|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Secretary-General, at Meeting on Ending Poverty, Calls Universal Health
Coverage ‘Small Investments that Pay Huge Dividends’
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the “Investing in Health: Toward Universal Coverage and Ending Poverty by 2030” event, in Washington, D.C., 11 April:
I thank our moderator, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. It is wonderful to be here with such a distinguished group.
I have immense admiration for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. We work very closely together towards our common goals. We travelled across Africa twice to demonstrate our commitment to lasting peace through sustainable development.
Her Excellency, Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance of Nigeria, has a very distinguished career, including at the World Bank. I thank her for serving on my High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
I am pleased that we are also joined by Harvard University President Emeritus Mr. Lawrence H. Summers. We were both at Harvard some 30 years ago — I was a student, and he was one of the youngest faculty members ever to get tenure there.
I also welcome Michael Bloomberg, my United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, who has been a great supporter of the United Nations since he was Mayor of New York.
Countries around the world have achieved great advances on health through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Millions of women and children have been spared preventable deaths. The spread of HIV/AIDS has been slowed and malaria is being contained. And there is progress against tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
But now we have to go further — and that means reaching the most vulnerable people. I have seen that success is possible. In rural parts of Africa, Asia and beyond, I have visited small health posts that deliver big results. I have witnessed immense relief on the faces of pregnant women when they find a skilled attendant to help them during delivery. I have spoken to adolescents and young adults who need sexual and reproductive health services. And I have underscored the importance of helping members of the older generations who may require special care.
The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health report points to an opportunity to close the gap by 2035. In this crucial period, we can bring maternal and child deaths and preventable infections to similar low levels in all countries — rich and poor.
Today, we can celebrate the fact that, for example, virtually all mothers in Sweden will survive childbirth. But, we cannot forget that in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see her baby.
Addressing these inequalities is a matter of health and human rights. The Commission also pointed out that non-communicable diseases, mental health problems and injuries are becoming more deadly, even in low-income countries. This is an important trend to consider as we shape the post-2015 development agenda — a transformative and universal agenda, which builds and expands on the MDGs.
To secure health, we need to take preventive actions. We have to think in terms of reducing exposure to pollution, improving nutrition and promoting overall wellbeing.
The concept of universal health coverage can be an important catalyst. Right now, an estimated 100 million people fall into poverty because health costs break their family budget. Universal coverage would protect them and build resilience across society. Our vision is an aspirational approach that allows countries to realize their goals on their own terms.
Interest is growing. In 2012, Member States adopted a General Assembly resolution on the need to move towards universal health coverage. Today, more than 70 Governments have asked the United Nations for technical and policy support to achieve this goal.
Measuring progress is essential. I am pleased that the World Health Organization and the World Bank are developing a monitoring framework. This will help countries measure progress in a standardized manner.
Universal health coverage is a big concept — and you are all big thinkers. But, I would frame this ambitious goal in plain terms. This is about relatively small investments that pay off huge dividends. We should remember the power of simple solutions. A trained midwife can help a pregnant woman survive birth. An inexpensive vaccine can spare a child from disease. A bed net that costs just a few dollars can protect a family from malarial mosquitoes for years.
Universal health care can be the model for the twenty-first century. It provides access to services, prevents against exclusion and protects people from financial risk. This will bring more than health — it will bring equity and contribute to a life of dignity for all.
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