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Statement by the Director-General, Jan Beagle, at the World Leadership Dialogue on Public Health, Law and the 2030 Agenda of the 16th World Congress on Public Health

15 Oct 2020

I am pleased to welcome you to this World Leadership Dialogue, which is organised by IDLO, the World Health Organization, and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

My name is Jan Beagle, and I am the Director-General of the International Development Law Organization.

The topic of this session is ‘Public health, law and the 2030 Agenda: the vital role of law in advancing public health.’

Before introducing our eminent panel today, let me offer a few words of my own to set the context for today’s discussion.

As I said at our first Crisis Governance Forum earlier this month, we in IDLO believe that the road to health and well-being lies in good governance, strong public institutions, and the rule of law and access to justice.

This is expressed in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which is at the centre of all of IDLO’s work, and where the cross-cutting Sustainable Development Goal 16 is an enabler of all of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 3 on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all.

And here I would like to call attention to the word “all” in this Goal “well-being for all.”

At IDLO, the only global international organisation exclusively devoted to promoting the rule of law and access to justice, we adopt a rights-based approach to our work to help ensure equality before the law, so that no one is left behind. In today’s discussion, this means that everyone – equally – should be able to enjoy their fundamental human right to the highest attainable standard of health. And also, to the lesser known but very important human right of everyone to be able to benefit from scientific progress.

In the context of today’s COVID-19 pandemic, this means that everyone should have access to quality testing, proven therapeutic medicines, and approved COVID-19 vaccines when available as global public goods.

Universal access to essential public health goods and services has long been on the public health policy agenda. At least as far back as 1978, leaders from around the world called for Health for All at the first international conference on primary health care at Alma Aty, Kazakhstan.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros, has renewed the spirit of this historic milestone with his call for universal health coverage.

At both global and local levels, the law is a powerful tool for advancing the right to health, advancing universal access and universal health coverage, and addressing public health emergencies. Now more than ever, strong legal capacity is needed to support effective national and international responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through laws, regulation and fiscal reforms, countries can safeguard and promote public health and safety and create equal opportunities for all people to lead healthy lives.

However, despite the crucial role of law in advancing public health over the past century - for instance in the areas of tobacco control, infectious diseases control, a safer food supply, workplace safety, childhood vaccinations and pandemic preparedness – _the law remains substantially underutilised – _and in some cases, it is used counterproductively.

Today we will explore the role of the law in advancing public health and concrete steps to strengthen legal frameworks and national capacity to respond to global health challenges.

It is my honour to introduce our distinguished panelists:

• Dr Rüdiger Krech, Director, Health Promotion, World Health Organization, in Geneva Switzerland

• Professor Rhoda Wanyenze, Dean, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda

• Justice Reine Alapini-Gansou, Judge of the International Criminal Court, Netherlands; and

• Professor Lawrence Gostin, Faculty Director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

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The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) enables governments and empowers people to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, sustainable development and economic opportunity.