The scientific, technological and social progress over the last century has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The World Health Organization (WHO) has played a crucial role in this progress – achieving major milestones including eradicating smallpox and bringing polio eradication within reach. During the Millennium Development Goal era, WHO also drove tremendous progress towards combatting HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and reducing maternal, child and infant mortality. It enacted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Thanks to the actions of WHO, more people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before.
However, we live in a changing world, and WHO must be able to change with it. For all the progress we have made and improvements we have witnessed, daunting challenges – new and old – lie ahead. Climate and environmental change pose new threats. Unhealthy lifestyles are giving rise to non-communicable diseases that imperil public health. Globalisation has made it easy for infectious disease pathogens to spark pandemics that threaten lives and economic security. Antimicrobial resistance is threatening our ability to effectively treat common diseases and infections, and widespread population movements, global trade and inequities in access to basic health care and social protection are leading to complex global health challenges.
I envision a world in which everyone can lead healthy and productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live. I believe the global commitment to sustainable development – enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals – offers a unique opportunity to address the social, economic and political determinants of health and improve the health and wellbeing of people everywhere.
Achieving this vision will require a strong, effective WHO that is able to meet emerging challenges and achieve the health objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals. It will require revitalised WHO leadership that combines the public health, diplomatic and political expertise needed to address the most pressing challenges of our time.
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