WHO in the Western Pacific

About combating communicable diseases

Communicable diseases continue to be among the most serious public health problems in the Western Pacific Region. The challenges arise from ancient diseases such as malaria, measles and leprosy to more recent infections, including HIV, and re-emerging diseases such as dengue. Communicable diseases not only cause illness and death, but also can disrupt the socioeconomic progress of nations.

The Western Pacific Region bears a significant proportion of the global burden of many communicable diseases, including cholera, hepatitis B and tuberculosis. Some regional problems, such as resistance to the antimalarial drug artemisinin and the burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, also pose significant global threats.

In the face of these challenges, the Region has continued to demonstrate the capacity to respond effectively, with initiatives that have provided models for other regions and have contributed significantly to global responses. Examples include the Region’s maintenance of poliomyelitis-free status, the achievement of leprosy elimination as a public health problem, and the movement towards the elimination of several other diseases, including measles, maternal and neonatal tetanus, lymphatic filariasis and, in some areas, malaria.

The work of the Division of Combating Communicable Diseases, and its network of WHO Country Office focal points, focuses on three important areas. The first area is HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with the Division supporting the scale up of strategies to achieve programme goals, including strengthening technical cooperation with countries. The work of the Division, particularly for these three major diseases, is directed towards the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. WHO provided extensive support to countries in developing strategic directions for the next five years in the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Technical cooperation, a WHO priority, remains strong in many areas.

The second important area of work is improved access to high-quality and safe immunizations against vaccine-preventable diseases, verified by monitoring and surveillance. The work of the Division focused on the contributions of immunizations to reducing by 2015 the under-5 mortality rate by two thirds in an effort to address Millennium Development Goal 4. In addition, WHO continues to support efforts to meet the targets of the Global Immunization Vision and Strategy by working to strengthen routine and supplementary immunization, ensuring vaccine quality and immunization safety, and supporting targeted disease initiatives. Efforts also are geared towards assisting Member States in the rational introduction of new and underutilized vaccines.

The third area of work in communicable diseases involves the control or elimination of neglected tropical diseases, including helminthiasis, lymphatic filariasis and leprosy. WHO is leading efforts to sustain gains in these areas and to further reduce the burden of these diseases by helping craft strategies, advocating for the integration of these efforts into the general health system and collaborating with other sectors to continue to sustain the interventions.

The Division also is involved in cross-programme collaboration, including the coordination of WHO’s engagement in the Region with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Region has seen an unprecedented increase in Global Fund financing of the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria programmes, as well as related health systems, over the last eight years, with US$ 2.6 billion contributed to various programmes. The Regional Office for the Western Pacific and a network of nearly three dozen Country Office staff members continue to be extensively engaged in supporting Global Fund-related activities.

To achieve better coordination of WHO’s contribution to Global Fund-related activities across the Region and in Country Offices, the Regional Office has established a coordination point for WHO’s support and collaboration on Global Fund-related activities. The demand for support will continue to grow, especially with the new funding architecture for the Global Fund and the expected launch of two other modalities of funding: the Joint Platform for Health Systems Strengthening and the National Strategy Application. WHO’s support will be even more crucial to ensure that there is coherent programmatic planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and to ensure that the efforts are anchored in an overall health plan.

There is increasing focus within the Division to develop more effective and concrete ways to integrate the work of technical programmes, particularly at the service delivery level. The Division also has established mechanisms to improve collaboration across the programmes in the Regional Office to achieve synergies and efficiencies in the implementation and use of resources. Strategic and operational plans that define shared objectives and collaborative activities of programmes have been developed for laboratory work, surveillance and tropical diseases research. These efforts will be the impetus for developing synergies among other technical areas and programmes.