Director-General's Office

Towards a Health Silk Road

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros's speech at the Belt and Road Forum for Health Cooperation: Towards a Health Silk Road

Beijing, China
18 August 2017

Thank you Excellency Vice Premier Liu Yandong, Excellency Minister Li Bin, Excellency Executive Director Michel Sidibe, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to be with you today, alongside China’s leaders and distinguished colleagues from Belt and Road countries.

As you know, the world faces increasing and more complex epidemics, pandemics and disasters. Not only are these events more likely to occur, they’re also likely to have a bigger impact on human health, the social fabric, security and the economy.

As a community, as countries that are inextricably linked, we are only as strong as our weakest link.

And this is why a global initiative that elevates health to the centre of economic and social development is immensely encouraging.

President Xi’s proposal for a Health Silk Road, which strengthens and renews ancient links between cultures and people, with health at its core, is indeed visionary.

If we are to secure the health of the billions of people represented here, we must seize the opportunities the Belt and Road Initiative provides.

But how can we accomplish this? Her Excellency [Liu Yandong] has said most of them.

First, we must put in place systems to contain outbreaks or crises where they start, and prevent them from becoming epidemics.

WHO has proposed a strategic partnership with China to target vulnerable countries along the Belt and Road and in Africa.

Among these there are countries in conflict, or coming out of conflict.

We are committed to building response capacity for emergencies, as well as to provide essential health services to countries in crisis.

Second, health is a human right. People should never have to choose between getting the care they need and financial hardship or impoverishment.

The Belt and Road Initiative contains the fundamentals to achieve universal health coverage: infrastructure, access to medicines, human resources, and a platform to share experience and promote best practices.

Third, women, children, and adolescents must be at the centre of global health and development. Women and children are particularly hard hit in emergencies. We need to take concrete steps to protect them, and nothing will help this often vulnerable group more than universal health coverage.

And this is well represented in your documents on Belt and Road.

Ladies and gentlemen,

China has much to teach us about these issues.

It is a world leader in disease surveillance and outbreak control, and was one of the first countries to step in during the Ebola outbreak.

China has built a nationwide health insurance scheme that covers more than 95% of its population.

The country also has a great capacity for research and development, and was one of the first countries to meet the Millennium Development Goal for maternal health.

We should build upon these experiences.

Shortly we will adopt the outcomes document for this event, and begin technical expert discussions to ensure that our words turn into action.

The outcomes included in the document are completely aligned, at the highest levels, with WHO’s vision and priorities.

The outcomes focus on resilient health systems that will identify, contain and prevent the escalation of pandemics and other crises. The outcomes lay the groundwork for essential health services needed to ensure universal health care. And they strengthen the cooperation mechanisms that are needed if we are to build regional and international health security.

Further, the outcomes include specific, concrete actions that will operationalize this vision.

For example, we will create human resource exchanges and launch policy research networks and hospital alliances which provide the essential web of interaction that will drive our cooperation and ability to learn from one another.

These and the other commitments we are making here today are essential for ensuring strong and resilient health systems.

I am committed to these actions. WHO and China have committed to working together on these priorities, based on the MOU signed and referred to by her Excellency.

Let us, the health leaders of 60 countries gathered here, and public health partners, build a healthy Silk Road, together.

And WHO will be on your side.

I thank you.

Xie xie.