Check against delivery
Dear Mr Reddy
Dear Ms Von Steiger
Dear Mr Lengeler
Dear Mr Tanner
Dear Mr Hegemann
Dear Ms Kaemba
Ladies and gentlemen
As a doctor, I have always paid close attention to health policy. For me, universal access to a high quality health system is particularly important. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, such access is not yet a reality. Two weeks ago, I made an official visit related to my presidency to Mozambique, a country with one doctor for every 100,000 inhabitants. Scaled to the population size of Switzerland, that would equate to fewer than 90 doctors in the entire country. Recently, Cyclone Idai devastated the country: at least half a million people lost their homes and tens of thousands have been displaced and are living in emergency shelters. The disaster affected an area covering hundreds of square kilometres and a total of over 1.8 million people. Getting international aid to where it is needed is extremely challenging, particularly because many areas are still inaccessible. On top of that, there is the risk of a cholera epidemic and a considerable increase in malaria cases in what is already a high-risk area.
Malaria is one of the most widespread diseases worldwide, with estimates of almost 220 million cases in 2017 responsible for half a million deaths. Those most vulnerable are children under (the age of) five, who make up 60% of the deaths: Today a child dies every 2 minutes because of malaria. Almost 80% of cases are concentrated in regions of Africa and in India, while Tanzania is a particular hotspot. I had the opportunity to visit anti-malaria projects there in April 2015, with the Swiss malaria Group and other Members of Parliament. In Tanzania I saw some of the personal stories behind the statistics and spoke to survivors and people who had lost loved ones. I was able to see at first hand the important work carried out by Swiss NGOs and private partners in collaboration with the local authorities, but also how apparently trivial measures such as washing hands and emptying containers containing stagnant water are essential. I have seen doctors and health personnel working on basic care, I have met women whose role is central to fighting poverty, I have met children whose future also depends on access to education, I have discussed the need for access to medicines against malaria, which is often difficult if not impossible because of their costs and patents.
Such projects as those in Tanzania have been created mainly thanks to the great humanitarian commitment of the international community. Some are run under the auspices of the UN, which has made the fight against malaria an integral part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Fighting malaria is covered by a specific sustainable development goal, namely goal 3.3: «by 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases» – and is also embedded into the wider agenda. First and foremost, fighting malaria means strengthening the healthcare system overall. Given the rapid spread of malaria, which can cause death within 24 hours of the first appearance of symptoms, prevention is particularly important. As the case of Mozambique has most recently demonstrated, environmental disasters, and wars too, can cause the collapse of health systems, which are already fragile. It is therefore essential to have strong and sustainable health systems, which are also part of the long-term strategies and priorities of individual countries and the international community.
But fighting malaria also means fighting poverty, because malaria is both a cause and a result of poverty. It is a disease, which can trap whole nations in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, where the poorest sections of the population are also most at risk of infection and a further deterioration in their condition. So by supporting the fight against malaria, the international community can also contribute to the global drive to eliminate poverty and encourage economic development.
In short, the fight against malaria is closely linked to the social, economic and environmental development of the countries affected, hence the need to strengthen health systems. Malaria and health are therefore a global concern and a key factor in sustainable development, which the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals define as a global challenge that cannot be tackled in isolation. All stakeholders – from the private sector to NGOs to individual states – have to step up. As a country Switzerland has a particular responsibility in many respects. As one of the world’s richest countries, we have the possibility to provide financial support to anti-malaria projects, and to increase rather than cut our development cooperation funds.
But Switzerland is also home to a world-renowned pharmaceutical industry, capable of developing innovative medicines which, who knows, perhaps one day will stop the spread of the disease. This research needs to be promoted, but with the guarantee that the medicines will also be available to the poorest regions of the world. And finally, Switzerland is also home to a host of major international organisations, from the UN to the Red Cross, and many thousands of NGOs.
As a country, we can and must do more to fight malaria: our commitment is great and must continue and grow! Switzerland must continue to build on its excellence in innovation in research and increase its efforts to scale up access to medicines while collaborating globally, until all children and people are safe from this deadly disease.I would like to express particular gratitude to projects such as «Medicines for Malaria Venture», a public-private partnership set up by the federal government twenty years ago. By bringing together a variety of stakeholders and covering many different policy areas, «Medicines for Malaria Venture» plays a fundamental role in eradicating this terrible disease by going right to the heart of the problem.
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for your work: as a doctor, as the President of the Swiss National Council, and above all as a citizen who has seen how malaria can destroy a country and its people. Thank you!