World Health Professions Alliance - Symposium on leadership: "Teaming up for better health"

Closing plenary on "WHO and health professionals: strategic leadership and future perspectives"

Geneva, Switzerland
16 May 2004

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be with you here today. "Making it happen" is one of our current commitments, and you are the people who do just that. It is the work of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals that turns health ideas into realities, and strategies into achievements.

Our current efforts include providing treatment, care and prevention services to control AIDS, TB and malaria; large-scale immunization campaigns to eradicate polio; and promoting healthy lifestyles. These and our other programme areas give some idea of objectives we are working for and they provide the necessary framework for our efforts. Their attainment, however, depends to a very large extent on the work you do with the users of the health system.

In addition, we have to respond to emergencies. SARS and avian influenza continue to be a major concern particularly in our Western Pacific Region. Their control has depended to a very significant extent on the efforts of people in your three professions.

Armed conflict and natural disasters also continue to impose extreme and unforeseeable demands, particularly on doctors and nurses. They can occur in any part of the world but are particularly severe at present in parts of our Eastern Mediterranean and African regions. Courage and tenacity will continue to be key requirements for health leadership in the future, not only in disaster areas but in the many places where health work is under-funded, under-equipped and under-staffed.

Just as health authorities depend on your professions to put policy into practice, health workers need good policies to work with. The current shortages of human resources, especially in developing countries, reflect the need for an enormous effort at rethinking and rebuilding health services. This is a unifying theme in all our activities at present.

One of our most important current initiatives is to scale up access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV/AIDS. In December last year, on World AIDS Day, WHO launched the strategy to accelerate access to antiretroviral treatment. The initial objective is to get three million people in developing countries on to treatment by the end of 2005. We are working with the health services in countries to achieve this, following a double imperative: universal access to treatment by the earliest possible date, and ever more effective approaches to prevention.

The Millennium Development target for HIV/AIDS is to halt the spread of HIV and begin its reverse by 2015. The ratio of treated cases to infections prevented is not yet known but, if for each person receiving treatment there were just one new HIV infection averted, the "3 by 5" initiative will significantly speed up the achievement of this target.

Procurement and distribution of the drugs needed is involving excellent and innovative cooperation with the pharmaceutical professions. A hundred thousand health providers and community treatment supporters will be needed to staff the necessary delivery systems. They will need to be trained in antiretroviral therapy in accordance with national standards. It is the medical, nursing and pharmaceutical professions above all that will meet this training need.

With your leadership, these efforts can mark the beginning of new strength and coherence in national health systems, and start the trend towards solving staff shortage problems. The work of the International Council of Nurses in mobilizing skilled health workers in primary health care is already making a very valuable contribution.

Partnership and teamwork are the key to "3 by 5" and to all our undertakings. The contribution of the World Medical Association to improving early warning systems, following the SARS outbreaks last year, has been extremely valuable. The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network has greatly benefited from the ability of the WMA to find innovative solutions to problems.

Our long-term disease control programmes include polio eradication. Here the key to success will be tenacity, both in our colleagues running the immunization campaigns and maintaining surveillance, and in our donors. We are on the verge of eradication, with just twenty-two cases to date this year in all of Afghanistan, Egypt, India and Pakistan.

On the other hand, we have had setbacks in West and Central Africa, with an explosive outbreak that has paralysed over 500 children. The leaders in these areas have now restarted with massive immunization campaigns and strengthening routine services as an emergency measure. In these last stages of the campaign, where so much can be either lost or gained, high levels of commitment are needed, and the ability to cope with practical difficulties as they arise. Here leadership, especially at the local level, is the key to success, as we have seen in every country and region where eradication has been achieved.

Equally important is the work of health promotion. This is particularly needed for the early prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Sixty per cent of the deaths that occur annually in the world are from noncommunicable diseases.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted a year ago, was a great achievement. The efforts of the pharmacists and other associations played a very important part in the success of the negotiations. The Convention has now been signed by 108 countries plus the European Union, and ratified by 12. Your efforts are still needed in the countries that have not yet ratified it, to help speed the process on its way. Once ratified by 40 countries, the Convention will come into force and provide valuable support for tobacco legislation and policy. It will help to protect the public - especially children and adolescents - from one of today's most serious and most unnecessary health hazards.

As requested by the World Health Assembly in 2002, we have prepared the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, for consideration and adoption next week. When the Strategy is adopted, we will work with Member States to implement it according to their particular needs.

I attended the World Conference on Health Promotion and Health Education in Melbourne last month, and was encouraged to see the high level of support from health professionals for healthy lifestyles. Community involvement is a central principle in the health-for-all approach and now, more than ever, it can make a great contribution to reducing some of the current major causes of death and disability. It is the health professions that provide the guidance for this broader effort.

The theme of World Health Day in April this year was Road Safety. It drew attention to the 1.2 million deaths and up to 50 million injuries that occur on the roads each year. The Government of France hosted the global World Health Day event in Paris, with eloquent support from President Chirac. The highlight of the event was the launch of the WHO and World Bank World report on road traffic injury prevention.

As an immediate follow-up to this successful World Health Day, the UN General Assembly met in plenary session on the global road safety crisis. They adopted a resolution inviting WHO to coordinate the UN road safety effort. Your support in promoting the many practices that can reduce road traffic accidents will be much needed.

I could go on at length, but I'd prefer to leave as much time as possible for discussion. So let me conclude by saying: our organizations need each other. Your work is much more highly appreciated than you are probably aware of most of the time. I'm very glad we have the opportunity of this Symposium to coordinate our efforts.

Thank you.