Global economy impact high on agenda for Pacific health leaders

News release

Madang, Papua New Guinea, 3 July 2009 —The impact on nutrition and the health of reduced household incomes in the global economic downturn is among the important issues to be tackled by Pacific island health ministers at a meeting in Madang, Papua New Guinea, from 7 to 9 July.

The eighth biennial Meeting of Ministers of Health for Pacific Island Countries aims to develop strategic plans of action to control and prevent escalating diseases in the region and is in line with continuing efforts to improve people's health in island nations.

The issues to be tackled include:

  • food security
  • aid effectiveness
  • climate change
  • health systems strengthening and primary health care
  • maternal and child and adolescent health
  • access to essential medicines
  • control of noncommunicable diseases
  • the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, including preparedness and response to the current Pandemic H1N1 2009
  • human resources for health

The meeting will be attended by Dr Shin Young-soo, the World Health Organization's Regional Director for the Western Pacific and Mr William (Bill) Parr, Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Social Resources Division.

The meeting, jointly organized by WHO and SPC, is a follow-up to seven other meetings held in various island countries to strengthen action and collaboration among the 21 nations.

The first ministerial conference on health for the Pacific island countries was held in Yanuca, Fiji, in March 1995 in response to the rapidly changing social and economic situation affecting the quality of life and health in Pacific island countries. This meeting adopted the Yanuca Declaration, which introduced the concept of "healthy islands" as the unifying theme for health promotion and health protection in the Pacific.

"The Pacific islands have very special health challenges and I am confident that this meeting will help address these issues," Dr Shin said. Pacific island countries, in collaboration with WHO, SPC, and partner agencies, will seek to boost activities to address health problems specific to the Pacific region, such as lymphatic filariasis elimination, tuberculosis, health-promoting schools with a focus on helminth control, nutrition and sanitation, food safety and obesity control, and health care management.

Mr Parr said the meeting comes at a critical time when the world is feeling the impact of the global economic crisis. Gains that have been made in addressing health issues in the Pacific could easily be slowed or even reversed under the current economic climate, he said. Reduced incomes placed some families in the situation of having to compromise on their health by purchasing cheaper food of lower nutritional value, deferring visits to doctors in times of illness, or adopting risky behaviours to supplement income.

“Pacific Island countries have specific conditions and vulnerability that needs to be addressed through renewed engagements from development partners and enhanced solidarity across all sectors to help safeguard progress and keep promises," he said.

The health ministers meeting is seen as an important opportunity to articulate the priority needs of the region for the next few years, and having issues such as food security and climate change in this year’s agenda is viewed as being of strategic significance.

Pacific Island countries and territories include American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna.

For more information, please contact: Mr Wu Guogao, WHO External Relations Office, at +63 2 528 9930, e-mail: Richard Thomson, Public Health Communications, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, at +687 262000 Ext 473; e-mail: @