April 11, 2017
Today, on World Health Day, we can reflect on the massive achievement Sierra Leone made in tackling one of the greatest health threats of modern times.
In November 2016, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, visited Sierra Leone to mark the first anniversary of the end of the devastating Ebola epidemic. The UK is proud to have contributed £427 million during the crisis and is providing a further £240 million to the recovery in Sierra Leone. During her visit Ms Patel saw how the extraordinary combined effort of the people of Sierra Leone, the government and the international community, including efforts by the United Nations, stopped Ebola. A key figure in this work was Dr David Nabarro who, at the request of previous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, undertook the role of Special Envoy for Ebola. Dr Nabarro is now one of three candidates in the running to become Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
As a global community we need to tackle big health threats and protect ourselves from killer diseases. We all have a responsibility to ensure we have the right global health systems and dedicated leaders in place to maintain this extraordinary progress.
Last year, for example, malaria deaths were halved in six high burden countries. The UK helped save the lives of 103,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth, we helped immunise more than 67 million people against preventable diseases, and we supported more than 64 million people to access clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions
The WHO is vital to help meet these challenges, as the organisation that helps the global health community and governments better understand, prepare for and respond to the biggest health threats of our time.
The reality is that it is often the poorest and most vulnerable people that struggle to maintain good health, often blocked from access to quality health care, exposed to disease-prone environments or forced to drink unsafe drinking water. We need a system that works for these people.
But WHO needs an upgrade so that it can respond to the challenges the world faces. It needs to continue to reform and improve its organisational effectiveness.
There is now a real opportunity to see positive change, with the election of a new Director-General of the WHO shortly taking place.
At the end of May health ministers of 194 nations will meet for their annual assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. They will elect the person who will – on July 1st – replace Dr Margaret Chan as the next Director-General of the WHO.
This job is about ensuring the health and wellbeing of billions of people, and it needs someone who can meet this challenge. That is why the UK has given Dr David Nabarro our full support.
Dr Nabarro’s experience is unrivalled – he has spent over 40 years in international public health as a medical doctor, educator, international public servant and diplomat. He has repeatedly and successfully managed complex global challenges and led the world in responding to crises.
He has worked on the frontline, in over 50 countries including Sierra Leone, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. He has also spent 15 years getting to grips with the intricacies of the UN and global health systems, working on bird flu, cholera and nutrition.
In 2014 as UN special envoy on Ebola Dr Nabarro’s job was to ensure an effective coordinated UN response to controlling the epidemic. He visited Sierra Leone a number of times and retains a particular fondness for this country. When he visited last month the President praised his vital contributions to the fight against Ebola and said that these would not be forgotten.
On a personal level David and I worked together in Geneva in the early 2000s and I have personal experience of his drive, energy and commitment to Global Health Advocacy. David’s breadth of experience makes him uniquely qualified to ensure that the WHO is equipped to face the challenges of the next decade. He is the right candidate at the right time.
The UK will continue to lead global efforts to fight deadly diseases that blight the lives of millions around the world, while helping countries to build stronger health systems. And we will continue to push for improvements in international organisations so that they can best protect us from health threats. The world deserves nothing less.