General Debate: Statement by H. E Bent Høie

Thank you, Chair,  

Norway welcomes the focus on resilient health systems in this year's general debate, as this is a cornerstone in WHO's work in many areas.

Since we last met a year ago, three issues have had high priority for Norway, all to be discussed at this health assembly.

Firstly, as most of you well know, Norway is facilitating the negotiations on the draft resolution on air pollution and health to be presented for adoption by this Health Assembly.  

Bearing in mind that some elements in this draft resolution remain unsolved, I take this opportunity to call on you, my colleagues, to help ensure that we reach agreement in the coming days.

Air pollution kills, and is among the leading avoidable causes of disease and death globally.  The adoption of this resolution will represent a much-needed call for action, including by the WHO, to continue and significantly strengthen our engagement on this important topic.

Secondly, the urgent need to address the threat of AMR, which threatens to fundamentally undermine modern medicine. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the countries who have contributed to the development of a new Global Action Plan on AMR. As a health minister, I am strongly committed to improving our national efforts to combat AMR.

Well-functioning, reliable and accessible antibiotics are, however, global public goods. Without global commitments and cooperation we are unlikely to be able to counter the threat from anti-microbal resistance. For that reason, I urge all of you to commit to the new action plan, and to implement it fully at all levels, building on a 'One health' approach.

My third topic relates to the global response to health threats. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa last spring is being defeated, and we now have a realistic hope to reach the 'zero cases' vision. That is an important achievement.  

Having myself visited Sierra Leone in February, I would like to express my compassion with those affected by ebola, and a deep-felt thanks to all those health workers, from the region and the rest of the world, who have been our foot soldiers in this struggle.

We now launch into the first discussions about what we can learn from the Ebola outbreak, and how we can strengthen our ability to withstand such events in the future. Those questions are the most important facing this Health Assembly. They are, in many ways, also the most important facing WHO.  

Norway considers that the outbreak has illustrated the importance of investing in health systems, including the risks associated with non-implementation of the IHR. It has also illustrated the need to urgently strengthen the response capacity at the international level, including in the WHO.

Director-General; as the leader of this organization, you have a clear mandate, and a clear responsibility, to lead the international response to major health emergencies. We expect you to do your outmost to make the organization you lead live up to that responsibility, and to make the necessary organizational changes where shortcomings have been revealed.

We fully support the decisions made at the Special Session on Ebola in January, including the decision to establish a Contingency Fund and a Global Health Emergency Workforce. However, resources alone will not suffice.  

In order for WHO to deliver on our expectations, both the corporate culture and the organisational structure must adapt to meet the requirements of emergency management. We, the Health Assembly, must facilitate and enable those improvements. Most importantly we must provide the necessary political backing for the Director General to make WHO fit for purpose.  

As a firm supporter of WHO, we emphasise this, because we believe that, in the long run, the necessary resources will only be forthcoming if the Member States and others are reassured of the responsiveness and value-added of the capacities that are now being established.

Thank you.