April 18, 2024
GCC Health UAE

WHO Director-General’s speech at the World Governments Summit 2024

By Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,

Dear colleagues and friends,

Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh. 

I thank Your Highnesses for your hospitality, for your steadfast support for the World Health Organization and global health, and for the opportunity to address you today. 

It’s a great pleasure to be back in Dubai. I was honoured to be here in December last year for COP28 – the first COP to include a day dedicated to health, and I thank the UAE for its leadership in giving health such a prominent place in the climate agenda. It was the first of its kind. Thank you, UAE, for being a pathfinder.

147 countries signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, recognising that the climate crisis is a health crisis.

UAE support

In particular, I thank the UAE for its support for the WHO Global Logistics Hub here in Dubai, which has become an essential part of WHO’s operational response to health emergencies around the world.

Last year, the hub distributed medical supplies for 50 million people in emergency situations in 81 countries, in every region of the world – Afghanistan, Chad, Fiji, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen and more.

Since the hub opened in 2015 in Dubai, it has expanded 7-fold, from 3000 to 20 000 square metres.

Indeed, the hub is currently playing a vital role in our response to several emergencies around the world, including the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

Gaza aid

So far, we have delivered 447 metric tons of medical supplies to Gaza, but it’s a drop in the ocean of need, which continues to grow every day.

Only 15 out of 36 hospitals are still partially or minimally functional in Gaza.

Health workers are doing their best in impossible circumstances.

I am especially concerned by the recent attacks on Rafah, where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled from the destruction to the north.

WHO continues to call for safe access for humanitarian personnel and supplies;

We continue to call for hostages held by Hamas to be released;

And we continue to call for a ceasefire.

===

Excellencies,

On the 12th of February 2018 – exactly six years ago – I stood on this stage and said the world was not prepared for a pandemic, and expressed my concern at that time that a pandemic could happen anytime.

As you remember, less than two years later, in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and indeed, the world was not prepared.

Today I stand before you, in the aftermath of COVID-19,

With millions of people dead,

With social, economic and political shocks that reverberate to this day,

Although some progress has been made, like improvements in surveillance, the Pandemic Fund, building capacities in vaccine production and the periodic review we have started, still, the world is not prepared for a pandemic.

The cycle of panic and neglect is beginning to repeat.

The painful lessons we learned are in danger of being forgotten as attention turns to the many other crises confronting our world.

But if we fail to learn those lessons, we will pay dearly next time.

Next pandemic

And there will be a next time. History teaches us that the next pandemic is a matter of when, not if.

It may be caused by an influenza virus, or a new coronavirus, or it may be caused by a new pathogen we don’t even know about yet – what we call Disease X.

There’s been a lot of attention on Disease X recently, but in fact, it’s not a new thing.

We first used the term Disease X in 2018 – the same time as I spoke here at this World Governments Summit – as a placeholder for a disease we don’t even know about yet, but for which we can nonetheless prepare.

COVID-19 was a Disease X – a new pathogen causing a new disease.

But there will be another Disease X, or a Disease Y or a Disease Z.

And as things stand, the world remains unprepared for the next Disease X, and the next pandemic.

If it struck tomorrow, we would face many of the same problems we faced with COVID-19.

It’s for this reason that in December 2021, WHO’s Member States met in Geneva and agreed to develop an international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response – a legally-binding pact to work together to keep themselves and each other safe.

Countries set themselves a deadline to complete the agreement in time for adoption at the World Health Assembly in May of this year.

That’s now just 15 weeks away.

Two major obstacles

However, there are currently two major obstacles to meeting that deadline.

The first is a group of issues on which countries have not yet reached consensus.

They’re making progress, but there are still areas of difference that need further negotiation between countries.

None of them are insurmountable. If countries listen to each other’s concerns, I am confident they can find common ground and a common approach.

