Opening Remarks by Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi at Beijing International Conference for Public Health Cooperation - 6 September 2020, Beijing

Dear colleagues from Beijing Municipal Health Commission, International Health Exchange and Cooperation Center of the National Health Commission, and People’s Government of Beijing Municipality,


Colleagues from the UN system,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning!


Let me begin by thanking the Beijing Municipal Health Commission and International Health Exchange and Cooperation Center of the National Health Commission, for organizing this important discussion here at the China International Fair for Trade in Services.


Over the span of a few short months, COVID-19 has spread to every corner of the world, infecting more than 25 million people and claiming more than 850,000 lives across 216 countries, areas and territories. The pandemic is exposing and exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, It has placed pressure on the weakest points in our health systems, curtailed access to finance, threatens to cause heightened food insecurity, and continues to disrupt international trade. It has posed tremendous risks to human health and safety as well as to the world economy, having proved itself a grave challenge to the global public health governance system and to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

To give one example, a WHO survey published in August from 105 countries shows that 90% of countries have experienced disruption to their health services. Low- and middle-income countries have been the most affected. Women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, indigenous people and people living with HIV/AIDS are the most vulnerable to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as they have very limited (or in some cases no capacity) to cope with either the health or socioeconomic impacts of the shock. UNAIDS, together with WHO, highlighted that a complete disruption of HIV treatment services for six months in sub-Saharan Africa, could result in an extra half a million deaths from HIV this year alone - doubling deaths and overturning more than a decade of progress as death rates climb back to levels not seen since 2008. It has become clear that no country will be able to emerge from this crisis on its own, let alone effectively address the increasing number of global challenges as listed above. Instead, a “massive” and combined effort by all countries is needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, as pointed out by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.


The UN system mobilized early and comprehensively, leading on the global health response, continuing and expanding the provision of lifesaving humanitarian assistance, establishing instruments for rapid responses to the socio-economic impact and laying out a broad policy agenda for action on all fronts.


The UN Secretary-General has launched the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19 to save lives, protect societies, and recover better. The Response sets out what we can and must do to: (1) deliver a global response that leaves no-one behind; (2) reduce our vulnerability to future pandemics; (3) build resilience to future shocks – above all climate change, and (4) overcome the severe and systemic inequalities exposed by the pandemic. The Response promotes three pillars of operation namely, delivery of a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response; adoption of policies that address the devastating socioeconomic, humanitarian and human rights aspects of the crisis; and a recovery process that builds back better. The UN has also launched a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to support low and middle-income countries in responding to the pandemic and its impact.


As part of the coordinated UN response, the UN Secretary-General is issuing policy briefs to provide ideas to governments on how to address the consequences of this crisis. Bringing together latest achievements in policy making, innovation, and achieving catalytic impact, these analytical documents focus on issues ranging from the immediate socio-economic impact, debt, unemployment and jobs, to mental health, human rights and inequality, and target various population groups to include women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.


WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for COVID-19 response, outlines the public health measures to support all countries to prepare for and respond to COVID-19. The Plan required actions including: a) rapidly establishing international coordination to deliver strategic, technical, and operational support through existing mechanisms and partnerships; b) scaling up country preparedness and response operations, including strengthening readiness to rapidly identify, diagnose and treat coronavirus cases; infection prevention and control in healthcare settings; implementation of health measures for travelers; and awareness raising through risk communication and community engagement; and c) accelerating priority research and innovation to fast track and scale-up research, development, and the equitable availability of therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostics. The estimated resource requirements to implement this Plan was USD 675 million for the first 3 months alone; this figure was updated in May to take into account the evolution of the pandemic and the needs of priority countries, with a revised requirement of US$1.74 billion for WHO’s response activities up to the end of 2020. The progress report for the Preparedness and Response Plan covering the period of 1 February to 30 June 2020 warned that in the absence of urgent action, countries will “see decades of development gains wiped out, with consequences that will last for generations to come”, highlighting that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis well beyond the realm of health, presenting profound socio-economic and development challenges.


Here in China, the Government has shown great agility in responding to the outbreak and recovery efforts are supporting the coordinated move towards a ‘new normal’. China has also provided support to more than 150 countries and international organizations in COVID response, including committing USD 2 billion, over two years, to support COVID-19 responses worldwide. This commitment must be commended, but much more will be needed to support developing countries now fighting this pandemic. In May, the Chinese Government, together with WHO, launched the “COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization - Action for China” to appeal to Chinese netizens to donate within their means to support the global pandemic response. This reaffirms unity and solidarity from China, including from individuals and communities in their response to COVID-19 domestically and in supporting others in the global fight against the pandemic.


COVID-19 presents an unprecedented crisis requiring extraordinary global solidarity to urgently respond. Without coordinated actions and solidarity, we will not be able to overcome the pandemic. As the pandemic continues its global spread uncontained, progress towards the SDGs will continue to be stalled. We need to conduct collaborative research and knowledge sharing to help to answer some of the crucial questions about the transmissibility of the virus, the clinical spectrum of the disease, and its capacity to rapidly overwhelm even the most resilient health systems, while analyzing and attempting to gain a clearer understanding of the efficacy and the shortcomings of different response strategies in different contexts to inform future responses. Just as the disease itself is non-discriminatory we ourselves cannot discriminate and must support the development and distribution of a “people’s vaccine” to benefit all people across the world, especially the most vulnerable, making sure that no one is left behind.


This morning, we are coming together to launch the “Fighting against Global Disease Threats with Shared Anti-Epidemic Experience and Practices” Beijing Proposal. With the support of all parties, the proposal will contribute to improve human health and build a bridge for global cooperation on public health.

It will help countries expand their health-care capacity and mitigate the virus’ social impact, especially on women, children and vulnerable social groups. And it will contribute to enhancing the global public health governance system and fundamentally, to achieving the SDGs. Solidarity within and between countries, individuals, communities and the private sector is essential if we are to overcome the unprecedented challenges we face across the globe.


Today we are taking a step forward: sharing experiences and practices to be able to build back better, and better prepare ourselves for the future. This means we must think beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic and prepare ourselves for potential future pandemics and crises which will require collaborative global responses. We should develop a far-sighted view, and identify and agree on next steps to make full use of the Decade of Action and Delivery of the SDGs that remains between now and 2030.


Together, lets join hands in sharing resources and experiences, to help countries all over the world to overcome this unprecedented crisis confronting humankind.

Thank you. 

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