Director-General's Office

Opening ceremony, UHC Forum

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' speech at the opening ceremony of UHC Forum

14 December 2017

Excellencies, honourable ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here today. I would like to thank Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his leadership and for the $2.9 billion of support for global health he announced today.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine who was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. He was from a high-income country.

He had two options. He could have been treated, but it would have cost him most or all of the money he had saved for his family’s future.

Or he could forego treatment, allow the disease to run its course and die knowing his family would have a more comfortable life, even if he wasn’t there to enjoy it with them.

He chose the latter.

He chose death because he could not afford the treatment that could have kept him alive.

This is an outrage. No one should have to choose between death and financial hardship.

But the shocking truth is that this is a reality for millions of people every year.

New data from WHO and the World Bank show that at least half of the world’s population still does not have access to essential health services, such as having a skilled birth attendant, vaccinations for children or treatment for HIV.

But even when health services are available, using them can mean financial ruin.

As Jim said, 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because of health spending.

Let me put that into context for you. That’s 3 people every second.

We are here to say that we will not accept a world like that.

Universal health coverage, based on strong health systems, is the best way to ensure that people can access the health services they need, without facing financial hardship.

Strong health systems are vital for improving and protecting health. But they’re also the best defense against outbreaks and epidemics.

But UHC is not a dream for the future. It is a reality now. Countries at all income levels are proving that UHC is achievable and affordable, with domestic resources.

But to achieve the SDG target of UHC by 2030, we need 1 billion more people to have coverage every 5 years.

We need many more countries to commit both to financial protection and to expanding service coverage.

It takes unwavering political commitment because it’s a political choice.

But the prize is a healthier, safer and fairer world for all people.

Thank you so much. Arigato gozaimasu.