WHO Regional Committee Adopts Resolutions, Sets Priorities for the New Millennium

News release

The Regional Committee, WHO's governing body in the Region, concluded its final meeting of the century on 17 September in Macao after an agenda-filled week devoted to reviewing WHO's work in the Western Pacific. The meeting was attended by over 100 representatives from all the Member States, including 24 Ministers of Health.

Deliberations highlighted the Region's top priorities for the new millennium: combating tuberculosis, promoting healthy environments and lifestyles and strengthening health systems. Delegates expressed particular appreciation for a number of procedural and structural innovations introduced under the new Regional Director, Dr Shigeru Omi (Japan).

Substantively, the meeting included plenary discussions covering policy, budget and technical topics. For the first time in its history, the Regional Committee Meeting included a new Ministerial Roundtable discussion on the timely topic of Social Safety Nets in Health Sector Development. This innovative approach to public policy generated a lively informal debate which was seen as highly constructive by participating Ministers and other senior health officials.

The Regional Committee adopted several resolutions related to the reform process of WHO in the Western Pacific Region, proposed the programme budget for the 2002-2003 biennium, and addressed a number of technical issues, including tuberculosis control, poliomyelitis eradication, reduction of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and 'Tobacco or Health'.

REFORM IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC REGION

The Regional Committee endorsed the policy document, WHO in the Western Pacific Region: A Framework for Action, which provides a set of guiding principles for WHO's work in the Western Pacific Region in the early years of the 21st century. The Committee requested the Regional Director to work closely with Member States to implement the approaches outlined in the Framework for Action, with particular attention to least developed countries.

ERADICATION OF POLIOMYELITIS IN THE REGION

The Regional Committee acknowledged the achievements made by Member States in sustaining high-quality surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and polioviruses. It further noted that the task of poliomyelitis eradication will not be completed until all potential sources of poliovirus, including laboratory sources, are properly contained.

The Regional Committee thanked the international partners who have generously supported poliomyelitis eradication in the past year, particularly UNICEF, the governments of Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America, Rotary International, and Rotary International Districts 2640 and 2650 of Japan, and other nongovernmental organizations.

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS, HIV AND AIDS

The Committee noted the expected increase in HIV infections and AIDS cases in the Region and the potential impact on people and health systems. It acknowledged that antiretroviral therapies might have a role in treatment of AIDS patients, in post-exposure prophylaxis, and in reduction of mother-to-child transmission but that their role will be limited by current costs, among other factors.

The Committee urged the Member States to further strengthen prevention and control programmes for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, particularly condom promotion and health education programmes targeting sex workers, their clients, and youth at risk; and harm reduction programmes targeting injecting drug users.

The Committee requested the Regional Director, inter alia, to further strengthen technical collaboration with Member States, in particular those facing increasing numbers of infections, in the prevention and control of STIs and HIV/AIDS, including guidance on developing appropriate legislation, and to strengthen the technical capability within WHO.

TUBERCULOSIS PREVENTION AND CONTROL

A "tuberculosis crisis" was declared in the Region, with the Committee noting that the disease was re-emerging as a major public health problem and that increased political commitment would be needed to generate the required resources for its control. Concern was expressed that only 46% of notified TB cases were enrolled in DOTS (directly observed treatment, short-course) programmes in 1998.

The resolution passed by the Committee called for allocation of sufficient resources, increasing the percentage of TB patients enrolled in DOTS programmes, achieving and maintaining a cure rate of at least 85%, implementing surveillance for drug-resistant tuberculosis by 2001, and establishing regular surveillance and reporting of the impact of HIV on TB by 2001.

ACTION PLAN ON TOBACCO OR HEALTH

Noting the growing burden of disease and death caused by tobacco in the Western Pacific Region and the need for multisectoral involvement to address this public health problem, the Committee called for a re-doubling of efforts to reduce tobacco consumption based on the report of the Regional Director on progress on the Action Plan on Tobacco or Health 1995-1999.

A resolution was passed urging Member States to support WHO's global Tobacco Free Initiative by developing comprehensive National Plans of Action for Tobacco Control and promoting adoption of an international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

On the final day of the Regional Committee Meeting, the address of Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland was delivered on her behalf by the Regional Director. In it, she pointed to the importance of four global strategic directions for the organization: reducing the burden of excess death and disability, especially that suffered by poor and marginalized populations; countering potential threats to health resulting from economic crises, unhealthy environments and risky behaviour; helping countries develop stronger health systems; and placing health at the core of the human development agenda.

"WHO is a technical agency, not a major donor. We also need to think of ourselves as a catalyst" the Director-General's address stressed. "This Region holds the key to answering the question of eradicating poverty and creating a world where all its citizens enjoy the basic human rights of health and nourishment. The progress thus far makes me optimistic."

The fifty-first session of the Regional Committee will be held from 18 to 22 September 2000 in WHO's Regional Office, Manila, the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Government of Brunei Darussalam has extended an invitation to host the fifty-second session of the Regional Committee, which will be held in September 2001.

For more information, contact Mr Charles Raby, Public Information Officer at (632) 528 9983 or email: rabyc@wpro.who.int

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