Secretary Becerra Delivers Remarks to the World Health Assembly Special Session

Senate confirms Xavier Becerra as health and human services secretary

As Prepared for Delivery

Esteemed Officers of The Assembly, Director General Tedros, Distinguished Colleagues: I’m honored to join you today and rightfully begin by extending my thanks to the women and men of the WHO and to our resilient frontline workers protecting the health of our communities.

More than five million people have lost their lives to COVID-19. Those numbers do not capture the full story. But they explain the urgency of our collective action.

They explain President Biden’s ambitious targets to accelerate global vaccination, advance equity, and increase access to diagnostics and therapeutics to save lives now.

These targets support the WHO’s goal of ensuring at least 70 percent of the world’s population is vaccinated by mid-2022.

The U.S. has already committed to providing 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to where they are needed most.

So far, in coordination with COVAX or bilaterally, we’ve provided 260 million doses to 110 countries and economies.

And we’re joining key partners to support our frontline healthcare workers, the majority of whom are women. That means ensuring a safe work environment, providing better training, increasing diversity, promoting pay equity, and supporting the smart use of data and technology.

We’re also committed to working with Member States to take forward the recent recommendations of the Working Group on Preparedness and Response. That includes developing a new WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument, and making targeted amendments to improve the effectiveness and agility of the International Health Regulations.

Over and over, COVID has reminded us that it will not go down easily — and that we must act together.

This past week’s news of a new variant of concern has heightened our antennae.

I wish to express our gratitude and support to the government of South Africa for moving so swiftly and transparently in alerting the world of this latest development. U.S. health officials are working closely with sister ministries in Southern Africa to understand more about this new variant and mobilize to contain it.

We know this could happen at any time, anywhere in the world. That’s why, in responding to Omicron, we owe our brothers and sisters in Southern Africa the same resolve to act swiftly and transparently in the best interests of all our people.

Madam President, this Special Session is a chance to demonstrate our commitment to strengthen the WHO and advance global public health. But most importantly, it’s a chance to show our commitment to each other.
Half a century ago, then-U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry addressed the World Health Assembly during the fight against smallpox, saying “We have the knowledge. And knowledge represents responsibility.”

My colleagues: We have the knowledge…we have the responsibility…and we have the power to build a stronger global health system — one that can prevent or control the next outbreak before it becomes a pandemic….But only if we build it together.