Director-General's Office

Call to Action on UHC in Emergencies

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

United Nations General Assembly, New York, USA
27 September 2018

My colleagues were saying to me I didn’t eat lunch on time, so they said, “Are you hungry?”

I cannot complain. If you want to know what hunger is, then you need to go to the ground, where there is real hunger.

And they asked me if I’m tired. I said I can’t complain because to know what tired means, it’s better to go to the frontline and see it.

I have been to DRC many times. That’s why when I see how the people there live, to be honest it’s very difficult to complain about tiredness or hunger while going from one meeting to another.

So if we want to know what the real tired is, we’d better go and try there, not here.

On the positive side, if we remind ourselves in the emergency situation, that can give us energy. Then we see the purpose of our work. It can make a difference. Remembering them can give energy. You can work without having lunch, or you can work without feeling tired.

So the first thing would be to remember the people we serve, who are on the ground, who have literally nothing.

Your Excellency President Alain Berset,

Excellencies ministers, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

The scale of humanitarian emergencies has already been said, so I don’t want to repeat the details, except to say that more than 1.6 billion people – or 22% of the world’s population – live in fragile contexts with weak health systems.

As we speak, WHO is working in Syria, Yemen and other emergency situations around the world to alleviate suffering and ensure the provision of life-saving and emergency services.

The call of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind demands that we deliver health services to the most vulnerable – including people caught in conflict and other long-term crises.

Yemen is a perfect example. Through the DARES partnership between WHO, the World Bank, the World Food Programme and UNICEF, we’ve been able to address acute humanitarian needs, while keeping what’s left of Yemen’s health system functioning.

That’s because we believe that universal health coverage is not just a luxury for countries that enjoy peace, stability and prosperity.

It’s a vital line of defence against the impact of emergencies. Strong health systems can mitigate suffering, save lives and provide a buffer against the turmoil and chaos of crisis.

As His Excellency the Minister of Central African Republic said, health can also help to be a bridge to peace.

Health can also help to bridge the artificial divide between humanitarian and development work. It can truly be a bridge to peace.

People lose access to health services for all sorts of reasons during conflicts and other protracted crises – shortages of supplies, a breakdown of the transport system, or because of attacks on health care.

Let me be clear: health workers and health facilities are not a target. Attacks on health care are a violation of humanitarian law and a moral outrage. There is never any justification.

Excellency President, ladies and gentlemen,

WHO is in a unique position to implement UHC to ease the impact conflicts have on people’s health.

As part of this commitment, we’re developing a new support mechanism to integrate health system strengthening and emergency operations.

We’re focused on select countries that most need this support.

Our aim is to ensure all people, regardless of who or where they are, can access essential, life-saving health services, particularly in times of crisis.

Today’s call to action is a powerful statement of political commitment. But commitment alone is not enough to make a difference. We must put our money where our mouth is and invest in making sure the most vulnerable people in our world are not left behind. Thank you for your support. WHO is committed to working with each of you to create a healthier, safer, fairer world for everyone, everywhere. I thank Switzerland and Afghanistan for organizing this very important meeting. Thank you so much.