Micheál Martin – Statement by the Irish Presidency of the European Union in response to agenda item 3, Address by Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director General

57th World Health Assembly Geneva, 17 -22 May, 2004

Mr. President

May I begin by congratulating you and your fellow officers on your election to your responsible positions for the 57th World Health Assembly.

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. [The Candidate Countries Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, [and the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential EU candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro] align themselves with this statement.] May I also warmly welcome Dr. Lee to this, his first, World Health Assembly as Director-General.

Mr. President, on 1 May Ireland was privileged to host a Day of Welcomes in Dublin to mark the accession to the European Union of 10 new partners. We look forward to working together in Europe, and within the global structure of the World Health Organization, to promote the harmonious development of programmes with our many partners across the globe. The World Health Organization belongs to us all, and we share the responsibility of ensuring that it is vibrant and dynamic.

We thank Dr. Lee for his very comprehensive address. The WHO, and its member states, face many challenges, but, as the Director General has said on a previous occasion, the health of all people remains the guiding rationale for all of our activities.

The European Union notes the Director General’s comments on the HIV/AIDS crisis. The priority accorded by WHO to HIV/AIDS is commendable given the exceptional nature of the crisis. The EU is encouraged by the leadership shown by WHO in the global response to HIV/AIDS in the health sector.

Far from coming under control, HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly in many parts of the world and now poses a global threat affecting all regions. The fastest growing rate of new infections is now in countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Dublin Conference on “Breaking the Barriers, the fight against HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia” in February 2004 played an important role in raising awareness and building political leadership and commitment in these countries. This is particularly important as the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has made it possible to mobilize additional resources for the fight against the three killer diseases.

Mr President, the European Union endorses the statement contained in the Director-General´s report A57/4 on HIV/AIDS, that anti-retroviral treatment must be accompanied by renewed and vigorous efforts to promote and accelerate effective preventive strategies. The advent of effective and affordable treatment for HIV in no way lessens the importance of prevention as the basis of national responses to HIV/AIDS. On the contrary, WHO as an organisation, and all member states, together share a responsibility to ensure that a balanced approach between prevention, treatment, care and mitigation is upheld. The primary task before us is, in fact, to stop HIV/AIDS from spreading any further.

A coordinated response to HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest challenges we face today. The “Three Ones” launched recently by UNAIDS is an important development and should be accepted as the guiding principles for all international initiatives to support national AIDS responses. This increases donor harmonisation, accommodates different approaches within a nationally-led response and gives the best chance of achieving results. Related to this, the treatment of AIDS and other responses to HIV/AIDS should be planned and implemented within the framework of national development plans. The leadership of WHO and UNAIDS is needed at global level and country level to facilitate a harmonised approach and ensure that HIV/AIDS strategies are coherent.

The launch of the “3 by 5 Initiative” by WHO in December 2003 was an important milestone in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Access to anti-retroviral therapy is one of the core components of an effective health sector response to HIV/AIDS. The global response and commitment to provision of anti-retroviral therapy is welcome. This commitment must be sustained since this treatment is a life-long measure. AIDS will need to be treated as a chronic problem, with all the health systems and psycho-social support that this will require. Much effort is needed to ensure that treatment is provided in an equitable, gender-sensitive, and poverty-focused manner.


The European Union welcomes the attention given in the World Health Report 2004, Changing History, to health systems in the context of the HIV/AIDS treatment initiative. It is essential that the “3 by 5” and other global initiatives for treatment of HIV/AIDS help to strengthen health services at country level. The crisis of human resources in developing countries has been exacerbated by HIV/AIDS. Scaling up of care and treatment adds a further burden of responsibility on over-stretched staff. It is therefore important that the right of access to effective treatment for HIV/AIDS should not be at the expense of other poverty-focused essential health care services. There needs to be good collaboration among the different components of health services. Special emphasis should be placed on strengthening sexual and reproductive health services which are crucial in HIV/AIDS prevention and an essential part of a comprehensive health sector response to HIV/AIDS. WHO Country offices should become more involved in this sector-wide challenge.

With the “3 by 5” initiative we have set ourselves an unprecedented challenge with a very short time-frame. It is imperative that we learn from experience, develop models of good practice, and share lessons with other countries. WHO has a key role to play in this regard. The European Union looks forward to receiving further progress reports from the Director-General on HIV/AIDS both at the Executive Board and World Health Assembly meetings and in this regard the EU also welcomes the WHO’s strategy on Reproductive Health which is being presented for endorsement by this Assembly.

Mr. President, the European Union respects the technical expertise of the WHO, across a broad range of issues, from which we have benefited for many years. A recent example is the collaboration between member states and the WHO in the matter of Avian Influenza, an item which will be discussed by the Executive Board next week. European Union health ministers appreciated the attendance of the Director-General at an informal meeting which was held in February to exchange views on the matter.

Concerns for the spread of the Avian Influenza and the recent reappearance of the SARS virus reminds us once again of the need for vigilance in the prevention and control of communicable diseases. In response to this need, the European Commission launched a special research call to tackle SARS last summer and, for your information, there will be 8 research consortia with European and Chinese partners active in this field. The European Community is now in the implementation stage of establishing the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control which will be located in Sweden. The European Commission has recently completed the preparation of a Pandemic Preparedness Plan.

The European Community is currently considering the text of the International Health Regulations in detail, which has included discussion with officials of the WHO. The European Region consultations which will take place in Copenhagen in June will afford an opportunity for a full exchange of views within the greater European area. At this stage, the European Community recognises the intent of the draft Regulations. The European Community will play its full part in the global efforts to achieve the ambitious target for adoption of the International Health Regulations at the 58th World Health Assembly.

Mr. President, the Director General reminded us at the Executive Board in January that global cooperation is also indispensable for noncommunicable disease prevention. The strategy for noncommunicable diseases was presented to the Assembly four years ago. It focuses on three major risk behavioural factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. The EU has played its full part in arrangements for the adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and places an equally important emphasis on the early ratification and bringing into operation of the Convention. We now have the opportunity, at this Assembly, to take a further step in relation to tackling noncommunicable diseases by approving the draft global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. The European Union recognises fully the need for endorsing a strategy which will support and enable member states to develop action plans appropriate to national circumstances.

The European Union supports the draft resolution on Health Promotion and Healthy Lifestyles, which draws on the 2002 World Health Report, and which calls on member states to strengthen capacity for implementing comprehensive and multi-sectoral health promotion policies and programmes, with particular attention to poor and marginalized groups.

The European Union welcomes the WHO/World Bank report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention which was launched on World Health Day. It provides a timely commentary on road safety against a background of 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries on our roads. The European Union notes the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 58/289 which invites WHO to act as a coordinator on road safety issues within the UN system and encourages the Organisation to collaborate with UN regional commissions in this area.

Mr. President, our health is determined to a considerable extent by our environment. The European Union is pleased to be associated with the WHO in the forthcoming Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health which will take place next month in Budapest. The Conference will address a range of issues which affect children, including childhood respiratory diseases and childhood asthma. We particularly welcome moves to prepare a Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe.

Finally, the European Union wishes to endorse the draft Resolution on Human Tissue and Organ Transplantation. This is the result of work carried out by the International Experts group during the preparatory meeting held in Madrid. In this context, the EU recognizes the importance of increased efforts to confront the challenge of organ trafficking on the global level.

Mr. President, on behalf of the European Union I wish to assure the Director General that we are ready to support him in the year ahead in addressing the various tasks which he has outlined and in the pursuit of higher standards of public health.

Thank you.