Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission
Europeans share a number of common goods with the rest of the world. We have the desire to be safeguarded, to feel secure and protected. We have similar political aspirations, like democracy and freedom. But one good is the premise of all: health. It is one we protected and cherished, so that today we live and age healthily, and more people have access to healthcare than ever before.
But we cannot afford to lapse into complacency, as the mere topic of vaccination reminds us. Each year, vaccination saves up to three million human lives around the world. Some diseases like smallpox, once considered a death sentence, belong to the past. Yet, the recent surge in measles and other diseases close to eradication is a worrying sign that we are losing ground. Without adequate immunisation coverage, we are putting people’s lives at risk.
Our response should be global, and Europe has already taken a step forward. At the World Vaccination Summit it hosted less than a month ago, the Commission presented priority measures to address increasing disinformation about vaccination, and tackle the lack of access, vaccine shortages and disinvestment, which are all causing vaccination to stagnate across the world.
As we strive to hold on to the progress we have already made, it is paramount that we continue investing in the vital research that will lead to medical breakthroughs and better health. From EU-funded research on breast cancer treatment to EU-funded researchers making X-rays safer for patients, it is when we pool national and European resources that we can deliver results. This is no zero-sum trade-off.
At the recent meeting of the G7 in Biarritz, the EU announced a record €550 million contribution to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. For many African countries, the Global Fund is the single most important external financer of the health sector and the EU and its Member States have been the main contributors since its creation. When our common good is at risk, we invest in building quality health care systems in more than 80 countries around the world; we deploy our European Medical Corps with on-call medical assistance and public health expertise when disaster strikes; and we broaden and deepen our work with the World Health Organization.
There are few clearer examples today of a truly global threat than antimicrobial resistance. The World Bank estimates severe economic damage as a result, the likes of which we have not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. Worse, by 2050 it could cause 10 million deaths worldwide. The European Union has long been engaged on this issue, including most recently with legislation addressing the public and animal health risks caused by resistance to antibiotics in the EU.
We, as institutions and politicians, call for growth, jobs and opportunities. But we shall be judged by how we treat our people. Because it is the health of all our citizens that is the true mark of our progress as a society.
It has been an honour during my mandate as President of the European Commission to offer my patronage to the World Health Summit, a distinguished forum that acts for the greater good. I wish you all the best for another inspiring summit this year.