World Health Assembly Plenary Session Remarks By Kathleen G. Sebelius

Kathleen G. Sebelius at the WHA
Kathleen G. Sebelius at the WHA

Plenary Session Remarks
By Kathleen G. Sebelius
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

Geneva, May 18, 2009

Mr. President, Madam Director-General, fellow delegates:

It is my honor to represent the United States of America and address the World Health Assembly and I want you to know that the United States is here to work with you and we are here to listen.

President Obama and I know that this is a unique moment in our history, a moment where we must unite to improve the health of all our nations. We are committed to partnering with you to advance the cause of social justice, to expand access to health care and reduce health disparities. And we know that working together, we can achieve the goals that we all share.

I want to begin my remarks today with an update on the H1N1 flu virus and a few words of gratitude.

Several weeks after this outbreak began, we are cautiously optimistic that this virus might be less severe than was first feared, based on initial reports from our close neighbor, Mexico. While this is good news, we are continuing to act aggressively and appropriately to help mitigate the consequences of the outbreak and protect public health.

Today, I would like to outline a few of those actions.

The United States has distributed millions of treatment courses of antiviral drugs across the United States and Mexico that help save lives.

U.S. government agencies are working together in an unprecedented way to develop a vaccine and ensure that production of seasonal flu vaccine continues.

We know that there are things that everyone can do to reduce the risk of infection and have conducted a massive public campaign to inform Americans and help stop the spread of this virus.

In times of crisis, clear, concise, accurate information is essential and our government has used traditional media and new methods of the internet to spread information that can help limit the spread of the virus.

As in the past, we have worked closely with the World Health Organization and the international community, evaluating the threat the new flu virus poses, sharing information about the spread of the disease within our borders, and coordinating our response. Our WHO Collaborating Center for Influenza in the United States has developed and is in the process of distributing kits that will allow the new virus to be rapidly detected to over 130 countries. In addition, the sequence of the new virus has been shared with our international partners and with industry so that we can be better prepared across the globe.

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a WHO Collaboration Center, is testing specimens from other countries that have not been sub-typed in their home country.

And our Emergency Operation center is hosting liaisons from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the China CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada so we can better coordinate our response.

There is more work to be done – work that we must do together – but we have much to be proud of. Viruses know no borders and the success we have achieved to date would not have been possible without an unprecedented level of international preparation and cooperation.

So on behalf of President Obama and the American people, I want to thank you all for your leadership, cooperation and tireless efforts to help protect public health.

And let me also offer a special word of thanks to Director-GeneralDr. MargaretChan whose strong leadership ensured the world responded quickly and appropriately to this outbreak.

We recognize that the United States has an important role to play both in the response to this outbreak and in our shared work to improve the health of our people and our nations. Together, we have made progress. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United States’ work to fight malaria and tuberculosis have saved over a million lives in countries around the world.
But today alone, 26,000 children will die from poverty and preventable diseases. HIV/AIDS infection rates remain unacceptable – both in the United States and in countries across the globe – and the AIDS pandemic has a woman’s face. Diseases that we know how to treat take the lives of millions every year.
We can and must do more.

President Obama is committed to ushering in a new era in global health, an era that no longer tackles disease and illness in isolation.

Instead, our world demands a new, integrated approach to public health – one that seeks to understand and target the many factors that that can threaten the lives and livelihoods of all our citizens.

The President has requested $63 billion over six years to support a holistic approach. This approach will work to fight previously neglected tropical diseases.

And it will focus on women and families. We know that every minute of every day, a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. President Obama’s agenda will help improve maternal and child health, and support a full range of family planning reproductive health services for women.

This new initiative will expand our efforts to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and will build on what we know works.

But it will also use new resources to make smart, cost-effective investments in programs that make whole communities healthier. It will emphasize disease prevention and seek out strategies that do not battle one disease, but rather, battle the conditions that allow diseases to thrive. And we believe this initiative is compatible with the implementation of the International Health Regulations, which we continue to support.

As we implement this new initiative, we will seek your advice and expertise. We will not operate in isolation or ignore the good work that so many of your countries have done. Instead, international partnerships, cooperation and consultation will be the hallmarks of this new initiative.

We know that we must all work together to tackle the challenges we face and we are pleased that Chinese Taipei is seated as an Observer at this World Health Assembly. This action helps to fill a gap that had existed in the global health network.

We welcome Chinese Taipei’s presence and participation in this Assembly and hope experts from Taiwan will be able to participate consistently and meaningfully in technical meetings of the WHO, for the benefit of global public health.

Together, all our nations will build on the good work that is saving lives in nations around the world. We will tackle decades-old challenges that continue to plague our planet. And we will implement the new comprehensive strategy to improve global health.

We know the United States alone cannot take on every challenge. In a world with a seemingly infinite number of challenges, we have limited resources. But let me make it clear, President Obama will not shy away from the opportunity to lead and collaborate as we work together to protect the health and safety of communities across the globe.

So I want to thank you for your warm welcome and I look forward to meeting and speaking with all of you in the days ahead.

Thank you very much.

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