Address to WHO Staff When Taking the Helm of WHO
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization
3 July 2017
Today, it is my pleasure and privilege to join and stand before you as the new Director-General of the World Health Organization. Our World Health Organization.
Let me start with the moral centre of our work, with this simple but crucial statement: WHO’s work is about serving people, about serving humanity. It’s about serving people regardless of where they live, be it in developing or developed countries, small islands or big nations, urban or rural settings. It’s about serving people regardless of who they are. Poor or rich, displaced or disabled, elderly or the youth. Most importantly, it’s about fighting to ensure the health of people as a basic human right. Health is a basic human right, that you fully understand.
It’s about a child who gets to see adulthood or about a parent who watches their child survive and thrive. It’s about a community living disease-free or an entire country or region that’s better prepared for health emergencies or for climate change.
Without health, people have nothing. Without health, we have nothing as humanity.
That’s why our work here at the World Health Organization is so important. WHO’s work is about helping people to protect and to improve their health. This is our collective vision: a world where everyone can achieve healthy and productive lives no matter who they are or where they live.
My transition, as you know, has been very short, just over four weeks, but also very busy. I have been listening intensely and appreciated all the advice I have received from you and others.
Let me outline, for today, three areas that I will focus on.
Implementing leadership priorities and measuring results.
Delivering results, value for money, efficiency and earning trust.
Reinforcing a talented, motivated and engaged staff.
I’ll start with number one: implementing leadership priorities and measuring results.
During the transition, I met with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres who emphasized WHO’s opportunity and responsibility to lead on health and the Sustainable Development Goals. As you know, I ran with four clear substantive priorities plus a promise to transform WHO. These priorities came from WHO Member States. I was elected with an overwhelming mandate. I feel obliged by this clear mandate to implement the priorities.
These priorities are:
· universal health coverage
· health emergencies
· women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health
· health impacts of climate and environmental change
Of this, universal health coverage is at the centre.
I have said many times during the campaign that all roads lead to universal health coverage. For me, the key question of universal health coverage is an ethical one. Do we want our fellow citizens to die because they are poor? Universal health coverage, as I said earlier, is a human rights issue. And the responsibility of national governments. It’s not only a technical matter but even more so a political one. Countries should compare their results to their peers and learn from each other.
About 400 million people have no access, as you know, to even basic health care. Many more have access but will endure financial hardship. During the coming weeks, we will be looking at how best to implement the relevant Sustainable Development Goal, achieving universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
Health emergencies will also be the litmus test for WHO. This topic is also closely related to universal health coverage because our goal is to prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics at their roots. And this happens at the country level, based on strong health systems which robustly implement the International Health Regulations. Universal health coverage and health emergencies are cousins, two sides of the same coin.
We learned important lessons from Ebola. The task is now to make sure these lessons are effectively implemented. The next outbreak can occur tomorrow and WHO needs to be prepared. We have a new programme in health emergencies which is integrated into headquarters and the regions and country offices. I had the chance to observe the recent Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and gained confidence that WHO is implementing its reforms. But we need to do more. If you read the report of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee prepared for the World Health Assembly, you will see that they think WHO has made progress in implementing reforms, but they also think that it’s not fast enough. We mustn’t let this happen. I have met with the leaders of the Health Emergencies Programme and I am committed to making sure the world is prepared for the next epidemic.
Women, children and adolescents are a central focus for universal health coverage and also the most vulnerable and at risk in health emergencies. Did you know that about half of the deaths of women and children are in a humanitarian context? WHO is fully committed to Every Woman Every Child and its areas of focus, including early child development, adolescent health and well-being. Quality, equity and dignity in services as well. Plus, sexual and reproductive health and rights, empowerment of women, girls and communities. And also, of course, humanitarian and fragile settings. While health emergencies hit quickly, climate change is a slow-motion disaster. WHO must play a strategic and decisive role not only in adaptation but also in mitigation.
Finally, for WHO to be effective in supporting countries, we need to have technical expertise in health challenges countries face: communicable diseases including polio, HIV, TB, malaria, hepatitis and neglected tropical diseases and noncommunicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, chronic pulmonary diseases, cancer, diabetes, mental health, addictions, accidents and injuries, you name it.
To single out just one vital example, this year, to date, we have had only 6 polio cases in the world. During my tenure, and together, we hope to meet the very last polio victim.
However, countries want holistic offerings from universal health care coverage that can be flexible to their needs. These individual areas of expertise are like the players on a football team. Each needs to be strong to win. But without teamwork, we will not win. Our team needs to work as one. Our team needs a captain. And universal health coverage is the captain of the team.