UNGA: US Applauds Seriousness of WHO Emergency Response Reform

Remarks on 70th UN General Assembly Agenda Item 125, Global Health and Foreign Policy

Laurie Shestack Phipps
Adviser for Economic and Social Affairs

New York City
December 17, 2015

 – As Delivered –

Mr. President, the United States greatly values the topic of this year’s agenda item on Foreign Policy and Global Health. With the lessons learned through the Ebola crisis, and recovery on everyone’s radar, there seems to be no better or more appropriate time to discuss how we respond to health emergencies. The international community collectively has been highly focused on these key findings so that we are better prepared in the future. It is not a question of if a health emergency will happen, but when and where.

The United States has demonstrated resolute commitment to ending the spread and devastation of the Ebola virus. To date, the United States Government has provided over $2 billion to the outbreak response. We have deployed several thousand civilian responders on the ground to establish control centers, improve surveillance, enhance case management, restore essential health services, train social mobilizers, and ensure logistics management is in place. But we know that we must continue to find ways to support long-term recovery efforts and address chronic vulnerabilities while maintaining the fight to reach zero.

The devastating impact of the Ebola crisis is well-known. But we must make the lessons learned even more far-reaching. The Ebola outbreak and response has shown us, above all, that the timely mobilization of appropriate response is critical. We must strengthen institutions and mechanisms for rapid deployment of multidisciplinary teams of experts, enhance transparency and accountability, support the establishment of an effective coordination platform, led by national authorities of affected countries, and the timely disbursement of funding. It is essential that this key moment is not lost and that things not simply return to business as usual.

A critical issue for the United States and the global community has been a WHO and UN system that is ready to take on such challenges in the future. We applaud the seriousness with which the WHO has taken on emergency response reform. Internal structural reforms will help the WHO effectively and efficiently respond to future emergencies. A comprehensive and revised framework to respond to all hazards should be put in place with clearly understood roles for all levels of the organization. The WHO’s role as the lead for the Global Health Cluster in major humanitarian emergencies must be strengthened and resourced to function effectively and be able to serve as the interface between the international public health system and humanitarian architecture. Timely access to funding for both rapid response and protracted crises with public health consequences is key to future success.

In addition, the United States will support the objective to “Strengthen global health security in West and Central Africa and other at-risk regions” through its commitment to the Global Health Security Agenda, GHSA. The GHSA recognizes that the threats posed by infectious disease cannot be addressed by any single actor or country, but requires collaboration on a global scale and across sectors. The GHSA seeks to mobilize coordinated action around the following three priority areas: preventing and reducing the likelihood of outbreaks – natural, accidental, or intentional; detecting threats early to save lives; and rapid, effective response through multi-sectoral, international coordination and communication. During the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Antalya, Turkey in 2015, President Obama announced the 30 countries that the United States will partner with to achieve the targets of the Global Health Security Agenda, GHSA.
The resolution we are about to adopt, and which the U.S. is pleased to cosponsor, recognizes the need for an improved, more effective and better coordinated response capacity for the international community in responding to humanitarian health emergencies. We thank the core group and other sponsors, and in particular this year’s facilitator, Senegal, for the inclusive process of negotiations on the resolution before us.
Regarding the resolution itself, two small but important clarifications: First, we are joining consensus and co-sponsoring this resolution today with the express understanding that this resolution’s reaffirmation of human rights instruments, documents, positions, or rights are applicable to the extent countries have affirmed them initially, and that it does not imply that States must implement obligations under human rights instruments to which they are not a party, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, ICESCR.
To the extent that it is implied in this resolution, the United States does not recognize the creation of any new right which we have not previously recognized, the expansion of the content or coverage of existing rights, or any other change in the current state of conventional or customary international law, including international humanitarian law. This resolution also does not interpret or alter any WTO agreement or decision, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, TRIPS Agreement. Countries have a wide array of policies and actions that may be appropriate for the progressive realization of the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and neither this resolution nor others should try to prescribe or define how individual countries pursue such progressive realization.

Second, we note that the term “equitable” is used in references to access to health services. While the United States fully endorses the importance of promoting equal access to health services, we must note that the term “equitable” is inherently subjective, may be defined by each country through their own processes (though should not be interpreted in a manner so as to deny access to health services based upon the concept that some individuals or groups deserve access to health care while others may not), and does not connote any national or international obligations.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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