Mme. President, Director General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
First let me congratulate you Mme. President and our Vice Presidents for your election to this high office.
On behalf of the Government and the people of Sri Lanka I wish to offer my special congratulations and best wishes to our Director General, Dr Margaret Chan for being elected to lead this Organization for the next five years. With the exceptional commitment and leadership that Dr. Chan brings to her work, we have the utmost confidence that WHO and the future health of the world, is in very safe hands.
WHO’s leadership is crucial at this time to achieve international health security and to successfully meet the current and newly emerging threats to public health. Sri Lanka has always endeavoured to ensure a high level of health for its people, in spite of a protracted terrorist problem and natural disasters like the tsunami. Successive Governments have considered free health and free education as precious investments for future generations. The Government of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa has proven its commitment by endorsing and further strengthening the policy framework and granting an unprecedented 50 % increase in the health budget this year.
Strengthening Human Resources for Health has been one of major activities of my Ministry in the past few years. We have scaled up the training of the required skilled health personnel in Sri Lanka, to produce 15000 new nurses and 2000 allied health workers in the next two years, thereby filling all of the remaining vacancies in the sector. The earlier shortage of doctors, barring in a few specialties, has on the whole been overcome.
As a gesture of regional cooperation and solidarity we are also helping our neighbours like Bhutan and Maldives in training some of their skilled health personnel.
However, the brain drain represents a continuing problem in my country. We have discussed this matter earlier in this Assembly, and the WHO has tried hard to find solutions but no visible progress has been recorded.
In the field of nutrition, a recent UNICEF survey has revealed that Sri Lanka has recorded the highest “breast-feeding index” of 78%, in South East Asia, which has been made possible through many legal and administrative measures undertaken by the Government.
However, under-nutrition in vulnerable groups is still a major area of concern, in spite of several innovative intervention programs that were launched in the past three decades.
Among the important challenges ahead, we must note the emerging burden of Non Communicable Diseases with the potential to cause both suffering to the afflicted as well as a drain on the national health budget. A national policy on NCDs with an effective action plan for prevention is now being formulated.
Sri Lanka was the first country in Asia and the fourth in the world to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). As a follow-up, Sri Lanka through an Act of Parliament has set up a National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Control, which is working very effectively.
Public-Private Partnerships are essential for health development in a developing country. In this regard Sri Lanka has recently introduced a Private Medical Institutions Bill that will facilitate and regulate the private health sector.
Sri Lanka has long been associated with the pioneering work of the WHO, in the adoption of the Essential Medicines concept 30 years ago. This concept has further been strengthened in my country by the recently introduced National Medicinal Drug Policy, which strives to ensure the availability of quality drugs at affordable prices and to promote their rational use.
Sri Lanka has successfully managed to control and contain the HIV epidemic. In this connection, the 8th International Conference on Aids in Asia and the Pacific will be held in Sri Lanka from 19 to 23 August this year which we plan to make a grand success and a landmark event in our region. Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure and privilege to invite all of you to my country to attend this important event.
I want to place on record my sincere gratitude for the strong technical support that we continue to receive from the WHO, and other UN agencies. I wish to express a special word of thanks to you, Madam Director General, and to Dr. Samlee, our Regional Director for South East Asia, for the excellent cooperation extended to me and my country in the past and we look forward to continuing this strong partnership in the years ahead.
Thank you very much.