Address by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney T.D., to the 58 th World Health Assembly in Geneva

The Assembly meets once a year and is attended by delegations from all of the World Health Organisations 192 Member States. The Assembly is the supreme decision-making body for the World Health Organisation.

Ambassadors, delegates, it is a great pleasure for me as the Minister of Health in Ireland to address this Assembly for the first occasion. Since we began our deliberation this morning, 300 people in Africa have died from AIDS, 900 have dies from Malaria and 1500 from Tuberculosis. That is over 2700 people.

In my part of the world they talk about health being your wealth and it certainly is; and yet we know that if we are to combat the diseases that are rampant in so many parts of the world, that the creative solidarity that the Director-General spoke about yesterday will have to be utilised and one of the aims of the Assembly, the eight Millennium development goals will have to be put into effect.

The people in this room number about a third of those that died alone in Africa in the last six hours, and it is the people in this room that will help to solve the health problems that confront our globe.

The world of business deals every day with Globalisation and its effects. Globalisation acknowledges global interdependence and nowhere is that more obvious than in the area of health care. However, we have yet to deal with health care issues from the reality of Globalisation.

The World Health Assembly and the World Health Organization have a crucial role to play in ensuring that we have focused responses to the most immediate needs that effect the public in this world. I learnt only this morning, for example, that a very focused approach around five main illnesses that affect children like acute respiratory illness, diarrhoea, measles and malaria could halve in five years if we had a focus on that response. If we applied the focus that we applied in the aftermath of the tsunami when this world proudly showed that creative solidarity and work together to some of the biggest illnesses affecting many regions of this world, just think of the positive effect over a short few years.

We have to acknowledge the huge progress that has been made. As the Director said yesterday, the restarting of the immunization programme in Nigeria is halving the incidence of Polio.Polio is almost on the verge of being ended in Pakistan and India. So focused targeted responses work, and therefore in the context of this Assembly, we have got to examine how together we can approach with that same sense of determination and focus that the Director-General spoke about.

The new International Health Regulations will certainly give us the capacity to be able to deal with new and emerging threats and obviously one of the biggest emerging threats is the Avian Influenza Pandemic. We don’t know when it is going to happen, but experts say it will happen, and we have got to obviously have responses that are immediate, effective and comprehensive and, above all else, we have got to work together recognizing that diseases cannot always be contained in this small world of ours. In Ireland we are stockpiling the antiviral drugs because clearly the emergence of a vaccine is going to take a considerable length of time – six, nine months, maybe a year after the strain has been identified.

Another important issue on the agenda of the WHO is the issue of patient safety and I had the pleasure this morning of listening to a lecture from Sir Liam Donaldson, the British Chief Medical Officer who is heading up the international line for patient safety. Again, when we realize that in the United States you have one in three millionth chance of dying in an aircraft accident but one in three hundredth chance of dying as a result of medical error in a hospital we can’t take this issue for granted and I am delighted that we are going to pool our expertise together. In the developing world it’s an issue of clean water and clean needles. In the developed world it is an issue of putting in place appropriate risk assessment systems to make sure patient safety becomes higher on the agenda.

In conclusion, can I say all of us here face challenges. For some it’s the challenge of finding more resources to deal effectively with health. But for some it’s the challenge of dealing with rampant disease that in the developed world has long since been eliminated and I think its only by working together, sharing experiences, sharing expertise and having that commitment to creative solidarity that we can help, from a health prospective, to make this a safer and more dynamic world.