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Opening remarks by the Director-General of the World Health Organization at the Special Olympics World Disability Summit

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First, I would like to thank Loretta Claiborne and Timothy Shriver for their warm welcome and invitation to stay with you this afternoon.

Thank you for your leadership and advocacy for equality and access to care for people with disabilities around the world.

It is my honor to be here.

In fact, I just arrived in New York two hours ago, and this is my first date.

Next year, the World Health Organization will celebrate its seventy-fifthThe tenth birthday.

The World Health Organization was born in 1948 with a very simple but powerful idea: that health is a human right.

Not a luxury for the wealthy, but a basic right – an end in itself.

However, three quarters of a century later, this right is still not realized for a very large number of people, including people with disabilities.

More than a billion people globally have a disability, and that number is rising.

However, they often face unacceptable disparities in accessing the health services they need.

The results have been devastating to individuals, families, and communities.

On average, people with intellectual disabilities die 20 years younger than the general population.

They are eight times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those without an intellectual disability.

People with disabilities are often neglected and excluded from effective participation in their communities.

When that happens, we all lose.

This is why Special Olympics’ work is so important.

You play a vital role not only in promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities, but also in promoting their inclusion and participation in societies.

When people have access to health services and follow-up care, they also have more opportunities to enjoy other rights such as education, employment and the right to make their own decisions.

And when that happens, we all win.

Of course, sports and all forms of physical activity are essential to good health.

Sport, by its nature, is about participation, bringing individuals, communities and countries together, and bridging cultural, racial, and national divides.

Promotes tolerance and respect.

It shows what humans can do, with the right conditions and proper preparation.

The World Health Organization is committed to harnessing the power of sport to promote health around the world, through partnerships with the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, FIFA, Special Olympics and others.

The World Health Organization commends the innovative Special Olympics Global Health Strategy to increase equality and access to health services for the 200 million people with intellectual disabilities worldwide.

You and your partners have demonstrated remarkable leadership in providing health screening, interventions, clinical and medical training, and community programming in more than 120 countries around the world.

WHO is proud to work with you.

In Ghana, for example, a partnership between Special Olympics, the World Health Organization, government and civil society has helped build capacity to end stigma and discrimination and advance the rights of people with disabilities.

Through the WHO Quality Rights Initiative, we train thousands of community health workers, service providers, policy makers, people with intellectual disabilities, families and civil society actors.

At the World Health Assembly last year, member states of the World Health Organization adopted a resolution on achieving the highest attainable standard of health for people with disabilities.

They asked us to develop a global report based on the latest evidence, and to make recommendations.

This report will be launched in December, and will help spur action to address health disparities in the health sector for people with disabilities.

Thank you all again for your commitment to upholding the right to health for people with disabilities.

We remain committed to working with you to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive the services they deserve.


Last year, I had the honor of speaking before the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo, where the world’s athletes came together in pursuit of the Olympic motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together.

This slogan should be our motto as we work for the health and rights of people with disabilities.

We must be faster to effect change;

We must aim to achieve the change we want;

We must be stronger in bringing about that change;

And we should all do it together.

I thank you.