Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 26, 2021
Let me start by saying good morning, again, to those who are here on the East Coast in the United States with me, and good afternoon to those of you across the Atlantic. We’re so honored by your presence here today. I’m glad all of you could join us for what will be the first of many conversations we plan to have on this topic. And a special thank you to the Permanent Representatives of Argentina, Japan, Norway, and South Africa for co-hosting this event with me today.
Before I get started, I want to take a moment to talk about the heartbreaking situation in India. The most recent spike of COVID-19 cases there has been devastating. The United States stands in solidarity with the people of India. We are doing everything we can to help, including deploying raw materials for vaccines, as well as therapeutics, rapid diagnostic kits, ventilators, oxygen generation supplies, CDC and USAID public health teams, and financial support for vaccine expansion. We will work around the clock to help our ally and alleviate the suffering. And we implore others to do so as well.
As India so unfortunately demonstrates, it is hard to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on the world. As of the latest count, over 142 million people have gotten infected from COVID-19. Over three million people have died. And, as we all know, the impacts were not limited to the illness itself. We’ve learned the hard way that global health isn’t just about viruses and disease. It touches every aspect of life itself. Economies have suffered. Gender-based violence has spiked. Kids have been forced to stay home from school, and millions – including an estimated 11 million girls according to UNESCO – may not return.
More people going hungry. More people resorting to violence. More people having their human rights violated. Rising inequality at rates we’ve never recorded before. The pandemic has disrupted people’s lives and livelihoods in ways it will take us years – maybe even decades – to fully comprehend. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have all rightly been focused on the response and on saving lives. While we continue to do that together, we also need to act swiftly and urgently – before the end of this calendar year – to strengthen health security and build the pandemic preparedness architecture for the future.
The takeaway from this past year is clear: the world barely withstood this pandemic. We must be ready for the next. We cannot continue to under-invest – after outbreaks, epidemics, and now a pandemic – in our capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats. That’s why we’ve invited experts, external stakeholders, and top leaders to speak with us today. We want to use this meeting to hear big, bold ideas. And then we need to explore specific next steps, and set a clear roadmap for the rest of 2021. We’ll need to address issues, like establishing sustainable health security financing beyond overseas development assistance, setting up accountability mechanisms for oversight, and identifying triggers for surge capacity, so that we can implement a rapid response if – and when – the next pandemic strikes.
These complex issues require us to be expansive and creative in our thinking. So, we’ve structured the bulk of this event and discussion with Chatham House Rules, because we want our speakers to be completely candid. And we need concrete outcomes, so we can collectively reconvene this fall to execute a vision.
So, to be clear: while this initial event format does not include Member State interventions from those invited to attend, we fully envision carrying those conversations and themes forward through future engagement opportunities, including through the highly effective Group of Friends communities. In other words, consider today a first step to kick-off our call-to-action.
Because we recognize that solutions will require deep partnerships and collaboration, half-measures won’t suffice. That means generating ideas, gathering perspectives, and forging consensus. It means working together. So, we will prepare a brief report following the event, and will reach out to everyone directly afterwards to continue the dialogue and discuss how we can best coordinate on these issues on the days ahead.
President Biden, Vice President Harris, and all of us here recognize the vital role that the UN missions in New York will play in this effort. We want today’s themes and discussions to be carried forward to the Rome Global Health Summit, World Health Assembly, G7, G20, and diplomacy here in New York. That includes the Group of Friends on Global Health Security, the Group of Friends on Universal Health Coverage, and the Group of Friends on Antimicrobial Resistance. Later this week, in fact, the United States will participate in the high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance, where we will adopt a new call-to-action.
We look forward to your feedback, and your insights, and we are grateful for your leadership today, and your engagement. Because we’ve got a lot of work to do, pandemic preparedness is an issue we will share. And I know because of that, we will rise to the challenge and meet it together.