WHO African Region: Ethiopia

World Health Day 2007

Keynote Address delivered by Dr. Olusegun A. Babaniyi, WHO representative to Ethiopia on the occasion of the 2007 World Health Day Commemoration at the Conference hall of the Federal Ministry of health of Ethiopia

Dr. Petros Olango

Your Excellency

Invited guests

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the World Health organization and on my own behalf I feel honoured and privileged to deliver a keynote address at this event of the World health Day, the theme of which focuses on the global agenda- “International Health Security”.

In as much as globalization has brought several benefits such as efficient transportation and trade to many people across the world, it has also enabled the rapid spread of diseases that otherwise may have been contained by geographical boundaries. Consequently, in today’s world many of the threats to health are not confined to a single country nor are they contained by geographical boundaries. They spread from countries to countries and across all continents in no time.

Therefore, in today’s world, health security is the concern of governments across the globe, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society, media and individuals. To deal effectively with this global threat there has to be genuine cooperation and coordinated action between all of them. No single country or institution has all the capacities needed to respond to international public health emergencies caused by epidemics, natural disasters, and environmental emergencies or by new and emerging diseases.

The theme of this year’s World Health Day is “International Health Security” and the slogan is “Invest in Health, Build a Safer Future”. It is a call intended to highlight the need to reduce the vulnerability of people around the world to new, acute and rapidly spreading risks to health, particularly those that threaten to cross international borders, because in a globalized world, health issues present new challenges that go beyond national borders and have an impact on the collective security of people around the world.

Increased collaboration among developed and developing countries will enable the international community to be better prepared to strengthen national capacities to detect and respond to disease outbreaks. This will provide a global safety net to deal with key cross-border public health issues and in turn help to make the world more secure.

Your Excellency

Invited guests

There are a number of key issues of international health security on which the global community has to reflect upon on how best to protect people from new and acute threats to their health. According a WHO background document prepared for global discussion and debate the following issues merit close attention by all concerned.

  • Emerging diseases- in the last decades of the 20th century, new diseases began emerging at the unprecedented rate of one or more per year. From 1973 to 2000, 39 infectious agents capable of causing human disease were newly identified. At the same time the rate of drug failure due to the development of microbial resistance outpaced scientific discovery of replacement drugs. In the face of these threats, the lessons learned from SARS and other outbreaks should be used to strengthen national and global preparedness for the next emergency caused by an infectious disease. Collaboratively, we need to build the capacity of developing countries in the most practical way, based on their needs, so that they are able to deal effectively with such emergencies. The strengths of all stake holders including governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society organizations must be tapped to improve global response capacity.
  • Economic stability- public health dangers have economic as well as health consequences. Containing international threats is good for economic well-being. With fewer than 10,000 cases, SARS cost Asian countries US$ 60 billion of gross expenditure and business losses in the second quarter of 2003 alone
  • International crises and humanitarian emergencies- these events kill and maim individuals and severely stress the health systems that people rely on for personal health security. In 2006, 134.6 million people were affected and 21 342 were killed by natural disasters.
  • Chemical, radioactive and biological terror threats: whether deliberate or accidental, WHO's global networks are well placed to respond to the health effects of these threats using the same techniques employed in other disasters - rapid assessment and response, triage and treatment, securing water, food and sanitation systems. Anthrax-tainted letters sent through the U.S. postal system in 2001 and the release of sarin on the Tokyo subway in 1995 remind us that although chemical and biological attacks are rare, there are people ready to use this brand of terrorism.
  • Environmental change: environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health, but health policies alone cannot prevent their effects. People are dying- upwards of 60 000 in recent years in climate-related natural disasters, mainly in developing countries.
  • HIV/AIDS - a key health and security issue: the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, demonstrated to international security specialists the potential impact of a public health issue on security. In 2006, an estimated 39.5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Building health security: national compliance with the revised IHR 2005 will underpin international health security.
  • Strengthening health systems: functioning health systems are the bedrock of health security, but the current state of systems worldwide is inadequate. As an example, the world is currently short of more than four million health workers, with the impact most felt in developing countries.

In conclusion I would like to stress that each nation’s capacity to prevent and manage public health emergencies and to take part in joint initiatives with other countries is vital to decreasing vulnerability to health threats and increasing international health security. In this way approaching public health within a context of collective global solidarity enhances the security of all nations.

Your Excellency

Ladies and Gentlemen

Finally I would like to assure you that WHO will continue to work closely with the FMOH in responding to health emergencies quickly and the most efficient manner.

Thank you for your attention.