Awards speech – WHO Director-General’s Awards for Global Health 2022 at the World Health Assembly 22 May 2022

Thank you, Madam President.

The turmoil of these pandemic years has been profound, unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. It has been a time of suffering, and of great loss.

In the face of fear and hardship, our health and care workers have stood firm, often at great personal risk. Some paid the ultimate price. We are humbled.

Today, I am proud to honour some exceptional individuals, who went so far beyond the call of duty, to work for the greater good, to protect life and promote health.

Their work and dedication should be an inspiration to health and care workers everywhere.

My first award goes to honour the work of my colleague, my friend, and one of the world’s foremost public health professionals, Dr Paul Farmer.

Paul passed in his sleep in Rwanda just three months ago, doing what he loved to do, supporting medical education at a district hospital.

Paul was a true humanitarian, and a tireless champion of equity and health as a human right.

He was Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Partners in Health.

His work helped to empower health and care workers in communities around the world. He worked in places that others had given up on.

He was also a prolific author, a passionate educator, and a dedicated mentor to many young health professionals.

Paul once described his work as being “about hope … and about rejecting despair and cynicism.”

We carry that spirit with us, with the institutions he helped build and the many people that he inspired, as we continue the fight for Health for All

Today i am honoured to invite Paul’s wife, Didi Bertrand, the co-founder and president of the Women and Girls Initiative, to accept the award on Paul’s behalf.


My second award goes to Dr Ahmed Hankir, for his work in empowering, dignifying and humanising people living with mental health conditions.

Dr Hankir is the Public Engagement and Education Lead at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, Disabilities and Human Rights, at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham, in the United Kingdom.

Dr Hankir pioneered ‘The Wounded Healer’, which traces his personal journey of recovery from the trauma of the 2006 Lebanon War.

This innovative work blends the power of the performing arts and storytelling with psychiatry, with the aim of reducing stigma and discrimination, and to break down barriers for access to care.

Dr Hankir has delivered The Wounded Healer in person to over 100,000 people at events in 20 countries.

His story is further evidence that people with mental health conditions can realise their dreams.

Dr Hankir, it is my great honour to welcome you and invite you to come and accept this award.


My third award goes to youth sports advocate Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela from Cabo Verde, for her work promoting healthy lifestyles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Varela is a member of Cabo Verde’s national women’s volleyball team, a youth activist on sports for health and the environment, and holds weekly training sessions for youths in Praia City.

She has been involved in the National Program of Physical Education to facilitate access to sports for all, which provides a healthy alternative to risky behaviours among young people, and to tackle the growing threat of noncommunicable diseases.

Ms Varela was one of the finalists of the UNESCO global competition on the ‘Power of Sport in a time of crisis’.

Ms Varela could not be with us in person, but I’m pleased to invite Dr Arlindo Nascimento do Rosario, the Minister of Health of Cabo Verde, to accept the award on her behalf.


My fourth award goes to Yōhei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, for his forty years of commitment to fighting leprosy and the stigma and social discrimination it carries.

Mr Sasakawa is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy.

Leprosy is an almost forgotten disease in many countries.

Mr Sasakawa has visited many countries to advocate for leprosy control with national leaders and policy-makers. But he has also made a point of meeting people affected by leprosy, in some of the most disadvantaged groups

We are grateful for Mr Sasakawa’s dedication to working with WHO to reduce and in some countries even eliminate leprosy and to stand up for human rights.

Mr Sasakawa also cannot be with us in person, but I’m pleased to invite Dr Nanri Takahiro, Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, to receive the award on behalf of Mr Sasakawa.


It is with great sadness and admiration that I present my fifth award in honour of the eight volunteer polio workers who were killed by gunmen on the 24th of February this year, in Afghanistan.

These volunteer polio workers performed their life-saving work despite extraordinary challenges and risks.

Together, they reached thousands of children in north-eastern Afghanistan, and helped to bring us all closer to our dream of a polio-free world.

The workers we honour today include students, nurses and teachers. They leave behind grieving parents, siblings, spouses, children and communities.

Four of the polio workers we honour today were women.

Polio eradication would not be possible without the courageous commitment of women, who overcome extraordinary barriers to do their life-saving work.

On behalf of WHO, I am proud to present the Director-General’s award to the families of:

Ms Khadija Attaee;

Ms Munira Hakimi;

Mr Shareefullah Hemati;

Mr Mohamamd Zubair Khalazai;

Mr Najibullah Kosha;

Mrs Haseeba Omari;

Ms Robina Yosufi; and her brother Mr Shadab Yosufi.

I’m now pleased to invite Dr Hamid Jafari, WHO’s Director of Polio for the Eastern Mediterranean, to receive the award on behalf of the polio workers and their families.


My final award goes to India’s more than one million Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHAs, for their work to connect people with health services.

ASHAs are trained female volunteers who take health services to rural, marginalized and hard-to-reach communities across India.

ASHAs provide maternal care and immunization for children; community health care; treatment for hypertension and tuberculosis; and services for nutrition, sanitation, and healthy living.

They play a critical role in India’s primary health care system, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing essential health services to millions of people.

In Hindi, ASHA means hope. And that is exactly what the ASHAs deliver.

It’s now my honour to invite Ms Seema Pujani, First Secretary from the Permanent Mission of India, to receive the award

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