WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on Health Emergencies – 15 May 2024

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all Member States, and thank you for joining us once again.

WHO launched the Universal Health and Preparedness Review in 2020, to help address the gaps exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to support mutual accountability, solidarity and cooperation among Member States.

So far, 10 countries in five regions have enrolled and we hope more Member States in every WHO region will participate.

The Executive Board has mandated that WHO continue the voluntary pilot phase.

The first global peer review of the UHPR was successfully conducted this past February, completing a full cycle of the review process.

Countries that participated in the pilots have demonstrated remarkable openness and technical rigor, setting a commendable standard for others.

We must keep health emergency and pandemic preparedness as a high priority, nationally, regionally, and at the global level. You will hear more from Dr Stella Chungong.

I thank you for your support of this innovative effort, and we look forward to working closely with Member States and stakeholders to build on the progress we have jointly achieved so far.


Moving on, to an update on the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, known as SAGO.

SAGO, as you know, is advising WHO regarding approaches to identifying the origins of novel pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, as well as known pathogens which re-emerge.

Today, Dr Venter, chair of SAGO, and Dr Van Kerkhove will update you on the Global Framework to guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential.

The framework will be published later this month.

The work of SAGO has not been easy. My sincere thanks to the chairs and members of SAGO for their hard work and dedication.

The politicisation of the origins of SARS-CoV-2 has been a barrier to the advancement of understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic began.

I thank SAGO for keeping their work rooted in science and look forward to their assessment.


Now to an update on WHO response to the humanitarian crises in the occupied Palestinian territory, Sudan and Ukraine.

In the occupied Palestinian territory, we are deeply concerned about Israel’s increased military activities in Rafah, where most of Gaza’s people have fled for safety.

Over 350,000 people are estimated to have left Rafah for Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah, but around one million people remain at risk in Rafah, about half of whom are children.

Already, one of Rafah’s three hospitals – the An-Najjar hospital – has had to shut down.

Two field hospitals are at imminent risk of ceasing operations as they are located in the area under evacuation orders.

The Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza remains closed, which is a major access point for supplies into Gaza.

Approximately 2,000 trucks are currently queuing to enter Gaza with critical life-saving supplies.

WHO has pre-positioned some supplies in warehouses and hospitals, but without more aid flowing into Gaza, we cannot sustain our lifesaving support to hospitals.

WHO and UN staff are also under fire.

A few days ago, a United Nations armoured vehicle on its way to a hospital was attacked. One staff member was killed, and another was seriously injured.

This is totally unacceptable.

WHO has no intention of withdrawing from Rafah and will stay and deliver alongside our partners.

We are coordinating the work of 18 Emergency Medical Teams in Gaza.

These teams are embedded in 10 existing hospitals and have established six field hospitals.

They are working at all levels of care, in the north and south, providing trauma stabilisation, delivering babies, supporting early warning for disease outbreaks, and so much more.

A ceasefire is urgently needed.

WHO calls for the removal of all obstacles to the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance into and across Gaza, at the scale that is required.


Now to Sudan, where more than a year of fighting has left the country facing a major humanitarian disaster.

The conflict has led to a devastating deterioration in food security. More than one-third of the population is facing acute hunger, and there is a risk of famine in Darfur and Khartoum.

Time is running out, with the lean season just weeks away.

This is the world`s largest hunger crisis.

Humanitarian partners have released a famine prevention plan. We must act now.

The violence has led to at least 15,000 deaths and 33,000 injuries since the conflict began in April last year, and this is likely a significant undercount of the real human toll.

15 million people need humanitarian health assistance.

Almost nine million people are displaced, half of them children, with extremely limited access to health services. Sudan currently has the world`s largest number of forcibly displaced people.

More than 70% of hospitals in conflict-affected states, and almost half of health facilities in the rest of the country, are not functioning.

Health facilities, ambulances, health workers and patients continue to be attacked, depriving entire communities of essential health services.

Two of our colleagues from the International Committee of the Red Cross were recently killed in South Darfur.

There are serious violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. Sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war.

WHO’s priority is to ensure continuity of health services to prevent and respond to outbreaks, and to provide care for those most in need, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under five.

It is imperative that all sides to the conflict provide unhindered humanitarian access to those in need, including through cross-border routes.

We call for a ceasefire and a comprehensive peace process for Sudan.

After a year into the crisis, a strong re-commitment to the humanitarian operation is urgently needed.

The window to act is closing.


WHO continues to provide crucial support to the Ukrainian health care system. It has remained resilient but faces continued challenges amid the impact of war.

An estimated 7.8 million will require health assistance in 2024.

There are at least 32,100 civilian casualties so far, with nearly 11,000 killed and more than 21,000 injured.

Nearly 10 million people are displaced.

Since the end of December 2023, Ukraine has suffered some of the worst attacks of the war so far.

The attacks have resulted in casualties amongst health care workers, patients, and other civilians.

Since the beginning of the war, WHO has verified a total of 1773 attacks on health care, resulting in 311 injuries and 136 deaths.

On the frontline regions, about one-quarter of health facilities have been damaged.

Health care must never be a target.

Dr Teresa Zakaria will update you on WHO’s work on these crises in more detail.


As always, we are grateful for your engagement with today’s presentations, and we look forward to your questions, comments and guidance.

I thank you.

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