Plenary Address by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the 68th World Health Assembly, 18 May 2015, Geneva

“Building Resilient Health Systems”


Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon

Condolence to Nepal

           First, let me offer Singapore’s deepest condolences for the loss of lives from the recent devastating earthquakes[1] in Nepal. Our hearts and prayers are with the government and people of Nepal. Singapore has joined the global rescue effort and will continue to do our part.

Health challenges of our times

2          The theme of the 68th World Health Assembly is befitting of the health challenges we are faced with in the 21st century.

The occasional shocks

3          Regularly, we are faced with the onslaught of health emergencies from pandemics of old and novel diseases, and other emergencies resulting from humanitarian crisis such as typhoons and earthquakes. The world is familiar with Ebola.

In Support of the work of the WHO

4          Our experience with Ebola has shown that WHO needs to enhance its response capabilities and capacity. DG’s report earlier reflects WHO’s determination and resolve to reform and reinvent itself to be more effective in doing what is required. However WHO would clearly need more resources and support from member states. The Ebola Interim Assessment Panel will be presenting its report shortly. I look forward to their recommendations and countries can contribute in different ways according abilities. Singapore is supportive of WHO’s reform efforts to be more effective in responding to emerging crises as well as in implementing its various programmes.

The on-going battle against NCDs

5          On the other hand, we continue to be plagued by the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the burden of which has grown significantly over the years. In the Western Pacific Region, more than 26,000 people die every day from NCDs. While we should not trivialise the impact of communicable diseases, we should note that over 80% of deaths in the region are a result of one form of NCD or another. We need to do our best to keep our people healthy.  

To build a resilient health system – a few short pointers

6          To start with, there has to be systematic planning in building a resilient health system. We need to adopt a long-term approach with clear policies and specific goals. 

7          At the Ministerial Meeting on Universal Health Coverage held in Singapore this February, DG Margaret Chan and many Health Ministers shared their views on how we can achieve UHC to build a resilient health system. The consensus is that we need to adopt a holistic approach. In addition to financial sustainability, forward planning on infrastructure and manpower that takes into account long term needs is equally critical.

8          One good example of forward planning is in the preparation for ageing. Like many countries, Singapore is ageing rapidly. A health system built for today may not be able to meet the needs of tomorrow. Singapore is therefore reforming our health care system from episodic-focus relying mainly on acute hospitals, to one with more emphasis on primary and community care.

9          We are also replacing MediShield, our national voluntary opt-out medical insurance scheme, with MediShield Life, a universal and compulsory scheme. Every Singapore Resident will receive better protection regardless of their age, health condition, or financial ability. This is an important step towards a more inclusive society.

10        Next, there has to be a whole-of-society approach. Building a functional health system requires that other areas to work too, like good sanitation, strong education system, sound economic structure, just to name a few. Such whole-of-society approach allows us to look into every aspect of the lives of our elderly holistically.

11        In the area of outbreaks and health emergencies, preparedness is key. Locally, each country must be prepared for the unforeseen through contingency planning and training. Globally, we should come together as a community to strengthen capability and build capacity. It is noteworthy that 2015 marks the 10th year since the International Health Regulation (2005) was first enacted. Yet, as of 2012, less than 1/3[2] of all Member States have fully met the required capacities under the regulation. On this front, we urge the WHO to take the lead in coming up with a definitive road map and timeline for countries to fulfill their capacity building requirements.

Ending on an optimistic note

12        In conclusion, fellow health ministers, ladies and gentleman, the road ahead of us is a winding and arduous one. But, it is not insurmountable.

13        As long as we stay our course, with good long term policy planning, critical changes can be effected.

14        I will like to end on an optimistic note. As DG said in 2012[3], I believe the best of public health is ahead of us. I am confident we can make a difference, to help our people lead full and healthy lives.

Thank you



[1] A magnitude 7.3 earthquake shook Nepal on 12 May (Tuesday), barely three weeks after the first earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on 25 April

[2] According to the Report to the DG of the Review Committee on Second Extensions for Establishing National Public Health Capacities and on IHR Implementation, as of 2012, only 42 of 193 State Parties declared that they had met their core capacity requirements

[3] DG’s Address to the 65th World Health Assembly, May 21, 2012



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