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Secretary Sebelius’s remarks on International Health Regulations & the Global Health Security Agenda
May 19, 2014

Woman at table with microphoneInternational Health Regulations & the Global Health Security Agenda

67th World Health Assembly

Kathleen Sebelius
The United States Secretary of Health and Human Services

Geneva, Switzerland
May 19, 2014 

Thank you all very much.  It’s an honor to have the opportunity to join you here and to represent the people of the United States of America.

I especially want to thank Director-General Margaret Chan, who has been a great friend and partner both to me personally and really to all the American people.

My very first phone call on my first day of work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was from Dr. Chan – at the time we were addressing the H1N1 pandemic – and through the years, we’ve been able to partner on a number of significant issues.

Of her many impressive accomplishments, Dr. Chan has been a great champion of the International Health Regulations, or IHRs.

We know that this work is important, because our world is more interconnected today than ever before in human history.

The ongoing outbreaks of MERS, H7N9, and Ebola remind us that every outbreak is only a plane ride away.  The devastating loss of life and economic impact all of us, no matter where in the world we happen to live.

Therefore, all of us have a stake in working together across regions, across sectors, and indeed across the world.

The IHRs give us a framework for working collaboratively so that we can prepare for these events … respond to these events … and – when possible – prevent these events.

We know that when one country has the capacity to detect, assess, notify, and respond to a threat, every country becomes safer and more secure.

The Global Health Security Agenda

In the United States, in 2014, we’re investing through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pentagon to help 10 countries enhance their preparedness.

And we’re committed to working with at least 30 countries to advance milestones that will protect at least 4 billion citizens over the next five years.

These efforts are an important start.

Our overall vision is for all people in all countries to eventually be protected effectively from the threats posed by infectious diseases.

The reality is that we have more work to do together, in order to get there.

Biological threats are constantly changing and evolving – and they don’t wait for all of us to keep pace with them.

It’s critically important that we set clear priorities and that we coordinate our resources, energies, and efforts.

In February – even during one of our many snow emergencies this year in Washington – 29 countries came together at our Department’s headquarters in Washington, and via satellite from Geneva.  We were joined as well by the Directors-General of OIE and FAO, and our colleagues from the European Union.

Together, we launched a collective Global Health Security Agenda, with the vision that every nation on earth should have the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.

With concrete efforts, and a multi-sector approach, this Agenda is both accelerating and strengthening our work to implement the IHRs.

Two weeks ago, Finland hosted 36 nations and 160 participants, at a commitment development meeting. There will be another meeting this summer, and we would like even more countries to take action.

And in September, the White House will host a high-level event.  The goal is to review and assess the new commitments that have been made.  And also to measure our collective progress.


At the end of the day, our shared Global Health Security Agenda – and our efforts to enforce International Health Regulations – are more than just a health agenda or a security agenda.  They’re an economic agenda. They’re an agricultural agenda.  They’re a humanitarian agenda.  And they’re a diplomatic agenda.

It’s an agenda that no one country or no one sector can accomplish on its own.  We need experts and leaders from the public health community, the development community, the security community, the agricultural community, and the diplomatic community if we are going to succeed in saving more lives and making all our countries safer, healthier, and more secure.

The IHRs are one of the most important global tools for developing public health capacities.  We in the United States believe strongly in this worthy goal.  And we hope that you will all join us as we move the Agenda forward to protect all of our populations.

Thank you all very much.