OIC Conference of Health Ministers

Arsalan Suleman
Acting U.S. Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 
Istanbul, Turkey
November 18, 2015

His Excellency Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Iyad Madani, Esteemed Ministers of Health, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and an honor for me to participate in the 5th Islamic Conference of Health Ministers on behalf of the United States government. As the Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the OIC, I work to deepen and expand US cooperation with the OIC on a wide range of shared challenges. Health issues are one of the most important and productive areas of our cooperation, an area in which we hope to expand our collaborative work.

This meeting comes at an important time, just on the heels of the world’s adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The OIC has an important role to play in coordinating OIC member state efforts to improve health outcomes in OIC member states, and the United States stands ready to continue to work with the OIC and its member states as we work to achieve the global goals, including Goal 3 on health.


One of the long-standing areas of US-OIC health cooperation is in the area of polio eradication. I thank Dr. Yagob Yousef AL-Mazrou, Chair of the Islamic Advisory Group on Eradication of Polio, for his update on the status of polio eradication efforts.

Indeed, from 2014- 2015, significant progress has been made in the global effort to eradicate polio. Global cases have declined by 99% since 1988 and over 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated against the disease. 13 million cases of paralysis have been averted.

In July 2015, Nigeria celebrated one year without a case of wild poliovirus and in September it was removed from the list of countries that have never stopped polio virus transmission. In August 2015, the African continent marked one year since its last wild polio virus case, and it is working towards being declared polio-free by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Thanks to widespread vaccination campaigns in hundreds of countries, a disease that once paralyzed 1,000 children daily is almost history. Almost.

Today, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – have never stopped transmission of wild poliovirus. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative estimates that if progress continues, polio can be eliminated by the end of 2016 and potentially eradicated by the end of 2019.

This is an attainable goal, one that we must all work to achieve. Despite the progress, local leaders and governments cannot become complacent. Polio vaccination and surveillance must continue throughout the world in order to sustain population immunity and find any remain pockets of virus circulation.

Until polio is wiped out everywhere, children remain at risk.

The OIC has played an important role in polio eradication, by providing accurate information about the vaccine, organizing religious leaders in support of immunization, and encouraging countries and the Islamic Development Bank to provide financial support to priority countries.

This level of international cooperation is unprecedented and is achieving measurable results for the poorest, hardest to reach, children in the world.


Another important area of US-OIC cooperation is in the area of maternal and child health. The OIC and the United States recognize the critical importance of improving the health of mothers, newborns and children and reducing the number of preventable deaths. We have made this a top priority for collective action. This is especially critical as we face the challenge presented by the global goals, particularly goal 3 andits target to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths globally.

In 2014, the partnership of the OIC-Secretariat, the United States, the WHO and United Nations Population Fund launched the maternal and newborn health collaboration with seven OIC member states to improve the care of mothers and newborns.

During this technical consultation, all seven countries -- Afghanistan, Chad, Cameroon, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia -- were given tools to perform a self-assessment and prioritization exercise of key barriers that are preventing the delivery of high quality maternal and newborn care.

To date, four countries have completed their analyses, and the remaining three countries will complete their assessments in the coming months. Following the completion of the country assessment, the partners will reconvene country delegations to discuss common challenges and innovative financing options to fill resource gaps.

The United States is grateful to the OIC-Secretariat, OIC member states, and other partners for their enthusiasm and collaborative spirit on this work to save the lives of women and children in OIC member states.


This conference’s panel discussion on preparedness and response in health emergencies is an especially timely contribution. The past year has seen benchmarks that underscore both opportunities and challenges to enabling healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

Successes include bringing the Ebola epidemic close to its end and moving toward recovery. The last known case – a 19-day-old baby – was released from a hospital in Guinea on Monday after testing negative for the disease. The OIC program to help Guinea and Sierra Leone respond to Ebola has been a core component of this success. Assistance from the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency has been an integral part of the OIC response.

Aside from responding quickly to health emergencies, the OIC’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the health systems in member states are vitally needed and already having a positive impact. The OIC Strategic Health Program of Action recognizes the central role health care plays in human development and seeks to ensure the best possible health care for people in OIC member states.

