Address by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, at the opening ceremony of the sixty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa

  • Your Excellency Kalzeube Payimi Deubet, Prime Minister and Representative of the President of the Republic, Head of State
  • Professor Marie Awa Coll-Seck, Minister of Health and Social Action of the Republic of Senegal and Chairperson of the Sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee,
  • Honourable Members of Government and Heads of institutions of the Republic of Chad,
  • Honourable Ministers of Health and Heads of Delegation of Member States,
  • Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General,
  • Ambassadors and Heads of diplomatic missions accredited to the Republic of Chad,
  • Colleagues from agencies of the United Nations system,
  • Distinguished Guests,
  • Dear Delegates,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to address this distinguished gathering on the occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the Sixty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa. It is a great honour for me as I do this for the first time in my capacity as the WHO Regional Director for Africa. I still recall with joy the 5th of November 2014 in Cotonou, Benin, when you Honourable Ministers expressed your confidence and elected me as the Regional Director to succeed Dr Luis Sambo. I also recall the 26th of January this year when the WHO Executive Board confirmed my appointment.

Honourable delegates, like last year’s Regional Committee, this Sixty-fifth session had to be postponed due to some security concerns which the Government of Chad has so ably addressed. I thank Member States for their patience and understanding during the consultations to agree on suitable dates and a venue for the Sixty-fifth session of the Regional Committee.

May I at this stage express our gratitude to His Excellency General Idriss Déby Itno, the Government and people of Chad, for their warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements made for the smooth conduct of the work of the Regional Committee. May I also express our solidarity with the President and the people of Chad for the terrorist attacks in recent times, and with the Governments of all Member States for similar attacks and conflicts which invariably negatively impact on the delivery of health services in the countries.

I have had the chance to hold talks with the Prime Minister and with the national authorities since I arrived in N’Djamena 5 days ago. I have been inspired by the personal commitment of President Idriss Déby Itno and the progress made in health development in the Republic of Chad.

I extend a special and warm welcome to all the Ministers of Health and Regional Committee delegates from Member States, and to our health partners who have travelled to Chad to be part of this meeting.

  • Ladies and gentlemen;

We are almost at the end of the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic that struck West Africa at the end of 2013. I promised the Regional Committee last year in November that I would do whatever possible to help the affected countries get to zero cases in the shortest possible time. Liberia and Sierra Leone were declared Ebola-free in September and November respectively; Guinea is on the count-down to 42 days without a case. The countries continue to be challenged by the occasional, isolated case, and we are seeing unknown manifestations of the epidemic. What is important is that the detection and control systems in the 3 countries are now strong enough to contain these new cases and stop significant spread of the virus.

We have learnt several key lessons in our response to the EBV epidemic. Strong and functional health systems are required for timely detection and notification of any outbreak and for a quick and effective response to prevent further spread and progression to a major public health event. Community leadership, ownership and engagement are critical for the control of outbreaks. When local leaders and the people became effectively engaged, the epidemic was quickly brought under control. We have also learnt that an improved global mechanism for rapid response to major epidemics through effective global coordination is critical for any public health event of international concern.

A reform of WHO’s work on outbreaks and epidemics is currently being discussed and a report will be submitted to the Executive Board in January 2016. We will be discussing the Ebola Virus Disease as a full agenda item on Tuesday afternoon as Agenda Item 14. One success that we can also celebrate together is the declaration of Nigeria as being polio-free. On 25 September 2015, the WHO Director-General announced the removal of Nigeria, the then only remaining endemic country in the African Region, from the list of polio endemic countries. And on the 26th of October, I was honoured to formally inform His Excellency the President of Nigeria that the country is off the list of polio-endemic countries. May I take this opportunity to congratulate all those who have worked over the years to achieve this major milestone, including Member States, development partners and donors, and WHO staff members.

As we go forward, the entire region needs to ensure that no case of wild poliovirus occurs, by intensifying Acute Flaccid Paralysis surveillance and ensuring the highest level of polio vaccination coverage for the next 2 years. The importance of planning for how to optimize the polio legacy – the experts, infrastructure and equipment – in the future and transitioning cannot be over-emphasized. Polio capacity supports other public health areas such as routine immunization and epidemic surveillance. We would like to work with Member States to ensure that we do not lose it. We will need to interest other partners in investing in keeping this capacity. We will be having a side event on polio legacy planning and a discussion on the Progress Report on Polio during the week.

