An official website of the United States government

Kathleen Sebelius Statement at World Health Assembly Press Briefing May 18, 2010
May 20, 2010


Opening Statement by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Head of the Delegation to the World Health Assembly

at Press Conference with Members of the U.S. Delegation to the World Health Assembly

May 18, 2010
Palais des Nations
Geneva, Switzerland

Secretary Sebelius: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for joining us today. On behalf of the United States we’re proud to attend the 63rd World Health Assembly, and I’ve been privileged to lead this impressive delegation. I want to introduce you to a few of the outstanding health professionals who are here with me and will be here throughout the week, as well as our Ambassador Betty King, who represents the United States here in Geneva.

Dr. Nils Daulaire, who is the head of our Office of Global Health Affairs will continue on leading this delegation with me on the stage. Also in the audience is Dr. Nicki Lurie who is the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. With me on the stage are Dr. Regina Benjamin, the Surgeon General of the United States; Dr. Mary Wakefield, head of the Health Resources and Services Administration; and FDA Commissioner, Dr. Peggy Hamburg.

We have had also some wonderful private sector partners, some of the top health care leaders in the country, and other health professionals as part of this robust delegation.

I wanted to just start with a quick readout of some of the top issues from the last few days of meetings in Geneva, and then call on some of my colleagues to make a few comments.

The United States is committed to working with the rest of the world to achieve our shared global health objectives, and there’s a growing understanding that we can’t achieve these goals unless we work together. None of us can go it alone.

President Obama’s Global Health Initiative is a new way for U.S. agencies to work with our partner countries in the international community to achieve measureable health outcomes and strengthen health systems. The Global Health Initiative builds on and expands our global health successes of the past decade. Most notably, the President’s emergency plan for AIDS relief; the President’s malaria initiative; and maternal and child health and family planning programs.

I want to just give one example of how far we’ve come together. Before PEPFAR began in 2003 fewer than 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral therapy. Today, thanks to programs sponsored by the U.S. government, we have treatment supported for 2.5 million individuals, the vast majority of whom are in Africa. Those results really show some demonstrable progress on what we can accomplish and what we will do moving forward together.

But we don’t want to stop there. We believe we can do even better. That’s why the President has launched an historic six year, $63 billion Global Health Initiative that meets and expands our existing commitments to programs that promote health in some of the poorest countries. We’re pleased that the initiative calls for a significant increase in support for maternal and child health, for family planning and nutrition programs, on top of our already robust infectious disease programs.

I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the Global Health Initiative with some of our partner countries and at a briefing earlier this week. Dr. Daulaire will be holding additional briefings later this week.

Yesterday we also had an historic meeting with the Ministers from the Organization of Islamic Conference states. I believe it was the first time that a U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services have held a meeting with the Health Ministers of the OIC and the world’s Islamic countries. Not only was there a shared commitment to eradicating polio, but a common approach to tracking down the suspected cases and making sure that the spread doesn’t go any further.

We’re encouraged to see that the number of polio cases has declined significantly over the past year, but we know there is still important work to do. All of the countries who attended expressed their common commitment to a world free of polio.

Today we also signed an important Memorandum of Agreement with Saudi Arabia highlighting our mutual interest in public health, focusing on disease surveillance moving forward, expanding training and capacity development, and the Saudi commitment also was reemphasized to help eradicate polio and to continue to contribute to that important effort.

This is the first agreement with the Saudis on public health in recent memory, and it’s a three year agreement that we think is an important step forward.

There is also a recognized international commitment to improving maternal and child health. Of the Millennium Development Goals that are lagging furthest behind, Goals 4 and 5 continue to be highlighted and something that we’ve talked about in every meeting I attended from the bilateral meetings to our Global Health Initiative partner countries to our meeting with the OIC countries. The issues of women’s needs and women’s perspectives came up. There’s no question that there is a strong commitment for improving maternal and child health across the globe and also a recognition that women are gateways to their own communities. That women are primarily responsible for everything from managing water to nutrition, household resources, and accessing health services for their families. Many of them are closely involved with providing health care for those around them. So by improving the health of women and girls we can also improve the health of the communities in which they live.

One of the important ways we can improve maternal and child health, and again came up at every bilateral meeting that we had in the past few days, is to increase the number of nurses and midwives serving their communities in countries around the world. Improving training opportunities for them and making sure that they have career paths in their own countries.

Dr. Mary Wakefield, the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration at HHS, is a nurse by training and an expert in the training of health professionals and developing innovative strategies to improve care in rural parts of the United States as well as parts of the world. So I want to turn over this briefing to Mary right now to address maternal and child health a little further.