This website was archived on 8 October 2017. Its content is not updated.

Speech of Dr David Nabarro at the 70th World Health Assembly

Excellencies, ministers of health, esteemed colleagues, good afternoon.

Before I begin, I would like to express my own condolences to the people of Manchester after the tragic events of last night and the continued suffering that you have heard about.

I also want to share my feelings of solidarity with the healthcare workers and responders who everyday selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

When tragic events occur, we see time and time again all over the world, incredible responses of kindness and of humanity, from people and communities caring for each other and refusing to give in to those who would wish to do us harm.

So I want to speak to you today about how, under my leadership, WHO will embody that kind of humanity and compassion. We undoubtedly face many challenges in our world, but, together, with courage and determination, we can be so hopeful about what can be achieved.

My quest to become your Director-General took me to so many nations. I met with more than 100 ministers and I am really inspired by the dynamic and intensive efforts being made by you ministers and your teams to empower people for better health and to ensure accessible health care. Health is alive, it’s local as well as global, it’s exciting and it’s changing.

And you are the guardians of health. The health of your people, the health of seven billion people, rests in your hands. It is a huge responsibility. The choices you make, and your colleagues make across government, can lead directly to women, men and children enjoying longer and more fulfilling lives.

I have listened as I travelled to your honestly held aspirations and your concerns.

Some of you told me that at times you have felt let down by the World Health Organization. You want it to be more relevant, responsive, and reliable. Under my leadership it will be.

Let me tell you why.

I have seen, all my life, how the nations of the world - poor or rich, small or large – overcome challenges when they work together.

Solidarity is the heart of our common cause.

I am standing with you today as a truly global candidate. A candidate who has spent his life working on every continent, devoted to the service of public health and to sustainable development.

Conflict, migration, climate change, famine, disease and terror attacks: they all test our resolve and our ability to work for the common good. I know some countries and some regions suffer from these more than most.

As our world generates challenges that are ever more complex and less respectful of borders... We need global institutions more than ever. But the institutions must work harder and more cleverly to keep pace with change.

So let me now focus on disease outbreaks

Nowhere is the importance of WHO clearer than in controlling an outbreak. The acute threats such as Influenza, Ebola, Dengue, Zika, Yellow Fever and Meningitis they all depend on WHO. And the longer term threats for which we must never let down our guard: TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, we have to keep focus, and we have the challenge of anti-microbial resistance. It’s a big list.

We know the cost, we know the lives lost, we know the livelihoods curtailed, we know the drain on your economies.

When I led the United Nation’s response to Ebola in West Africa it was clear to me and everyone that the WHO could and should have acted earlier.

We cannot sugar coat it: the WHO was tested and was found wanting.

So, when I started my Ebola assignment in August 2014 death rates were doubling every three weeks, it was a daunting challenge. But the nations and their people turned it around. I led a dedicated team working in excellent collaboration with the Governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria as well as donors and NGOs.

When that outbreak was beaten I was asked to lead a review of WHO's emergency response capability. It was clear to me that speed and flexibility are critical. But most of all, WHO, we concluded, must be competent and dependable.

That review that I led has now become the blueprint for future responses, and it’s time to ensure that all the recommendations are carried through.

So I want to be sure that your countries have the right people, the right systems and the right support from the whole of WHO when it comes to outbreak management. I want to be sure that we always listen to the frontline staff when they sound the alarm. But most importantly, I want to be sure that we never allow complacency or bureaucracy to delay lifesaving action.

So as Director General I will embed these reforms into the organisation’s DNA, so that people everywhere, so that you, can have confidence both in WHO’s ability to detect outbreaks, and also its ability to support your response to crises.

But we all know that WHO must do much more than focus on outbreaks.

Non-communicable illnesses like cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, cancers and diabetes, cause more than 40 million early deaths each year. 40 million deaths by stealth – deaths that can be prevented.

As I travelled you told me you were worried. You fear that the health sector is losing in the fights against NCDs. You have asked for advice on what to do to prevent early NCD deaths and to tackle the growing challenge of mental health.

