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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Addresses 65th World Health Assembly
Plenary Statement at the 65th World Health Assembly
May 21, 2012

Remarks by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
May 21, 2012

Fellow health ministers, distinguished leaders, Director-General Chan. I’m honored to have this opportunity today to address the Assembly.

The World Health Assembly is one of the most vitally important global gatherings to take place each year.  Our coordinated efforts make it possible to successfully address shared public health challenges. From increasing prevention of diseases such as polio and heart disease, to conducting lifesaving research, to strengthening our humanitarian response and protection of vulnerable and marginalized populations, all of our efforts are enhanced through our partnership in this body.

The nations assembled here today face many different challenges related to our unique populations, climates and geography.  But one challenge we all face is how to keep our nations healthy and how to make sure all our people can access the care they need when they get sick.

In the United States, we just marked the two-year anniversary of a historic health care law.

The law is our country’s most significant step towards universal health coverage in nearly 50 years and it will expand coverage to 33 million Americans who have been unable to access health insurance.  It moves us toward justice and equity

Under the law, we’ve taken steps to improve our health system by putting individuals and families on even footing with their insurance companies.  And the biggest changes will come in 2014, when each state will have an insurance marketplace that gives every resident the ability to find health coverage that fits their needs.

It will provide new options for individuals and small businesses that buy their own coverage and for low income families who need help with the cost of insurance. And because these new state marketplaces will allow risk to be spread over a large group, small business owners will be able to benefit with lower rates for insurance like large employers do now.

The result will be that for the first time in U.S. history all Americans will have access to quality, affordable health coverage.

But we know that to improve health we have to do more than expand coverage.

Health is affected by the food we eat, the air or smoke we breathe, and the communities where we live.

So if we want our children to eat healthier food, we need to work with schools to serve healthier meals.  If we want people to get more exercise, we need to work with transportation planners to design neighborhoods where it’s easier to walk or bike.

That’s why our country has adopted its first ever National Prevention Strategy, a plan that brings all these partners and more together to coordinate the actions we need to take to help Americans stay healthy and fit.

It’s also why our department has adopted the philosophy of “health in all policies” which means that any time our government makes a decision, we should be asking: what are the health consequences?

In all these efforts, we recognize that poverty and poor health are closely linked.  People who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition, face greater environmental health hazards, and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts.

So we’ve made a special commitment to address these social and economic factors that put people at greater risk for both chronic and infectious diseases. Our new health care law has already extended critical preventive services to millions of the most vulnerable Americans. It also ensures that millions of Americans will have access to mental health and substance abuse services – putting into practice this Administration’s belief that mental health is just as important to quality of life as physical health.

Governments are taking similar steps around the world. And we’re working together, for example, to protect the health of the most vulnerable population, our children. Over the past 50 years, the number of childhood deaths fell by 70 percent world-wide. With targeted momentum we can bring these numbers down even more.  In a few weeks the Child Survival Call to Action will take place in Washington D.C. It will be a historic event which will re-energize global action toward ending preventable child deaths.

These health challenges test countries of every size and at every stage in development. And we have our best chance of addressing them if we work together, share ideas and help each other succeed.  That is why we are here.

Thank you.