In her final address to the World Health Assembly as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan addressed the importance of engaging all partners to the future of public health.
In a powerful speech in which she reflected on developments in public health over the past decade, Dr Chan also refuted claims that the WHO had lost its relevance, saying “the facts tell a different story”.
She highlighted WHO’s convening power, its culture of “evidence-based learning”, and its success in helping to reduce the price of generic medicines, despite the “contentiousness” of this issue.
She also addressed the huge challenges faced by WHO during her administration, including the global financial crisis and outbreaks of Ebola and Zika. Stating that the Ebola virus had taken “everyone by surprise”, she nevertheless acknowledged that WHO were too slow to realize the new challenges presented by 2014’s outbreak.
Dr Chan has held the position of Director-General of WHO for eleven years, having been appointed to the post in November 2006. The new Director-General – who will be elected at the World Health Assembly this week – will take up their new role at the beginning of July.
NCDs a “shift in public health”
Dr Chan emphasized the paradigm shift that has taken place in public health resulting from the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases such as CVD. She called for a move away from curing diseases towards prevention, saying “no country on this planet can treat their way out of all the diseases that are affecting our people”.
She underlined the importance of civil society, whom she described as “society’s conscience”, and stated that tackling tobacco, alcohol and childhood obesity should be public health priorities.
Dr Chan concluded her address with some advice for the Health Assembly: to continue to reduce inequalities, ensure accountability, to listen to civil society and most importantly, to never forget that “behind every number is a person”.