Director-General's Office

Human Rights Council’s Social Forum

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Palais des Nations, Geneva
2 October 2017

Your Excellency Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, Permanent Representative of Brazil,

Your Excellencey Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus,

Your Excellency Mouayed Saleh, Vice President of the Human Rights Council,

My brother Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

My brother Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS,

My brother Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization,

My sister Loyce Maturu, Member of the Steering Committee of the Y+ Global Network of Young People Living with HIV,

Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here at the opening session of this year’s Human Rights Council Social Forum.

It feels right to be here.

The World Health Organization was founded on the principle that health is a fundamental human right.

That principle is as true today as it was 70 years ago.

I have always been driven by the conviction that everyone should be able to realise that right.

All people should be able to get the health care they need. Whoever they are, wherever they live, without any form of discrimination.

But today, this remains a dream for many people. At least 400 million people worldwide lack access to the most essential health services.

And 100 million people are plunged into poverty because they have to pay for health care out of their own pockets.

This is a scandal. We cannot accept a world like that.

The solution is universal health coverage.

The simplest explanation of universal health coverage is that it enables everyone to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship.

Universal health coverage doesn’t just improve health. It reduces poverty, creates jobs, drives inclusive economic growth, promotes gender equality and protects people against epidemics – including HIV.

Achieving universal health coverage means primary care that provides integrated services for the whole range of a person’s health needs, rather than fragmented services for individual diseases.

It means ensuring the right number of health workers, with the right skills, in the right places.

It means ensuring an adequate supply of medicines and other commodities, at the right price.

It means strengthening data systems so that we have an accurate picture of disease trends.

It means making sure services are free at the point of delivery, and that the system is financially sustainable.

And it means providing services that are built around the needs of people, rather than the needs of providers.

But to do that – to provide people-centred care – we must address the social barriers that prevent so many people from getting the care they need.

The list of these groups is unacceptably long. It varies from country to country. But just about everywhere in the world, some people struggle more than others.

Adolescent boys and girls. Refugees and migrants. Sex workers and drug users. People with HIV. People in prison. People who are simply poor. And people with minority sexual orientation.

At WHO, we track and publish information about these inequities. Our health equity assessment toolkit is a software application that countries can use to measure inequity, so they can do something about it.

And we work directly with people who are particularly affected. In recent weeks, we have scoped out a new joint plan of work with the Global Network of People Living With HIV.

Because shockingly, even in the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, people with HIV still face unbelievable levels of stigma, including in the health system.

That’s why I signed the statement on zero discrimination in health care earlier this year. Discrimination anywhere is unacceptable. But it is especially unacceptable in health care. People must know that when they seek care, they are in safe hands.

Changing hearts and minds takes all of us to speak up.

That’s why I’m delighted to be here with my sister Loyce Maturu. Loyce is a true inspiration, and a good friend of WHO. She also has HIV.

It was Loyce who told us what adolescents thought and felt about their ability to get HIV treatment when we were compiling new recommendations for countries in 2014.

Last year she helped us launch our latest guidance at the UN High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York.

Our relationships with people like Loyce, and with groups like the Global Network of People living with HIV, help us break down barriers that stop people obtaining vital health services.

But we also work alongside governments to change social, gender and cultural norms that stand in the way of health. Working, for example, to end gender based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

Universal health coverage will not be achieved when people are marginalized, criminalized, stigmatized, or denied access to health services for any reason.

Universal health coverage will not be achieved when the poorest are made to pay disproportionately for services.

And it will not be achieved without robust capacity to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks that can cripple nations and put the world at risk.

The foundation for all of this is robust health systems that provide the services that people say they need, not what providers decide they need.

The Sustainable Development Goals give us the platform, and the political mandate, not just to improve health outcomes, but to transform the health systems on which billions of people depend.

The next three days provide a unique opportunity for us to work together on ways to make some real changes that result in more people being able to enjoy the right to good health and wellbeing.

Because none of us can do it alone. It’s not an easy job. We need each other.

We all bring something to the table – civil society organizations, community groups, governments, UN agencies. And yes, even for-profit companies.

We will need to be ready to challenge one another and willing to listen. Not just for the coming three days, but for the years ahead.

The spirit of the SDGs is that we work together to complement each other for the good of the people we serve, rather than to compete with each other for our own glory.

I would like to close by acknowledging the leadership of Brazil and Belarus in convening this Forum.

You have shown us exactly the kind of spirited leadership required to create the kind of environment where intentions become actions.

I wish you all every success. Thank you.

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