We want to emphasize today just how committed the United States is to a cooperative, transparent and effective international response to outbreaks of infectious disease. These threats do not respect borders between countries, and they can spread rapidly to endanger people anywhere around the globe.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Madame President, Director-General Chan, fellow Ministers, distinguished leaders, it is a true honor to make my first visit to the World Health Assembly.
As just the third physician to hold the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States, being here today is a remarkable privilege.
I especially want to thank the President of the World Health Assembly and Director-General Margaret Chan. Madame Director-General, congratulations on the completion of your tenure, and thank you for your leadership over the past 10 years. You have pursued essential reforms that will make WHO [World Health Organization] more transparent, more effective, and more accountable.
We also look forward to the election tomorrow of the next Director-General from the three highly qualified candidates we have. Whoever is the next Director-General, he or she must bring a renewed commitment to transforming WHO into the organization necessary to accomplish its mission.
We look forward to working with him or her on an agenda for ongoing improvements. That means recognizing WHO’s excellence and expertise, but also taking a clear-eyed view of what needs to change for it to fulfill that most important mission: ensuring a rapid and focused response to potential global health crises. Reform, with this focus, must be this organization’s No. 1 priority.
Some of the accomplishments in which WHO has played a leading role, such as the extinction of smallpox, would have been unthinkable when my grandfather graduated medical school in 1908. We look forward to realizing more such victories together, including the eradication of polio.
Infectious diseases are of course not WHO’s only job—it has a role in addressing non-communicable diseases and threats, as well. But as we saw during the Ebola crisis, preparation for the possibility of cross-border infectious threats must be our top concern.
We want to emphasize today just how committed the United States is to a cooperative, transparent and effective international response to outbreaks of infectious disease. These threats do not respect borders between countries, and they can spread rapidly to endanger people anywhere around the globe. We expect the next Director-General and WHO Health Emergencies Program to prioritize threats to global health, including influenza. We will work to enable all countries around the world to prevent, detect, respond to, mitigate, and control these outbreaks.
For that reason, we must express the United States’ disappointment that, contrary to the custom of the past eight years, an invitation was not extended to Taiwan to observe this year’s Assembly. The United States remains committed that Taiwan should not be excluded from WHO.
Furthermore, the United States affirms its support for the Global Health Security Agenda. The United States is dedicated to building capacity to comply with the International Health Regulations, and to finding and stopping disease outbreaks around the world, whether they are naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate in nature. We are also committed to realizing multi-sectoral partnerships with other nations, international organizations, and non-governmental stakeholders, including the private sector. WHO cannot succeed in its mission without incorporating the perspectives of extra-governmental entities.
The United States also appreciates the growing attention within WHO on the topic of access to medicines. Access to safe, effective medicines is central to improving global public health, and our government stands ready to engage on ways to expand access to medicines while protecting the incentives that spark new innovation.
This work requires diligence, focus, and commitment from all of us in this room, and I want to state clearly that the United States will be a steadfast partner with you.
The United States wants, and we all need, a strong WHO. The distinguished history of this organization should be an inspiration for the work we will do together for the health and prosperity of all nations.
Thank you for your attention today. We look forward to the work of the next several days, and the years to come.