WHO Director-General's opening remarks at Virtual Leadership Dialogue for Social Participation

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Esteemed WRs,

Dear colleagues and friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that societies are only as well protected as their most vulnerable members.

But equally, as we in WHO know well, empowered and educated communities are one of the best defences against health threats.

Universal health coverage is at the heart of WHO’s mission to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.

That is why our goal is to extend the benefits of UHC to an additional one billion people.

UHC implies access to quality health services for everyone – the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the young and the old – without fear of financial hardship.

The road to UHC depends on a foundation of strong government engagement with communities, especially the most vulnerable.

At the heart of that engagement is meaningful dialogue with those the health system serves.

In essence, it is about a social contract for UHC, based on the idea that health is not a product of strong and prosperous nations; it is the means.

And the best way to protect and promote the health of a population is to make sure all its people can access the health services they need, where and when they need them, without facing undue costs or debilitating debt.

The WHO Handbook on Social Participation for Universal Health Coverage offers countries a valuable tool for stimulating constructive discussions between those who control the health system, and those who are served by it.

It provides practical guidance for policymakers to navigate the challenges of convening hard-to-reach population groups; for brokering dialogue; and for addressing power imbalances.

In short, this handbook addresses the ‘how-to’ of systematic government engagement with communities and civil society.

It contains concrete examples to draw from, including community engagement in Madagascar and India;

civil society engagement in Burkina Faso, Mexico, and Portugal;

and population consultations in France and Tunisia, to name a few.

However big or small, rich or poor a country might be, social participation is relevant for all Member States.

Supporting countries to include community and civil society voices in policymaking is critical to making sure that nobody is left behind, and to establishing the most vital component in a resilient health system: trust.

I thank you, and I wish you a productive discussion.