretched beyond breaking point, and the millions of people of all ages confronted with months of loneliness and isolation.

And we will still face the same vulnerabilities that allowed a small outbreak to become a global pandemic.

The questions the pandemic is asking us cannot simply be answered with new institutions, mechanisms, facilities or processes.

The challenges we face are profound, and so must be the solutions we design.

Strengthening WHO certainly means strengthening the Secretariat, but it also means strengthening the bond between Member States, which is very crucial.

That’s why the one recommendation that I believe will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response; that could also improve, as I said earlier, the relationship between Member States, and fosters cooperation.

This is an idea whose time has come.

We need a generational commitment that outlives budgetary cycles, election cycles and media cycles;

That creates an overarching framework for connecting the political, financial and technical mechanisms needed for strengthening global health security.

At present, pathogens have greater power than WHO. They are emerging more frequently in a planet out of balance.

They exploit our interconnectedness and expose our inequities and divisions.

The safety of the world’s people cannot rely solely on the goodwill of governments.

Every government is responsible for, and accountable to, its own people.

But Member States can only truly keep their own people safe if they are accountable to each other at the global level.

The defining characteristic of the pandemic is the lack of sharing: of data, information, pathogens, technologies and resources. These are the challenges we’re facing, we’ve been facing since the pandemic started, and even before.

A treaty would foster improved sharing, trust and accountability, and provide the solid foundation on which to build other mechanisms for global health security:

For peer review of national capacities;

For research and innovation;

For early warning; 

For stockpiling and production of pandemic supplies;

For equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments;

For an emergency workforce;

And much more.

A treaty is a promise to future generations;

To sustained political and financial commitment.

Crucially, an international agreement of any kind must be designed and owned by all Member States – all. It must be truly representative and inclusive.

It must be thorough and carefully considered, but it must also be urgent. We don’t have time.

There is no reason we can’t do both.

We must seize the moment. In the coming months and years, other crises will demand our attention, and distract us from the urgency of taking action now.

If we make that mistake, we risk perpetuating the same cycle of panic and neglect that has led us to the point.

We appreciate the strong support expressed by dozens of Member States for the idea of a global agreement on pandemic preparedness, under article 19 of the WHO constitution. More than 60 countries have sponsored it, as the Ambassador of Chile said earlier.

We look forward to discussing this idea further with Member States at a Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November.

You, our Member States, have demonstrated this week that with commitment, hard work and a willingness to compromise, to cooperate, it is possible to find common ground, even on issues where there are deep differences of opinion between you.

That same commitment and willingness is needed now. Pandemics are a threat to all of us. So we must work together to build a healthier, safer, fairer future – for all of us.

The pandemic has taught us many lessons. Among the most important is that when health is at risk, everything is at risk.

But when health is protected and promoted, individuals, families, communities, nations and economies thrive.

We call on all Member States to enshrine the right to health in their constitutions, as indeed many have already done.

But the right to health cannot – must not – become an empty slogan. It must become the experience of every person in every nation. 

Madam President, you said in your opening address to the Assembly that leadership is hard to define and harder to find. 

This is a moment for exceptional leadership; for doing the unusual and the unprecedented. We must approach the future with open eyes and open arms.

As the Bhutanese proverb goes: “If you want to action great ideas, you need to apply the strength of a Himalayan mountain.”

Earlier also, the Prime Minister of Bhutan said, which I think goes on the same line, we suffer together, we find solutions together.

Kadrin Cheyla. Shukraan jazeelan. Xie xie. Merci beaucoup. Muchas gracias. Spasiba bolshoi. Thank you very much.

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Antara Tripathy M.Sc., B.Ed. by qualification and bring 15 years of media reporting experience.. Coverred many illustarted events like, G20, ICC,MCCI,British High Commission, Bangladesh etc. She took over from the founder Editor of IBG NEWS Suman Munshi (15/Mar/2012- 09/Aug/2018 and October 2020 to 13 June 2023).
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