Director-General's Office

Opening Speech at AIDS 2018

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

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
23 July 2018

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to participate in such an important international public health event, it’s a true honour. I would like to thank Linda-Gail (Bekker) and also Peter Reiss.

I would also like to thank the government of the Netherlands for its leadership in promoting human rights, reaching out to key populations and promoting health equity.

I also want to remember the colleagues we lost in the tragic MH17 crash four years ago, including one of our own WHO staff, Glenn Thomas. I honour Glenn’s memory, and the memory of all those who died.

As you may know, this is a landmark year for WHO. It’s our 70th birthday.

WHO was founded in 1948 on the conviction that health is a human right for all people, not a privilege for the few.

Today, that conviction remains central to everything we do. And you heard it from everybody before me. And it remains central to the fight against HIV.

Since the turn of the century, we’ve made incredible progress.

Together, we have turned the tide on HIV. We have transformed a death sentence into a treatable disease.

Millions of people are on treatment. Even better, millions of people are NOT on treatment because we gave them the tools to protect themselves.

We have accelerated research and development. We have pushed back the boundaries of science and are now in hot pursuit of a cure.

We’ve championed the rights of the most marginalized and vulnerable.

But we’re not done. The gains we have made are under threat, with signs of wavering political commitment and declining funding.

In May this year, the World Health Assembly approved a new 5-year strategy for WHO, to support countries on their journey towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

At its heart are what we call the “triple billion” targets for 2023:

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.

We are now transforming WHO to become an Organization capable of delivering on these targets where it matters most – not in Geneva, but on the ground, in countries.

And around the world, we’re working with countries to strengthen their health systems and help them progress towards universal health coverage, so that all people have access to the services they need, without facing financial hardship.

But the reality is that more than half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, including vaccination, treatment for HIV, hepatitis and TB, family planning services, and the ability to see a health worker.

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

This outrage must end.

No one should get sick and die just because they’re poor or marginalized.

When Dorothy (Onyango) said that only three out of the 24 women survived, behind them it is poverty that killed them, it is lack of equity that killed them, it is lack of solidarity that killed them. We were late in saving them.

Many of those who are being left behind are those most affected by HIV, including people who use drugs, transgender people, sex workers, men who have sex with men and prisoners.

Our increasing focus on universal health coverage should not be seen as a threat to disease-specific programmes, such as HIV. Not at all.

In fact, it’s an opportunity to accelerate our efforts to eliminate AIDS and amplify the impact of investments in HIV.

Because we have not truly helped a child if we treat her for HIV, but do not vaccinate the same child against measles.

We have not truly helped a gay man if we give him PrEP but leave his depression untreated.

We have not truly helped a sex worker if we give her STI screening but not cancer screening.

We have not truly helped a community if we give them condoms, but not smoking cessation services.

Universal health coverage means ALL people have access to ALL the services they need, for ALL diseases and conditions.

And I’m part of you. I have participated in many of these meetings. You have shown what is possible when energy, passion and resources are mobilized to address a devastating disease. You are the best. You are the model.

I now call on you to harness that same energy and passion, and those same resources, to achieve universal health coverage.

That’s how we will defeat AIDS and build a healthier, safer, fairer world for everyone, everywhere. And I hope you are with me. Are you ready for the challenges? Are you with me? Are we going to do this together?

Thank you.