147th session of the Executive Board (Virtual De-minimis): Remarks of Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Chair elect of the WHO Executive Board 147th session of the Executive Board (Virtual De-minimis): Remarks of Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of..

147th session of the Executive Board (Virtual De-minimis): Remarks of Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Chair elect of the WHO Executive Board

Let me begin by thanking the outgoing Chairperson of the WHO Executive Board, Dr Hiroki Nakatani, for steering the organisation towards excellence …Thank You Dr Nakatani ..I wish you the best in your future endeavours !

Distinguished Members of WHO Executive Board

Director General of WHO


Representatives of Member Nations 

All Regional Directors 

Heads & Representatives of UN Agencies & Partner Organizations

And .. Staff of WHO

1. This moment fills my heart with joy .. One in which I yearn to rise in response to the warm and cordial honour which you all have bestowed upon me... And yet - at the same time - my heart feels heavy with grief as more than 330 thousand precious lives have been lost… and there is economic turbulence all over the world.

2. Before I start my address, let me pay my homage to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives. My heartfelt condolences to those families, across the world, who have lost their near and dear ones to this deadly pandemic COVID19. As a Doctor by profession, it hurts me even more that despite great strides in science and medicine, we are still at the mercy of tiny pathogens !

3. Ladies and Gentlemen 

I feel deeply honoured to have the trust and faith of all of you. India, and all my countrymen, too, feel privileged that this honour has been bestowed upon us. 

I’ve had a long personal association with WHO. I was privileged to come into contact with the organisation way back in the early nineties during the initial years of my public life, when I was personally spearheading many missions in which we journeyed together and built an emotional bond. I have nostalgic memories of the WHO team with whom I worked very closely during my mission to eradicate poliomyelitis from India. I had the privilege to be appointed to prestigious committees of the WHO like SAGE and the Global Technical Consultative Group on Polio Eradication. I even served as an Advisor to the organisation. And I confess that, if it had not been for the support and morale boosting by friends in WHO, I would not have achieved what I did. If, today, Polio stands eradicated from India, I must admit it could never have been possible without the perseverance of WHO.

4. Excellencies

  I am aware that I am entering this office at a time of global crisis on account of this pandemic…. At a time, when we are fighting to simply stay alive... And at a time when we all understand that there are going to be many urgent health challenges in the next two decades. All these challenges demand a shared response, because these are shared threats requiring shared responsibility to act. And, of course, this is also the core philosophy of our alliance of member nations that comprise WHO. However, it needs a greater degree of Shared idealism of nations. 

5. Friends 

I have long nurtured a dream. It is about the health of my fellow citizens of the world. And I believe that health is central to economic performance and to enhancing human capabilities. However, public health policy must be based and guided on a proper understanding of nature. This is also the underlying principle of the Indian traditional systems of medicine based on holistic health and wellness .. which I have lived and experienced.

6. I also have the privilege of being the Health Minister of India, a country of 1.35 billion people. Led by a dynamic Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi, we have devised an ambitious National Health Policy that aims at Universal Health for All. Our flagship health initiative called Ayushman Bharat aims at providing free health insurance to over 500 million people, making it the world’s largest health insurance scheme…. And we dream of making it bigger .. ensuring it for each and every Indian ! If a developing nation like India can dream of this level of ‘health for all’ policy, the rest of the world has to think beyond this.

7. When India decides, it performs. We eradicated smallpox and polio in our country at a time when there was abject poverty. More recently, we faced the threat of COVID19 in a proactive and pre-emptive way, with unmatched scale and determination. Today we have a mortality of 3 per cent only. In a country of 1.35 billion, there are only 0.1 million cases of COVID19. The recovery rate is above 40 per cent and the doubling rate is 13 days.

8. We have to admit that the current pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of humankind to exigencies, recognising that we have to strive to act with greater speed and predictability. The pandemic has made humanity acutely aware of the consequences of ignoring the strengthening and preparedness of our healthcare systems. In such times of global crisis, both risk management and mitigation would require further strengthening of global partnerships to re-energize interest and investment in global public health.

9. We also need to make higher commitments in respect of diseases that have plagued humankind for centuries. We need to conquer the adversaries with collaborations and by supplementing each other by pooling our resources.

10. We need an aggressive roadmap to curtail deaths from diseases that can be eliminated. We need a fresh roadmap to address global shortages of medicines and vaccines. I would like to work with all of you on these goals and roadmaps.

11. My personal motto is to protect the health of those without wealth. That is also one of the core philosophies of WHO. Propelled by the great history of this organisation WHO, and having been bestowed this honour of taking over as Chairman of the Executive Board - I ask myself - What more can we do together ? 

12. In some respects, I’m a votary of self-healing. I feel that we need to introspect and see what reforms we can undertake from time to time. There are fault lines in almost any health system. WHO is already providing thought leadership to the entire world in the sphere of public health, engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed, shaping the research agenda and stimulating the dissemination of valuable knowledge. WHO believes in the principle that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. We, therefore, commit to work with the Member States; the Organization and the global community of partners for the efficient, effective and responsive discharge of public health obligations. There is always scope, as well as the need, to catalyze further change. It is THAT fundamental belief which will be our guiding principle.. 

13. Friends

Today has been a great honour for me. With this personal honour, I also feel a deep sense of personal responsibility. I am sure that constant engagement with member states and other stakeholders will reinforce reforms and help accelerate progress towards achieving sustainable development goals and universal health coverage with the most productive, efficient and targeted utilization of resources. I will put myself to work ..  to realise the collective vision of our organisation, to build the collective capacity of all our member nations and also build a heroic collective leadership. I may .. or may not .. not get there, but I can surely try. And, I promise to try my best .. for.. I am an eternal optimist.

14. Excellencies, before taking leave of this august gathering, may I ask you all to give a Standing Ovation …. to all those frontline health workers who are risking their lives for the rest of the world… for our Doctors, our Nurses, our Paramedics, our Hospital and Sanitation staff, our Journalists, our Airport and Security personnel, our Army, Police & Paramilitary forces, and all those Mothers of the COVID WARRIORS who let their children take the risk of stepping out. We salute their dignity, their determination and their dedication. Give them a standing ovation, my friends, by clapping loud and clear ..  by wishing them good luck and good health.

15. I seek your love, your association and your cooperation in my future endeavours at the WHO. Many thanks once again to all of you !

22 May 2020