Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare digitally chaired the 148th session of WHO Executive Board, through Video Conference.
His opening remarks were as follows:
Distinguished Members of the WHO Executive Board,Hon’ble Ministers, Excellencies & Member State representatives,WHO Director-General, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia and Other Regional Directors,Heads & Representatives of UN Agencies and Partner Organizations
A very, very warm welcome to all of you at the 148th Session of the WHO Executive Board. This is our first meeting in 2021 and we can all see that a dawn of optimism is already breaking!
My best wishes to all of you and your familiesand the people of your respective nations for a healthy, safe, and successful new year 2021.
It is only natural that while we are all gathered here, we must express our profound condolences to and solidarity with the families and societieswhose people have lost their lives to the disease, those who are battling for their survivaland those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the crisis.
We must also never lose a chance to thank the medical professionals, scientists and researchers, as well as other essential workers around the world who continue working under difficult and challenging circumstances to deal with the pandemic.
We all know how difficult the year 2020 has been for the whole world of how humanity has battled this crisis with all its mightbut it has also been a year in which the wisdom and evidence of science was judiciously adopted. I call The Year 2020 as a year of science a year of incredible scientific achievement. In less than 12 months, researchers have characterized a novel illness, sequenced a new virus’s genome, developed diagnostics, produced treatment protocols, and established the efficacy of drugs and vaccines in randomized controlled trials.
A big shout out to our scientists and researchers! We have seen the global scientific capabilities race against time and deliver on their promise of a vaccine in the shortest possible time in history!
While 2020 is described as the year of science, the Year 2021 shall be the year of global solidarity and survival. I am sure that it will be the harbinger of a Decade of Action.
The speed at which covid-19 vaccines are being successfully produced across many countries, prominent breakthroughs are taking place, a tech investment boom is being witnessed and digital technologies are being adopted. All this is combining to raise hopes of a new era of progress.
I want to express utmost optimism that, this year, the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shall be mitigated and successfully reversed through committed political leadership and sustained global cooperation and solidarity.
This year, we shall see intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, using enhanced scientific knowledge and best practices.
This year has brought hope. The recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope. But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone. We have to recognize that the poorest and most vulnerable are the hardest hit by the pandemic and that the impact of the crisis will reverse hard-won development gains and hamper progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, we must ensure fair and equitable distribution of the COVID vaccines.
While on the chapter of gratitude, I would also like to acknowledge the crucial role played by the World Health Organization and all its staff and members in catalysing and coordinating the global response to control and contain the spread of COVID-19.
Your presence here today reflects your commitment to being actively involved in WHO’s governance.
As global public health leaders, this platform of the World Health Organization Executive Board is extremely important since it binds us all together and enables us to set the directions and agenda and continue striving for our objective of Health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
We all know that the hard work and determination of WHO Member States have saved countless lives, improved public health and increased life expectancy.
The solidarity and cooperation that has defined our work for seven decades has been central to the COVID-19 response. The values expressed in World Health Assembly Resolution on “COVID-19 response” have continued to guide the work of WHO and its Member States and we will be apprised of the progress in its implementation during the course of this session.
While COVID-19 has revealed the need to invest in health, and the call for sustainable funding to WHO to ensure that the Organization can fully respond to public health needs any proposed increase in budget needs to also consider the global economic impact of COVID-19.
We all know that the pandemic has affected the economies of countries globally. However, it has also presented us with an opportunity whereby ‘Health’ has been placed central on the global agenda of Governments, partners and donors.
COVID-19 has provided a new lens through which to view how healthcare is delivered, and what is possible to achieve. How can we seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to realize our shortcomings and yet at the same time seize the opportunities?
I have mentioned on earlier occasions and would like to reiterate that as Chairperson of the Executive Board, my focus is on equitable, affordable and accessible health care for all particularly to protect the health of those without wealth.
You will agree with me that there is always a scope of improvement in what we have done. We improve ourselves by learning lessons from the past and by imagining the future. We need to see what worked best and what reforms we should make for a better tomorrow.
We can find satisfaction in the fact that collectively we faced unprecedented challenges with resilience, even as we were grappling with uncertainties and the fact that essential health care services continued despite setbacks in the initial response period.
However, we need to do much more going forward. While each country has its unique approach in dealing with public health based on the strengths of their existing health systems and national policies and programs, I am sure that together we will continue to bring about improvements, aligned with our collective discussions.
The response to this pandemic has been stressful and challenging and we will continue to be asked to deliver our best in the ongoing response and beyond into the recovery phase.
Before I end, I would like to compliment the Director General and the Regional Directors for deciding to award the 2020 DG’s Award for Excellence to all members of the WHO work-force.
It is indeed a very thoughtful decision and, for the exceptional contributions made by all WHO staff in supporting the pandemic response a well-deserved achievement.
My friends, the beginning of this year has been a very humbling experience. The last 20 days have been a victory for science and humanity. People have started getting vaccinated across many countries of the world and that’s overwhelming!
Hopes are high, but there is still much to learn and many barriers to overcome. New cases of COVID-19 continue to be recorded. There is no room for complacency.
Today, I call upon all of you to renew your commitment to help people and societies in special situations, especially the weakest and most vulnerableand recognize that many Governments have offered their assistance and support to others in a spirit of solidarity and mutual support.
Today, let us also pledge our commitment to the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development and continue relentlessly to work to mobilize a coordinated global response to the pandemic.
Today, all Governments must rise to the challenge only then faster growth and higher living standards will be within their reach. The 2020s began with a cry of pain but, with the right policies, the decade could end with a roar.
I once again thank all of you for reposing your faith and trust in me and look forward to our discussions in this Session.
Many thanks for granting me the privilege of addressing all of you. Thank You!