I believe that we need to see these non-communicable illnesses as a visible pandemic. We need to reveal its stealth to the world and stop its advance using all the means at our disposal.

I will work with you to ensure that NCDs are prevented through action across the whole of society. We will work together to ensure the drivers of good health: increased income, food, exercise, environments, and many more are actually pursued.

But with the Sustainable Development Goals we now have a new and powerful incentive to work in this cross cutting way. An exercise in which WHO’s role is absolutely critical.

Of course, none of this can be achieved without universal access to health care. And I stress that for me universal means everyone.

I would like people-centred health that does not leave anyone behind to be at the heart of this World Health Organization. That is how I have approached all my roles in life and it really is something I will commit to from the start.

I know many of you are actually doing this, I’ve seen it very much as I have travelled to meet with you. You’re trying to get services that are accessible to migrants and refugees as well as your nationals. You are having services that respect human rights and you’re doing all you can to make sure they do not discriminate. You are also trying to do all you can to ensure that medicines are accessible to everyone and that they are affordable. You want to ensure that sexual and reproductive health care is properly available. Because you know that if you can get these kinds of service in place there are extraordinary benefits for women as well as children and others, and you do want to make sure that your services respond to the needs of older people.

Because I want to support you in ensuring accessible healthcare for every person on this earth I commit to prioritize WHO support for health systems for all countries. But I want a particular focus on countries with vulnerabilities that make it particularly difficult to organize healthcare. That includes small island states, with their unique challenges as well as countries that are experiencing various crises.

I will work with you for better staffing of health systems, especially nursing staff, who make up almost half the global health workforce.

I will work with you for sustainable financing of healthcare, knowing that this is not something for which there is a universal solution.

I will work to ensure that at all times you can get support for the development of your health services from or through WHO.

My goal is that every health ministry and every minister of health feels that WHO is there for them.

It’s what I call a country and people centered WHO.

Now how do we make this happen? How can we transform WHO to give you what you need?

First, I will encourage a change in culture.

Our primary goal will always be to fight inequities in health. But in order to do this within WHO we need to help you through understanding the needs of your people and working closely with you in government as well as with your civil society, scientists and businesses that you work with.

We must amplify impact through being catalytic, helping you to achieve the goals that matter to you, by supporting with us being the catalytic actors who make your work more effective.

WHO doesn’t need to do everything itself, but it does needs to ensure everything gets done.

Second, we will focus on our people

I want WHO to properly reflect the world it serves – that means having even more of the best people in the organization and proper geographical representation.

I am committed to gender balance and, if elected, I will ensure that at least half of appointments to senior positions are filled by women.

IN FRENCH: [I would like a WHO which is truly multilingual in which we can find all the languages of the United Nations and I hope that it would constantly be necessary to look for interpreters who are not there. I would like to ensure that whatever language you speak you have translation and documents available in your language if it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.]

Third, how we manage

Governments and other investors rightly expect value for money in everything WHO does. As Director-General, I will make sure that the organizations goals are results focused, transparent and measurable. All staff - myself included – will be held to account for delivering.

Fourth, raising money.

Everybody in this room wants WHO to have the income it needs. Raising funds will be one of my most important responsibilities. I will set targets for resource mobilization. I will raise the funds. I know how to do this because I have done it all of my working life.

I will build confidence in our abilities and our achievements. And as confidence grows through better management practices, our income and therefore our ability to support you will increase.

At the centre of this effort will be a digital transformation that will drive up our transparency and results through the use of applications and other digital tools.

So why choose me?

I’ve had the privilege of serving in more than 50 countries... beginning almost forty ago as an idealistic doctor, in the Himalayas, learning from the people of Nepal and then subsequently from the people of all the other countries where I’ve worked.

I’ve worked with frontline staff, I’ve worked with world leaders. I know how the kitchen works in the United Nations.

I’ve been trusted by successive UN Secretaries-General to lead responses on hard challenges, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and natural disasters.

The WHO I lead, will listen, understand, be energetic and sustainable, but most importantly it will strive for universal health coverage.

It’s my calling to do this work, it’s the humanitarian calling for all of us who work in public health everywhere and it’s what needed in our truly remarkable world