PKU Global Health and Development Forum 2022
Remarks by Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China (pre-recorded)
A recording of this message can be found on YouTube and Tencent Video
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to join the Peking University Global Health and Development Forum. I wish to thank the Beijing Forum 2022, Peking University, and the Asian Development Bank for convening this important event and the invitation to address participants on the topic of “Global Health: Digital Transformation and Development Divides.”
Since its inception, the United Nations (UN), has been actively involved in promoting and protecting health worldwide. Leading that effort within the UN system is the World Health Organization (WHO), founded in 1948. Working with its 194 Member States across six regions and on the ground in over 150 locations, the WHO team, as part of the UN system, strives to achieve its main objective, the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.
Today, WHO, together with other UN entities, works in collaboration with health and development partners to achieve the health-related targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 3, which calls for global action to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
The SDGs underscore the essential role of good health and well-being in achieving sustainable development. Such efforts in securing a healthier future necessitate enhanced multilateral engagement that demonstrates the value of collaboration between diverse actors working in different fields in all countries around the world.
WHO has partnered with its relevant counterparts here in China since 1981. The nature of that cooperation has adapted to China’s changing social and economic context to ensure that the most pertinent health needs of the day are being addressed while reflecting China’s repositioning as a development assistance provider.
WHO and China have now expanded their global partnership to support other countries’ efforts to build stronger health systems and respond to international crises and outbreaks. There is tremendous potential for ongoing collaboration.
So it is time for the UN in China, through the efforts of the WHO, with the Government of China, to renew and reinvigorate this collaboration to address China’s health needs at home and to address the growing needs of countries in the Global South.
Ladies and gentlemen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance and possibilities of global health diplomacy in resolving such challenges, but it has also revealed the stress points that prevent us from realizing the full potential of true multilateralism in this space.
The pandemic has highlighted the profound need for a spirit of collaboration that prioritizes people over profits and health over politics, and that recognizes that we are stronger when we work to lift not just ourselves, but the most vulnerable among us.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of many health systems and highlighted the urgency of achieving universal health coverage. It has also highlighted the urgency of digital cooperation and demonstrated the interconnectedness of our challenges.
Digital technologies have been integral to nearly every aspect of the response to the pandemic, including through their use in the collection and analysis of population data to drive decision-making, the communication of vital information to and with the public, and the continued delivery of health services through online platforms, all helping us to mitigate and respond to the realities of COVID-19.
There is no doubt that digital technologies must be made a global public good, because of their promise. But the challenges it brings require robust international cooperation built on mutual trust and a common commitment to good governance of digital technologies and access for all, so that existing inequalities are not further exacerbated.
However, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said, and I quote, “the digital divide… is threatening to become the new face of inequality, reinforcing the social and economic disadvantages suffered by women and girls, people with disabilities and minorities of all kinds.” The benefits of digital technologies are failing to reach those who most need them. This is unacceptable, and we must come together to address this.
In 2019, the WHO released its Global strategy on digital health 2020-2025. The vision of the global strategy is to improve health for everyone, everywhere. The strategy sets forth a road map for achieving universal health coverage and the health-related SDGs, by recognizing the urgent need to address the obstacles faced by the least developed countries in utilizing digital health technologies.
As the global strategy emphasizes, whilst this transformation can be disruptive, digital technologies can potentially enhance health outcomes.
But we need to ensure these innovations are accessible to providers and patients in all countries. Where one resides should not determine the quality of health care received.
Moreover, while digital health should and must be an integral part of health priorities everywhere, it must be integrated in an ethical, safe, secure, reliable and sustainable way. Achieving this requires enhanced cooperation based on the fundamental principles of transparency, accessibility, scalability, privacy, and security.
The UN in China stands ready to work with all relevant stakeholders to usher in a new spirit of multilateralism to help realize the vision of the global strategy on digital health and to work closely with the Government of China, academia, and other partners to achieve the Healthy China 2030 Action Plan.
I wish you productive discussions. Thank you.