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Speech by Dr. Cao Minh Quang, Vice Minister of Health of S.R. Vietnam, Plenary meeting of the 61st World Health Assembly

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Date: Tuesday, 20 May, 2008
Event: Plenary meeting of the 61st World Health Assembly, Geneva, Switzerland

Speaker:
  Dr. Cao Minh Quang, Vice Minister of Health of S.R. Vietnam 

Mr Chairman
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General
Ladies and Gentlemen

As of today, we have reached the critical midpoint on the road towards achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is no better time for me to speak to the international community and all of you about the importance of remaining steadfastly committed to the MDGs – which I believe is a blueprint for helping the world's most disadvantaged.

Since the UN Millennium Declaration, Vietnam has never wavered in its devotion to the achievement of the Goals. It has successfully controlled malaria and made substantial progress in its efforts to control the epidemics of TB and HIV. Vietnam has gained remarkable results for under-five mortality rate partly thanks to increased access to water and sanitation, nation-wide nutritional education programs, integrated management of childhood illnesses and universal immunization.

Declining maternal mortality together with the high proportion of deliveries performed by skilled attendants open a prospect for reaching the target set forth for maternal mortality.

The achievements made by Vietnam's health sector are due to its resolute dedication to an equitable, universal and quality primary health system. Vietnam believes these guiding principles cannot be compromised if developing countries are to achieve health-related MDGs. Vietnam will be pleased to share its successes and experiences with others. I believe Vietnam's experience is particularly relevant to both other Member States in the Region and those with a significant portion of their population living with low and middle incomes.
           
Vietnam is in the midst of generation-long evolution. This includes social, economic, demographic and epidemiological transition. Like other countries under rapid expansion and development, Vietnam has had to shoulder the burden of not only "traditional" communicable diseases, but also non-communicable diseases and most recently, the threat of emerging infectious diseases. 

These diseases - such as SARS, avian influenza and dengue - require rapid, comprehensive and coordinated prevention and control measures across the Asia-Pacific region and the globe. Therefore the establishment of a Health Security Belt for Asia Pacific would be necessary to meet the urgent need for collective efforts and actions in risk assessment, the timely sharing of samples and the development of preventative measures. Of course clear internationally-agreed policies that provide fair and equitable sharing of benefits need to be established – but this should not be a barrier to protecting the population from infectious diseases. I highly appreciate your input in how we can best move forward with this initiative.

Also of great concern to Vietnam is the issue of climate change. The World Bank has found that Vietnam would be the globe’s worst- affected country if sea levels rose one metre. The report estimated that 10.8 percent of the Vietnam’s population would be displaced with a meter rise.  If this were to happen the effects would be catastrophic. In the Mekong Delta alone most of the agricultural land would become unsuitable for crop cultivation. Food security and access to clean and plentiful water are at risk.

It is clear that climate change and the MDGs are not separate concerns – but intrinsically entwined. Vietnam has experienced a noticeable increase in both the severity and frequency of storms, typhoons and landslides. 
                
We would like to take this chance in this forum to express our deep sympathy to the Government and people of China and Myanmar for their lost and suffering due to the recent terrible disasters.

These extreme and unpredictable weather patterns are threatening to undermine the advances countries have made in meeting the MDGs. In Vietnam, these natural disasters create health emergencies in large parts of the country and those affected are particularly vulnerable to health risks, even at the post-disaster and recovery stages.

Vietnam understands that WHO recognizes the gravity of climate change as a growing threat to public health – as WHO selected it as a theme for this year's World Health Day. Vietnam too is committed to protecting its citizens from the adverse health effects of climate change, avoiding the trade off of environment for economic development and working toward sustainable development. However, it requires WHO’s assistance to mobilize financial and technical resources to support the development and implementation of sustainable environmental health, national food and water safety programs.

This Assembly is not only the best forum to share achievements and challenges – but to flag obstacles to those developing countries striving to achieve the MDGs.  It is apparent that many developing countries, including Vietnam, lack sufficient resources to incorporate MDG indicators in their routine national reporting system. Therefore the progress towards some of the health-related MDGs can be difficult to monitor. Vietnam urges WHO to mobilize adequate resources to help countries to strengthen national health information systems.  This is critical to ensuring the timely and accurate monitoring and reporting of the health-related MDG indicators.

Finally, Vietnam is confident that with continuing support from WHO and the international community, it is not only on track to reach the MDGs by 2015– but also in some instances, achieves beyond these targets.

Thank you for your attention.