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U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Sylvia Burwell’s Plenary Remarks at World Health Assembly
May 18, 2015

United Nations Geneva,
May 18, 2015


Mr. Chairman, fellow health ministers, distinguished leaders, and Director-General Margaret Chan.  Our nations gather here in recognition of our solidarity. For all of our national health challenges, we know that our world is too small to operate in isolation.

Health threats don’t recognize borders. As we strengthen the health of our own nations, we must also recognize our need for global solutions.


We saw the importance of our partnerships as we worked together to respond to the Ebola crisis.

I believe everyone in this room wishes the world could have responded more quickly. Ultimately, however, the affected nations and our global community came together to build an effective response.

We’ve not yet reached the important “zero” mark, and we must stay diligent in our efforts, but we’ve come a very long way. Now is the time to recommit to these critical efforts until Sierra Leone and Guinea are Ebola-free.

In that work, we saw the importance of the World Health Organization. We learned many lessons from this outbreak and we know this organization can and must be strengthened.

We need a coordinating body for our global health community, and we are committed to working with WHO to help it best serve its mandate to fill that leadership role.

I am proud of the ambitious reform agenda that came out of the January Executive Board meeting and look forward to seeing it make an impact for the health and safety of the world’s people.

Many countries, organizations and individuals joined the Ebola fight, and we are grateful for their work. I’d like to especially express appreciation for the health care workers on the front lines. One of them, Kent Brantly, is here with me today.

They risked their lives to help their neighbors—no matter where they called home—and far too many were lost. We can’t give back what was taken from their families, but we can commit to build on their efforts.

And we know that the next health threat may not be far away.

Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria 

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for example, tests our ability to fight diseases we once considered easily treatable. And beyond our health, antibiotic resistance threatens our livestock, agriculture, and economy as well.

The WHO’s Global Action Plan on AMR is an important first step, and we applaud the pending resolution and worldwide efforts to address this issue.

In the U.S. we have put together a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria to make sure we are creating an aggressive strategy, forging the necessary partnerships, and building the strong teams needed to win this fight.

And on June 2nd, the White House is bringing together private sector partners in both animal and human health for a Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship.

Moving Forward Together 

Whether it’s a new outbreak of Ebola, or a new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria…the ongoing priority to fight AIDS…or our remaining struggle to conquer polio, each nation must be ready to act and have the infrastructure that makes action possible.

We strongly endorse a commitment during this Assembly to support West and Central African and other at-risk states to achieve full implementation of the IHR by 2019.

To that end, the United States has joined with more than 40 countries and regional groups, including the European Union and the African Union, as well as WHO, OIE, and FAO, to launch a collective Global Health Security Agenda. Our aim is to see that every nation on earth has the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats and comply with the International Health Regulations.

With guidance from WHO, and by working with other sectors, we have a better shot at realizing our goals.

But we know that governments can’t do this alone. Engaging with non-governmental organizations, foundations and the private sector is just as important.

The United States is committed to improving our own health system to better serve our people—work that has begun in earnest with the Affordable Care Act and other efforts to create a better, smarter, health care system. And at this Assembly, we are committed to working together to support our shared goal of creating a healthier world that is ready to meet any challenge.

Together, we can realize the mission of the WHO: to empower all peoples in the attainment of the highest standard of health.

Thank you.