Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland
Director-General World Health Organization

at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg, South Africa
29 August 2002

Mr Chairman, 

As we come to Johannesburg, poverty and lack of development is on many people's minds.

In "Our Common Future" we asked ourselves two simple questions. How will it be possible to meet the needs of all the world's people? And how can we ensure that future generations are able do the same?

The World Commission on Environment and Development demonstrated that investing in the future of the planet makes sound economic sense. The cost of repairing damage is much greater than the up-front spend needed to prevent it.

Let us be clear. People are at the centre of sustainable development, and their health is central to the future.

We need to ask ourselves:
. Have we done enough to tackle the poverty that affects three billion of our fellow humans?
. Have we committed the resources it takes to make a real difference to their lives?
. Did we act promptly and decisively to confront HIV/AIDS?.
. Are we ensuring equitable access to life-giving resources - such as water and food?

The answer is NO. Why? Because our world has not, yet, agreed to give sustainable development the priority it deserves.
Let us look at what is happening now. The current crisis in Southern Africa is a reflection of insufficient investment in people's basic needs. The result is vulnerability to the effects of drought. There is illness (most of all HIV/AIDS), under-funded health services, insufficient clean water, environmental degradation, and social systems that cannot cope.

The world's poorest communities are not sharing the benefits from globalisation. There is a strong sense of winners and losers. Voices that were faint in Rio are louder now. These voices must be heard. We should all be listening. We are expected to find ways to respond, both with agreements and with concerted 'action.
Consensus achieved during the last two years, on children, on HIV/AIDS, on financing and on trade and public health, makes a real difference. It enables us all to be clear and focused about what needs to be done, by whom, in what time frame, and with which resources.

I believe that in health we also have the foundations of a lasting consensus.

We can demonstrate with confidence that investment in health pays major dividends: both as a precious asset in itself and in terms of economic development, poverty reduction and environmental protection.

We know that environmental threats may cause up to one third of the global burden of disease. Contaminated water and air, polluting fuel, lack of sanitation and disease-bearing insects together kill millions of people each year. Children are particularly vulnerable.

We know what it costs to scale up health actions that can transform the lives of poor women, men and children. We have goals and measurable targets agreed at the Millennium Summit by political leaders from developing and developed countries.

The challenge is to move from knowledge to action. The emerging consensus is an umbrella for concerted efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS, malaria, other infectious diseases, the tobacco epidemic, maternal illness and reproductive ill-health.

Together with others, WHO is this week initiating an alliance to secure healthy environments for children.
Within such alliances we stimulate local initiatives and global movements, the one inspiring the other. We focus, together, on results and efficiency. We seek to resolve differences through listening and joint action, and to impact on people's lives, choices and options.

By striving for consensus and concerted action, we pursue the goals of sustainable development and poverty reduction. There is no purpose more vital, noble, vital and just. 

Thank you.