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Remarks of US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson to the World Health Assembly

Second Plenary Session: May 19, 2003

Mr. President, Madam Director-General and distinguished delegates:

I am honored to represent the United States of America at this assembly and to reaffirm, on behalf of President George W. Bush, my country's strong commitment to the WHO.

All of you here represent the very best of what public service can mean and do. I am honored to be in your presence as your partner. America recognizes that in this era of rapid travel and a global economy, public health doesn't recognize national borders. This is one of the stark lessons of health threats like AIDS and SARS.

The world community has joined together in so many ways to advance the cause of health and wellness for all people in all nations. One of the most visible has been the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The global dialogue begun through the FCTC negotiations has been a significant step for public health.

It is no exaggeration to state that my country is a world leader in anti-smoking efforts. We have committed more resources than any other nation to research, development and evaluation of smoking control programs both at home and abroad. And we are looking forward to the coming discussion on the FCTC as a continuation of those efforts.

Among our collective efforts, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria stands out as a shining example of what can be accomplished with a common purpose and a common vision. It is my privilege to serve as the 2003 chair of the Global Fund. And it is my privilege to report that the United States is the largest supporter of the fund, with $1.6 billion in pledges to date far more than any other nation.

But our work on the Global Fund has only begun. Its promise is great -- but it is a promise that will not be realized without sufficient resources to execute its mission. I'm sorry to report that that the fund faces a shortfall of over a billion dollars for this round of proposals. That's something we cannot allow to happen again. The utility and credibility of the fund depend upon it. As the chair of the fund I will not falter in my own efforts to carry this message throughout the world. Tomorrow I travel to Brussels to address the European Parliament's Committee on Development and Cooperation and will share this message with them.

This is a fight we must all join.

America recognizes that among the threats to global health, HIV/AIDS stands out as one of the most intractable, and most dire. I want to tell you now that the administration of President Bush is doing its part to win this fight. Earlier this year, the president announced, and just last week the U.S. congress approved, the emergency plan for AIDS relief a five-year, $15 billion initiative to turn the tide in combating the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. This commitment of resources will help 14 countries in Africa and two in the Caribbean -- where 70 percent of those infected with HIV live. It will help us wage and win the war against HIV/AIDS. No American administration has ever invested more to combat this deadly disease.

Let me also address one emerging threat that is of increasing concern to us all Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. We're doing everything we can to help contain SARS rendering needed assistance to nations with severe outbreaks ... and working closely with WHO and other partners as part of a truly global collaboration. We have committed dozens of infectious disease experts to work on the SARS response around the world ... and we have conducted extensive laboratory testing to help identify the cause of the disease. And I'm pleased to announce that on May 7th, the U.S. government provided assistance to help China bolster its strained public health system including $500,000 in emergency funds and a long-term commitment to public health training between my department and the ministry of health.

That's a lot, but it's only the beginning. The need for effective public health exists among all peoples. That's why the United States has strongly supported Taiwan's inclusion in efforts against SARS and beyond. If we are truly serious about stopping this disease in its tracks, then we cannot ignore millions of people who are at risk. One lesson of SARS is that public health knows no borders and no politics.

Another lesson of SARS is that early action is decisive action. The ill effects of delay in the identification and acknowledgement of SARS are self-evident and cannot be repeated. That's why the United States is launching a multi-million dollar early warning global health initiative focused on strategic areas outside the United States. This program will train laboratorians and epidemiologists ... improve management and surveillance ... foster communications ... and improve laboratory capabilities.

We also want to provide more public health experts from my department to assist with training, mentoring, and technology transfer so we can fill gaps in expertise where they exist. This will facilitate more timely and effective detection and response to biological threats, specifically class A agents and influenza, and truly make a difference in the security of all peoples.

As part of this initiative, we will complement and augment the critical global efforts of WHO's global outbreak alert and response network. We want to provide resources to extend response capabilities to more regional levels. Our goal is to build upon pre-existing programs in countries that can show the swiftest progress most quickly, for the benefit of the entire region.

If preparation is half the battle, then I'm proud to say that the battle is halfway won. I look forward to working with you to enhance and support these efforts for the good of all people in all nations. Over the past year, I have been gratified as many of you have reached out to me in friendship to help me better understand the concerns important to all of us.

In particular, I want to thank one outstanding WHO leader. Dr. Gro Brundtland, the United States applauds your strong leadership and your vision for the future. You have placed health squarely in the global policy dialogue in a way that few could have foreseen just a few years ago. It has been my privilege and pleasure to work with you ... and on behalf of the President, I wish you every success in your future. Your legacy is a positive one, and I thank you for that.

My friends, let us never forget that our common agenda for health cuts across governments, cultures, language and politics. We must continue to work in tandem for the health, economic development and well-being of our people. We can accomplish so much more by working together in partnership. I look forward to working with all of you at this assembly.

Thank you very much.

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