First, I would like to thank the Regional Committee for the honor of chairing this session. I would further like to extend my congratulations to my fellow officers at this 72nd meeting of the WHO European Regional Committee.
I am honored to welcome you – distinguished guests and colleagues – to the 72nd WHO/Europe RC here in Tel Aviv, Israel.
This welcome, and this gathering, is long overdue. We wanted to host you here two years ago. But the universe had other plans for us.
The world has changed, and we must embrace this change and take the opportunity to strengthen our health systems.
The COVID-19 Pandemic reinforced the truth that global challenges demand global solutions.
We are all connected. What happens in one part of the world, affects us all. We all share a responsibility for one another.
This is why events such as this, are so important. It is our responsibility to put our best efforts to work together, share ideas and knowledge, and map out best practices and joint efforts to tackle mutual challenges.
The WHO is an essential tool in doing this.
From day one of the pandemic, the WHO became a household name for billions around the planet.
COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in emergency preparedness globally, and deepened health inequities.
The WHO has coordinated international response to ensure that governments acted appropriately and proportionately.
It spearheaded research that transformed an unknown disease to a well-understood virus.
It enabled crucial exchange of information between experts and institutions around the globe, rapid pathogen testing, and the more equitable distribution of life-saving vaccines to those who need them most.
Yet, as we all know, the WHO was important long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and will stay so long afterwards. There will always be health challenges, and we need to work together to face them.
We already have our plate full.
The war in Ukraine, now well into its seventh month, triggered a severe health emergency.
The WHO has provided essential medical supplies, coordinated the deployment of medical teams, and minimized disruptions to the delivery of critical healthcare services, both in the Ukraine and in neighboring countries hosting refugees.
I thank you for this important work, and I am happy Israel could offer some support in this front, with a field hospital that we supplied to the Ukraine.
Most of our work as ministers and leaders in health is not managing crisis. It is to build a foundation for healthcare services and health-promoting plans that face today's needs and tomorrow's challenges.
WHO/Europe’s four flagship initiative define our health priorities in the coming years:
The State of Israel shares these priorities. In recent years, Israel has passed ground-breaking legislation financing and incorporating more and more mental health services to its standard universal healthcare plans, available to all residents.
Israel is a world leader in digital health and in pioneering state-of-the-art technology. I am proud to initiate the process of establishing the WHO Digital Health Centre, here in Israel. A center that will benefit the whole region. As a leading force in bio-technology and digital health, Israel will meet up the challenge of opening a WHO regional office promoting this important challenge.
During the pandemic, Israel led the world in vaccine rollout, rapidly vaccinating the vast majority of its residents throughout the country, and continues to ensure its people are protected from other preventable diseases.
And Israel has advanced in promoting healthier lifestyles, advocating nutritional guidance and responsible marketing regulation, as well as launching successful public information campaigns.
Israel has much to share with our friends and partners in the WHO, and in WHO/Europe. And, despite these achievements, Israel has much to learn, too.
We cannot be here in Tel Aviv and not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This past year, the Israeli government tried to lead a more communicative and humanitarian approach to managing the conflict. Our territories are interconnected, and we are one region, especially in terms of health.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is causing a humanitarian and health crisis. Israel accepts patients from both Gaza and the West Bank, when they don't have local treatment options, but this is an insufficient solution.
We need to strengthen the relationship both in the fields of health and medicine, share knowledge and train professionals for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians.
But most importantly, in order to fulfill our vision for a peaceful future, we must aspire to reach the only viable long term agreement, based on the two state solution.
Israelis and Palestinians share this beautiful and troubled land. The Holy land. We must learn to live here next to each other in peace and security, and the only way to achieve that, is by the two state solution – a Palestinian state side by side with Israel – peace, security, dignity – for both sides.
This solution may seem hard to achieve. It’s true – it’s not easy. But my firm belief is that it is the only solution that would put an end to bloodshed, violance, and hate.
Dear Friends, I am honored that Israel is hosting this prestigious and important event, and I am proud of Israel's role in WHO/Europe and in the wider international community.
Over the coming days, this forum will give us all a chance to reflect on progress and shape our approach to achieving our shared goals and implementing our joint program.
It is an opportunity to meet and discuss a host of issues from emergency preparedness to maintaining sustainable financing models.
Welcome, again. I hope to see you all this evening at my reception in Suzanne Dallal, which will give you a chance to enjoy one of Tel Aviv's most picturesque neighborhood, delicious food, and great culture.
I wish us all success in our mission of advancing equitable and high-quality healthcare for all.