General discussion statement:

Building health systems in the era of sustainable development

Honourable President, Director General, distinguished delegates,

Norway extends its condolences to The United Kingdom for the attack in Manchester last night. Our thoughts are with you on this this difficult day.

On her last Health Assembly as Director-General, I would first like to say a few words of appreciation to Dr Margaret Chan.

Dr Chan, for a decade you have served WHO and its Member States with passion, loyalty and diligence. You have initiated fundamental changes in the way we deal with health crises, led WHO through a period of comprehensive reform and been a strong advocate for Universal Health Coverage and the need for a whole-of-government approach to improving the health of populations.

I want to thank you for being a visible and clear champion for global health.

Madam President,

Today, we will elect Dr Chan's successor. Whoever we elect will face a high number of important challenges. Based on the experiences over the latest years - the way WHO performs in crises will be intensely scrutinized. In times of crisis, the world's eyes are upon the DG of WHO. "Is WHO prepared to respond efficiently? Do we have the human resources, the medicines and the vaccines? Is WHO a learning organization that always improves?"

There are good signs indicating that we are on the right track. The reform is working. My main message to the new DG today is that WHO must stay this course.  

But I also have a message to colleagues. We requested WHO to set up a new health emergencies programme. WHO is doing its part. Now, we must also follow through on our commitment and ensure WHO is fully funded for this work. We – the Member States – are WHO; its failures, and also its successes. 

We need to prepare for a robust global response. But the best defense against epidemics will always be strong health systems based on universal health coverage. Universal health coverage is a key target in the context of the SDGs, which we all have committed to. I want to highlight that the UN High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth provided convincing evidence that scaling up the health workforce and achieving universal health coverage, not only improves health outcomes, but also leads to economic growth.

Madam President,

In order to lead the global health agenda, WHO must also build on its comparative advantages, namely its convening power and technical integrity. WHOs normative leadership allows others to fill in gaps. The newly established Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – CEPI – is an independent public-private coalition for development of new vaccines against epidemics. Norway is privileged to be a founding partner of CEPI together with others. CEPI relies strongly on WHO's normative and coordinating role – while at the same time providing WHO and partners new tools to respond more effectively to outbreaks.

To conclude, Madam President,

I believe the most important work for the next DG will be to continue the formulation and leadership of the health system strengthening agenda – to demonstrate that universal health coverage is needed for all. That means to develop resilient health systems, ensuring no-one is left behind – without discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, type of disease, personal income or place of residence.

Norway will always be prepared to support such an agenda.

Thank you.