Remarks by HHS Secretary Becerra during a joint press conference on World Health Day with the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Xavier Becerra

HHS Hubert H. Humphrey Building
Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a joint press conference on World Health Day.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Assistant Secretary Pace, for your leadership, which has been invaluable during our fight against COVID-19.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Department of Health and Human Services.

I’m pleased and honored to celebrate this year’s World Health Day with Director-General Tedros and our valued partners at the World Health Organization.

Let me begin with a few words about the situation in Ukraine, where just this week we’ve witnessed even more unconscionable cruelty.

Today, the United Nations rightly suspended Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield noted this week, Russia’s position on the Council was the “height of hypocrisy.” And we cannot let their brazen inhumanity go without consequence.

The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, and we join others in condemning Russia’s attacks on health facilities, including maternity and children’s hospitals.

I specifically want to thank the WHO and other UN humanitarian agencies and partners who, with the support of CDC, are working tirelessly to provide lifesaving supplies and services to affected communities.

This year’s World Health Day theme of “Our Planet, Our Health” resonates deeply with us at HHS.

We know that the challenges we face won’t be solved by one leader or one country alone, but by the world coming together and fighting for what’s right.

That’s why I was proud to host the Director-General and his Senior Advisors this week to discuss how the United States and the WHO can work together even more efficiently and effectively to promote global health.

Just one year into the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States is leading the effort to strengthen the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

And in the spirit of “One Planet, One Health,” I couldn’t be prouder of the way President Biden and the United States have led the world in the fight against COVID-19.

As the Administration detailed at the President’s COVID-19 briefing earlier this week, the U.S. was the first country in the world to:

  • Donate a significant amount of our own vaccine supply;
  • Purchase 1 billion Pfizer vaccine doses to donate to other countries;
  • Broker a deal with a U.S. manufacturer and COVAX to get vaccines into humanitarian zones;
  • And give up our place in line for delivery of doses we ordered – enabling the African Union to more quickly access over 100 million Moderna vaccine doses.

In addition, just this week, we announced that we will be the first nation to donate tens of millions of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines to low- and lower-middle income countries for free.

That’s what I call leadership.But our fight isn’t over yet. While we are grateful for the Senate’s work on a $10 billion bipartisan plan to help meet some of the country’s COVID needs, significantly more is needed to fund both our domestic response – and our global response.

This virus knows no borders, and it’s in our national interest to vaccinate the world and protect against variants.

 Without global funding:

  • USAID won’t have resources to get more shots in arms.
  • We’ll be forced to scale back our work providing oxygen and antiviral pills. 
  • We lack funding to provide rapid testing to countries in need.

At every turn, we’ve worked with global partners to share not just our vaccine supply but our knowledge and technologies.

During the Virtual COVID-19 Dialogue with Ministers of Health, the United States was pleased to announce that National Institutes of Health (NIH) has offered to license several COVID-19 technologies to the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool or “C-TAP”. 

Discussions are still ongoing, but we hope to conclude the process as quickly as possible.

But we also know that COVID-19 is not the only threat the world faces. Our planet is in peril.

That’s why President Biden committed to a 50 to 52 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and the decarbonization of federal facilities and procurement – all with a focus on racial and social equity.

The Biden-Harris Administration is also working to support gender equity here at home and around the world.

In October of last year, we strengthened Title X, our domestic family planning program, to restore access to equitable, affordable, quality family planning services for more Americans.   

And in January, I launched the first-ever HHS Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, which Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs Loyce Pace co-chairs with Admiral Rachel Levine, our Assistant Secretary for Health.

Half a century ago, then-U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry addressed the World Health Assembly during the fight against smallpox, saying “We have the knowledge. And knowledge represents responsibility.”

Those words are as true today as they were then. We have the knowledge…we have the responsibility…and we have the power to build a stronger global health system — one that can prevent or control the next outbreak before it becomes a pandemic.

One that lifts up not just the wealthy and the healthy, but the meek and the marginalized, the sick and the vulnerable.

But only if we build it together.

We are lucky to have such a strong partner in the WHO and Director-General Tedros as we build a healthier world. So please join me in giving him a warm welcome.

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