Both WHO’s constitution and the declaration assert that health is a human right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. Over time, that right has made its way into both national and international law. But importantly, the right to health is not simply a noble idea on a piece of paper. In the past 70 years, it has been a platform for major improvements in global health. Since 1948, life expectancy has increased by 25 years. Maternal and childhood mortality have plummeted. Smallpox has been eradicated and polio is on the brink. We have turned the tide on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Deaths from malaria have dropped dramatically. New vaccines have made once-feared diseases easily preventable. And there are many other causes for celebration. But even as we continue to struggle with old threats, new ones have arisen. Climate change will have profound effects on health. Antimicrobial resistance has the potential to undo the gains of modern medicine.
Vaccine hesitancy is putting millions of young lives at risk. Noncommunicable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer diabetes, hypertension, lung diseases and mental illnesses have become the major killers of our time. And of course, we continue to face the ever-present threat of outbreaks and other health emergencies.In the past 12 months, WHO has responded to 47 emergencies in 50 countries. As you know, we are currently responding to an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As of today, there have been 373 cases and 216 deaths since the outbreak started in August. So far, we have managed to prevent Ebola from spreading across the border, partly because we have much better tools with which to fight Ebola than at any time in history. More than 32,000 people have been vaccinated, which is one of the reasons the outbreak has not spread further than it has.
So far, 150 people have been treated with one of four drugs. 14 million travelers have been screened, there have been more than 190 safe and dignified burials, we have done door-to-door advocacy in almost 4000 households and we have trained more than 500 community leaders. But this outbreak has been much more difficult ton control, largely because of the security situation in eastern DRC. Armed groups operating in the area conduct regular attacks on the city of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak. And every time there is an attack, the virus gets an advantage. Vaccination and contact tracing are disrupted.
The best long-term investment in protecting and promoting the right to health is to invest in stronger health systems. Because there is simply no other way to achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals than primary health care, with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention. That’s why WHO and 10 other international health agencies have agreed to work together on a Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being.
The plan has three strategic approaches: integration,acceleration and accountability.First, we have committed to align many of our processes to increase our collective efficiency. Second, we have committed to accelerate progress by identifying areas of work in which we can truly bend the curve and make more rapid progress towards the health-related SDGs – like research and development, data and sustainable financing. And third, we have committed to keep each other accountable, both to the people we serve, and to the donors and partners who expect results from the resources they give us.