Director-General's Office

Think global, act local

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

Lisbon, Portugal
4 June 2018

Boa tarde e muito obrigado!

Excellency State Minister, Excellency the President of the Portuguese Football Association, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I visited a primary health care centre in Lisbon today and was impressed by three key areas of work that I saw there: the promotion of primary health care, education in schools and mass media campaigns.

The centre has a programme called Walk with a Doc to teach physical activity. They are working locally and this in line with a growing a global movement.

All this is being done to empower communities and have them take responsibility. Communities are not mere consumers of healthcare, they can take responsibility. They can bring the resources. And that is what Portugal is trying to do to mobilize the community.

The cost of NCDs is increasing. You have a very good national health service. It may not be sustainable if NCDs continue to rise and place more pressure on the financial needs of the health system. You should be proud of your health system, it is one of the best in the world.

I spoke earlier today about how important cities are for creating the environment in which health can flourish.

The theme of this meeting is “Think Global, Act Local”.

In many ways, that’s what WHO is all about. As the world’s leading authority on health, we spend a lot of time analyzing global trends, agreeing on global action plans and setting global standards.

But those plans and standards don’t mean anything unless they result in local action; unless they have an impact in the lives of people and communities. A plan that sits on a shelf is no use to anyone.

At the World Health Assembly a couple of weeks ago, our Member States – including Portugal – approved a new General Programme of Work, our strategic plan for the next 5 years.

At its heart are three ambitious targets that we aim to achieve by 2023:

1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage;

1 billion more people made safer against health emergencies;

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

These targets are designed to make sure we don’t only think global, but we act local. WHO has offices in 150 countries, and we are strengthening them to ensure that we can make a real difference where it matters most.

As I said this morning, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050, the world’s urban population will double in size. Most of that growth will occur in low and middle-income cities.

Cities are places where human health can either flourish, or be destroyed.

So if we want to promote health and prevent disease, we must build healthier cities that are less polluting and less destabilizing to our climate.

Healthy cities are built around communities, and prioritize walking and biking networks, instead of parking lots.

We must change the way we think about health, from a focus on treating disease to a focus on preventing it. That means action on healthy air, healthy water, healthy food and, very importantly, healthy ways to get around like walking, cycling and public transport.

Today’s workshop is an important opportunity to share experiences and best practices.

Promoting physical activity is very important for WHO. Just before the World Health Assembly we held an event called Walk the Talk in Geneva, with more than 4000 people coming together to walk and run to promote physical activity.

On a personal note, I’ve also committed to taking the stairs every day when I arrive at work. My office is on the 7th floor, so it’s a good way for me to get my morning exercise.

So although my job is to “think global”, I’m also trying to act local, to make sure that my kids learn the value of physical activity.

I think that’s an important point for all of us: we all need to be active, at all ages, but especially our children. We need to get them off their screens and out into the park, or riding their bikes.

As political leaders, our job is to create a world that will help our children to be active, cities that make it easier for people to walk and cycle.

I look forward to learning from your ideas and experiences, and I hope that today’s discussion will be another step towards a healthier future for all of us.

Thank you so much. Muito obrigado!