WHO - World Health Organization

10/26/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/26/2021 12:23

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the World Health Summit session on the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All - 26 October 2021

Your Excellency Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland,

Your Excellency Minister Martin Guzmán,

Professor Mazzucato, dear colleagues and friends,

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us today.

First of all, I would like to thank Her Excellency, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, for her leadership as Patron of the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All. Kiitos.

And I would also like to acknowledge Ilona Kickbusch, Vera Songwe and Jayati Ghosh, who are all members of the Council.

We are very pleased to have assembled such a distinguished group of diverse experts from around the world, and my special thanks to Professor Mazzucato for agreeing to chair the council, and for her leadership.

Why have we created the Council on the Economics of Health for All?

The answer goes back to the Constitution of WHO, written more than 70 years ago, which affirms that the "enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being".

Since then, that affirmation has been reinforced by the commitment to "Health for All" at the Alma-Ata Conference of 1978, and most recently by the High-Level Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, made at the UN General Assembly just two years ago.

While progress towards these lofty goals has been made, it is not nearly sufficient.

There remain unacceptable gaps within and between countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on these inequities.

It is clear that achieving Health for All demands that we reach beyond WHO's traditional counterparts in the health sector, including to those responsible for making national economic policies.

We can no longer see health as a cost, but as an investment that is the foundation of productive, resilient and inclusive economies.

While we have many great professionals working in WHO, we have formed this council for a unique purpose that requires unique expertise, and a unique perspective.

Our aims are not modest: we want to fundamentally change the way that international financial institutions, national leaders and their finance ministries think about and value health.

We want to foster and promote innovations and actions that transform local and global health systems, and to accelerate progress towards the health-related targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, including universal health coverage.

We tasked the council with coming up with new ideas that are not only bold and innovative, but also practical, to guide and support countries as they invest in health, in order to achieve the greatest benefit for their populations.

And we asked it to consider a wide range of policies addressing innovation, industry, employment and environmental policies, and to reflect on growth that is inclusive of health and wellbeing, for countries in all income levels.

I very much appreciate the Council's work so far.

This includes developing a new vision and narrative on the value of health; its work on health innovation, published this past June; and the new policy brief we are releasing today, on financing Health for All.

We welcome the Council's formulation that we need a radical redirection in economic thinking for global health.

It is time to move away from thinking of health as a component of the economy, and instead look at how the economy can support the societal goal of Health for All.

This new finance brief shows that neither existing market mechanisms, with their focus on short-term returns, nor development funds alone are sufficient to achieve Health for All.

They do not provide the global public goods on which we all depend, such as vaccines; nor do they address the major inequities undermining equitable access.

The Council is proposing bold, concrete actions for governments and multilateral organizations, in three major areas: creating fiscal space, the direction of investment, and the governance of public and private finance.

This does not just mean more money. It means making the better, smarter, and longer-term investments that are needed to achieve Health for All. And as the Council itself says, more finance, and better finance, meaning better quantity and quality.

Thank you again to our patron, the Prime Minister, for accepting to lead this Council, which is the first of its kind in WHO, and I would also like to use this opportunity to thank Ilona. The idea of having a chief economist in WHO was proposed by her and her good friend Alan Donnelly. So, thank you so much for these crazy ideas. And in WHO then, based on their ideas, we started from having this Council first, and then move into the chief economist, which we will do ultimately.

And also, my thanks to Professor Mazzucato and all Council members for their ongoing work.

All the Council members, by the way are women, and I was with Mariana when people asked us, "why all women?" and we both answered at the same time, "well, why not?"

I hope that some men are willing to join them as observers.

The independent analysis and evidence they produce can inform the decision-making of both heads of state and ministers of finance, as they strive to make the best policy choices for health.

I really believe in this Council and I hope we will make progress and realize what the world promised - Health for All - at the end of the 1940s, more than 70 years ago. We should make it happen. It's time to act, because this pandemic has shown us how health is central. I don't think we need to debate on this, and the world should make it happen.

Thank you all so much once again.