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WHO Director-General's remarks at the G20 Ambassadors meeting - 19 November

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Your Excellency Dr Abdulaziz Alwasil, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Geneva,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity of joining you today.

I would like to thank and congratulate Saudi Arabia on its G20 Presidency. It has not been an easy year, as we know, and the Saudi G20 Presidency has been quick to adapt to the changing environment.

WHO is grateful for its continued role in the G20 as an invited international organization, and we are looking forward to participating in tomorrow’s leaders summit.

WHO has participated in the G20 since the German Presidency in 2017 – I would like to use this opportunity to thank to Chancellor Merkel for setting this precedent – and values the relationship it has built with G20 members.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of multilateral fora such as the G20 as a platform for international cooperation to address international crises.

The pandemic has underscored that health is the foundation of social, economic and political stability – and that the world was not prepared.

In March, G20 leaders tasked WHO and our partners with undertaking an assessment of gaps in pandemic preparedness.

The report was completed in August, as you know. WHO would like thank the organizations that provided input and feedback to the document, which we see as our legacy document from the Saudi G20 Presidency. And I again thank Saudi Arabia for its leadership.

The report assesses gaps at the global and country level, and examines general trends rather than specific national policies.

It offers recommendations for G20 countries, both at the national and global level. We urge countries to implement these recommendations as part of their efforts to avoid a future pandemic.

I’d like to focus on three key areas in which the G20 has a vital role to play, both in ending the pandemic and building back better.

First, leadership.

Representing two-thirds of the world’s population and 80% of the global economy, the G20 has a unique leadership role to play in strengthening global preparedness.

G20 countries can lead by example by ensuring they implement their core capacities under the International Health Regulations.

Second, research.

G20 countries have played a key role in the rapid development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19 – and we also appreciate the support of most G20 countries for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX facility.

Fully funding the ACT Accelerator is now essential for realizing its promise.

And third, preparedness.

The single most important lesson from the pandemic is that all countries must invest in preparedness especially in public health – locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

In recent years, many countries have made huge investments and advances in medicine, but too many have neglected their basic public health systems, which are the bedrock for preventing, preparing for, detecting and responding to outbreaks – and for promoting health and preventing illness of all types.

Specifically, investments are needed in national capacities for prevention, detection and response to disease outbreaks and other health emergencies.

Health can no longer be seen as a by-product of development, or as a cost to be contained.

It is the foundation of productive, resilient and stable economies.

Too often the links between health and economics have been neglected or not sufficiently understood.

To address that gap, WHO has established a Council on the Economics of Health for All, to focus on the links between health and sustainable, inclusive and innovation-led economic growth.

We thank the many G2O countries who have demonstrated strong support for WHO during the pandemic, and we look to the G20 to provide courageous leadership to end the pandemic and to build the healthier, safer, fairer and more sustainable world we all want.

G20’s leadership is very important, more than ever before.

I thank you.