Director-General

Official dinner hosted by President Lagos for the Launching of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health

La Moneda, Presidential Palace, Chile
17 March 2005

Señor Presidente,

En nombre de todos los invitados, deseo darle las gracias por hacer que esta noche nos sintamos en este histórico lugar como si estuviéramos en nuestra propia casa. [On behalf of all your guests here tonight, I would like to thank you for making us feel so at home in this historic place.] It is a great pleasure and a great privilege to be with you and the Chilean people, and to see so many other distinguished leaders, good friends and colleagues gathered here from around the world.

Your warm welcome unites us in our common hope and determination to find better ways to meet people's health needs. We have with us tonight men and women of action, policy-making and intellectual life who are on the front lines of this struggle for health in many different social and economic settings.

We also have with us the man who is sometimes called the father of the health-for-all movement, Dr Halfdan Mahler, my predecessor as the Director-General of WHO, and Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, his successor. Their presence reminds us that the global struggle for human health has a long history, and it is renewed in each generation. We are happy to see it being renewed here once again tonight.

Until quite recently, the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health was simply an exciting idea. Many of us had been saying for a long time that something had to be done to recover the vision of universal access to health care, not just as an ideal but as a necessity.

The idea of forming a group of exceptionally gifted people from around the world to redefine this vision for our time became more and more compelling. But it was still just an idea until some key people, including you yourself, Señor Presidente, saw its potential, and gave it their full support. By providing a venue and a date for launching the Commission and receiving us here tonight in this place with its history of dramatic new beginnings and new hopes, you have turned the dream into a reality.

For many people around the world, Chile has come to represent everything that is most desirable in a country — great poets, courageous leaders, a good social security system, and a stable economy, (and excellent wines!). We in the World Health Organization and our many partners and supporters are delighted that our new initiative has found such an perfect environment in which to begin its life.

The Chairman of our new Commission says that its task is to find out more about "the causes of the causes" of health, and act on them. I am sure that some of the most important of those causes lie in human motivation. The songs of Pablo Neruda about the solidarity of the oppressed, and those of Gabriela Mistral about the sorrows and joys of motherhood, are powerful reminders of the purpose of health work.

When Neruda writes about how he is moved by the people who show him their "miserable food" and "the dust and the bugs and the enormous solitude" in which they live, he is writing about the social determinants of health. [Y me mostraron sus raciones de miserables alimentos su piso de tierra en las casas, el sol, el polvo, las vinchucas, y la soledad inmensa. (from the Canto General - los hombres del nitrato)]

As WHO's Constitution puts it, less poetically, our purpose is "complete physical, mental and social well-being" for "every human being". Your very generous hospitality has given this new Commission the perfect opportunity to keep that purpose in mind and be inspired by it. With your goodwill and that of so many admirable Chileans past and present to guide us, we will achieve great things.

Thank you.

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