WHO Director-General's remarks at Ministerial Meeting on Universal Health Coverage - 8 October 2020

Your Excellency Motegi Toshimitsu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan,

Your Excellency Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand,

Your Excellency David Zalkaliani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia,

Your Excellency Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Minister of Health of Ghana,

Your Excellency Ambassador Raychelle Awuor Omamo, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya,

Honourable ministers, Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

First of all, I would like to thank Japan, Thailand and Georgia for convening this event, as well as our co-sponsors UHC2030 and the United Nations Foundation.

And I would especially like to thank Japan for its contribution of US$130 million to the COVAX Advanced Market Commitments, which will support equitable access to vaccines for lower-income countries.

Your generosity and solidarity will save lives. Arigato gozaimasu!

And I remind all partners that we are currently facing a gap of US$34 billion to realize the full potential of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

I would also like to use this opportunity to thank former Prime Minister Abe for his visionary leadership on universal health coverage throughout his tenure. I wish him the very best, and the UHC conference is a reminder of his strong leadership and commitment. I hope, Foreign Minister, that you will pass my greetings and appreciation for his leadership, and I am so glad to see the continued leadership of Japan.


One year ago, the nations of the world came together in solidarity to endorse the Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.

The day before that landmark event, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board launched its first report, warning that the world was unprepared for the next pandemic, and that it was only a matter of when, not if the next pandemic struck.

A year on, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down.

As the policy brief on COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage says, the pandemic has exposed the inequalities and weaknesses of health systems in all countries.

Even some of the richest and most powerful nations were caught off-guard and unprepared.

The pandemic has also exposed the geopolitical fault lines of our world, and strained the solidarity that is so badly needed to confront this shared global crisis.

COVID-19 puts at risk many of the health gains we have made in the past 20 years.

But far from derailing our efforts to achieve universal health coverage, the pandemic must drive us to forge ahead with even more urgency, determination and innovation.

WHO remains completely committed to supporting Member States, in several ways:

Through the UHC Partnership, we’re supporting 115 countries with planning, governance, health financing and effective development cooperation;

We’re supporting countries to invest in core public health functions that are essential for pandemic preparedness, including surveillance, laboratories, data collection, regulation and more, because as the deputy Prime Minister of Thailand said, preparedness is central.

We’re giving countries the policy tools they need through the UHC Compendium, a repository of more than 300 evidence-based interventions to support the development of benefit packages;

We’re also supporting platforms for dialogue, including National Health Assemblies, and support for Parliamentary networks providing best-practice guidance on how to engage with communities. Again, this is one of the basic tools which is important –community engagement, as the deputy Prime Minister of Thailand said.

We’ve established the WHO Academy, to revolutionize health learning globally and address the expected shortfall of 18 million health workers the world needs by 2030 to achieve the health-related SDGs;

We’ve established the Special Programme on Primary Health Care, providing tailored support to countries to review policies, define essential health packages and establish institutions that will ensure proper governance;

And we’ve developed a roadmap for engaging the private sector, who are an essential partner in our journey towards health for all.



I thank the Secretary-General for his leadership at this critical moment and for championing universal health coverage.

The policy brief on COVID-19 and Universal Health Coverage is a timely reminder to all nations that investing in health is not an optional extra; it is the foundation of stable, prosperous and peaceful societies and economies.

When we promote and protect health, we also promote and protect jobs, businesses, economies, education, gender equality, peace, sustainability and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike anything any one of us have experienced in our lifetimes.

But it must also be a turning point for all of us; a catalyst for making universal health coverage a reality, and not just an aspiration.

The only way forward is together, working in solidarity for a healthier, safer and fairer world, as if it was a matter of life and death – because it is.

And finally, I would like to thank Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens and the UN Foundation at large for coordinating the Solidarity Fund and for the success of it, and we really appreciate your support and thank you also, Elizabeth, for moderating this very important event today.

I thank you.