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05 September 2020
A New Way to Move Ahead from COVID-19

While the immediate crises of health and human services, and the devastating effect of COVID-19, must be at the top of the global agenda, it is time now to think ahead, to contemplate further crises that might unexpectedly befall the world community and what can we do now. To this end we have prepared a draft speech for a Head of State of a UN Member State, in the traditional but now “virtual” General Debate of the UN General Assembly beginning on September 22, 2020.


Your Excellencies,

Today I "zoom" before you on this, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Who could have imagined we would have the electronic wherewithal and need to hold this Assembly virtually? Seventy-five years ago, our Charter was so beautifully written and wide enough to accommodate new Member States and in language sufficiently broad to allow for our Organization to address both known and, even more importantly, then unknown global challenges. From the original 51 Member States in 1945, we are 193, both small and large, rich, and poor, with diverse political structures, economies, ethnicities, and cultural orientations. We have encouraged our Member States and the wider community of business, civil society, and philanthropy to address new topics such as human settlements, technology, gender, and many more.  

We need now to look over the horizon and act together, beyond Covid-19, to another subject of common cause and future threat to all humanity. It is the interaction of human, animal, and environmental health. Let me explain why this new topic merits our attention and offer a simple and doable course of action for this General Assembly.

Let me first give you a sense my country.   Our land borders several countries much larger than ourselves. We are a mix of varied ethnic and racial groups, with different religions and cultural orientations, and many are under 21 years of age. Sadly, education at all levels is short of where we need and want to be, in part because we do not have the teachers and professional educators needed. But we have been improving and we expect to continue to do so.  

We are neither close to the bottom nor top of national economies Our domestic economy is dependent on livestock and tourism, complemented by modest mineral resources, which we export.  We have borrowed from international financial institutions, as well as some private lenders. According to the major financial institutions we have been prudent in managing our economy.

Given an agrarian history and traditions, our people are sensitized to both animal and human health and have come to appreciate that they are inter-dependent. Over time, with changes in weather, land, and water access, we have become even more attuned to such factors affecting our daily lives. 

My government and most importantly our people have recognized the need to better prepare to deal with viruses, bacteria, and parasites.  For us, a future epidemic might well come from a viral transfer from an animal, probably a bat, to an intermediary specie, and then cross over to humans.   As a result, some years ago we invited UN technical agencies, including WHO, FAO, UNEP, to help us understand  the challenges and prepare a strategy to deal with the interface of human, animal, and environmental health, often referred to as One Health. With their assistance  we developed a strategy which includes strengthening intersectoral coordination at national and district levels; enhancing  surveillance and risk analysis systems for prioritized zoonotic diseases; improving  the effectiveness of our communication tools and networks; strengthening coordinated joint field outbreak investigation and response; and investing in human, animal, and wildlife professionals.

We have not been immune from the COVID-19 threat, but we have been able to limit the number of positive COVID-19 cases to double digits, and the number of deaths to a single digit. When WHO first communicated with us and others about the virus, we responded with a major public awareness campaign, quickly instituted surveillance measures at entry points, undertook widescale testing and active contact tracing. This is our situation and story – a positive one.  

To date globally COVID-19 has resulted in over 25 million cases and 840,000 deaths.  The World Economic Forum COVID-19 Action Platform estimates that fighting COVID-19 costs 500 times as much as pandemic prevention measures. Some project that the global economy could lose up to $21.8 trillion in 2020 alone.  Damage done to social cohesion, the poor, and indeed, the effect on each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, will be incalculable.  

We must collectively take the next step to come to grips with the interface between human and animal health and our environment. Building on past Special Sessions which dealt with Pandemic Preparedness and Antimicrobial Resistance my country’s delegation plans to put forward a new agenda item, one which we entitle “One Health: Addressing the Interaction of Human, Animal, and Environmental Health.” We envision an initial, exploratory discussion during this Assembly, and adoption of a resolution calling upon the Secretary-General to convene an expert group to review and derive lessons from prior actions on One Health, and to propose a strategy for adoption by the United Nations and its partner agencies.  The strategy would foresee actions at the level of individual countries and by the global community. With UN agency engagement and endorsement, the Strategy would be presented to a Special Session. We hope other countries will join us in this initiative.