The challenges we face are daunting and complex

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

By Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

As I said in my remarks at the opening of this Health Assembly nine days ago, the challenges we face are daunting and complex. They are made harder by the geopolitical context in which we live.

We live in a world of deep divisions, and at times those divisions have been evident at this Health Assembly. We cannot pretend they don’t exist, nor can we be paralysed by them. Where we agree, we must work with full determination and cooperation; and where we disagree, we must continue to work to find common ground. As we do, we will often find that our disagreements can be overcome and our divisions can be narrowed.

In other words, we will find that health can be a bridge to peace. I thank Switzerland and Oman for their efforts to put peace on the agenda of this Health Assembly. The vital connection between health and peace is not a new idea, and nor is it something that lies outside the mandate of the World Health Organization (WHO).

It has been there since the very beginning, in our Constitution, which says that the health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security, and is dependent upon the fullest cooperation of individuals and States.

This is what COVID-19 has taught us: that pathogens have no regard for the lines humans draw on maps, nor for our politics, religions or anything else that we use to divide ourselves from each other.

To pathogens, we are all one, and that’s how we must see ourselves: one people, sharing one planet, working together with one purpose – the highest attainable standard of health for all people.

I would like to end by welcoming a special guest, Gwen Carnelley. Gwen joined WHO in 1949, just a year after our founding, and turned 100 this year. She worked in headquarters and four regional offices – mobility before mobility!

We celebrated her birthday and WHO’s birthday in her home here in Switzerland, just two weeks apart. She said that WHO is a great organization and a great privilege. I’m delighted she is able to join us today by video link. Gwen, thank you so much for joining us.


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