July 25, 2024

Read WHO Director-General’s closing remarks at historic virtual 2020 World Health Assembly amid COVID-19

Seventy-third World Health Assembly
Seventy-third World Health Assembly

You can watch and listen to the speech here.

President Duque Márquez of Colombia,

President Benitez of Paraguay,

Prime Minister Tshering of Bhutan,

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain,

Prime Minister Conte of Italy,

Prime Minister Natano of Tuvalu,

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Viet Nam,

President von der Leyen of the European Commission,

Excellencies, my dear colleagues and friends,

Last year, I had the honour of visiting several islands in the Pacific, including Fiji, Tahiti, Tuvalu and Tonga, where I was welcomed by a choir of nurses.

When we originally planned this year’s World Health Assembly, we invited that choir from Tonga – a choir of nurses and midwives – to perform, to mark the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

COVID-19 has deprived us of that privilege, but today I am wearing this shirt from Tonga, which I got actually from the Minister, as a gesture of thanks and solidarity with our friends from the Pacific.

Of course, our President is from the Bahamas, and I think because of the cultural similarities, my shirt also represents the Caribbean.

So I would like to dedicate my closing speech to the choir that we were expecting to join us from Tonga.

And you might know, during my visit, I was even given a Tongan name. My Tongan name is Vaitoa’i moui Mapuavaea. This is a typical Tongan name, and I’m so honoured.

TO my Tongan friends and the rest of the Pacific, we hope you will be able to join us at next year’s Assembly, and do what we planned to do.

Now, to the rest of my speech. I offer my deep thanks to the many Member States who have expressed their support and solidarity at this Assembly, and throughout the pandemic.

I have been impressed and inspired by the commitment of so many countries to fighting the virus and saving lives.

I also thank the Regional Directors for their messages, which were played last night, and for their continuing efforts to support countries.

I thank Member States for adopting the resolution, which calls for an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international response – including, but not limited to, WHO’s performance.

As I said yesterday, I will initiate such an evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment.

We welcome any initiative to strengthen global health security, and to strengthen WHO, and to be more safe.

As always, WHO remains fully committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement. We want accountability more than anyone.

I thank Dr Felicity Harvey and the members of the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee for their continuous work to review WHO’s work in health emergencies, and in particular for their report on the COVID-19 response published yesterday, that covers from the start of the pandemic until April.

Checking and learning our lessons is in WHO’s DNA, and that’s what this report shows. I hope the recommendations of the independent committee will be taken seriously by Member States. Some of the recommendations are to WHO, and we will take our share seriously.

WHO’s focus now is fighting the pandemic with every tool at our disposal.

Our focus is on saving lives. At the end of the day, what matters is life. That should be at the centre of everything we do, and everything we say.

I’ve been heartened by the way countries have shared experiences best practices through our regular Member State briefings and at this Assembly.

We will continue providing strategic leadership to coordinate the global response, and support efforts by countries.

We will continue providing the world with epidemiological information and analysis.

We will continue to keep the world informed and give people and communities the information they need to keep themselves and each other safe.

We will continue shipping diagnostics, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies all over the world.

We will continue bringing together leading experts from around the world to develop technical advice, based on the best science.

We will continue driving research and development to develop evidence about vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

We will continue working with countries and all relevant partners to ensure equitable access to the tools to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19.

We will continue supporting countries to prepare and respond.

We will continue working with countries to sustain essential health services.

We will continue to work day and night to support the most vulnerable countries and populations.

We will continue supporting countries to achieve the “triple billion” targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.

And we will continue supporting countries to build resilient health systems, based on primary health care, to progress towards our shared goal of universal health coverage.


My brothers and sisters, dear colleagues and friends,

COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love;

It has robbed us of lives and livelihoods;

It has shaken the foundations of our world;

It threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation.

But it has also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.

We may speak different languages, but we share the same DNA;

We may adhere to different faiths, but we share the same aspirations for a peaceful and harmonious world;

From east to west, north to south, everybody wants peace, development and health – nothing else, that’s what human beings want, that’s what humanity wants.

We may have different cultures and traditions, but we share the same planet.

For everything COVID-19 has taken from us, it has also given us something:

A reminder of what really matters;

And the opportunity to forge a common future.

Dark and difficult days may lie ahead, but guided by science, together we will overcome.

Let hope be the antidote to fear.

Let solidarity be the antidote to division.

Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.

Now, more than ever.

Thank you. Xie xie. Merci beaucoup. Spasiba. Muchas gracias.

And to our Muslim brothers and sisters who are fasting, shukran jazeelan, and we wish you Eid Mubarak.

Thank you so much. Together we will overcome this challenge. Nothing will be difficult to address when the human spirit wills it.

I thank you.

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