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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press encounter following the meeting on Global Health and the United Nations

Atlanta, Georgia, 9 May 2008

Thank you, President Carter, ladies and gentlemen of the press. I am very grateful for your very kind words as well as your hospitality, and for convening this meeting in Atlanta on global health issues.

I am delighted to be with you today and to be seated here with Dr. Chan and Dr. Brundtland, two of the most esteemed figures in the global health field.

We are here not only because global health is an enormous challenge, but also because we can do something about it.

That is why I am determined to push further action on global health as one of my key priorities as Secretary-General.

New actors and resources are pouring into the global health space as never before. More than 100 health agencies and partnerships are now involved. I welcome this attention and activity. But this won't amount to much if we don't ensure coherent and decisive action.

That is why we convened this meeting today, to bring together senior UN officials, the Elders, and leading global health experts from civil society, academia, philanthropy and the private sector, to identify the top priority global heath issues and what we can do about them.

We are halfway to the deadline to achieving the Millennium Development Goals – the targets to lift people out of poverty by 2015. But we are not on track to achieving them, including critical health goals.

We must join forces and work together to ensure that the increasing resources being dedicated to health are translated into even more lives saved.

This discussion is not only important, but timely. In two months, the G8 Summit will be held in Japan, and leaders' engagement for global health is one of the key pillars on the agenda. In September, we will host a Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York. And at the end of the year, the Financing for Development conference will take place in Doha. Health must be an essential component of all these discussions.

We have just come out of a very productive session this morning.

We have achieved consensus on the urgency of strengthening health systems to serve all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

We have outlined concrete options to make the process of giving birth safer for mothers, and debated concrete means to improve women's health. It is unacceptable that over half a million mothers die every year. We must put a stop to these senseless deaths.

And we have targeted the neglected diseases of the world's neglected people. Those diseases like guinea worm and river blindness can be eliminated if we only take the time to do so.

Of course, the global health landscape goes beyond these three key issues. This is only the beginning. I believe we are making significant progress at this meeting, and that we will be emerging with a concrete game plan.

Before I conclude let me say a few words about the tragic situation in Myanmar, which is of great concern to me. I want to reiterate the urgent need for critical aid and humanitarian workers to be allowed into the country without any hindrance as soon as possible. I hope very much that the authorities in Myanmar will be receptive to the outpouring of offers of aid that we have witnessed over the last few days, so as to save the maximum number of lives, and I appeal to them strongly to do all they can to facilitate this aid. It has been a week since the cyclone hit and lives need to be saved now. If early action is not taken and relief measures put in place, the medium-term effect of this tragedy could be truly catastrophic in terms of the impact on public health, sanitation, and food availability for the affected populations. We must put aside all political differences and get all sections of Myanmar, and the regional and international humanitarian community together to address the tremendous challenges that lie before us. The sheer survival of the affected people is at stake. That being said, I would like to focus this press conference on global health issues, though I will be happy to answer one or two questions on Myanmar at the end of this meeting.

I will now turn to Dr. Chan and Dr. Brundtland to say a few words. Dr. Chan's superb leadership of the World Health Organization has been instrumental in realizing progress on the full spectrum of global health issues. Dr. Brundtland wears many hats, including a Special Envoy on Climate Change, but she is here today as a leader, a member of the Elders, and a top global health expert.

Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, could give us a description of what the latest situation is in Myanmar at this time?

SG: The United Nations has been mobilizing all the necessary agencies which deal with humanitarian assistance, in close coordination with all the Member States of the United Nations. We have received [offers] of humanitarian assistance from many Member States. It is very much encouraging. My concern at this time, as I have stated earlier, is the very slow process of granting visas. Therefore, I really urge again to the Myanmarese authorities that they should expedite issuance of visas, as well as customs clearance. This is very important. We should not lose any further time at these very crucially important first few days. Many people have already died, and if we do not take proper action at this stage, on an urgent basis, there may be many more people who will die. And I am concerned that, with this slow process, the spread of disease may again have a profoundly negative impact for the social economic situation in Myanmar. This has nothing to do with any political differences of opinion. I will ensure that the activities of the UN aid workers will not engage in any political debate. We are now talking about saving lives.

