Promoting health through the life-course

69th World Health Assembly

Dr Chan opens WHA

Dr Chan at WHA opening

Dr Chan opened the 69th World Health Assembly thanking the Ministers of Health and extended health community for its achievements, but also calling for continued commitment and work on key health challenges still facing the world.

Dr Chan pointed some lessons learned and successes from the country work on the Millennium Development Goals, which “brought focus, energy, creative innovation, and above all money to bear on some of the biggest health challenges that marred the start of this century. We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44% drop in maternal mortality, and the 85% of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured. Africa in particular can celebrate the 60% decline in malaria mortality, especially since the African Leaders Malaria Alliance did so much to make this happen. “We can celebrate the fastest scale-up of a life-saving treatment in history.” She also noted that a “culture of measurement and accountability evolved to make aid more effective. Everyone in this room can be proud of these achievements.”

However, Dr Chan also pointed to continuing and new challenges in our global world: . “In an interconnected world characterized by profound mobility of people and goods, few threats to health are local anymore.” She pointed to air pollution, infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika virus, the resurgence of yellow fever and expansion of dengue other mosquito diseases, drug resistant pathogens or ‘superbugs’. “For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future”, she said. She also referred to the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.

“For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever. Africa’s urbanization has been rapid and rampant, showing the fastest growth rates anywhere in the world…Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.”

Global Strategy for Women’s Children’s and Adolescents’ Health

Dr Chan looked towards the era of sustainable development and the new United Nations Goals: “The 2030 agenda for sustainable development wants to make sure these and many other disasters are averted. The agenda aims to do nothing less than transform the way the world, and the international systems that govern it, work. The goals and targets are broad, visionary, and supremely ambitious. They have been criticized by some as utopian, unaffordable, out of touch, and out of reach.

"I disagree. The vision inspires optimism and hope, but it is also firmly anchored in the realities of a world that desperately needs to change…The agenda puts the people left behind first. We know what this implies…The agenda is indeed broad, but so are the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. The advantage of addressing these broad determinants is well-reflected in the operational framework for implementing the Global strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health."

“…Innovations help, but ambitious goals are feasible and affordable only if we cut out waste and inefficiency. We do so through integrated, people-centred care that spans the life-course, from pre-conception through ageing, and brings prevention to the fore. The target for universal health coverage moves us in that direction."

“…And we have other resources to tap. The Women Deliver conference, held last week in Copenhagen, provides evidence of the energy unleashed when women are freed from the constraints of violence, discrimination, and unintended pregnancies.”

Dr Chan pointed to “three slow-motion disasters: a changing climate, the failure of more and more mainstay antimicrobials, and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases as the leading killers worldwide. These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them."

Dr Chan ended by challenging those at this 69th World Health Assembly: "WHO, together with its multiple partners, is poised to save many more millions of lives. I ask you to remember this purpose as we go through an agenda that can mean so much for the future."