With the continued increase in the number and gravity of health emergencies globally, the international community must continue to work towards charting a path for how nations and communities can proactively prepare for and respond to such challenges in the future, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized today.
“Given the tragic suffering that can be caused by outbreaks of global health emergencies, I am grateful for the strong engagement by the General Assembly in health crises,” the Secretary-General said at the opening of an informal meeting of the Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, during which he briefed on his report, Strengthening the global health architecture: implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises.
In his briefing, Mr. Ban highlighted that he commissioned the high-level panel in April 2015 to make recommendations on how to strengthen national and international systems to prevent and manage future health crises.
In its report released this past February, the panel set out 27 recommendations for national, regional and international action, which stressed that making health systems stronger and being better prepared for health emergencies needs innovative research and development, adequate financing and support through development programming, the UN chief said.
“The panel has given us concrete and sensible recommendations that chart a clear path forward for how communities, nations and the international system can better prepare for and respond to health crises in the future,” Mr. Ban said.
“I intend to be fully engaged in the implementation of the panel’s recommendations as they relate to the UN system,” he added.
For that reason, Mr. Ban said he had established a Global Health Crises Task Force to monitor, coordinate and support the follow-up and implementation of the panel’s recommendations.
The task force is being led by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who will be supported by Dr. David Nabarro, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change. The task force’s co-leads are Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group.
Progress on high-level panel’s recommendations
The Secretary-General indicated that there has already been progress on some of the high-level panel’s key recommendations.
In that regard, he noted that the panel affirmed WHO’s role as a global health leader, at all times and especially during public health emergencies. In addition, the panel recommended that WHO’s capacity to respond to health emergencies must be consolidated and strengthened.
Mr. Ban highlighted that in the past year, WHO has been working to change how it works in health crises, including by, among other actions, creating a new Health Emergencies Programme, which now gives WHO an operational arm to respond effectively and immediately to outbreaks and emergencies.
“This new programme changes the fundamental nature of WHO, which up until now has primarily seen itself as having technical and normative roles,” the Secretary-General said.
“I applaud the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, for having the vision, the dedication and the tenacity to implement this transformation,” he added.
Mr. Ban said that the panel also highlighted the importance of strengthening UN system coordination during health crises, and affirmed the critical role of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).
“These recommendations on how the UN system needs to do better have been taken very seriously,” the Secretary-General stressed.
He noted that in the case of the ongoing Zika outbreak, the Deputy Secretary-General has been convening monthly coordination meetings of the principals of the UN system to ensure that there is a senior-level forum for coordination and information-sharing.
In addition, he recalled that earlier this month, the IASC endorsed a proposal prepared jointly by WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to extend and adapt existing IASC mechanisms to facilitate the coordination of support for large-scale outbreaks and public health emergencies.
For their part, WHO and OCHA will work to finalize standard operating procedures for infectious hazards.
The Secretary-General also said that he is pleased that the World Bank launched its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility this past month.
“This will be an innovative fast-disbursing global financing mechanism designed to protect the world against pandemics. It will create the first-ever insurance market for pandemic risk,” Mr. Ban said, noting that the facility will be implemented in close cooperation with WHO.
Recalling that this past March, Dr. Chan had declared that the Ebola outbreak no longer constituted a public health emergency of international concern, the Secretary-General said that by then, 2016 had already seen a new health emergency with the clusters of neonatal malformations and neurological disorders related to the Zika virus.
“These reports on global health crises address one of the most urgent and intractable challenges of our time,” the Secretary-General said.