Director-General's Office

Seventy-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

New Delhi, India
5 September 2018

Excellencies, honourable delegates,

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for South-East Asia,

Colleagues and friends,

It is such a privilege to be with you here in New Delhi. I apologize that I was not able to be here for the opening on Monday, and I’d like to thank my Deputy Director-General Jane Ellison for representing me.

A lot has happened since I stood before you in the Maldives a year ago.

For the past year, we have been laying the foundations for the future.

At the World Health Assembly in May, as the Chair said, you and all the Member States approved the General Programme of Work – our five-year strategic plan.

Let me remind you what we have committed to:

1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage;

1 billion more people better protected from health emergencies;

and 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.

These are the targets we must achieve together by 2023 if we are to stay on track for the Sustainable Development Goals.

They’re ambitious targets, and deliberately so. If we aim for mediocrity, we will certainly achieve it. But if we aim for what seems impossible, we will achieve more than we ever imagined we could.

But a plan on its own is not enough to succeed.

That’s why we have developed an investment case – the first ever for WHO – to make sure we have the resources to succeed.

It’s why we have built a strong leadership team, to make sure we have the people to succeed.

And it’s why we have begun a transformation project, to ensure we have the structures and processes to succeed.

Now we embark on the task of turning a plan into a reality. Now is the time to show that we are good to our word.

This is a task for all of us – the Member States, the Secretariat, donors, partners, civil society, academia and the private sector.

As I said this morning, there are many encouraging signs of progress in this region in relation to each of the “triple billion” targets.

Once again, I congratulate my sister Poonam and all of you for the hard work you have done.

Earlier this year I had the honour of celebrating WHO’s 70th birthday in Sri Lanka, which was also celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence.

Sri Lanka and WHO don’t just share the same age; we share the same vision for universal health coverage. Sri Lanka has a long and proud history of providing health care free at the point of delivery.

Thailand’s journey towards universal health coverage started more recently, but now has the highest service coverage and lowest catastrophic spending in the region. For those reasons, it is rightly held up as one of the world’s greatest universal health coverage success stories.

In 2014, Indonesia launched its national insurance programme, and has committed to full coverage of its enormous population by 2019.

Most recently, India has announced its plans for Ayushman Bharat, which could be the world’s single-biggest public health insurance scheme.

It aims to provide financial protection to 100 million poor and vulnerable families – about 500 million people.

It is not an overstatement to say that this scheme could transform India. It could lift millions of people out of poverty, and prevent millions more from falling into it.

In a country as large and complex as India, this is an extremely ambitious undertaking. WHO will stand with you to make sure it is a success.

All of these measures are encouraging. Progress towards universal health coverage in this region is critical to reaching the first of the “triple billion” targets.

Globally, almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty by the costs of paying for care out of their own pockets.

More than half of them are in this region.

Access to medicines is a cornerstone of universal health coverage, but it’s also a major driver of catastrophic health spending.

A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization last week shows that medicines account for more than 75% of out-of-pocket health spending for many countries in this region.

This is a region that is the world’s largest producer of generic medicines.

I regret that I was not able to be here yesterday for the endorsement of the Delhi Declaration on access to medicines.

This is a major step forward, and a major statement of solidarity. By working together on pooled procurement and regulation, and by sharing information on prices, you can make great progress on one of the major causes of out-of-pocket health spending.

Just as we see progress and challenges on universal health coverage, we also see progress and challenges on our work on emergencies.

This region bears a heavy burden of the world’s emergencies. But you’re also developing huge capacities to respond.

National response teams are always best placed to respond quickly. They speak the local language and understand the culture and context of the local population.

The resolution on Emergency Medical Teams you’re considering this week is all about building national capacity to respond to national risks.

WHO sets a minimum standard for clinical teams, and coordinates peer review and quality assurance. This means that when a government requests help, teams will arrive better prepared, and work under the coordination of the host government, with the support of the World Health Organization.

We encourage all countries to develop their own national emergency medical teams, as required under the International Health Regulations, to respond to their own health threats.

WHO can help by strengthening the capacity of your teams to deploy to other countries in the region when your neighbours need you, and also to come and help us fight outbreaks and relieve suffering in emergencies and disasters across the world.

While outbreaks and other health emergencies capture global headlines, individuals and families face their own emergencies or crises every single day.

That’s the focus of the third “triple billion” target, on improving health and well-being.

Here also, we also see progress and challenges.

This region has made remarkable gains against malaria, with a 46% reduction in cases and a 60% reduction in deaths between 2010 and 2016.

Sri Lanka and the Maldives have been certified as malaria free, and Bhutan, Nepal and Timor Leste all have the potential to eliminate malaria by 2020.

