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Plenary Session

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67th World Health Assembly

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Geneva, Switzerland
March 19, 2014

Fellow health ministers, distinguished leaders, and Director-General Margaret Chan: I am honored to join you today.

As our global community grows smaller, it becomes increasingly difficult for our respective nations to tackle health challenges in isolation. We continue to learn that borders cannot stop evolving natural threats, and that not even oceans can protect us from the spread of infectious diseases.

That is why the World Health Assembly is so crucial. Our interconnectedness creates challenges, but also unprecedented opportunities to pioneer a new health frontier as a global community.

Climate Change

And few challenges exemplify this necessity for collaboration better than the theme of this year’s Assembly: climate change and health.

Recent reports paint a stark picture of the present-day risks. It is clear that climate change threatens our health and welfare the world over, and those dangers will become increasingly severe if we fail to mitigate our climate impact.  

Importantly, these same reports reveal the opposite side of the dilemma as well — addressing these concerns will generate very real and immediate health benefits.

We stand with the World Health Organization and commend its leadership in joining the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Climate, air pollution, and environmental threats impact all of our health — and we are committed to action that will abate these threats and protect vulnerable populations.

Infectious Diseases

Poor air quality and rising seas are not the only challenges we must face together, however. The fight against deadly communicable diseases continues, while we have seen the rise of Antimicrobial Resistant organisms and a re-emergence of viruses once thought conquered.

In the face of threats like MERS, polio, and tuberculosis, we are reminded to stay vigilant in our commitment to International Health Regulations.

The devastating impact of these diseases is not limited to patients or families—it also weakens communal, social, and economic networks across nations and around the world. Accordingly, these infections require a world-wide response. We must do more to mount the global defense necessary to conquer 21st century infectious outbreaks.

This February, I had the privilege of hosting the launch of the Global Health Security Agenda—a collection of nations and international organizations, including WHO, committed to strengthening our prevention, detection, and response abilities. Together, this partnership will further support and advance the goals of the IHR.  

Fighting Global Violence

Another issue that requires a global response is persistent violence around the world.

This social disease continues to be a hurdle to gender equality and human rights. It is a preventable ill that undermines individuals’ welfare and unnecessarily burdens the health sector.

We support a robust, multi-sectoral approach to prevent and respond to the global epidemic of violence. WHO has a key part to play in the global response.

Domestic Health Challenges

The U.S. is committed to joining the collective efforts to fight global problems, but we recognize that measures must continue to address our domestic health as well.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we brought our country closer to the goal of universal coverage. Also paramount to that end is the accessibility of quality, effective medicine. We support a strong regulatory system to ensure that goal at home and abroad.

And finally, we applaud the Director-General’s decision to form a commission on childhood obesity, an issue that remains pressing in the U.S.

Obesity prevention in early childhood goes far to mitigate negative health outcomes later in life. Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, has headed the Let’s Move! initiative, to catalyze action on this principle. By working with partners, communities, and schools, some states have already begun to see a reduction in obesity rates, and we’re optimistic that such improvements will continue.

Conclusion

Through collaboration and cooperation with the global health community, these challenges—and many more—are surmountable.

Though this will be my last World Health Assembly as the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, I know my successor will continue to engage with you at the highest level. With our continued collaboration, we can realize the mission of the WHO: to empower all peoples in the attainment of the highest standard of health.

Thank you.