WHO's work in the Western Pacific Region under review

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region has decisively advanced its public health and reform agenda even as it has tackled ongoing health crises and prepared for future ones.

Addressing the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific Region, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director, said: "We continue to implement innovative approaches to increase efficiency and to sharpen focus on the challenges that you—our Member States—have told us are your priorities.”

“Our focus remains clear: to make a difference where it matters most—at country level,” he added.

Dr Shin's statement summed up his report to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, the regional governing body, on the Organization's work over the past year. The Regional Committee, composed of representatives from the Western Pacific's 37 countries and areas, meets once a year to review WHO's work in the Region and to determine future directions.

"WHO needs to be more nimble to adapt to rapidly changing realities, not only in public health, but also social and economic situations," Dr Shin said. "This requires that WHO's assistance be tailored-made for individual countries."

This approach can be seen in the Western Area Health Initiative, which aims to reduce health inequities in western China through a comprehensive strategy to boost economic and social development, targeting the most vulnerable communities.

In addition, WHO has supported the Governments of the Philippines and Viet Nam in their efforts on universal health coverage to bring health services to the country's poor.

“We focused over the past year on building capacity to engage countries on these issues and tackle the increasingly important issue of health equity,” Dr Shin said.

WHO's support in the Greater Mekong Subregion is also evident as Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam work on common health issues, such as artemisinin-resistant malaria.

Dr Shin said he was proud of Australia’s efforts in introducing plain packaging for tobacco products—a move to fight the noncommunicable diseases for which tobacco use is a major risk factor.

The Western Pacific Region has remained polio-free despite an outbreak of wild polio virus in China. China responded by mounting a successful immunization campaign to ensure that the outbreak did not threaten gains made in the fight against this crippling and often fatal disease.

"We continue to look for ways to strengthen the Organization and improve our ability to meet the public health challenges of tomorrow," Dr Shin said.

"Sadly, the Region bears more than one quarter of the worldwide burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. If not addressed, these strains could turn into incurable forms of the disease," Dr Shin warned. WHO has established a regional support mechanism that offers Member States country-specific assistance in the fight against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

The Western Pacific Region also faces more than its share of health emergencies and natural disasters, including last year's earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. In response, WHO, in collaboration with Member States, has strengthened preparedness and response mechanisms.

Dr Shin enumerated other challenges confronting the Region and actions being taken in collaboration with Member States:

  • Noncommunicable diseases: WHO worked with ministries of health and partners in developing multi-sectoral national action plans and training health-care workers on essential services for addressing noncommunicable diseases, which are responsible for four out of five deaths in the Region. WHO supports development of healthy settings, as well as efforts to raise prices and taxes on tobacco products to deter tobacco use, a main driver of noncommunicable diseases, which include cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes.
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases: WHO has redoubled efforts to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles. During the first six months of this year, there was a further decline of 60% in measles cases over the same period of 2011.
  • International Health Regulations: WHO continues to support Member States in implementing the International Health Regulations to help countries prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.
  • Blindness: WHO intensified efforts to help more than 90 million visually impaired people in the Region by addressing the main causes, especially cataracts and trachoma, and supporting countries in developing country action plans and integrating eye care into primary health-care systems.

In all these efforts, Dr Shin urged Member States to strengthen health systems “to sustain past gains while continuing to meet the challenges we face—and prepare for those yet to come.”

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Ms Marilu Lingad
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1272643638
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 891 4532;
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1252093845
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int