Remote Address to the 73rd World Health Assembly
first presented 9
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio]
President of the World Health Assembly,
Director-General of the World Health Organization, Your
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is truly an honor to address you at this
virtual World Health Assembly, especially as it is being the
of the Nurse and the Midwife.
I have been championing the important role of
nurses and midwives play in our society for many years. My first engagement was
58 years ago in 1962. These two professions are very close to my heart. As such,
deeply pleased to see the
World Health Assembly's decision to designate 2020 as a
year to celebrate, build evidence, and commit to action.
The International Year
provides a focus. It can drive collective action. And it is a valuable tool for
The year of 2020 has been an inspirational year for millions of nurses
and midwives. This year's celebration began in January. Royalty, Presidents, Prime
Ministers, religious leaders, and many others acknowledged the importance of this
But already by the end of January, with the declaration of
Public Health Emergency of International Concern, it became clear that
celebrations would take a different form than we had envisioned. From February
and March onwards, we witnessed those moments when all around the world citizens
gathered on their balconies [and] in the streets to applaud nurses and midwives and
health care workers. The celebration has rightfully included all health workers
who courageously, selflessly, and relentlessly fought -- and continue to fight
I am reminded of one of my favorite
quotes by the late Lebanese poet
Khalil Gibran: "You give but [[a]] little when you give of your possessions.
when you give of yourself that you truly give."1
These health workers give of
themselves daily. Many have jeopardized their own health and safety and life to
ensure ours. They truly give and continue to give despite the stress, anxiety, and
burnout that many are facing.
Tedros, Ministers, Delegates:
The COVID-19 pandemic
has caused human suffering across the world. Education has been paused; jobs have
been lost; whole economies stunted. Politicians and leaders now understand that
without health our societies and economies are built upon but shifting sands.
Access to health care is a right not a privilege for the society.
In this context I humbly present two proposals for your consideration.
First, within any recovery
or stimulus measure, leaders must prioritize their health systems. We must be
honest in our national dialogues. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility and failures of the preparedness of most
health systems. Even the most developed countries, in terms of economy, have faced
the same issues experienced by low and middle-income countries. Every country has
to be better prepared to provide health services and manage the pandemic.
Preventable diseases do not stop killing young children.
Mothers do not stop
Cancer continues to require treatment.
Our elders still require
health and care services.
And in addition to this -- and esteemed colleagues,
I stress in addition --
once a new COVID-19 vaccine is available, we will be faced with the staggering task
of vaccinating billions of people. No country will succeed without properly
preparing their health system. All countries need a system that delivers public
health, primary care, preparedness and response; a system that delivers integrated
health and care services; a system that delivers health and well-being for all of
Second, the best strategies and plans will not succeed without the people to
deliver them. When I talk of people, I am referring to the health and care workers:
our doctors, our nurses, our midwives, our pharmacists, and the many other wonderful
professions and occupations.2
In 2006, the World Health
Assembly identified a
global health workforce crisis: with insufficient numbers
and distribution around the world. The Assembly committed
to take action. When Ebola came and health workers died in their hundreds the
Assembly committed to take action. Now, the
COVID-19 pandemic is here; and once more,
dear friends, health workers are dying, but this time in their thousands, the
majority of which are nurses.
Never have health workers been applauded and
recognized to the extent they were in 2020. They are the world's heroines and heroes.
However, applause without action is no longer acceptable.
rights and proper [remuneration] is not sufficient.
A resolution without
implementation is not governance.
invest in health workers.
We must invest in educating and employing more health
workers to ensure every mother, child, student, partner, and grandparent has access
to safe health services.
We must invest in fair pay and protection of health and
We must invest in [a] health workforce that will help the world recover.
With 70 percent of the world's health workers being women,
we must truly invest in
transformative gender, equity, and rights policies.
Since 1962, it
has been my privilege to participate in the rewarding work of the
I have watched the leadership of this World Health
step up when faced with daunting challenges. I recall the eradication of smallpox
in the late 70s and 80s; the call for health for all; the fight against polio; the
fight against HIV and AIDS; the call to fight non-communicable
diseases; the call for universal health coverage.
the world is watching you. COVID-19 is your challenge. It has defined your role
Now is the time for you to lead in solidarity and for the
greater good. invest in health; invest in health systems; invest in well-being;
invest in people who are the world's health and care workers.
Finally, to the
millions of health and care workers, including all my beloved nurses and
midwives around the world, I thank you for your service and your dedication.
Remember: You have always been and will always be my heroes.
Notably rich rhetorical figure combo,
Page Updated: 11/30/20
Page Updated: 11/30/20
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