Top UN official spells out priorities for better global health

Director-General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan

16 May 2011 – The head of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today outlined her vision for the agency for the current century, emphasizing the need to help Africa and other regions meet their health needs and ensuring that development aid is used to help countries move towards self-reliance.

“I see WHO catalyzing more effective development aid that builds the capacities for countries to move towards self-reliance. Countries want a hand-up, not a hand-out,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, addressing the opening session of the 64th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“I see a WHO that continues to bias much of its work towards the many unmet health needs in Africa and beyond, and to the empowerment of healthy, well-educated, self-confident women and girls,” she said.

Dr. Chan spoke of the need to gives a bigger say to the many partners working on global health issues and to encourage them to speak with a coherent voice to the respond to the needs and priorities of those receiving their services.

“I see a WHO that pursues excellence, an organization that is effective, efficient, responsive, objective, transparent and accountable.

“I see a new WHO that works with other sectors to address health risks that threaten the health and stability of societies, and a new WHO where all countries, small or big, rich or poor, come together to defend equity, social justice, and human rights,” said Dr. Chan.

She said the recent achievements in global health are attributable to WHO’s collaboration with States, other UN agencies, various global health initiatives and funding mechanisms, civil society organizations, foundations, and the private sector.

“But WHO has unquestionably shaped the health agenda and gathered the technical expertise and guidance that have paved the way for other initiatives to move forward towards their goals,” added Dr. Chan.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, told the assembly’s opening session that meaningful progress on maternal health and women’s health can only be achieved through the broader issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

He spoke out against cuts in health budgets as a result of the global economic downturn, warning that the reductions in spending on health care will undermine long-term development.

“The WHO – with its extensive expertise in developing innovative financing mechanisms and establishing partnerships – has taken the lead in guiding countries in this regard,” said Mr. Tokayev.

“Global health is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but also an area of opportunity with scope for solutions. Continued political commitment is indispensable if we are to translate the promise of technological and scientific advances into reality.”

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO and brings together delegations from all WHO Member States to determine the policies of the Organization and its approve proposed programme budget.


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