General Discussion Statement

STATEMENT by H.E. Mr. Bent Høie, The Norwegian Minister of Health, during the general discussion in plenary on May 21st 2019 at the 72nd World Health Assembly.

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Excellencies and distinguished delegates.

When the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable development Goals in 2015, we decided to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by delivering on a whole range of promises by 2030.

We said that we will end poverty. That we will achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. That we will ensure quality education for all. And that we will ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all.

We said we will transform our world. No less. That was and continues to be our level of ambition.

One of the promises made was to acheive universal health coverage. I am thankful to Dr Tedros for placing this important goal at the top of the priority list. And I am thankful that the programme budget and the WHO transformation plan presented to this Assembly so clearly reflect this priority.

However; while the clock is ticking towards 2030, there is reason for concern. Statistics show that we are not on track to achieve this goal. To give some examples;
- Half the world's population lack access to essential health services
- 800 million people continue to spend more than 10 percent of their income on health.
- And almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of health expenses paid out of pocket.

Such numbers should concern not only us as health ministers, but our entire governments.

President; To me, universal health coverage is a beautifully simple concept: all people should have access to, and can afford to use, the essential health services that they need. And it is our joint responsibility to ensure that this right can be enjoyed by all.
Simple however, does not mean easy: it first and foremost requires political committment to the idea that all citizens should have access to essential health services. Without risking entering into poverty.

At the High Level meeting on UHC in September this year we have the chance to reconfirm our commitment. We can adjust the course and steer towards healthy lives and wellbeing – by getting our act together on universal health coverage.

The Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing, which will be launched at the SDG Summit in September, will help us in this task. If we are to achieve SDG3 and other health related targets in 11 years, we need all organisations to work together. That's what this plan is about. We are grateful to WHO for taking the lead in developing the plan, and to all partner organizations for committing to it.


One main UHC challenge for Norway is unreasonably high prices on medicines. This is especially true for new cancer medicines. I am grateful to WHO for providing much needed evidence on how lack of regulation and transparency drive prices to unacceptable levels.

Norway has had to make a painful decision: due to the lack of rules, we have accepted hidden rebates when buying medicines. This adds to the lack of transparency and makes us part of the problem.

I will not sacrifice the interests of our patients for the sake of the system. But I want to see a system where we have transparency in pricing including the factors that drive them. No one country can achieve this on its own. Only together we can find the solution.

This is where WHO is greatly needed. Through its normative and technical mandate, we can get the evidence we need. Through WHO's convening role and its leadership role, countries and WHO can define ambitious goals that will enable us to provide for all – not only those who are able to pay for it.

Thank you.