New York

13 March 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to the Global Colloquium of University Presidents [as prepared for delivery]

It is an honour and a pleasure to be with you today, and I thank New York University for hosting us. 

I attach great importance to this annual gathering and to close ties between the United Nations and global academic community.  Thank you for your leadership, engagement and support.

You are all aware of the major crises the United Nations is facing at this time.  The worsening conflict in Syria.  The dire humanitarian situation in Mali and the Sahel.  The stalemate in the Middle East peace process. 

The United Nations continues to do its utmost to relieve suffering and find political solutions to these problems.

We are also working to build the longer term foundations for peace and human dignity. 

At previous gatherings, we have focused on subjects ranging from women’s rights to new technologies.  This year, we are addressing global health and the future development framework.  I very much welcome your choice.

This room is full of people who know much more about health than I do.

We may be far apart in knowledge, but we come together in our shared recognition of the crucial importance of global health.

Tonight I would like to talk about health in the framework of development.

First: the Millennium Development Goals and the unfinished health agenda.

Second: emerging challenges.

And third, the post-2015 development framework and the vital place of health within it.

First, the Millennium Development Goals.

Over the past ten years, the world has made significant progress.

With three of the eight MDGs devoted to health, there has been a heavy focus on HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and maternal mortality.

This focus has spurred action and innovation -- not only new medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, but also new ways of doing business and raising resources.

The Every Woman Every Child initiative I launched in 2010 has become a leading example of this new business model.

Over 250 partners have joined forces, with a strong emphasis on accountability, innovation and predictable financing.

Leadership at the highest levels is saving lives by preventing pre-term births, providing access to voluntary family planning, ensuring access to life-saving health commodities, and eliminating new HIV infections among children while keeping their mothers alive.

Our immediate goal is ensuring that birth is no longer the most dangerous time for mothers and newborns. 

Our longer term aim: healthy and educated women and children who can play their rightful role as engines for development, economic growth, social well-being and sustainability.

The MDGs have helped sustain focus at a time of many competing international interests and significant budgetary pressures.

They helped inspire many important initiatives: the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria … UNITAID …  and the UN Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and the Every Woman Every Child. 

The GAVI Alliance has grown up in the MDG era.

Such partnerships have achieved important results.

National ownership is on the rise.  International and domestic support is better targeted at real needs.

As a result, close to 4 million children are living who would otherwise have died.

More than 200,000 people are alive who would have died from malaria.

An estimated 8 million people in low- and middle-income countries are receiving life-saving HIV treatment.

Focusing on quantitative, time-bound goals has helped in setting priorities and assessing performance.

It will be vital to maintain and build on these achievements in the years to come.

But progress is mixed, among countries and among the goals themselves. 

We must do everything we can to achieve the MDGs. 

The United Nations is working on all fronts to accelerate progress.

Some 1,000 days remain.  We must make the most of them.

Yet, we must also accept that many countries will not meet their MDG targets, and there will be much to achieve beyond 2015.

That is why the United Nations is leading efforts to define a future development agenda that will attend to unfinished business, as well as meet tomorrow’s needs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This brings me to my second point.  Emerging challenges.

All around the world, health is being shaped by changing demographics, rapid urbanization, and the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles.

These powerful forces are forcing us to rethink our approaches.

Distinctions between health problems in wealthy and resource-constrained countries are blurring. 

Chronic noncommunicable diseases have now overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of mortality worldwide – in both rich and poor countries.

The main risk factors for these diseases are not bacteria or viruses, but tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diets.

The importance of this issue was highlighted by the first ever high-level event of noncommunicable diseases held during the UN General Assembly in September 2011.

When a family member has cancer or heart disease, household income can fall while expenditures rise.  In the worst scenarios, the household plunges into poverty. 

In developing countries, almost a third of the people who die from NCDs are under 60 – a blow to families and to an entire country’s social and economic prospects.

This puts health into a new political space in which the main causes of illness and premature death have their roots in non-health sectors beyond the direct remit of health officials.

It puts a new onus on government departments outside the health sphere, and on businesses, schools, community groups and academic experts such as you. 

And it demands that the United Nations and the international community consider the emerging threat that noncommunicable diseases pose for development.

This brings me to my third area of focus today: the United Nations work on the post-2015 development framework, and the role of health within this process.  

Last year, I nominated a High-level Panel of Eminent Persons.

President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom co-chair the Panel, with wide membership of leading development experts.

The Panel will meet later this month in Bali before compiling its recommendations and reporting to me in May.

The UN has also set up a Task Team on Post-2015, consisting of 60 agencies.

Within this process, the UN Development Group is organizing global thematic consultations. 

One of these focuses on health.  It is being led by WHO, UNICEF and the governments of Botswana and Sweden.

As many of you know, last summer I also launched the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Jeffrey Sachs, who is my special adviser on the MDGs and is known to you all, is leading this independent global network of research centres, universities and technical institutions.

UN Member States have also begun work to define a set of Sustainable Development Goals.  This was one of the results of last year’s Rio + 20 Summit.

All these processes are critical to shaping the post-2015 agenda.

As they progress, they have ample channels for cross-fertilization.

Our hope is that Governments will fashion and reach consensus on an ambitious and coherent global agenda with a single set of goals by 2015 that are every bit as inspiring as the MDGs have been.

Last week, the UN Task Team’s health thematic consultation group met in Gabarone, Botswana, to discuss information and points of view that had been submitted through a three-month web-based consultation.

There appears to be growing consensus that, in addition to specific health goals, we should develop concrete health targets under all development goals.

Discussions have emphasized accountability, access and affordability. 

They have stressed evidence-based measures.

And critically, they have noted the need to improve measurement capacities. 

A number of themes appear to be emerging that could shape a future goal – separately or together.

One is universal health coverage.  People should be able to use health services, for prevention or treatment, without fearing that they will be plunged into poverty.

Another is maximizing life expectancy. This takes us beyond the health sector to the broader determinants of health. 

The debate is open, and it is exciting.

I invite you to lend your experience and wisdom to this critical discussion.

We count on your partnership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Partnership eradicated smallpox.

Partnership lies at the heart of recent successes against polio.

And partnership has been critical to progress on the MDGs.

Academic and research institutions will continue to play a vital role in advancing the health MDGs as well as the development of the global health agenda at large.

You can help build capacity and promote best practices.  You can deliver a prioritized and coordinated global research agenda.  You can innovate.

You can also join, if you have not already, the United Nations Academic Impact initiative.

Help us to empower people.  

Investing in women’s and children’s health is the smartest contribution we can make if we want to achieve the MDGs in the little more than 1,000 days until the deadline.

I encourage all of you to think big.  Let us use this forum to learn from each other and to brainstorm solutions.

Let me close with an old proverb.

“One who has health”, it says, “has hope; and one who has hope, has everything.”

In this turbulent time, hope is a vital commodity.

Thank you.