The OIC General Secretariat’s commitment to eradicating polio and OIC support for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria are examples of how the Strategic Health Program improves human health and of the vital role your organization plays in advancing global health security.

Yet even more action is needed. Health threats continue to undermine the economic potential of nations and contribute to social and economic inequality. The recent Ebola outbreak was a stark reminder of the devastating impact health emergencies can have on communities, on the work force, on commerce, and on economic growth. Like Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus reminds us of the role of animals and ecosystems in the spread of novel infections. Both of these outbreaks highlight the importance of maintaining continuity of care as people move between communities and health service systems.

Even our tools to fight infection are weakening. Increasing resistance to antibiotics and other medicines by disease organisms costs countless lives, with corresponding costs to health care systems as well as the human cost. Resistant diseases have the potential to undo the progress on HIV, TB and Malaria, and to put at risk modern medical advances such as surgery, transplants, and chemotherapy.

Additionally, inability to treat health threats to livestock and agriculture threatens future food security. In 2012, the OIC called on its Member States and the international community at large to “accord due attention to the existing and emerging health issues such as development of antimicrobial resistance.”

In 2014, together with partners from around the world, the United States launched the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a multilateral and multi-sectoral initiative that now includes nearly 50 countries. Many of these countries are OIC members, including Indonesia, the incoming GHSA Steering Group Chair.

The GHSA is a whole-of-government, whole-of society partnership aimed at achieving a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats. More specifically, the goal of the GHSA is to strengthen global capabilities to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease outbreaks before they become epidemics.

When the GHSA was launched, the United States made a commitment to partner with least 30 countries over five years to achieve the GHSA targets. Earlier this year, the U.S. entered into partnerships with 17 countries – 11 of them OIC members – in the first phase of its commitment.

On Monday, at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, President Obama announced partnerships with 13 additional countries and the Caribbean Community to fulfill our 30-country commitment. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, and Caribbean Community Members such as Guyana as our newest partners. We look forward to working with you.

Implementation of the GHSA is based on 11 lines of effort called Action Packages, which relate to the core elements of prevention, detection and response. Each of the GHSA country partners has made a commitment to one or more of the Action Packages, as either a leader or as a contributor.

The purpose of the Action Packages is to focus international discussion toward specific, coordinated actions in support of improving global health security. These packages highlight measurable approaches countries can adopt to accelerate, monitor and report GHSA progress; and provide a mechanism by which countries can make specific commitments and take leadership roles in the GHSA.

Widespread participation by the OIC and its members in the GHSA will further the objectives of the OIC Strategic Health Program of Action and will help OIC member states comply with the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations. To achieve these goals, it would be helpful for the OIC as an organization to establish a productive relationship with the GHSA.

I would like to take this opportunity to formally encourage and invite the OIC to actively participate in the GHSA by serving as a permanent advisor to the GHSA Steering Group and by taking a leadership role in one or more of the 11 Action Packages.

We commend Indonesia, Turkey, and Malaysia for their leadership on Action Packages related to zoonotic diseases – those that can be passed between animals and humans -- and emergency operation centers. And we invite the OIC and other OIC members to consider leading or participating in other GHSA action packages. One of these is immunizations, which the OIC has worked tirelessly to promote in member states, and the single most cost-effective public health measure ever devised. Another is antimicrobial resistance, an area in which the OIC has also exercised leadership. There are many other opportunities for OIC leadership in other GHSA action packages as well, such as the Reporting Action Package. The timely reporting of infectious disease outbreaks will lead to a faster and more effective response.

The OIC may also wish to consider assisting OIC member states in training their health care labor force or increasing vaccine development capacity in collaboration with the GHSA.

This Islamic Conference of Health Ministers provides the perfect opportunity to confirm and announce the OIC’s participation in the GHSA, and I hope that this esteemed body will make such a decision.

The GHSA, the WHO’s International Health Regulations, and other multilateral health-related initiatives are worthy investments for the OIC Strategic Health Program. The United States Government looks forward to working with the OIC and member states to improve worldwide health security.

And we look forward to continuing to expand and improve our broader cooperation with the OIC in the health field.

Thank you.