New York

20 September 2016

Secretary-General's remarks to High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth

[Delivered on his behalf by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization]

Your Excellency Mr. François Hollande, President of France, Your Excellency Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, Mr. Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr. Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières,
Mr. Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be able to join you today.

In March, I appointed the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth after the General Assembly requested that I “explore steps to meet the global shortfall of trained health workers”.  

I am grateful to President François Hollande of France, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, for their leadership in co-chairing and to the members of the Commission for their work. 

The work of this commission is very relevant to the success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the promise to leave no one behind.

The global population is not only expanding but aging, as living standards rise.

The downside to this is that non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer are affecting ever more people.

By 2030, it is estimated that demand for health services will create 40 million jobs globally. 

But most of those jobs will be created in the wealthiest countries. 

And, despite the creation of more jobs, it is estimated that there could be a shortfall of 18 million health workers globally.

This will be felt most acutely in developing countries. 

We can – and must -- avoid this scenario.

The answer is appropriate public sector policies.

The report of the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth points the way to a world where all countries have the health workers they need, in the right numbers, with the right skills, and in the right places. 

By following this roadmap, we can progress towards universal health coverage, create millions of jobs and drive inclusive economic growth, especially for women and young people. 

The health sector is an economic powerhouse.
Between 2000 and 2011, almost one quarter of economic growth in low- and middle-income countries came from improvements in health care. 

In OECD countries, more than 10 per cent of all jobs are in the health and social sectors.

Between 2000 and 2014 these sectors experienced 48 per cent employment growth, even when jobs in industry and agriculture were in decline.

Investments in health systems pay handsome dividends for public health, economic growth, gender equality, and human security.

Health workers are a boost to productivity, and they help individuals, families and communities to flourish. 

Jobs for health workers are also jobs for women.  Women account for 67 per cent of jobs in the health and social sectors, compared with 41 per cent of total employment.

And in a world where many countries face record levels of youth unemployment, jobs in health can offer a reliable, meaningful and well-paid career.  

The Ebola epidemic taught us that one country’s outbreak can very quickly become a global threat. 

The collapse of health systems in the Ebola-affected countries, and the severe economic consequences that ensued, must serve as a warning to all countries that investments in health systems there are a necessity, not a luxury.

Countries that fail to invest in health are not only jeopardizing the health of their populations, they are missing out on a vibrant source of jobs and inclusive economic growth.

The countries that implement the recommendations in this report stand to reap rich benefits. 

I commend the commission for its work, and I look forward to submitting its report to the General Assembly. 

But no country needs to wait to take action. 

Starting now, we all need to take decisive steps to turn these recommendations into reality, and to harness the economic power of health workers.  Thank you.