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Opening speech by Commissioner Kyriakides to the 2021 World Health Summit

Opening speech given recently (26 October 2021) by Commissioner Kyriakides to the 2021 World Health Summit.

"Check against delivery"

"The Role of the European Union in Global Health"

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like any virus, COVID-19 highlights the fault lines in our societies and our health systems – it amplifies inequalities, targets vulnerable groups, and reveals the tendency to under-finance and under-prioritise health.

It has caused untold damage around the world, but it is also showing us where we need to improve, and how.

Since Day One of this pandemic, it has been clear to me that collaboration and solidarity offer the surest path towards healthier, more equal and more resilient societies.

In practice, this means that healthcare cannot be the responsibility of the health sector alone. Instead, success depends on multi-level and multi-sectoral cooperation. We must understand that investing in health today, saves trillions tomorrow.

This applies to the current crisis – but also to the day after COVID-19.

Any solution must include the most vulnerable members of our society. They are the baseline by which we must measure success.

I am delighted to join the 2021 World Health Summit – which gathers leaders from the world of science, politics, the private sector, and civil society.

This is exactly the type of inclusive coalition we need to build long-lasting, sustainable progress.

The EU is determined to do its part. We are taking decisive, coordinated steps to end the pandemic – and to create healthier, more resilient societies.

We are building a strong European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises; and where innovative medical supplies are available and affordable.

What we seek through these initiatives is to:

  • better protect the health of our citizens;
  • to give the EU and its Member States the tools they need to better prevent and address future pandemics; and
  • to improve the resilience of Europe's health systems. 

The European Health Union is a broad tent. It will mobilise all our resources to strengthen our fight against cancer and to improve access to pharmaceuticals for our citizens.

Its key focus for the immediate term is on crisis preparedness and response, including:

  • A stronger EU Health Security Framework;
  • Stronger mandates for the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Medicines Agency ; and
  • The new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, or HERA.

HERA's core mission is to strengthen EU health security coordination. It will allow us to look down the line, to identify and prevent potential health emergencies, and to be ready for them when they do occur.

HERA will also have an important global role involving surveillance, production, and cooperation around the availability and accessibility of medical countermeasures.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Global solidarity offers the surest and most permanent exit from this pandemic.

The level of global inequity when it comes to vaccination is simply unacceptable. I say this as the European Commissioner for Health, and as a global citizen.

Speeding up global vaccination is an absolute priority – and we are determined to do our part.

The EU recently reached an important milestone in the delivery of vaccines. We have exported over 1 billion doses worldwide, over the past ten months.  Vaccines produced in the EU have been shipped to more than 150 countries on all continents.

In fact, at least every second vaccine produced in Europe is exported.

At the same time, the EU and its Member States, as Team Europe, have mobilised over EUR 46 billion for partner countries' efforts to fight COVID-19, in particular in low and middle income countries.

We have helped to set up the ACT- Accelerator and are spearheading the global vaccine rollout with over EUR 3 billion in support for COVAX.

We will continue to strongly support this vital initiative – but it is clear that we all need to do more.

In the coming months, Team Europe will donate at least 500 million doses to the most vulnerable countries.

We are calling on all nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness.

The pandemic has also highlighted a structural problem: the wide discrepancy in medical manufacturing capabilities around the world. For example, Africa still imports 99% of its vaccines and 94% of its medicines.

Earlier this year, we announced a new EUR 1 billion initiative to enhance local medical manufacturing in Africa. This was a direct response to a call by African leaders to boost local pharmaceutical production.

This, and other related efforts, will contribute to our overall goal of supporting resilient health systems around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU will continue to live up to its global and moral responsibilities.

And we will continue to spearhead the effort to strengthen the global health architecture.

We will not stop supporting the WHO's vital leadership role and advancing the WHO reform process.

We will continue to lead the movement for an international treaty on pandemic preparedness and response.

Both of these elements are essential to prepare for the future.

But after two years almost of living with COVID, we also need to look at the bigger picture: how we live, how we cooperate, and how we interact with the world around us.

We are dealing with a respiratory virus, on a planet that struggles to breathe.

Our future is on the line because our way of life is no longer sustainable. Our interactions with nature will produce more zoonotic viruses. Medicine-resistant bacteria. Possibly more pandemics.

We need to rethink the way we live, work, move and eat.

Our Farm to Fork strategy is another key piece of this puzzle, as it looks to build a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system.

Through the European Green Deal we want to restore biodiversity, cut pollution, and boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy – while leaving no one behind.

All these elements underline what I had started with: only by working together, by showing solidarity we will be able to build more equal and more resilient societies.

Let us use this crisis as a wake up call.

Our health, and the health of our planet, need to come first.

Not just now. But also once this crisis is over.

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