May. 23, 2018

WHO director general address 71st world health assembly opening reception .

Your Excellency Alain Berset, President of the Swiss Confederation,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Bonsoir, guten abend, buonasera, buna saira!

It’s wonderful to be here to celebrate WHO’s 70th birthday with you all, and I would particularly like to thank my brother Alain Berset for hosting this reception.

Thank you for your support, and for the support of Switzerland for our new strategic plan.

WHO has been proud to call Switzerland home for 70 years.

And on an afternoon like this, it’s not difficult to see why.

I sometimes joke that WHO staff have two prayers. Our staff around the world pray, “God, please take me to Geneva.” The staff in Geneva pray, “God, please don’t take me away from Geneva.” Of course, we all need to have one prayer: Please take me wherever I can use my skills to serve humanity, whether that’s here in Geneva or anywhere else in the world.

On a personal note, I have now called Switzerland home for almost a year, and it is indeed a privilege for me and my family to live somewhere so beautiful, even if we sometimes miss our friends and family back home in Ethiopia.

But Switzerland is not just a nice place to live. It has also been both geographically and politically a strategic location for WHO, and has been a contributing factor to many of our greatest achievements. Even though it is a small city, Geneva has a truly global profile, and rightly so. It is truly the hub of global health, with so many international organizations based here. This morning I talked about the importance of partnership for our success. International Geneva provides the ideal environment for fostering partnership and deepening collaboration.

In a way, we are all here in Geneva today because of one man: Henri Dunant. Monsieur Dunant, who came from Geneva, was so appalled by what he saw on the battlefield in Solferino, Italy in 1859, that he organized the local population to provide assistance to sick and injured soldiers.

That was the birth of the Red Cross, which also became the foundation of Geneva as a global centre of humanitarian and health work.

The museum at the ICRC, just across the road, commemorates Monsieur Dunant and illustrates the impact the Red Cross movement has on the ground in so many emergencies around the world. Of course, ICRC and IFRC are important partners for WHO, but we are also thinking about following their example by establishing a WHO Museum to better explain what we do and the difference it makes. As President Berset said this morning, WHO is more important than ever before.

That is illustrated by the ambitious targets of our new strategic plan. But to achieve those targets, we will need to strengthen and broaden WHO’s financing.

As you know, we are significantly strengthening our resource mobilization efforts. In addition, we are now preparing to establish a WHO Foundation, based here in Geneva, which will allow us to generate funds from new sources, such as the general public.

Switzerland also has a proud record of its own achievements in health.

It was the first country to approve a national global health strategy, in 2006.

WHO highly appreciates the policy coherence this brings to Switzerland’s position in WHO and other global health negotiations.

And even though it is home to some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Switzerland has been, and continues to be, a committed advocate for access to medicines.

The Swiss Development Agency was also one of the first to invest in noncommunicable diseases, especially in Eastern Europe.

Switzerland is also continuing to invest in WHO.

Anyone who has visited our headquarters recently will have noticed a large hole in the ground that will be the site of our new building.

We very much appreciate the loan that the Swiss government has given us which is enabling us to build for the future.

So once again, on behalf of everyone at WHO, we want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to the Swiss Confederation, as well to the City and Canton of Geneva, for being such wonderful hosts – and for arranging such wonderful weather today!

So would you please all join me in raising your glass, and drinking a toast to Switzerland.

To Switzerland!

Merci beaucoup. Vielen dank. Grazie mille, cordial engraziament.

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