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Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services




Monday, May 16, 2005

Remarks to the 58th World Health Assembly Plenary Session

Dr. Lee, Madam President, I am pleased to attend the World Health Assembly, and honored to represent the United States of America. On behalf of President George W. Bush, I reaffirm America�s strong commitment to the World Health Organization.

I am resolved personally to improving the health and well-being of people wherever I can, and committed to making health a priority in U.S. foreign policy. Health diplomacy makes good neighbors and extends America�s spirit of compassion around the world. Americans will continue to promote a culture of life and human dignity. We will reach out to reduce suffering. We will reach to promote understanding. We will reach out to inspire compassionate action to care for the truly needy and foster self-reliance. Working together, we can help improve the human condition across the world.

We strongly commend the Director-General, Dr. J.W. Lee, for his leadership. We applaud his initiative to place maternal and child health at the top of the W-H-O agenda. When women are healthy, when children and families are healthy, their communities thrive.

One of our most pressing global health priorities is fighting AIDS. We in the United States have marshaled our resources to combat this scourge. President Bush�s five-year, $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the largest commitment ever made by any government towards an international health initiative. The initial data from the field suggest that we will meet President Bush's goal of treating more than 200,000 people in the 15 focus countries by next month - the end of the first year of full implementation of the Plan�s treatment programs.

We must be vigilant in our fight against other global infectious diseases as well. That is why we support the W-H-O�s efforts to revise the International Health Regulations. These regulations will benefit and protect all people around the globe. Adoption of the revised regulations will be a very effective tool in our efforts to respond to the challenges posed by biological, chemical, and radiological threats to public health, whether naturally occurring, deliberate, or accidental.

These are serious threats, but there is another threat that may affect more people in more regions of the world than any one event�no matter how major. I am referring to the grave and growing threat of an influenza pandemic. We have seen the damage avian flu has already caused to the people and economy of Southeast Asia. In the age of globalization, avian flu could spread quickly to even more countries and region, putting millions of lives at risk. In fact, I believe that the world is closer to a potential influenza pandemic now than at any time in decades.

The best defense against such a catastrophic event is preparedness and early-warning disease surveillance. Every day of warning will save lives. That�s why the United States launched an initiative to train researchers and epidemiologists � improve management and surveillance � foster communications among health experts � and improve laboratory capabilities.

There is a time in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see and small enough to solve. For influenza preparedness, the time is now.

There is one medicine that helps stem the tide of every disease, old or new, easily treated or drug-resistant. That medicine is cooperation.

Cooperation helped us fight Marburg Virus Hemorrhagic Fever. We commend W-H-O for its efforts. We sent infectious disease specialists from our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support and complement W-H-O efforts in Angola.

Cooperation is eradicating polio. We stand at the brink of a victory won by W-H-O, UNICEF, the United States, Rotary International, and many others, although challenges remain. Cooperation helped tsunami survivors. The United States was sending help to many of these locations before the tsunami struck, and we remain committed to helping those affected by this terrible disaster.

Doctors, hospitals, consumers, and insurers in my country are poised to cooperate on the adoption of interoperable health information technology. Once we can transmit medical data electronically with common standards while protecting our privacy, we will benefit from fewer medical mistakes, lower costs, more convenience, and better health. And I encourage you to foster this process in your home countries.

Fellow Ministers, let us never forget that concern for health transcends governments, cultures, language and political divisions. We must continue to work together to improve the well-being of people everywhere. We can accomplish so much more by working together to reward results and look for neighborhood solutions. I look forward to working with all of you to do just that.

Thank you very much.

Last revised: May 16, 2005


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