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Hon. ‘Uliti Uata address at the Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland

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28 May, 2012. Tonga's Minister of Health, Honourable ‘Uliti Uata address at the Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland 21-26 May 2012

Madam President,
Director-General of the World Health Organization: Dr Margaret Chan,
Honourable ministers,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour and a privilege to address this important assembly today, on behalf of the Pacific island nations, namely: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and my own country, Tonga.

We extend to you all our heart-felt greetings from the Pacific.

Madam President, allow me to congratulate you on your new appointment. We are confident that you will lead and guide this Assembly through constructive deliberations and fruitful conclusions.

The Pacific island nations look forward to the approval by this Assembly of Dr Maragret Chan's nomination for another term as Director- General. Dr Chan, you have the full support of the Pacific island nations.

As we meet this year, we are - all of us - still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis. At the start of the crisis, our Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan warned us not to allow health to be yet another victim of the financial crisis.

With that backdrop, The Pacific Island countries can only resoundingly endorse the adoption of universal coverage, as a means to safeguard the health and well-being of our people. However, some of the issues that restrict countries from moving to universal coverage - availability of resources, direct payment at the time of care and inefficient, inequitable use of resources - are all the more important in these financially uncertain times.

Madam President, we all know from experience that implementation must be context-specific to be effective and sustainable. While each of the Pacific Island countries is distinct, some of our shared characteristics lead to shared challenges. For instance Kiribati consists of 33 atolls, which span a distance of approximately 5000 kms. So a major challenge for our countries is the provision of service on an equitable basis to small populations, scattered over many remote islands.

Within our reality of major logistical constraints, NCDs are a major and growing problem. Risk factors for developing NCDs in the Pacific are shocking: three out of every 4 adults is obese; in some Pacific island countries and areas up to 40% of adults suffer from diabetes. This drains resources, reduces productivity, and robs families and communities due to early death. But the next generation - more overweight and less active than any other Pacific generation in history - is the tsunami of the future.

Madam President, effective actions are understood - from prevention to early detection and treatment. To ensure urgent action on solutions, heads of state for the Pacific island countries have publically declared an NCD crisis. They have pledged strong and sustained leadership to drive a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response.

I reiterate what my own Prime Minister said at the recent UN high-level meeting on NCDs: doing nothing is not an option - not for today's generation and certainly not for tomorrow's generation.

Madam President, we will maintain the momentum that will push us forward in a sustainable response to the NCD crisis. We recognize this will not be possible unless we also have a commitment to universal coverage. As Dr Chan herself said when launching the World health report 2010 on health systems financing: " ...in ethical terms, ... no one in need of health care, whether curative or preventive, should risk financial ruin as a result of paying for this care."

Thank you for your attention.


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