Speech by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary to the 64th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe
Honourable ministers, WHO Director-General, Regional Director, Mrs Evelin Ilves, First Lady of Estonia and the WHO Regional Office for Europe’s Champion of Health for Noncommunicable Diseases, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. Let me start by thanking the Regional Committee for inviting me to take part in the opening of this, the 64th session.
As Patron of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe I am both pleased and honoured to once again address such a distinguished room of health leaders and champions – a group that is committed to attaining the highest standard of health as a human right in this Region.
So, welcome. It is indeed an enormous pleasure to welcome the session and representatives from the 53 Member States back to Denmark. It’s been awhile. While I trust the meeting will be highly productive, I also hope that you will have an opportunity to enjoy a little bit of what the city of Copenhagen has to offer.
Almost 15 years ago all Member States of the United Nations made a promise to improve the world through the achievement of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Ambitions were unprecedented – and the good news is that much has been achieved: millions of lives have been saved; the number of people living in poverty has halved; more children are going to school; malaria and tuberculosis have decreased significantly, and there have been visible improvements in all health areas.
However, the 2013 MDG report shows that the achievement of the MDGs proves to be uneven among and within countries. Rates of maternal mortality in the countries with the highest rates are 40 times those in countries with the lowest rates.
One of the key indicators of inequality is maternal mortality. And MDG 5 – for the reduction of maternal mortality and universal access to reproductive health – where we have seen some improvement, is however, one of the Goals that is lagging the most. Every single day, 800 women die due to pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications. A true tragedy, as the means to prevent many of these deaths are known, and cost-effective solutions are available.
Notably, the MDGs that are lagging the most are those that have women and girls at their core.
The issue of preventing maternal mortality, achieving gender equality and ensuring that sexual and reproductive health and rights become a reality for all – no matter who you are or where you live – is an issue that is close to my heart. An issue, I am dedicated to as a member of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development, a patron of the United Nations Population Fund and the Maternity Foundation, as well as of the Regional Office.
Health is central to sustainable development and this is clearly recognized in the MDGs; all of them influence health, and health in turn influences and contributes to the achievement of the MDGs. Better health enables children to learn; gender equality is essential to the achievement of better health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital to the reduction of maternal mortality.
Further progress in improving health and well-being can only be made by reducing inequities – inequalities in health systems and gender inequalities.
We are now in the final phases of identifying and establishing the next round of global sustainable development goals. The process is complicated and the competition is fierce. Today, there are many more political agendas at play: for example, climate change and sustainable energy are making headlines.
However, it is widely accepted that health is a precondition, an outcome and an indicator of success for any sustainable development agenda post-2015.
Health priorities in the post-2015 era should include accelerating progress on the present health MDGs that are lagging, and addressing inequalities which remain critical. The unfinished agenda of the MDGs – universal health coverage, noncommunicable diseases, and sexual and reproductive health and rights – should also be addressed in the future development framework.
Over the next four days you will be turning your attention to issues that form the backbone of not only the MDGs but also the Health 2020 strategy, which embodies the values of the WHO Constitution: the attainment of the highest standard of health as a human right.
And it is encouraging to see such a rich Regional Committee agenda. Amongst the many issues you will be looking at, I have a particular interest in child and adolescent health.
Our Region has much to be proud of, with some of the lowest child and infant mortality rates in the world. Yet injuries, mental health problems, tobacco and alcohol use continue to cause premature death and jeopardize future health.
With the aim of enabling children and adolescents in the WHO European Region to realize their full potential for health, development and well-being, the Region is showing a new commitment to improving child and adolescent health through a renewed strategy document, and to maintaining the momentum to collectively tackle child maltreatment under the guidance of a new action plan.
There is also the promise of new direction, initiative and momentum in the European Vaccine Action Plan. Vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and rubella continue to spread in our Region, despite concerted efforts. Here I would like to note the call to go beyond business as usual in meeting the regional goals, addressing disease outbreaks, strengthening surveillance and closing immunity gaps.
We have achieved too much to let go of our dream of equal access to immunization for everyone at every life stage and of a future free of avoidable communicable diseases. I will continue to support the efforts of the Regional Office in this regard.
Another topic on the agenda for the coming days is obesity and malnutrition. While it may seem like an odd combination, together they represent a threat to our Region’s children. In all age groups obesity has reached epidemic proportions in our Region, in some cases tripling since 1980. Fighting this epidemic requires a united front on multiple levels, from health education to fiscal policy. Each and every one of us has a part to play.
As health leaders and champions of this Region, you play a significant role in ensuring the future health of the Region. The ambitious agenda calls for serious commitment, and I trust that together we can meet again in the future confident in the knowledge that we have done everything we can to improve child and adolescent health and reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases across the Region.
I can assure you that you have my commitment to support your efforts to achieve this in the Member States in the European Region. In October this year, I will have the opportunity to join WHO and its partners in advocating adolescent and child health in Tajikistan and seeing first-hand about how these important health issues are being tackled.
I look forward to the Regional Director’s report this morning. To hear more about the work that has taken place during this year and plans to tackle the challenges we are yet to overcome.
Distinguished guests, in closing I would like to ask each of you to reflect on the year that has passed, and to use this opportunity to share your experiences and vision as we move the health agenda into the second half of the decade.