UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the World Health Summit Panel “Accelerating the SDG-3 Global Action Plan for Health and Wellbeing”

As prepared for delivery

27 October 2020

NEW YORK, 27 October 2020 – "COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the weaknesses in health systems worldwide. Lending new urgency to our collective work to build stronger primary health care systems for the future. 

"As we respond to this pandemic, this work must continue.  

"In fact, a truly effective and sustainable response to COVID-19 goes beyond the discovery and deployment of new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. It also includes building health systems that are resilient to future shocks. And available at the community level, accessible to all, no matter where they live.

"In short — addressing COVID-19 and reaching SDG 3 are two sides of the same coin. We cannot do one without the other.

"Before COVID struck, over five million children under five died from preventable causes every year — from pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and vaccine-preventable conditions.

"2.4 million children were born stillborn — another fate we could avoid through better quality health care.

"And about 20 million children go without vital vaccinations every year. Again, a preventable situation.

"These are all areas where we can accelerate progress and build stronger health systems overall.

"That’s why UNICEF is proud to co-lead the PHC accelerator under the Global Action Plan for SDG 3.

"We have a lot to offer.

"We’re bringing to bear our country-level presence across 190 countries.

"Our expert teams with deep and longstanding experience in delivering primary health care in a variety of difficult contexts.

"And our partnerships with governments to build stronger health platforms that can deliver a variety of services and interventions in one place, where people live. Immunizations, malnutrition screening and treatment, maternal and newborn care — as well as stronger WASH and nutrition programming. In other words — all of the services that go into shaping healthy lives and stronger health systems.

"Now, under COVID-19, we’re adapting our programming and focusing on a few areas in particular that can help us not only fight COVID, but build stronger health systems.

"This includes re-starting immunization campaigns — many of which ground to a halt when the pandemic struck. In fact, we’ve reached 14.4 million children in Ethiopia with immunizations since the pandemic began.

"We’ve reached over 40 million women and children in 75 countries with essential healthcare services — including antenatal, delivery and postnatal care, newborn care, immunizations and screening for common childhood illnesses.

"We’ve helped train 2.8 million healthcare staff and community health workers in infection prevention and control.

"We’ve quickly scaled-up our community engagement and social and behavior change communication to reach 2.6 billion people with urgent COVID-19 messaging on prevention and service access — including in emergency settings. Because being able to deliver health services isn’t enough. We’ve also learned from experience on the ground about the importance of demand for, and acceptance of, these services, and healthy practices in communities, households, schools and health centres.

"And now, UNICEF is leading the procurement and delivery of COVID vaccines through the COVAX facility. We’re very excited to be working with governments, manufacturers and other partners to ensure that a vaccine is delivered fairly and equitably around the world.

"But across all of this work — short and long-term, whether related to COVID-19 or not — we need national leadership.

"Bringing the Global Action Plan to life means making it as practical as possible at the country level. The Plan represents a major change in how agencies, NGOs and governments collaborate for stronger health systems.

"As a next step, UNICEF would like to suggest that we find practical ways to join-up and streamline the administrative, financial and reporting relationships at all levels.

"Closing the gaps between people and the health systems they need demands a global health architecture that is as streamlined and efficient and delivers to the poorest and most vulnerable. Not only in the delivery of services on the ground — but across all of the administrative “behind the scenes” work that makes these services possible.

"UNICEF looks forward to working with our partners here today — and with governments and communities worldwide — to advance these important efforts."


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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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