PHM-Exch> Report of the Opening Address by the outgoing Director General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chen

Claudio Schuftan cschuftan at
Tue Jun 6 21:49:03 PDT 2017

*Report of the Opening Address by the outgoing Director General of WHO, Dr
Margaret Chen*

*70th World Health Assembly 22 May 2017*

In her much anticipated opening address, the outgoing Director General of
WHO, Dr Margaret Chen declared that she had kept her promise of working
hard at her job while in office.  “I promised to work tirelessly and have
done so but have not got tired in the best of times,” she stated.  And she
reminded the audience that she accepted accountability for actions taken
during office.

In reference to the DG’s report, she drew attention to setbacks and
successes as well as several landmark events.  “Above all it is a tribute
to the power of partnerships.”  She gave the example of ARVs and how a
decade of collective action had led to the plummet in prices of Hep C drugs.
“This keeps us optimistic,” she declared.

“Yes, we falter sometimes but we never give up despite the dismal political
and economic outlook in recent years,” she added.  The alarming attacks on
humanitarian and aid workers have been unprecedented.  According to WHO
reports, more than 300 attacks occur daily, the majority in Syria and
Middle East territories.

She gave thanks that the 2009 avian flu epidemic was mild and that human
influenza was not spreading wildly; however there was a need for vigilance
against any virulent outbreaks.  “We were not so lucky with the Ebola and
Zika viruses.  WHO was caught by surprise by the Ebola virus outbreak but
worked quickly.  WHO gave the world its first Ebola vaccine,” she stated.  She
reiterated the need for strong health systems to prevent deaths , and to
protect the vulnerable.  She shared that in the previous week, Congo had
reported another Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had a number of  positive spill over

1.      WHO acquired new experience in R & D

2.     The blueprint for R & D development let to the setting up of SEPI

“So the world is better prepared to deal with Ebola but not nearly well
enough,” she stated.

She reiterated that WHO was still relevant in many ways.  Relevance is
readily apparent when WHO endorses a new medical product and partners find
ways to fund it.  She reminded that WHO approval triggers action as
demonstrated by the example of GAVI.  By the end of 2016, WHO prequalified
a large number of agents for treating HIV infections.

WHO’s relevance was dramatically demonstrated during the recently concluded
high level meeting on neglected diseases.  The fact that in 2015,  1
billion people received treatment for illnesses that had the potential to
blind and maim them  was cause for celebration.  “This was a success story
that the world was  hungry to hear,” she added.

She drew attention to the contributions of Member States through valuable
expertise sharing.  “I want to thank your scientific institutions that help
WHO with their scientific expertise,” stated Chen.  She further stated that
the resolutions that are adopted at the WHA raise the profile of neglected
problems.  For example, the resolution on mental health  helped put the
spotlight on this hidden  problem.

She highlighted that the strongest calls for action  have been on Universal
Health Coverage and Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), both of which have
triggered broad based action.

She reiterated that in order to achieve the SDGs 2030 goals, actions of
Member States must be guided by the 5 P’s :  people, prosperity,
partnership, peace and planet.  She drew attention to the the serious and
highly visible problem of childhood obesity and WHO efforts on the
eradication of polio and guinea worm disease.  The rise of chronic
Non-Communicable Diseases called for a move away from curing to prevention.
She celebrated the success of the Every Woman, Every Child initiative,
calling it a ‘game changer’ and a milestone in her administration.

She admitted that the most contentious issue was access to  medicines
involving unjust patent regimes, bilateral and multilateral trade
agreements which were major impediments to access.

She acknowledged the role of DNDI as a needs driven R&D initiative for
treating sexually transmitted diseases notably gonorrhoea.

In her conclusion, Dr Chen offered  the following guidance:

·       WHO stands for fairness and reduction in inequalities

·       What gets measured, gets done.

·       Scientific evidence is the bedrock in a post-truth world.

·       The current measles outbreak in Europe and North America should not
have happened and it has spread to other countries.

·       R & D partnerships helped Africa.

·       Safeguard WHO’s integrity with all Non-State Actor engagement (
Many other UN agencies refer to WHO as a leader in this area)

·       Multiple determinants of health demand more attention

·       Listen to Civil Society – they are best placed to hold industry

“Above all, the most important advice coming from an outgoing DG is:
Remember the People;  Behind every number is a face,” she implored.

She concluded by stating, “This is the last time I shall address the WHA.  I
have done my service with great humility and also with great pride.  Last
but not least, I thank my husband (David ) and my family for their love and
support.  David, thank you for listening.

Shila Kaur, HAIAP, Penang.
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