Director-General's Office

Keynote address: UN General Assembly side event on universal health coverage

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros' remarks at the keynote address during the UN General Assembly side event on universal health coverage

New York City, USA
18 September 2017

My sister Amina Mohammed, Your Excellency Shinzo Abe, Excellencies, honourable ministers, colleagues, friends,

Thank you, Prime Minister Abe, for the leadership you have shown as chairman of the G7 last year, and that you continue to show. I am looking forward very much to joining you in Tokyo later this year for the UHC Forum.

Universal health coverage is based on the conviction that health is a human right, not a privilege.

It is a scandal to me that people must choose between buying medicine and buying food.

It is a scandal that sickness can plunge an entire family into poverty because a breadwinner is unable to work.

It is a scandal that a mother could lose her baby because the services needed to save it are too far away.

We cannot accept a world like that. We must not accept a world like that.

Last year I met a young medical student with kidney failure in the Dominican Republic, who told me he needs dialysis three times a week.

“How much does your treatment cost?” I asked him. He had no idea. The government pays for it.

Without treatment, he would be dead. But because he can get the services he needs, he is preparing for a career helping others.

This is the power of universal health coverage. It improves health, but it also reduces poverty, creates jobs, drives economic growth, promotes gender equality, and protects populations against epidemics.

But the reality is that around the world, more than 400 million people lack access to essential health services, and at least 100 million people are pushed into poverty by paying for health care out of their own pockets.

That is unacceptable.

The good news is that UHC is achievable. In July, we presented the evidence showing that 85% of the costs of meeting the SDG health targets can be met with domestic resources.

Those investments would prevent 97 million premature deaths between now and 2030, and add up to 8.4 years of life expectancy in some countries.

All countries at all income levels can do more with the resources they have, and can take action now to improve the health of their populations.

You will hear me saying again and again that ultimately, universal health coverage is a political choice. It takes vision, courage, and long-term thinking.

But the payoff is a safer, fairer and healthier world, for everyone.

I thank you.


Universal health coverage - the best investment for a safer, fairer and healthier world