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Statement to the World Health Assembly Plenary Session - the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health

Monday, May 20, 2013
Geneva, Switzerland

Check Against Delivery

Mr. President, Dr. Chan, Honourable Ministers, distinguished delegates - good afternoon.

Canada is pleased to take part in this 66th session of the World Health Assembly, and to address the health focus of the post-2015 Millennium Development agenda.

As global leaders in health, we all know that, as the world around us changes, so does the burden of disease. The expectations for achieving universal health and well-being are changing as we strive to achieve greater health equity.

As we look towards 2015 and assess our efforts to date, significant progress has been made in maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS transmission, and nutrition. Despite these gains, women and children continue to die unnecessarily each year.

Increasingly, we see health problems attributed to noncommunicable diseases. We are also experiencing disturbingly high incidences of mental health problems and suicide.

This means that the health agenda must adapt and respond accordingly. We need strong leadership, partnerships and innovative ways to address these evolving health challenges. We cannot deal with these complex health problems on our own.

Nowhere is this more true than in our work on noncommunicable diseases.

Canada, like a number of countries, is facing an epidemic of childhood obesity. Achieving healthier weights requires engagement and collaboration with public, private and civil society to support families in leading healthier, active lives and to help prevent chronic diseases.

Another area that benefits from multi-sectoral action is mental health and suicide prevention.

More than one in five Canadians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime. The impact on families, communities and our economy is significant. Of greatest concern are rates of suicide, particularly among youth, and in Canada's North. We must take this issue seriously and work beyond the health sector to address it. We must also understand that we can promote positive conditions to prevent mental illness and promote wellbeing.

Canada is pleased that the World Health Organization is developing a global plan of action on mental health. I am encouraged to see that the action plan has stimulated a global dialogue, and has set the stage for further progress. I am also proud that many of the WHO's recommendations are already contained within the Mental Health Commission of Canada's Mental Health Strategy, released last year. The Strategy is a guide to help us improve mental health and well-being while, at the same time, generating an important dialogue around this issue.

This afternoon Canada will host a side event on mental health, in support of the action plan.  We will hear from a panel representing different sectors, who will speak to their achievements in promoting mental health and preventing stigma.

In addition to my responsibilities as Minister of Health, I am honoured to be representing Canada as Chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years.  In this role, one of my priorities will include developing initiatives that promote mental wellness in communities across the North. 

I am confident this work will be an important contribution to the WHO's Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.

As we look beyond 2015, our approach must balance newer priorities with past initiatives that are well underway.

When we consider how best to use our resources, we must keep the health of women and children at the heart of our collective approach.  We know that investments in women's and children's health have long-term benefits for society.

That is why the post-2015 development agenda must include a strong focus on health, recognizing that good health contributes to the long-term sustainable development of people and communities.

Canada looks forward to continuing to work with all Member States and the World Health Organization to ensure an effective focus on health in the post-2015 environment.

Thank you.