Agreements at World Health Assembly a gift to public health

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Closing remarks at the Sixty-third World Health Assembly
Geneva, Switzerland

21 May 2010

Mister President, honourable ministers, excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

You faced a challenging agenda, with a large number of items to discuss, including some surrounded by complex and potentially divisive issues.

The Chairs and officers of the two committees have been working extremely hard and you have just heard the outcome. I thank them for seeing us through an important, demanding and ultimately very difficult agenda.

Hard work can bring a big payback, as long as it does not delay progress or disrupt the strong spirit of international cooperation for better health that has been growing in recent years.

We have just seen two examples, shall I say hot off the press, of this spirit of collaboration and consensus-seeking. Thank you for finding a way forward on the issues of research and development financing, and substandard, spurious, falsely-labelled, falsified, counterfeit medical products.

You reached agreement on some very important items that are a real gift to public health, everywhere. Thanks to some all-night efforts, we now have a code of practice on the international recruitment of health personnel.

In addition, you have given public health a policy instrument and guidance for tackling one of the world’s fastest growing and most alarming health problems. This is the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.

Many of these diseases develop slowly, but lifestyle changes that increase the risk are taking place with a stunning speed and sweep. We know that the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets are two of the four risk factors for these diseases.

As several of you noted, the global strategy for reducing the harmful use of alcohol is a true breakthrough. This strategy gives you a large and flexible menu of evidence-based policy options for addressing a problem that damages health in rich and poor countries alike. The strategy sends a powerful message: countries are willing to work together to take a tough stand against the harmful use of alcohol.

Your resolution on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children responds to an astonishing statistic. This is a world in which some 43 million pre-school children are obese or overweight. Think of what this means in terms of life-long risks to their health. Think about the life-long demands for care at a time when most health systems are already overburdened, underfunded, and dangerously understaffed.

I believe we all welcome the news that the UN General Assembly will be addressing noncommunicable diseases in a high-level meeting in September of next year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have given you some personal impressions about a few items on your agenda. But this Health Assembly had a second dimension, expressed as your unwavering commitment to the health-related MDGs.

I witnessed firsthand your great desire to cooperate internationally, and with other sectors, in reaching these goals. The spirit I personally witnessed was one of great optimism, solidarity, and a can-do attitude.

The technical briefings on the MDGs have given the Secretariat some solid and inspiring guidance. I thank you for this guidance and want to assure you that we will be taking your arguments, your views, experience, and enthusiasm forward at the UN summit on the MDGs later this year.

I want to close by thanking the President and Vice-Presidents for the guidance they have provided. I was particularly impressed by the very efficient way in which you, Mr President, conducted the plenary sessions, and by the multilingualism so well demonstrated by our able President.

Thank you.