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Michael  Leavitt, Secretary


61st World Health Assembly


Monday, May 19, 2008

Remarks as Prepared to the 61st World Health Assembly

Thank you, Dr. Chan for your leadership of the World Health Organization. As you stated earlier, I would like to express concern for those in China and Burma and recent events in those countries.

This is likely the last time I will have the honor of addressing this august assembly.

Health care is a universal language — a language of caring — and though we may not agree on everything, we always stand united in the common cause of global health. We should focus here on the things we can achieve together to make health better, and should leave issues beyond the purview of the WHO to other forums.

In my years as Secretary of Health, I have seen first-hand how much of a difference we can make in the lives of others — when we work together. I have sprayed for mosquitoes in Africa. I have sat with survivors of avian influenza in Asia. I have seen the smiles on the faces of children in Central America after their first visit with a dentist.

Of all of my present responsibilities, I have found our work in other countries most satisfying.

The United States has committed $15 billion to fight AIDS around the world over the last five years, an amount President Bush has proposed to double over the next five years. This is the largest commitment ever by any nation to combat a single disease in other nations.

We have pledged an additional $1.2 billion to fight malaria, and we remain committed to the Organization’s campaign to eradicate polio.

We have joined in partnership with six countries in Central America to found a new Regional Training Center for health workers of the region. We have also provided medical and dental care directly to Central and South America through the medical ship Comfort and three similar naval missions this summer.

The United States strongly supports the Organization’s efforts to meet the global need for influenza vaccine. We continue to call on countries everywhere to share influenza samples openly and rapidly, without pre-conditions. No nation can go it alone.

All nations have a responsibility to prepare — developed and developing nations alike.

• We must all participate fully in the Global Influenza Surveillance Network, and
• We must all work toward universal implementation of the International Health Regulations.

Now I’d like to bring a new issue before this assembly.

The world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, and trading nations now face a new health challenge — ensuring the safety of both exports and imports of food and health products.

Last July, President Bush asked me to chair a top-level working group on import safety. We conducted an across-the-board review of products imported into the United States.

One thing became clear as I examined our import system: No country can simply inspect its way to product safety. Doing so would bring international trade to a standstill.

Instead, we need a collaborative system of international standards and local controls that build safety into products right from the beginning.

We are already working with our trading partners to build safety into the process. We are offering our product-safety expertise to others to bring producing nations up to the same high level of safety and quality.

The key to this effort is collaboration — between companies, between industries, between the public and private sectors, between Governments, and between agencies within the same Government.

This Organization has helped build the bonds we will need for future collaborations. We can meet this new challenge and bring all nations closer together.

I look forward to discussing these issues with other delegates, and to finding ways to work together that address every nation’s concerns.

Thank you.

Last revised: August 29, 2008