Remarks by Alex Azar
U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services
at the 71st World Health Assembly
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
May 22, 2018
As Prepared for Delivery
Director-General Tedros, fellow Ministers, distinguished leaders: It is an honor to attend my first World Health Assembly as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
President Trump and the United States are committed to a WHO that excels at its mission. To excel, WHO must be laser-focused on providing evidence-based guidance on public health issues, while always being sensitive to cultural differences and conscience rights.
One key priority must be infectious threats that can cross borders—especially influenza. One hundred years ago, the 1918 influenza pandemic infected a third of the global population and killed more than 50 million worldwide, showing how high the costs of poor preparation can be.
We are, thankfully, better prepared for a flu pandemic today, in part because the United States invests generously in pandemic preparedness at home and abroad.
Internationally, we now have an agreed upon process and timeline to share flu virus samples rapidly. But for such systems to work, every country and relevant international institution must do its part.
Thus, it is again disappointing that Taiwan was not invited to observe WHA. It is difficult to reconcile our shared concern over cross-border infectious diseases with excluding representatives of the 23 million people of Taiwan from this gathering.
I strongly urge WHO to focus on its core purpose by continuing, as its first mission, to fix the problems it has had in the past in coordinating worldwide responses to health emergencies and emerging infectious disease threats.
In 2014’s Ebola crisis, thousands of West Africans died preventable deaths, and the world was humbled. With an Ebola outbreak now occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is all the more essential that WHO focus on its most important mandate.
We commend the government of the DRC for responding to this outbreak with such vigor. Today, on behalf of President Trump, I am pleased to announce that the United States is prepared to provide up to $7 million in additional assistance to respond to the Ebola outbreak.
This complements the work of American technical experts deployed to the DRC, and, combined with the $1 million announced last week, brings the U.S. commitment to up to $8 million.
I urge all member states to contribute to WHO’s flash appeal to ensure we defeat this outbreak.
I do want to compliment WHO and many member states on the success of the Joint External Evaluations, with 75 completed in a little more than two years, and an additional 28 countries in the pipeline. The United States has led by example, undergoing our own evaluation and developing a National Action Plan for Health Security.
After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, countries from around the world came together to ramp up the Global Health Security Agenda, to galvanize action toward meeting International Health Regulations commitments.
The Trump Administration strongly supports the extension of the Global Health Security Agenda, and encourages other nations to support this initiative.
But even with this encouraging progress, daunting challenges remain. Modern medicine was built on centuries of innovation and scientific breakthroughs, but there are cracks in the foundation.
As one example, drug-resistant infections not only threaten lives, but also hinder economic growth and even threaten the stability of our countries. The United States encourages WHO to continue making anti-microbial resistance a top priority.
Fueled by growing drug resistance and high rates of co-infection with HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis has reemerged as the world’s deadliest infectious disease. The U.S. supports the global focus on preventing, containing, and eliminating TB and its resistant forms, and welcomes elevation of this issue at the 72nd U.N. General Assembly.
The U.S. champions a multi-sectoral approach to these challenges. WHO would do well to engage with a broad set of stakeholders, including the private and nonprofit sectors, to gain the best understanding of all health issues from every angle.
We should never be afraid of more information, more assistance, more cooperation.
One example of this is the U.S. PEPFAR program’s renewed partnership with the George W. Bush Institute and UNAIDS to end AIDS and cervical cancer among HIV-positive women in Africa.
Through this partnership, the U.S. is investing over $30 million in eight African countries in support of the WHO Director-General’s global call for action toward the elimination of cervical cancer.
Private-sector engagement is also critical when it comes to access to medicines.
As many of you know, President Trump has made reducing the cost of prescription medications for Americans a top priority, and we have already begun taking action to improve affordability within our market-based, innovation-friendly system.
The President has strongly condemned practices by which other countries command unfairly low prices innovative drugs, and we are working hard to ensure that countries contribute their fair share to pharmaceutical innovation.
Each of us represents individual nations, but we share many health challenges. By working together and remaining focused on our greatest cross-border health threats, we will make WHO the organization it needs to be to keep our world safe.
Each of our country’s citizens expect no less, and together, we will deliver. Thank you all for your kind attention, and I look forward to working with you in the future.