Speech at the departure ceremony for the UN70 Belarus Express for SDGs

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

23 October 2015, Minsk, Belarus

Railway stations are evocative places, the setting of so many emotional farewells and reunions. The architecture and physical structure bring to mind both times gone by and a modern, efficient, sustainable means of transport. The station here in Minsk is no exception: it has been rebuilt and replaced several times since its beginnings as a wooden building in the 1870s, to the contemporary transport hub we see today.

We stand here also at the point of departure of a journey – a journey we are taking together to celebrate a momentous new agenda. The sustainable development agenda comprises a declaration, 17 goals and 169 targets that will guide all our efforts to build a more sustainable, equitable, healthy world over the next 15 years.

As for many journeys, we should take a moment to look back at where we have come from and what we have achieved so far. For the UN family and the countries it serves, this means the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed back in 2000. In this regard, Belarus has much to be proud of. In terms of health, the country has made significant progress in reducing infant and maternal mortality, two of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2014, the infant mortality rate was 3.5 per 1000 live births, and maternal mortality was 0.85 per 1000 live births, among the lowest in the European Region.

Yet, the complex, interconnected world we now live in demands a more ambitious, more comprehensive, universal new agenda for people, the planet and prosperity – and this is what the sustainable development agenda promises. One of the 17 new sustainable development goals – goal 3 – is specific to health. It is to "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages". This goal and its targets build on the Millennium Development Goals, with new priorities for health, such as addressing noncommunicable diseases and ensuring universal health coverage so that everyone has access to high-quality, affordable health and public health services. Achieving these new targets requires action by all of us – we are all making this journey together.

In recent months, I, like many others, have been touched and moved to act by the emotional scenes played out in railway stations across Europe, as people displaced by instability, unrest and violence seek refuge and the promise of a brighter future in our Region.

Tomorrow is the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations – created after the devastation of two world wars. We live in a world where we need the global reach, legitimacy and neutrality of the United Nations, now more than ever before, and an inspiring agenda that will remind us of our collective responsibility to build a healthier, fairer, safer world, where no one is left behind.