I am pleased to inform you that WHO and the African Union Commission will organize a Ministerial Conference on Immunization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 24 to 25 February 2016. The aim of the conference is to further strengthen country ownership and foster sustainable funding so that each country achieves the goals of the Global Vaccine Action Plan. We have sent out invitations to all Ministers of Health in Africa. I would encourage Honourable Ministers and partners to participate in this conference. We also seek your support to promote the participation of those Ministers of Finance and Parliamentarians, from some countries who have been invited.

We are holding this session of the Regional Committee a few weeks after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the 70th United Nations General Assembly. Building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 17 SDGs cover a broad range of economic, social and environmental objectives, as well as the promise of more peaceful and inclusive societies and countries. Health is covered under SDG-3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages”. The health goal covers the unfinished agenda of the Millennium Development Goals, and emerging threats such as non-communicable diseases and health security. There is a strong equity focus – “leaving no-one behind” – and therefore a demand that work on health addresses the social and environmental determinants, as well explicitly focusing on equity.

This will require broad mobilization and work with other development sectors, as well as collaboration among different actors in countries – government, civil society, international development partners, the private sector and philanthropy. Domestic and even private sector financing are set to play a more important role in development, in addition to international aid. This means more attention will need to be paid to their mobilization.

The SDGs will also require more innovation and learning, including South-South collaboration.

These goals offer a huge opportunity for our work on health. We look forward to collaborating with Member States and partners to meet the SDG targets, especially to using Universal Health Coverage as a vehicle and strategy to reach most of the other targets. We will have the opportunity to discuss this on Tuesday morning as Agenda Item 8.

As you are aware, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) is expected to close in December 2015, as was planned and in accordance with the confirmation by its Governing Body, the Joint Action Forum. APOC, established in 1995 in response to the devastating impact of river blindness in the African region, has been one of the most successful public private partnerships involving countries, pharmaceutical companies, non-governmental development organizations and donors. It has largely accomplished its mission. I wish to commend the contributions made by past and present APOC staff, governments, communities and the other stakeholders. They have inspired the higher ambitions of NTD elimination.

After 3 years of intensive and sometimes challenging discussions and negotiations with partners, we are in the final stages of establishing a new NTD entity. The Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of NTDs (ESPEN) will be hosted at the Regional Office and become operational in January 2016. ESPEN is going to be lean and will focus on technical support while national programmes, working with partners, are expected to assume more responsibility for implementation. We will have the opportunity to discuss this on Thursday morning

Honourable Ministers, when I took office I committed myself to enhancing the performance of the WHO Secretariat in the African Region as part of the WHO Reform. We have, since May, embarked on an ambitious agenda to transform the WHO Secretariat in the African Region into an effective, responsive, accountable and results-driven Organization. We are calling this the Transformation Agenda. There are several components to this agenda linked to WHO’s governance, programmatic and management reform. We are currently revisiting our human resources with the view of ensuring that we have the best experts in the right positions to carry out the required functions effectively. We will be discussing the Transformation Agenda on Tuesday morning.

I would like to end my speech by thanking you again for giving me the opportunity to serve you as Regional Director. I have already been on some visits to Member States since I assumed office. I thank the Ministers and national authorities for the cordial interactions and very concrete discussions and decisions taken to improve the people’s health. I would also like to thank the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, for her invaluable support. Margaret, I know that I can continue to count on you. The modest achievements made so far would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of you, Honourable Ministers, development partners and donors and members of the WHO Secretariat. I say a big thank you to you all.

Despite the progress made so far, the challenges in the field of health remain numerous and diverse in our Region. I am very confident that the vision and strategies of the new management team of the Regional Office are clearly established to address these challenges. Let me once again thank His Excellency the President and the Government and people of Chad for their hospitality.

I look forward to the opportunity to interact with you all during this Sixty-fifth session of the Regional Committee. I am certain that we will have very productive deliberations with very concrete outputs.

I thank you very much for your attention.