Meeting of the G8 Health Ministers

Moscow, Russian Federation
28 April 2006

"Ochen spasibo".
Honourable Chairperson, Minister Mikhail Zurabov,
Honourable Ministers,
Colleagues and friends,

I first visited Moscow in 1994, during an outbreak of diphtheria in the Russian Federation. I have visited almost every year since then. Comparing the present situation with my first visit 12 years ago is like day and night.

Under the leadership of President Putin and Minister Zurabov the country is being transformed. The President's priority for health is clearly reflected in the agenda of the G8 summit and the statement made by Minister Zurabov. I am convinced this will be a watershed for the global control of communicable diseases.

Three weeks ago I was in Zambia to launch the WHO World Health Report for 2006. The topic is human resources for health. This critical problem illustrates the interface of the G8 themes.

Very simply: without sufficient education, there will never be enough trained health workers. Without that workforce, we cannot hope to achieve health goals and support development progress.

Without that progress, insecurity and ill-health will be perpetuated.

The workforce will continue to diminish, or move away from where it is most needed.

In Lusaka I visited nursing students in their school. I saw for myself the poor conditions of work and the desperate staff shortages, compounded by meagre and uncertain salaries.

I commended the students that despite all this, they had decided to pursue this noble vocation. But I also wondered how many were already planning to emigrate.

At the World Health Assembly in May we will tackle health worker shortages. But this problem has many layers.

If a problem can be solved by money, it is not really a difficult problem. One thing I can tell you: the problem is not just financial.

We have to tackle this and other difficult issues now. If not, the MDGs and poverty reduction are a pipe dream.

On the other hand there is a great deal in global health that money will buy.

Polio is a classic example of this. And I call on this group of Ministers to protect the four billion dollar global investment in polio eradication for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Polio shows us that infectious disease must be tackled globally - otherwise it simply spreads back again. And for polio we are fortunate - there is a vaccine to prevent it.

Similarly, the effort to provide truly universal access to antiretroviral therapy carries with it an international commitment to prevention and care as well as treatment.

It is vital that the G8 continues to honour the health commitments made in Gleneagles last year. In particular, in the pursuit of universal access to HIV treatment, prevention and care, and eradication of polio.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is moving rapidly through bird populations.

Since February 2006 - in three months - the disease has spread to 34 more countries, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, several of which are in the world's most densely populated and deprived areas.

We must act as a global community. We must help develop comprehensive national preparedness plans, strengthen surveillance systems, and build laboratory networks.

I applaud the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which is a hugely important mechanism for concerted action.

WHO's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is a key tool to support the International Health Regulations. Member States are accelerating early compliance with parts of the revised Regulations that relate to human pandemic influenza, which will make us all safer.

In a sense, the threat of human pandemic influenza is a "stress test" for the international community. Are we in good shape to face a potential global disaster?

This question has to be asked again and again by every Member State and international organization. It is a disgrace if we fail to recognize that we are in bad shape, and fail to put things right.

Today many organizations in the UN family play a vital role in global communicable disease control - directly or indirectly. A nimble UN system which is robust, light, and therefore respected and credible, is key for the success of this global effort to control communicable diseases.

I cannot emphasize enough the role of the G8 countries in making this happen.

And I will ensure that WHO gives Member States the support they are calling for.

Thank you.