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Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ Opening Remarks at WHA Press Briefing
May 17, 2011

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ Opening Remarks at WHA Press Briefing
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ Opening Remarks at WHA Press Briefing

Palais des Nations Geneva
Tuesday, May 17, 2010

Secretary Sebelius: Thank you, and thank you all for joining us this morning. I just want to start by introducing a few key members of our delegation. They will be able to join me in answering your questions.

Dr. Howard Koh is our Assistant Secretary for Health.

Dr. Regina Benjamin, is the Surgeon General of the United States.

Dr. Mary Wakefield, the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. That’s the primary Federal agency in the U.S. focused on improving access to health care for people who are uninsured, or medically vulnerable.

To my far left is Dr. Kevin De Cock, who is the Director for the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And many of you know, Dr. Nils Daulaire who is our Representative to the WHO Executive Board and Director of the Global Health Affairs office.

We’ve had two very productive days of meetings here. And before opening things up to questions, I want to highlight a few of the issues we’ve been focusing on.

First is polio. This morning, we had a meeting with Bill Gates, Director Chan, and a number of health officials from WHO and nations; health ministers and donors, including some new donors who are committed to the polio eradication effort.

We also heard from Sir Liam Donaldson from the Independent Monitoring Board who offered a sober analysis based on the Board’s recent report. It’s clear that the Initiative has made significant progress in battling polio but the situation remains fragile.

We have grave concerns not just about the disease’s persistence in the four endemic countries — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan — but also about outbreaks in other nations.

As I said earlier this morning, the United States will continue to support coordinated efforts to stop polio, and we know that it’s making a difference. We recognize the need for full political ownership and oversight in those countries that are battling ongoing outbreaks. And we’ll advocate for support and resources at venues including the G-8 and G-20 meetings.

We’re committing also to work closely with our partners to make sure we get this job done.

Smallpox is another topic that we have been working on here in Geneva, and it’s to provide protection against the unlikely but dangerous possibility of a smallpox outbreak.

Yesterday morning we introduced a resolution that called for retaining the smallpox virus stocks at the two official repositories in the United States and in Russia.

We’re concerned that the smallpox virus may still exist outside the official repositories and could be released unintentionally or used as a bio-weapon.

The WHO’s own review of the smallpox research program concluded definitively that additional research is needed to protect public health should this occur.

By retaining stocks of the virus in highly-secured locations, we’ll be able conduct that research, and the results will be made widely available

Let me be clear: we are committed to the eventual destruction of the virus stocks.

But we also believe this Assembly should authorize continued research to develop the countermeasures needed to ensure that we’re prepared for a potential smallpox outbreak.

Yesterday, we also hosted a very productive meeting on non-communicable diseases — the chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and respiratory disease that have emerged as growing health problems for countries in every corner of the globe.

It’s a continuation of the conversation that began a few weeks ago in Moscow at the First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Diseases. And the work we’ve done here in Geneva will carry forward to our discussions at the UN in September.

In the United States, chronic disease accounts for 70 percent of deaths, limits the activities of tens of millions more Americans, and costs our economy billions each year. In developing countries the impact is even more devastating.

Addressing these costs means looking honestly at the choices we make about where we live, what we eat, and how we exercise is important. It means investing in powerful, cost-effective interventions like controlling tobacco and promoting healthy diets and exercise.

I know we share these goals with nations around the globe and our meetings this week have continued to confirm that. In the days and months ahead, I look forward to building on those relationships to make prevention and wellness a global priority.

With that, we’d be pleased to answer your questions and I’ll ask my colleagues to join me when it’s appropriate.