The second major barrier is the litany of lies and conspiracy theories about the agreement:

That it’s a power grab by the World Health Organization;

That it will cede sovereignty to WHO;

That it will give WHO power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates on countries;

That it’s an “attack on freedom”;

That WHO will not allow people to travel;

And that WHO wants to control people’s lives.

These are some of the lies that are being spread.

If they weren’t so dangerous, these lies would be funny.

But they put the health of the world’s people at risk. And that is no laughing matter.

These claims are utterly, completely, categorically false. The pandemic agreement will not give WHO any power over any state or any individual, for that matter.

Anyone who says it will is either uninformed or lying.

But don’t take my word for it. The draft agreement is available on the WHO website for anyone who wants to read it.

And anyone who does will not find a single sentence or a single word giving WHO any power over sovereign states.

You know, countries are even talking about sovereign AI, as we have seen in the previous panel, in the same way. Countries will keep their sovereignty.

That’s because it’s sovereign states themselves who are writing the agreement. Why would they agree to cede sovereignty to WHO?

We cannot allow this historic agreement, this milestone in global health, to be sabotaged by those who spread lies, either deliberately or unknowingly.

Pandemic matter

Let me be clear: WHO did not impose anything on anyone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not lockdowns, not mask mandates, not vaccine mandates.

We don’t have the power to do that, we don’t want it, and we’re not trying to get it.

Our job is to support governments with evidence-based guidance, advice and, when needed, supplies, to help them protect their people.

But the decisions are theirs. And so is the pandemic agreement.

It has been written by countries, for countries, and will be implemented in countries in accordance with their own national laws.

In fact, WHO will not even be a party to the agreement. The parties are governments and governments alone.

Far from ceding sovereignty, the agreement actually affirms national sovereignty and national responsibility in its foundational principles.

Indeed, the agreement is itself an exercise of sovereignty.

It’s about the commitments countries are making to keep themselves and each other safer from pandemics.

And it recognises that they can only do that by working with each other.

Let me tell you what the agreement does say. It’s a set of commitments by countries to strengthen the world’s defences in several areas:

To strengthen prevention with a One Health approach;

The health and care workforce;

Research and development;

Access to vaccines and other products;

Sharing of information, technology, and biological samples;

And more.

Now I ask you: what is so problematic about those commitments?

Is there anyone who thinks countries should not cooperate?

Does anyone think countries should not share information?

Does anyone think some people are more deserving than others of access to vaccines and other tools?

Need to collaborate

In our interconnected and interdependent world, countries can only keep themselves safe if they work with each other.

In that sense, the pandemic agreement is a commitment to national security. It’s in every country’s own national interest.

Because pathogens have no regard for the lines humans draw on maps, nor for the colour of our politics, the size of our economies or the strength of our military.

For everything that makes us different, we are one humanity, the same species, sharing the same DNA and the same planet.

We have no future but a common future.

Common threats, then, demand a common response.

That’s why this pandemic agreement is so important.

===

Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,

The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted huge losses on communities, countries, businesses and economies.

Those losses must not be in vain, and must not be repeated.

It’s possible, or even likely, that we will face another pandemic in our lifetimes.

We can’t know how mild or severe it might be. But we can be ready.

Are we ready now? Not yet.

That’s why the pandemic agreement is mission-critical for humanity.

It’s a pact with the future, that we will not expose the generations who follow us to the same suffering that we endured.

Had the agreement been in place before COVID-19, we would not have lost so much.

Now is the moment for leadership from the highest levels of government to deliver the pandemic agreement to the World Health Assembly in 15 weeks’ time.

Now is the time to say no to inequity;

No to lies and misinformation;

And yes to international cooperation;

Yes to equity;

And yes to solidarity.

As the generation that lived through COVID-19, we have a collective responsibility to protect future generations from the suffering we endured.

May history record that we rose to that responsibility, and made the world a healthier, safer and fairer place.

Shukran jazeelan. I thank you. 

Featured image: Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Image: WHO

Last Updated on 2 months by Middle East News 247

    Middle East News 247

    Middle East News 247

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