WHO Director-General praises Norway's white paper on global health

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Comments on the launch of Norway’s white paper on Global health in foreign and development policy
Oslo, Norway

15 February 2012

Excellencies, colleagues in public health, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to comment on Norway’s white paper on Global health in foreign and development policy.

The white paper stresses the importance of a coherent, realistic, and forward-looking policy for global health. My personal priorities for global health, as set out in my manifesto for a second term, are coherent with the white paper to a remarkable degree.

Given this convergence, my comments can be brief. We are, basically, singing from the same page.

In international public health, Norway enjoys a sterling reputation as a trusted, respected, and objective negotiator. More recently, Norway has spearheaded the use of foreign policy as an instrument for promoting health and mobilizing high-level political commitment.

We need this kind of commitment now more than ever before. As the white paper notes, health challenges, like responding to the rise of noncommunicable diseases or the health consequences of climate change, have unprecedented complexities that cannot be managed by the health sector alone.

I have great respect for Norway’s leadership role, and for the views just expressed by this country’s ministers of foreign affairs, health and care services, and the environment and international development.

In some areas, especially the right to health of women and children, Norway leads with particular passion, mobilizing others, including donors and civil society, to take on this cause with equal commitment and passion.

The white paper never shies away from the complexities of global health. But it has the virtues of a clear focus and a simplified, and sensible, list of priority areas. It has a very clear set of ethical values, practical principles, and proven approaches that underpin these priorities.

Strategies are science- and evidence-based. Policies are results-based, with an emphasis on measurable health outcomes. An insistence on the right to health is the overarching driving force.

For me, personally, the very best thing of all is this. The white paper gives cause for optimism about the prospects for global health, even in a world undergoing economic upheaval and vast uncertainty about the future.

It boosts the unprecedented momentum for better health that marked the start of this century.

I share your optimism. I share your commitment to universal health coverage, which is such a powerful social equalizer. I appreciate the focus on prevention, for the health-related MDGs, but also for noncommunicable diseases.

I share your conviction that well-functioning health systems, an adequate workforce, and fair access to quality medicines are prerequisites for health development.

I share your recognition of government responsibility for health services. Countries must be in the driver’s seat, but all parties must be held accountable, for keeping promises and producing results.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I took office in 2007, I inherited many legacies from my predecessors.

I thank Dr Brundtland for giving health a higher place on the political agenda, for launching the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, for giving birth to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and for stopping the SARS outbreak dead in its tracks.

I thank Jonas Store for serving on the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.

I thank Bente Angell-Hansen for co-chairing the final session of negotiations on pandemic influenza preparedness. The diplomatic and political skills of the co-chairs brought these tense negotiations to the finish line. As one eyewitness told me, her diplomatic skills were simply “unbelievable”.

That’s how we get things done. By believing in the unbelievable, like a goal of health for all.

I warmly welcome this far-sighted, strategic, and optimistic white paper.

Thank you.