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Address by the Minister of Health of the Russian Federation V.I. Skvortsova
to the Seventieth World Health Assembly

Director-General,

Excellencies, Ministers and Heads of delegations,

Regional Directors,

Vice Presidents of the Health Assembly,

Respected delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking all the respected members of this high-level meeting for their confidence in electing me to the position of President of the Seventieth World Health Assembly.

I also wish to express particular gratitude to the Member States of the European Region and to the Regional Director Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab for nominating me for this high office.

We see this decision as an acknowledgement of Russia’s achievements in developing its health system, ensuring universal medical coverage, and enhancing the effectiveness of national measures to strengthen public health. Our well-targeted actions have translated into better quality of life and longer life expectancy for Russian citizens (an increase of 6.5 years over the past decade alone), a many-fold reduction in maternal and infant mortality to a historical low, and a reduction in the burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases.

This is the first time that the Russian Federation has presided over the World Health Assembly, and moreover such an important milestone session, including the election of a new Director-General. We will need to set the Organization’s course for the next phase of its historical development. So we have a special responsibility.

And I will do everything I can to ensure that this session progresses as smoothly and productively as possible.

Dear colleagues,

Our joint work at the global level aims for the central objective of promoting health through the life course, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the very highest political level in 2015.

The achievement of this central objective necessitates the creation of an integrated health-preserving environment that amalgamates all national, regional and global mechanisms in the public, intersectoral and official spheres, professional medical bodies, patients’ associations and the business community.

Reducing risk factors, shaping a mental, moral and physical basis for health, and developing prevention in the widest sense of the word: all of these things constitute the basic conditions for the best possible state of health, starting in early childhood (in pregnancy even) and continuing throughout the life course.

We live in an age of accelerated and innovative development of biomedicine, an age in which the secrets of individual genetic programmes and their interaction with the microbiome and other environmental factors are being revealed. These discoveries should enable us to predict personal health risks and take these risks into account when tailoring medical care to each individual.

In recent years much has already been done to work towards these ambitious goals.

For this I want to express my thanks and gratitude to Dr Margaret Chan, the highly-respected Director-General of WHO, who for 10 years has initiated and inspired the incremental development of global health.

As a result of action by WHO and its country offices to control communicable and noncommunicable diseases, mortality has gone down worldwide.

We are proud that Russia was called upon to organize the First global ministerial conference on healthy lifestyles and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) control in 2011. The resulting Moscow Declaration was the starting point for the global process of mobilizing and pooling of efforts to control NCDs, including the drive to counteract unhealthy habits and irresponsible attitudes to personal and family health.

The Moscow Declaration was the basis of the political declaration on control of NCDs adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its special session. More and more countries are now introducing the standard principles and strategies of this policy through the global mechanisms established by the United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

In recent years the world has had to address outbreaks of dangerous communicable diseases such as pandemic influenza, Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Zika, and neglected tropical diseases. Work to develop effective new vaccines and treatments has been initiated under the auspices of WHO, and massive assistance has been provided to the populations of the affected States. This work has also revealed the need for greater international preparedness to deal with large-scale outbreaks.

The lessons learnt from the epidemics prompted the reform of the Organization’s emergency response cluster and the creation of the Health Emergencies Programme with the aim of boosting countries’ capacity to ensure national and collective security. Obviously, the right conditions must be created to encourage strict compliance with the International Health Regulations, on the basis of commitments willingly undertaken by Member States.

The issue of antimicrobial resistance, which is becoming one of the leading threats to the modern world, has also taken on special significance in recent years. Here too, much has been done. The Ministerial Conference held in The Hague in 2014 laid down a comprehensive and intersectoral approach for controlling antimicrobial resistance. A Strategy and Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance have been adopted, and their political weight was consolidated in 2016 by the declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Our common task is to give national and regional effect to the global mechanisms that have been developed.

Visible progress has been made in tuberculosis control.

Worldwide, the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the epidemic of tuberculosis by 2015 has been met. An even more ambitious goal has now been fixed under the Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely ending tuberculosis by 2030. The Russian Federation is a country with a continuing high tuberculosis burden. However, over the last 8 years, thanks to a range of effective measures, we have reduced the incidence of tuberculosis by more than 35% and the number of tuberculosis deaths by more than 65%. The trends are improving with every month.

Mindful of the need to continue working towards the achievement of the SDGs, Russia has taken the initiative of organizing the First WHO Global Ministerial Conference on tuberculosis in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals in Moscow later this year. We invite you all to attend this Conference on 16-17 November.

Once again I want to emphasize that all these achievements in global public health might not have materialized without the professionalism and personal dedication of Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, and her high-performing team.

For it was under your leadership, Dr Chan, that the global reform of the Organization was launched, its budget was increased several times over, and a number of positive changes took place that cannot not be ignored.

I sincerely wish to thank you for your selfless decade of service in this position of extreme importance for the entire world. I am sure that we shall be hearing many more words of gratitude addressed to you.

Respected delegates,

As you are aware, at this session we must elect a new Director-General. For my part, I assure you that I will do my utmost to ensure that the elections are fair, transparent and in strict compliance with the rules of procedure.

In conclusion, I want to note that many of the topics I have referred to are items on the agenda for this session, which is one of the heaviest in the entire history of the Organization. Particular efficiency and productivity are required of us. I promise to bring all my experience to bear in order to identify the best solutions through dialogue.

As a clinician, I specialized in organizing effective medical treatment in stroke cases, when a physician has just a few hours to take the right action inside a small “therapeutic window”.

In our meetings, we will have just a few minutes to set out and explain our positions. I am sure, though, that the time constraints will not prevent you from reaching the right decision on all the important items.

In advance, I want to thank the WHO staff members who will be supporting our efforts over the coming days, and also the interpreters for helping us to understand each other.

I trust your deliberations will be effective and constructive, and I hope you will be able to take short breaks to recuperate after meetings, all the better to devote your attention to health, having been solicitous of your own!

Thank you for your attention.