Closing remarks at the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Geneva, Switzerland
24 May 2014

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

This has been an intense Assembly, with a record-breaking number of agenda items, documents, and resolutions, and nearly 3,500 registered delegates. This is a reflection of the growing number and complexity of health issues, and your deep interest in addressing them.

Delegates journeyed from different parts of the world to Geneva eager to share their experiences, ideas, concerns, and specific needs for WHO support. Doing so takes time, and we did not have enough time.

Thanks to your President, with his commitment and constant engagement, the skills of the committee chairs, and your own discipline, you were able to complete an especially heavy agenda. I congratulate all concerned, including our Regional Directors, the Deputy Director-General, and WHO staff, especially our all-night backroom staff. I also thank the interpreters.

This Assembly was big in a second sense. From the very first day, it was clear that Member States are deeply concerned about two big trends with major consequences for health: climate change and the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

For antimicrobial resistance, you have given WHO some important work to do in leading the response. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, strengthening basic health services and extending their coverage is an essential route to resilience. This is precisely what we are doing. Your deliberations during this session have taken us some steps forward.

You had some other deep concerns. You are worried about the costs of new vaccines and medicines. Many of you described these costs, especially for hepatitis C medicines, as “astronomical”. You are worried about the anti-vaccine movement and the impact this has on the demand for vaccines, but also on social perceptions of autism spectrum disorders.

You have brought these problems to our attention, and you have asked us to take action. We will do so.

You want to do everything possible to protect the integrity of this Organization from undue influence and conflicts of interest. You looked long and hard at the most appropriate arrangements for securing this protection. These issues will be taken forward by the Regional Committees, which offer one of the most inclusive ways to engage further discussion.

You are deeply concerned about the rise of noncommunicable diseases, the challenges of early detection, and the crippling costs of long-term care. You are determined to do more for prevention.

You are likewise concerned about some striking changes in the communicable disease situation, notably the setback for polio eradication and the continuing surge in the number of MERS cases. For polio, I thank you for the tremendous spirit of solidarity and determination demonstrated during discussion of this item.

For MERS, cases now clearly involve transmission within hospital settings, and are spreading beyond the Eastern Mediterranean Region. The very limited onward transmission following imported cases is a good sign of high levels of vigilance and preparedness.

Given these concerns, it comes as no surprise that you want health to have a prominent and correctly positioned place in the post-2015 development agenda.

Finally, you have asked WHO to do much more, but you have also demonstrated the good use of existing WHO instruments for practical support to countries, from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the International Health Regulations, and the Model Lists of Essential Medicines, right down to the designation of Baby-Friendly Hospitals as a way to boost exclusive breastfeeding.

As I conclude, let me wish all of you a safe journey home as we continue to work together to lift the standards of health care around the world.

Thank you.