12 December 2017
Seventy-second Session, 72nd Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Adopts Text on Global Health Coverage Day, Urges Greater Recognition of Link between Global Well Being, Foreign Policy

The General Assembly, acting without a vote, today adopted two resolutions related to the nexus of global health and foreign policy, with one designating 12 December as the annual “International Universal Health Coverage Day” and the other calling for a major summit to be held on the issue in 2019.

Virachai Plasai (Thailand) introduced the draft resolutions titled “International Universal Health Coverage Day” (document A/72/L.27) and “Global Health and foreign policy: addressing the health of the most vulnerable for an inclusive society” (document A/72/L.28) at the meeting’s outset.  Speaking on behalf of the core members of the Foreign Policy and Global Health Initiative — namely, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa and his own country — he said the annual resolution aimed to advocate for greater recognition of the interdependence and intrinsic links between global health and foreign policy.  This year’s version furthered those goals while also reaffirming the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“In order to respond effectively to health‑related challenges, the international community needs to cooperate and take an inclusive, holistic and people‑centred approach on health issues,” he said, emphasizing that health was not only a precondition for but also an outcome and indicator of all three dimensions of sustainable development.  Presently, millions of people died every day from diseases that could have been prevented or cured due to limited or no access to quality health services and affordable, effective medicines.

Against that backdrop, he said the text on “Global health and foreign policy” underscored the importance of ensuring good health for all people at all ages.  That included sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and he also spotlighted the health needs of indigenous peoples, refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants.  In addition, the resolution would have the Assembly convene a high‑level meeting in 2019 on universal health coverage, as its co‑sponsors felt it was time to bring such critical discussions to New York.  Meanwhile, he said, the second draft resolution proposed to designate 12 December as “International Universal Health Coverage Day”, to be commemorated annually by Member States and relevant parties in line with their national priorities.

Fathmath Razana (Maldives), drawing attention to the strides her country had made due to increased investments in its health sectors, said its average life expectancy had increased from 47 years of age in 1977 to 78 today.  Maternal mortality rates had fallen, contagious diseases were under control, and Maldives became the first nation in the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Southeast Asia region to be verified malaria‑free.  While such gains had allowed her nation to emerge from the least developed country category, she said it nevertheless continued to experience similar challenges as other small island developing States in the provision of health services and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  It required significant further investments, including through private sector partnerships and in the form of international cooperation.

Several speakers explained their delegations’ positions following the adoption of the drafts on “International Universal Health Coverage Day” and “Global Health and foreign policy”, with the latter orally corrected.  Regarding that text, the representative of the Russian Federation said ensuring general coverage for health and medical care, preventing emergency situations and protecting the health of women and children were all essential.  Outlining his Government’s efforts to increase its numbers of specialized doctors, improve practical training and raise the profile of the medical profession, he spotlighted a recent Moscow conference on combating tuberculosis and urged further efforts to protect the most vulnerable.  His country therefore fully endorsed the consensus on both resolutions.

The United States’ representative, also speaking in explanation of position on the “Global Health and foreign policy” text, said each country had its own development priorities and must work towards implementing the 2030 Agenda in accordance with them.  While recognizing the importance of access to affordable, safe and effective medicines, she expressed regret over the inclusion of unacceptable language on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade‑Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.  The strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights incentivized the creation and distribution of lifesaving medicines.

Turning to operative paragraph 12 of that text, she said that while the United States remained committed to the principles laid out in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, that document did not create new international rights, including any right to abortion.  “We do not recognize abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance,” she said.  She also did not support the inclusion of references to the development of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, on the same resolution, voiced concern over attempts to “shift the balance of the text” through the inclusion of controversial language that had not been agreed upon.  Access to abortion was not considered part of the right to health, he said, adding that human rights were derived from the concept of inherent human dignity and the right to life.  In addition, the Holy See viewed the concept of gender not as a psychological or social construction but as one based on biology.

Before the Assembly for that discussion was a note by the Secretary‑General transmitting the Report of the Global Health Crises Task Force (document A/72/113) and another transmitting the report of the Director General of the WHO, the Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Secretary‑General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the immediate actions of the High-level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth (document A/72/378).

The General Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.

For information media. Not an official record.