But despite these gains, malaria continues to take a heavy toll on the region, especially here in India.

The emergence of antimalarial drug resistance continues to pose a threat to elimination efforts in the Greater Mekong sub-region.

Domestic financing for malaria has declined in several countries in the region, and international support for malaria is waning.

In the past year, you have recognized the urgent need to redouble your efforts in the fight against malaria.

You have all agreed to eliminating malaria from this region by 2030.

WHO will stand with you in this fight. Later this year, WHO will support the launch of an aggressive new approach to combatting malaria in countries with the heaviest burden – including India.

But even as we make progress towards eliminating malaria, we are battling the emergence of another vector-borne disease: dengue.

Although we are now able to successfully manage severe dengue in the vast majority of cases, we must take steps to prevent outbreaks in urban areas and alleviate the suffering caused by this disease.

The Global Vector Control Response adopted by the World Health Assembly last year aims to do exactly that, through effective vector control.

Its success depends on your ability as countries to strengthen vector surveillance and sustained control programmes.

The resolution before you this week, with its seven key action points, is an important step forward in the fight against both malaria and dengue.

It’s one of many initiatives we have launched at the global level to address the leading causes of death and disease.

We have introduced new guidelines to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

We have committed to eliminating cervical cancer.

We have launched an initiative on climate change in Small Island Developing States;

And we established a commission on noncommunicable diseases and mental health.

In one sense, it’s easy to make plans and set targets. It’s another to follow through.

As I said at the World Health Assembly just a few months ago, I see three keys to success: political commitment, partnership, and a transformed WHO.

We are already seeing very positive signs of political commitment in many countries.

Ultimately, it is not the WHO Secretariat that will achieve the “triple billion” targets or the SDGs – it’s you, the Member States.

It’s you as political leaders who are accountable for the decisions you make and the results you achieve.

WHO’s role is to give you the best support we can.

That’s why we have developed tools like Joint External Evaluations and multisectoral action plans for noncommunicable diseases – to help you exercise that responsibility.

But we know that none of us can achieve anything on our own. To achieve the SDGs, we need innovative and dynamic partnerships – partnerships with a purpose.

As you know, earlier this year President Akufo-Addo of Ghana, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Solberg of Norway wrote to WHO, asking us to develop a Global Action Plan on health and well-being.

They recognize that achieving SDG 3 will not happen by accident. It will not happen if all of us just do our own thing. It will not happen if fragmentation and duplication continue.

But it can happen if we work together. It can happen if the array of actors on the global health stage leverage their collective strength.

This can only happen with a change of mindset. Instead of competing for a bigger slice of the pie, we must all work together to make a bigger pie.

WHO is not in competition with any other agency or organization. We’re in competition with disease. We’re in competition with insecurity. We’re in competition with inequality.

That is why it is essential that we work with a sense of urgency, and that we work together as one global health community.

In the coming weeks and months, you will be hearing more about how WHO is transforming to put countries at the centre of everything we do.

But the clearest example is our Programme Budget for 2020 and 2021.

The budget has been developed based on country priorities. Its focus is on strengthening the capacity of our country offices to deliver impact.

As you have heard, we are proposing an almost 30% increase in technical capacity for country offices, while the headquarters budget will stay flat.

Due to the polio transition, the SEARO region is receiving a very substantial increase in its base budget.

With its large populations, progress in this region is vital for achieving the “triple billion” targets globally.

This is what it means to put countries first. This is part of our commitment to leaving no one behind.

WHO’s transformation is linked closely with the wider UN reforms.

Both the GPW and the new UN Resident Coordinator system will take effect as of the 1st of January next year.

This is a great opportunity for us to become more effective – to deliver as one. One UN, with a whole-of-government approach, and a commitment to deliver the SDGs.

We must all break out of our silos and work together with colleagues from across government and across the UN family.

That is exactly what the Sustainable Development Goals demand of us.

Because if we succeed in achieving the ambitious targets of the GPW, if we succeed in achieving SDG 3, we will not only achieve better health and well-being for billions of people, we will drive progress towards all of the SDGs.

That’s why the best investments are not in infrastructure, although bridges and roads are of course important. The best investments are in human capital – in people.

Universal health coverage helps lift people out of poverty by eliminating one of its causes. It enables children to learn. It gets people back on their feet and back to work. It unleashes human creativity. It powers economic growth. It’s the platform for individuals, families, communities and entire nations and continents to flourish.

With good health, anything is possible.

That is what the nations of the world affirmed when they established WHO 70 years ago. When you don’t have health, you don’t aspire for anything. You only want your health back. That’s why it’s only with good health that you can aspire for anything big.

It’s why WHO is still here, working every day to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.

I thank you. Namaste.