Q: Is it true that the authorities have confiscated supplies?

SG: Now we are discussing with the Myanmarese authorities how to distribute the WFP food items, relief items. We have planned to have two planeloads of food items to be delivered by tomorrow. So, I think we are now discussing this matter with the Myanmarese authorities. I have been trying to speak directly to the leadership of Myanmar. Regrettably, I have not been able to have direct contact, but I am still trying to talk with them, as well as with leaders in the neighbouring countries.

Q: If the visas are still not allowed and if aid workers are still not allowed in, what's the next step for the UN, what other options do they have? What can they do?

SG: At this time, I would not prejudge anything about this situation. What I am trying, and I will try to do, through my best efforts – mobilizing all necessary influence, as well as my power as Secretary-General to urge the Myanmarese authorities, and to convince them to fully cooperate, to expedite this delivery of humanitarian assistance. They should think about their own people. Many people are dying, and we must do whatever we can to save their lives.

Q: It seems that Myanmar is sort of snubbing the UN saying “hey, yeah, bring us your food, but we will distribute it ourselves. We don't want you, your people, we don't want any foreigners, just give us the food.” Do you trust that they will deliver the food if you give it to them?

SG: The magnitude of this situation is such that I'm afraid that the Myanmarese Government may not have such capacity. They need international assistance. In the case of the tsunami, the whole international community, with full cooperation of the Indonesian Government, were able to deliver the necessary humanitarian assistance, as well as recovery activities. That's what we need to do this time. The United Nations is trying to organize, in a systematic way, to help those people who have been affected.

Q: These two flights that are going in tomorrow – are they just food, or is there personnel with it, or have you negotiated that?

SG: These items include food, as well as relief items and many of the agencies - WHO, [WFP], UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR.. We have some people, UN staff, working on the ground who have been there. So we are now utilizing, to the maximum extent possible, WHO and UNICEF staff. But, they are simply overstretched because of the magnitude of this situation.

Q: Does this mean that the UN suspension of aid relief has resumed? It was suspended today. Is that over now?

SG: No, I received a report that they had begun discussing this matter with the Myanmarese authorities. So I think it is moving towards the right direction.

Q: Do you plan to speak with any of the generals today, and do you plan to talk about the referendum?[inaudible]...?

SG: Yesterday I issued a statement on that issue of a referendum. While I have expressed my sincere and deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of Myanmar over this tragic cyclone - at the same time, while respecting the sovereignty of the Myanmar Government, I thought that it would be prudent for the Myanmarese Government and people to focus and concentrate their very limited resources, time and energy on saving lives and reconstructing their country. Then I think they can do the referendum at a later date.

Q: If the Myanmar Government continues to refuse access to your personnel, will you continue to offer food aid and what-not to them?

SG: This is a very tragic humanitarian situation. Therefor, the United Nations will mobilize all possible resources to deliver humanitarian assistance. It is again, the Myanmarese Government's responsibility and duty to allow humanitarian access, so that they can engage in humanitarian activities, to help those people. We are helping the people and Government of Myanmar in this time of crisis. We need to work in a common prosperity. We need to be able to enjoy all this prosperity and peace and stability all together in the world. So, I am very much moved by such a strong commitment, as well as a willingness to provide humanitarian assistance from all the corners of the world, and I thank very much the Member States for this.

Q: Mr Secretary-General, could you personally characterize - if this situation goes on - how you feel about what you're seeing on the ground now? How would you characterize the situation in Myanmar?

SG: The situation is very difficult, very tragic, and therefore it is vitally important for the Myanmarese Government to care for their people, to help their people recover from this tragedy. The United Nations stands ready, together with the help of the international community.